Sunday, 8 April 2007

Open mouth, insert foot

The other day a mate, Andy Crampons, was doing the Vallee Blanche (riding down from the Aiguille du Midi) - he was with 3 mates doing a variant route down rather than the Classic Route. The Vallee Blanche is a well known 22km off-piste run mostly down a series of glaciers. When doing it, if you don't know what you're doing you should definitely definitely get a guide and you should really have all the proper equipment - harness, crampons, rope, climbing/rescue devices as well as all the rest of the bits and bobs. After traversing across one of the glaciers that you ride down, they happened upon a guy standing with no skis on next to a 1m hole.

The guy was standing there, apparently talking English to himself. So naturally the boys stopped and inquired if all was OK. The guy's son had fallen into a crevasse but the father said he was happy about pulling him out by himself with the rope he had brought along. What had essentially happened was that he and his son had been skiing along down the glacier and decided to stop for a picnic in a spot that looked safe (!! - on a glacier that's covered with hidden crevasses??). Dad took off his skis and promptly put his foot straight through a snow bridge (a bridge of fallen snow over a crevasse that can be 1 snowflake thick or maybe tens of metres thick or even more) which collapsed under the weight of his son and thence he fell. Monkeys.

They had some of the gear, but Crampons et al were in no mood to argue and put their crevasse rescue training to good use and promptly hauled matey's son out of said crevasse whereupon he grabbed hold of his Dad's leg and starting shaking a bit - understandable under the circumstances really.

Matey's lack of skis were a bit of an issue really, what with being stranded in the middle of a glacier with collapsing snow bridges all around. So they called in the rescue chopper and got him and his son lifted off the mountain.

Weirdly enough, Crampons went for a quick beer after skiing in Le Delice, our local bar/restaurant run by Katy, an old school friend of mine and her partner Fred. Crampons saw matey and son there enjoying a calming ale after the near-death experience of the day. He obviously said hello but by all accounts they were both a little sheepish and thankful to still be together so he left them to it and arrived up at the farmhouse (he lives below Andy and I in the lower section of the house). He came up and told us about his exciting day and how he came across this pair and yanked them out of trouble.

A little later and my housemate Andy and myself whisked ourselves down to Le Delice for a beer. Fred was working behind the bar and as Andy and I had been talking about what had happened on the VB today, I immediately turned to Fred and in far too loud a voice said "HEY FRED, I HEARD CRAMPONS WINCHED TWO F***ING IDIOTS OFF THE VALLEE BLANCHE TODAY". A rather pregnant pause later, Fred says quietly "yeah, it was those two in the corner" and pointed to a young guy and his dad obviously still in the bar trying enjoying a bite to eat. Bugger - the monkey strikes again. They didn't stay long.

Maybe it was a little harsh to laugh about their near-death experience but to be honest everyone's got stories of monkeys on the mountains. Guys with little or no clue or experience about where they are and what the environment is really like. We laugh about it but in all honesty if you don't you're likely to go mad. We're all careful about where we ride and what the conditions are like but by the same token we've got more than average experience in the mountains and have all done courses in crevasse rescue, climbing, avalanche awareness, advanced skiing/snowboarding. Many of us have a speciality area as well with extremely good climbers, off piste riders, experienced mountaineers and more making up the groups. Plus we wear the right gear when riding serious backcountry or whenever there's the idea of riding above extremely low risk terrain.

Saying that though, I don't think it helps when some monkey takes the piss after nearly binning it on the mountain.

The walk from Aiguille du Midi to start the Vallee Blanche.