Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Love is...

In the absence of recent excitement, we present A Tale of Past Adventures, including, at no extra charge, a Moral Lesson for the Edification and General Uplifting of the Reader.

Once upon a time, near the end of a very long holiday, Miss C and I found ourselves, by a combination of accident and intention, right in the heart of the Alps: Chamonix – our first-ever chance to explore this vertical wonderland. As impoverished ex-students, we equipped ourselves only lightly: I picked up a free guide to the local mountain walks, bought us one extending walking pole each, and launched us skyward with two tickets for the cable car to the Plan d’Aiguille and L’Aiguille du Midi. A few hours later, I was leading Miss C over rough lumps of granite amid truly spectacular scenery when we realised that we could no longer see the daubs of paint that marked the trail.

A few yards later, the penny finally dropped when our path was barred by a mysterious opening in the ground: a slit with grey-white sides, flooded. Crevasse! All of a sudden, like a horrible conjuring trick, they were all around us. Our previous experience of such things was limited to geography lessons, which in my case stopped at age 15. Dimly, pages from my old text book floated before my mind’s eye… that last tricky ridge of boulders was, in fact, a lateral moraine, and the rock field on which we stood was concealing the surface of a glacier. As it turns out, glaciers are not universally white and gleaming, but can cunningly disguise themselves with debris from the higher slopes.

The feeling of ambush intensified when we tried to retrace our steps to the moraine and found our way apparently barred at every step by another crevasse. They were small enough to be easily jumped – but, unnerved by their sudden appearance, we didn’t try it. Instead, we found bridges or diversions, walking in single file, with Miss C instructed to keep well back but follow me precisely.

Returned to the cable car station, we had the choice of riding it back to the village, or of trying an eastward walk towards the Mer de Glace, Europe’s largest glacier. Several miles of majestic scenery and precipitous path later, we arrived only to find that we had missed the last cog train down the mountain – and a dark storm was gathering overhead. Too tired and hungry to enjoy the spectacle, I offered Miss C the choice of spending a night, minus our luggage, in a mountain hotel at the head of the track, or of walking down through the forest and back into Chamonix.

If there is one thing in nature which Miss C cannot abide, it is thunder. Picture her then, in a dark alpine forest as night falls, with lightening crashing all around, staggering with fatigue and supported by a metal walking pole.

We arrived after dark at the hostel where we had stayed the previous night, crossing our fingers that a bed could still be found… The hostel was, as it turned out, fully booked: but, looking at the two waifs soaked to the bone, badly chilled, visibly sagging with exhaustion, the receptionist took pity on us, and some other poor couple were instantly “unbooked”.

Here, dear reader, is the remarkable thing: not then, and not since, has Miss C ever spoken a single cross word to me about the whole ordeal.

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