Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Glorious Fatigue

The high mountains demand respect for their immense presence, potential for danger and fantastic panoramic gifts. My husband and I finished our 6-day experience among the crests of Monte Rosa.
Life goes into a different dimension at 12000 ft. As true alpinists, we had wake-up calls at 4 a.m. everyday and were treading the snow at or before dawn to guarantee the best conditions for the long journey to and from the peaks. By 11 a.m., the snow that was crispy at dawn had turned into mush under your crampons and made walking almost hazardous from mounting snowballs that formed under your feet in descent.

At that altitude, you are literally living above the clouds. Most days, the valleys were hidden under a blanket of vapors while our skin toasted away despite protective factor 50+ sunblock, thanks to a very formidable sun.

Processing oxygen becomes a more cumbersome on top of Monte Rosa, according to scientists. We were lucky because we only suffered from a couple of headaches and I had a slight loss of appetite. Blood runs thicker through the veins as it tries to nourish the body on overdrive, plodding along the trails to Punta Parrot (mt 4435/ ft 12422), Punta Gnifetti (mt 4554/ft 12756) and Piramide Vincent (mt 4215/ft 11806), in our case. Fatigue is a constant but through sheer willpower, you burn on. One step at a time gets you to the top of the summits and back to the lodge for some much-awaited rest and the single hot meal of the day.

The landscape dazzled our eyes in its symphony of white, ice, snaking human trails of skiers and alpinists. We could constantly admire a handsome suite of summits. It was even possible to see the Matterhorn peek out from behind Lyskamm, the peak featured in my last blog entry.

Everything is hushed. You only hear the crunch of snow under your crampons for hours, except for the occasional comment or exclamation from your alpine companions. Being on the top of the world is surely a kind of escape from it. No TV. No distractions. Barely any mobile phone use. You. Nature. Sun. Wind. Snow. Clouds. Ice. Rocks.

I discovered that I can handle serious alpine conditions. My body and mind allowed me to succeed in reaching a series of incredible summits on Monte Rosa, the second tallest mountain in Europe. Unfortunately I cannot say so much for the other woman in our entourage. Her constant complaints were a drag on spirits and the group's progression on more than one occasion.

This expererience only makes me further revere those who scale the Himalayas, shooting twice as high into the atmosphere. (Of course, our alpine guide, Andrea, came with pictures of his journey there and up the Mountain G2.)

General Evaluation:
Sweet personal satisfaction on an adventure accomplished.


  1. Hey Irene, Complimenti for your mountaineering - sounds very demanding and very rewarding. If you haven't already read Three Cups of Tea, you might enjoy Greg Mortenson's account of his failed attempt at K2, and how it sent in his life in a completely other direction - fascinating. Anyway, good on you for conquering Monte Rosa, and for sharing how beautiful it was.

  2. Thanks for the tip on reading. I will be making separate comments about the trip in the future. It's not the end of the story ;)