We woke up and watched the string of “mountain adventurers” stagger out to their shuttles with giant duffles, literally so laden they wobbled under their weight. What on earth could these big strapping men be carrying? Hair dryers? The Mont Blanc volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica? The bags bear names like “Himalaya Trekking Tour.” Spare me. And they are so arrogant. Do not speak or even make eye contact with people outside their group. I realized this is not necessarily national arrogance, since there is one American in this group, who looks a bit like Donald Sutherland and to whom I have developed a particular aversion. It’s class. They are encapsulated in their country club bubble and cannot even see beyond it. Jeff also theorizes that they are also a bit ashamed of this whole schlepping thing when they see people our age on our own. Though of course they also despise us, thinking we don’t have the money to do it their way. True.
So that said, of course, WE had not arranged for a shuttle over the first few miles of road walking up to the little Ville de les Glaciers, not knowing such a thing existed. So we start walking. Already Jeff and Gus have taken a lot of my stuff, but the weight of my water is wearing me down as well as my anxiety. About a half mile down the road, however, a car passes and we hitch a ride. Nice French guy who was going up to bring someone else back down. Cuts off a few miles and about an hour.
So we get to the trailhead in this wild valley above the treeline, mountains shooting up to heights of more than 10,000 feet of rock and grass and snow fields.
A short walk to the Refuge des Mottets, which is a converted cow barn and cheese factory.
It’s amazingly primitive, like a large version of the Appalachian Trail huts with the addition of mattresses. You sleep 10 or so across on plank shelves. Glad we didn’t do that! The other refuges are like rustic hotels with really nice restaurants.
So we started up the switchbacks from Mottets. I was so scared of getting that horrible out of breath thing that I was stopping at every switch and looking out. It’s amazing how far you climb and how fast even at my snail’s pace. At one stop, Jeff and I watched a couple of border collies herding a flock of sheep across this treeless, green mountainside. The sheep moved like a cloud of white across the green with these relentless black specks darting here and there at their heels.
Pretty soon we were looking down on Mottets from quite a height and could see a group from our hotel arrive and start up. And higher and higher. The leaders of the group caught and passed us, but Gus was just a dot high up on the side of the mountain. This path is not vertigious scary, just snakes up a big green mountain side. I was still moving and not in terrible shape. At one point we had to cross a stream. I was OK but the nice French guide (an actual guide who guided) helped me across and on the other side, Jeff took my entire pack.
When I started off after that, the real mental and physical shift for me took place. I do not think I could have done this if my faithful sherpas hadn’t carried my stuff, but Gus had waited for us and had said rather shortly that I should just keep going, and I was thinking to myself, “But you don’t understand! I can’t!” and suddenly I realized I could. The real trick for me was to stop trying to go fast, to keep up with Jeff and Gus, or anyone else, to find a sustainable pace, even if it was a tiny tiny slow slow pace, and then do yoga breathing, focus on the breath, especially breathing out each time. That seemed to slow my heart rate and quiet my mind. I stopped counting steps, I stopped thinking about anything but putting one foot in front of the other, I kept moving, and bloody hell! The next thing I knew I was on top of the 8300-foot-col and stepping from France into Italy.