This summer, I’m conducting a work/play experiment in the Alps. I’ve moved my home office from Colorado to Chamonix, a lovely but sometimes insanely touristy town at the foot of Mont Blanc. This post is the first in a series about temporarily living and working in a premiere trekking and climbing destination–and another country.
Settling in to our apartment in Chamonix has brought on flashbacks of moving into our college dorm rooms. We don’t have enough closet space. Our “desk” is a multi-purpose surface: dinner table, dump for change and keys, home to two laptops and a French press every morning. The climbing gear is stashed under the bed. The backpacks are shoved into a corner of the living room. And there’s nowhere to put the luggage once we finish emptying it, because our ski locker in the basement is literally only wide enough for skis.
At least this time I know I’ll like my roommate.
But one glance out the window of our top-floor apartment at the peaks just a walk away makes the squeeze inside irrelevant. And sure, we can’t quite manage to unpack in a week’s time, but we’ve already done the three things we came here to do: climb, hike and work.
The work part has been the toughest, so far. It’s better now that the jet lag has worn off, but working in the evenings so we can be available to people back home (and hike and climb during the day) requires a mental switch. My brain is accustomed to working in the mornings and being lazy at night. No more.
Climbing was the easiest of our three objectives, for this week. The local crag at Les Gaillands is on the edge of a little lakeside park, and it’s just a 15 or 20 minute walk down the road from our apartment. Once there, turn away from the rock and you have an unobstructed jaw-dropper of Mont Blanc, the Chamonix Aiguilles, and the Bossons and Taconnaz glaciers spilling down from the heights.
The crag is covered in well-bolted moderate routes, and even on a gorgeous Saturday when it was swarming with people, we had no trouble getting on climbs. Before we left Colorado, a friend–who loaned us a stack of Chamonix guide books, thanks Michelle!–said to make sure we learn to know when someone is about to butt in on your route in other languages. That might be true on some of the popular alpine routes we’re scoping out for the near future, but at Les Gaillands, people were friendly in many languages.
Between climbing days, we hiked from town. Our first hike was somewhat unnatural by Chamonix standards, because we hiked up to Montenvers, and most folks arrive at this destination overlooking the Mer de Glace by the cog train from Chamonix. If you happen to hike the old mule trail between Montenvers and Cham, it’s probably only downhill, after ascending via the train. Accessibility to the high trails by train or cable car is one of the benefits of trekking around here–rather than spending hours hiking up the steep trails out of town to treeline, you arrive there in 10 or 20 minutes (and 20 or so Euros poorer).
The biggest advantage of hiking from town? Getting fit for longer days high up in the Alps. More of that to come.