The familiar, rhythmic crunch of footsteps on hard packed snow....the only sound in the darkness as we cross the newly groomed pistes in search of another night of aurora borealis. It's midnight. Piste slope lights are switched off. The little log cabin bar has closed although some late night revellers are out on the balcony smoking; one brave lass is performing cartwheels in the snow to impress her beau. Clearly an acrobatic snowboarder. Ah, what it is to be twenty something!
We head across the three neighbouring piste slopes and past the 30m waterfall ice wall; the scene of what will be my downfall tomorrow. In a fit of enthusiasm and not much thought I signed up for ice climbing. I last did it in my twenties when I weighed four stone less; was thin, lean and honed and extremely fit. Those days did once exist, a long time ago. I was never heavily into climbing. Mountaineering yes, rock climbing no. Ice axe training was a requirement. How to brake yourself if you slipped on the snow and went careering off downslope. How to extract yourself back up the vertical walls of any crevasse you accidentally fell into. That kind of thing. I completed it on the Mer de Glacé in Chamonix, France. Ah those were the days......the Mt. Blanc circuit and all that malarkey. Vertical spires, endless steel ladders; sleeping platforms in the Dome du Gouter hut. Distant memories that have no impact on the kids.....but once, once upon a time, I could give them all a run for their money.
Anyway, the waterfall was lit up. Two double roped black climbing ropes snaking up the rock face, stark against the pearly white ice. What was I thinking??? We crunched our slow methodical amble passed the waterfall and up the track, ever increasingly enveloped by the dark and the pine trees either side. Inside my head I was desperately trying to remember what I could about ice climbing. " small steps up; feet waist width apart; keep feet level before swinging axes; think triangles.....can't remember why; waist in and shoulders back to place axes; hips out and looking down to place feet; keeping central line of body and central line for ice axes either side of body's centre of gravity"
Well remembering theory is one thing. Actually doing it will be another. Still it will give offspring and missus a huge giggle, only the two kids haven't yet caught on that they are signed up for it as well. That will teach them to mock my skiing efforts!
After crunching snow for over a kilometre it was clear the clouds wouldn't be clearing any time soon and so we turned and crunched back again. The acrobat was still perfecting her flips but the neon 'open' sign had been switched off and the enticing cafe hut had closed for the night. Ah well, we tried!