a faint memory of ice


During the past week of vacations in Chamonix, I spent some days down-hill skiing (which I find increasingly boring!), X-country skiing (way better), swimming (indoors!) and running, but the highlight (and the number one reason for going there!) was an ice cascade climb with a local guide, Sylvain (from the mythical Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix). There were very options due to the avalanche high risk and Sylvain picked a route called Déferlante at the top of Les Grands Montets cabin stop and next to the end of a small icefield, Glacier d’Argentière. We went there quite early to catch the first cabin up, along a whole horde of badasss skiers and snowboarders, and reached the top of the route by foot first, a wee bit after 9 pm. A second guide and a client appeared before we were ready to abseil down, and two more groups would appear later. On touring skis.


As you can see from the pictures, the view was terrific, with another row of cascades on the other side (too prone to avalanches to consider) and the end-bits of the Argentière glacier squeezed in-between. And a brilliant and brisk day with hardly any wind. We rappelled down first to the bottom of the route, where Sylvain checked my gear and moved up to the middle of the cascade and then it was my turn!


The route was not particularly difficult and the ice of rather good quality, but I found it hard to set my feet steadily enough in the ice after several years off. Since a great weekend on Ben Nevis in 2015. And missing a day out in Banff last year! Anyway at some point I banged my right knee on the ice, which always hurts more than it should (as the knee was not broken!) and after a few more meters up, I ended up doing a vasovagal collapse (as in a flight to Boston two years ago!), meaning I fainted at the end of the rope and came back to my senses with Sylvain holding my head down and the second guide, Élodie, standing next to me..! Nothing particularly scary in retrospect, as ropes are just doing their job!, but definitely an embarrassment. After a few more minutes resting, I went back climbing and ended up the route, if not in the best possible style. Rather than attempting a second route, as we had planned, we then agreed to call it a day and headed back to Chamonix for a coffee. Hopefully not my last ice-climb..!

Here is a video of the same route by another pair:

[The title of the post was inspired by three fantasy books, A Memory of Light by Brandon Sanderson, Memories of Ice by Sven Eriksson, and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams.]

4 Responses to “a faint memory of ice”

  1. Georges Henry Says:

    Interessante histoire. Et quelles photos! On ne peut pas toujours faire a 60 ans les choses qu’on fait a 30. Comme le dit une celebre inscription du 17 eme siecle sur les murs d’une eglise de Philadelphie ‘Accueille avec grace le passage des annees’.

    • Merci de tes encouragements!!! J’ai en fait commencé la glace il y a moins de 20 ans. Et quand je disais à la guide que ce n’était peut-être plus de mon âge, elle me parlait d’un client de 70 ans qui faisait régulièrement ce passage. Je préfère donc accueillir avec glace le passage des névés!

      • Emmanuel Charpentier Says:

        Celui-ci est particulièrement atroce… Séquelles d’hypoxie ?

        Et bravo ! Je n’aurais pas osé…

      • Merci! Je n’étais pas particulièrement anxieux et après cinq nuits à Chamonix, l’altitude n’était pas en cause. Sans doute la douleur du genou (qui m’empêche encore de courir)…

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