Saturday, August 9, 2008

42,000 feet, and I felt every one.

The past two weeks, while Betsy was finishing her Breadloaf course, I capitalized on our proximity to France to go traipsing through the Alps.  Specifically, I trekked the Tour of the Oisans, an 11-day hike through the Ecrins National Park.  It has the reputation as being one of the more difficult treks in Europe.  The Tour du Mont Blanc, one of Europe's most famous and popular treks, is a similar length.  Over the course of the Mont Blanc trek, there is a total elevation gain AND loss of 38,000 feet.  On the Tour d'Oisans, there is a total of 42,000 feet in elevation GAIN alone.  That's some serious up.  And, as my knees will tell you, also some serious down.  Every day seemed to involve a climb of roughly three hours, and a similar descent.  I don't mean meandering up a hillside for three hours.  I mean sweaty, huffing and puffing, sometimes hand over foot climbing for three hours straight.  It kicked my butt.  But I loved it.  Long uphills are sort of like meditation for me -- you can really get lost in the whole rhythm of walking, and you don't get distracted because you're so focused on reaching the pass.  Basically, the body takes over the mind.  
The Alps were, of course, gorgeous.  But it was really the challenge of the actual hike that was memorable for me this time.  Scenic panoramas didn't hurt, and were a nice reward upon reaching the pass, but it was the experience of tuning in to the climbing process that I loved.  
I met some great people -- two teachers and a couple of Belgians -- who also accentuated the experience, and helped alleviate the loneliness that can accompany a hike.  Gitta, a German-French woman, even taught me a great card game that I can't wait to share with people.  (Yes, I always carry cards while hiking -- thanks Joan).  
The pictures are pretty characteristic of my hike.  Crystal clear water, straight from glaciers, and some amazing sunsets, followed by milky skies at night.  In the seventh picture, taken from Col de la Muzelle, you get a sense for what the climbs were like.  The path up literally drops straight off from the edge of the shale.  If you'd like to see more photos, just email me and I'll send you a link to the whole collection.  
Happy trails!


Betsy said...

I love the baby goats. And the lake pictures. And the other pictures. Congratulations on 42,000 feet! My husband, hiking superstar.

Tanya said...

You never cease to amaze me...xoxox...T.

Mona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mona said...

Oh that looks like one great hike.. my shoes itch to go there :) I know what you mean, the body really takes over the mind. it's so cleansing somehow. What kind of gear did you need?

Colleen said...

Brett, your photos look amazing as always . . . do I anticipate another photographic addition to your climbing trophy wall? I can't wait to see the full slideshow when I come to visit.

Take care,
Colleen (Smith)

Brett said...

Hey all -- thanks for the comments.

Colleen -- I'll send you the link to the pics.

Mona -- Presuming you're there in August, no need for anything out of the ordinary. I wore gloves once, when it was windy early in the morning. Other than that, no crampons or ice axe, and not even a heavy coat. If you're camping, you should have a decent bag, rated to around 30F. Of course, if you go before July, you can still run into snow.