It was JBs’ idea to climb a debris chute. One that ought to be frozen hard to be safe, but hey ho, it’s getting light and now we can see it all becomes clear. We’re committed, a few hundred feet above a pile of avalanche debris over which we had stumbled in the dark.
This is the Alps and we’ve been dreaming about it all year, saving up and even doing running. Precarious rubble, piles of sand and slush set at a fifty degree angle. You couldn’t go down, no way.
“It’s good training,” he said. “Show me something serious,” was my reply.
You wouldn’t want to attach yourself in any way to any part of this place. The tension had more substance than the route. It was humid to boot. Things did improve slightly as we rose, but by then physical exhaustion was overtaking its mental equivalent.
The North Face of the Col du Plan, a grandiose sort of title for a 700metre high icy gutter overlooking Chamonix near Mt Blanc. You would give it a wide berth nowadays, in summer. We should have then.
In the event of a slip or earth tremor the rope would have assured a double berth at the morgue. Its’ only useful function was to give opportunity for a breather every 100 metres as we ascended by leapfrogging 50 metre pitches. It was a long 700metres.
After the col is a tiresome flog up to the Aiguille du Midi. A lung bursting affair enlivened on this occasion by bumping into some old friends in the now freezing cloud. They were engaged in making a film about an accident prone English climber and were returning from constructing a collapsible ledge, as if there were not enough hereabouts. The Midi, at about 13,000ft is linked to Chamonix by spectacular but pricey cable car. To cut a longish story short, before we reached the ticket office JB had us signed up as collapsible ledge engineers. By the time we reached the valley we were to be extras for a bar scene that was an integral part of the plot.
A few days later on at eight thirty am sharp, an esoteric little pub near the marketplace in Chamonix was the venue for one of the earlier starts of the season. It seemed too good to be true, getting paid for drinking. These people knew JB pretty well and I soon began to question their judgment in hiring us for this.
The continuity girl was charming and very professional, keeping our glasses filled at an appropriate level as shooting progressed. The upshot being, that the longer this take took, as it were, the more JB and I drank. The more we drank, the louder we got and the less the film star could be heard. The more he couldn’t be heard the more they had to film and the more we had to drink and so on ……….
After some black looks and tight lipped censuring the film was in the can. What lasts about two minutes on screen had taken four hours. JB and I staggered out into the blinding sunshine and headed for a quiet patch of grass for a lie down to sleep off the mornings’ work, a few hundred francs better off.
There is a postscript with some justice metered out to satisfy those who like a moral ending.
The media circus moved up to the Vallee Blanche for a few days filming. Equity required a few comforts for its’ members so plenty of gear was required up there at 10,000ft. It can get cold at night. Another career change had us re-engaged as sherpas and we larded the snowfields with sweat, trudging back and forth from the Midi humping camera batteries and dragging gas bottles etc over soft snow on yet another humid day. Rain mingled with the beer dripping out of our pores.
“It’s good training” he said.
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