Walking the Knife Edge on Mt Blanc

P1130823 798276
Today I was humbled by the towering edifices which nature has plunked down here in Northwestern France. We got up early and drove to the famous ski town of Chamonix. Our destination was that big ole mountain we saw from the air yesterday: Mount Blanc.

In front of the cable car, construction cranes were busy demolishing a building and erecting what will be a much grander entrance and waiting area for the season’s tourists, who arrive here with the Christmas holidays. We rode the tram, packed with French and German hikers carrying their sharp walking poles and some with gigantic packs. These were filled with nylon wings they would use to soar off the side of the mountain and dance in the updrafts.

After the first tram ride, we climbed out and then jumped into the second lift, which would bring us almost all the way to the top of this 3482 meter mountain, France’s most famous. It was straight up, and cloudy at the summit, and as promised, really cold. They’ve built tunnels and an elevator in the absolute peak to take people to the very tippity top…you go one way to end up in Italy, and the other to stay in France.

I was fascinated watching men and women bundled up and wearing crampons gingerly creeping one by one, behind each other out onto a narrow strip of snow. Tethered by a rope, it wasn’t obvious from my viewing angle that they were dancing on a knife edge. One slip and they would tumble thousands of meters to certain death. We took turns photographing them on that little one-foot strip, as they made their way down and then it turned left and got very steep…and still a path of about a foot. My god, I can’t look.

Like many in our group, I pondered what it is that makes people want to dance on knife edges with so many feet of nothing on either side. I thought that too when I saw those guys leaping with gusto off the cliff wearing those nylon wings. Maybe people would say the same about me when I got into that boat in Colombia last month and took a three-hour ocean ride in the rain and pounding waves. I guess I get it.