Notes from Chamonix

On June 15 we shipped the AAJ to the printer and I hopped a plane to Europe. I’d been working my ass off for far longer than I want – like months – which left me wondering: “How the fuck do people work like this all year round? And why? No wonder so many seem so miserable.” Not sure why I worked so much — I live a generally low-budget lifestyle — other than needing something besides margaritas to obsess over while recovering from surgeries and doing rehab (for the surgeries, not the margaritas). Anyway, so I’m wrapping-up my two-and-a-half weeks in Chamonix, France. I took some notes:

• Wine is so cheap here. Good cheap, not bad cheap. As in, a 3.50Euro bottle (that’s like 5 American Pesos right now) that’s freakin’ delicious.

• The only obese people you see are visiting Americans (and the stray Brit or German). There’s no way to sugarcoat it, no excuse for it, and the comparison is shocking: Americans are fat.

• The people with mullets wearing paneled shell pants – usually red or purple in the knees – are probably Spanish. (Apparently I need to get some paneled shell pants.)

• The people wearing matching outfits are probably Italian.

• The drunken line of people singing songs, arm-in-arm, down the middle of the street at 2 a.m. – or, hell, 2 p.m. – are definitely Brits.

• Most Frenchmen do, in fact, look quite French. You know, that long slender face with a cigarette and one eyebrow raised as they go “Mmmm, how you say, maybeee, maybe not?”

• French climbers invented the colors neon green, fire-red orange, and pink.

• The access to the mountains is unbelievable. And everyone loves good access. Just wrote a post about it here.

• Classic routes are crowded. And passing parties on-route works just fine. Europe is crowded, and people learn to get along. None of this “I was here first” bullshit like climbers try to pull back home (which usually translates as: I’m slow, which, uhhhh, gives me ownership to this public route??). You’re not the only person with the idea to climb this thing, and you don’t own it. It’s the nature of classic routes. Classic means crowded in the land of activity meaning active, versus activity meaning TV. Being friendly helps. When in Rome… On the Swiss Route of the Grand Capucin, when I skipped a belay station (most of the pitches here are fairly short, so you can link them) where a Swiss climber was belaying his leader, and a fixed pin provided the only pro a body length above the ledge, I asked if I could clip the leader’s draw with my draw (hey, at least I asked…). “Of course, no problem.” Voila.

• When you’re nice to people, they’re usually nice to you. It’s very American to rip on the “rude French.” Ironic, given our worldwide reputation as Ugly Americans (“You call this a sammich?!?!?”). But this is my fourth trip to France (10 days of ice climbing in 2001, a month in Chamonix in 2003, a week of bouldering a year or two later, and this 2.5-week trip), and I can remember one or two “rude” encounters. About the same as back home. Key: ditch the “I’m ‘Merican!” attitude. The country you’re from doesn’t make you special. Having an attitude just makes you an asshole. I don’t speak a word of French. But I smile a lot, am polite, and I remember that I’m the one who’s in their country – not the other way around. The French have been awesome in my book.

• I’m fuckin’ psyched at how my body is handling this. Months of up to 15 hours a week of PT & rehab seems to be paying off – fingers crossed (and I’m still doing my maintenance exercises while here, and trying to be smart). This has been the most climbing I’ve done in a long, long time, and it feels good.

• Crazy how clear the world looks, and how quiet my mind, when I have time in the mountains. I came here for a Polartec meeting – I’m honored to be part of their Athlete Advisory Board, and some of the athletes are French, and so we had the meeting in Cham. Sweet, huh? (But next year it’s in Boston…) Anyway, they let me book my return whenever I wanted, and two weeks after the end of our meetings sounded good. Chamonix is crazy expensive, but I wasn’t busting my ass all winter and spring to buy a god-damned home entertainment system.

• Cham summary: The mountains are expensive, the wine is cheap, and the quiet I feel after a great day of climbing is beyond words.