Wild Risk

Peace and inspiration. High above Chamonix, in the alpine, for the first time in 2 months. ©Karen Bockel.

Sometimes I like to live wild and dangerously . . .

Hello from Chamonix, France, the alpine-climbing capitol of the world.

Since early March, I’ve been confined the French way but it hasn’t been all baguettes and cheese.

Regulations here were very strict. We were locked down for two months. Everyone kept to his or her houses with minimal interaction. Police enforced the rules and allowed only short trips for necessities. In the end, infection rates here stayed low.

Now we are in a slow de-confinement progression. As of recently, we can go trail running and mountain biking. We can go rock climbing and we can go high up into the alpine world to go mountaineering.

Hotels, restaurants and bars are still closed, as are the borders. We wash our hands frequently and keep hand sanitizer close by. We are careful with shared climbing gear. Most importantly, we keep to small groups and only go out with the same few climbing partners.

The other day, however, I’ll admit it. I took some risk.

I rode the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi with 30 strangers.

Why would I risk a ride in an enclosed cable car with 30 others?

I risked it because I couldn’t contain the fire inside me. My need to go into the mountains burned. I had to be high above the valley, where there is nothing but rock, ice and snow. I hadn’t been to my place of inspiration and peace for two months and it felt like a lifetime!

The tram only ran for a few days over the holiday weekend. On the last day, I decided. I got up early and packed everything, including plastic gloves, glasses and a facemask. At the base, quite a few mountain addicts were already in line. We stood 1-meter apart, wearing masks. Each of us had to pass a temperature sensor to enter the bin. Markers indicated where to stand. The tram holds 90 but they only took 30.

The top of L’Aiguille du Midi is almost 4,000 meters (just over 12,000 feet). Fresh, overnight snow gave everything an extra brilliance. I went for a glacier tour and came back smiling, my heart full.

At home, I washed everything: my hands, face, body and clothes. I did my best to minimize my exposure to the virus. But, I couldn’t eliminate the risk that came with stepping into that tram.

We often choose some level of risk to do the things we love.

In alpine climbing and mountaineering, especially, we have to deal with risk. There are so many objective hazards and conditions change very quickly. Climbers constantly think about risk and decide what to do. Go? No go? Maybe, go around?

I thought about the risk to take the tram and I decided to go. Meanwhile, I’m still careful about who I interact with. I disinfect my gear and I wear my mask in public.