Julbo Vertical Session

It is no secret; I have lifetimes worth of climbing adventures dreamed up. The priorities of these objectives are forever changing depending on partners, fitness level, and a plethora of other variables. One location that has always remained near the top of the list is Greenland.

At the end of May I had a unique opportunity to participate in the Julbo Verical Session. This contest chose one lucky amateur climber to join Chamonix mountain guide Christophe Dumarest for an all-expense-paid, month-long climbing trip to Greenland’s Fox Jaw Cirque.

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Christophe Dumarest seen (on right) chatting with fellow competitor, Ester. Photo courtesy of the talented Marc Daviet.

On a whim, I decided to apply for this contest. I spent a few hours teaching myself the basics of Apple’s iMovie and produced a short, but passable, video. I submitted this and the written application, and promptly forgot all about it.

Some time later, and much to my surprise, I received an email informing me that I had been shortlisted for a “try-out”. Myself and five others were to join Christophe and the Julbo team in Chamonix, France for two days of climbing in the Alps.

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The view of a snowy Alps. Photo courtesy of the talented Marc Daviet.

With only a week before the try-outs started, plane tickets were expensive. Also, I had already tested my work’s patience for letting me take time off. With only a one in six chance of being chosen, I hesitated on whether or not I should even go to Chamonix. In the end, with some encouragement from the right people, an understanding boss, and an acceptance that the Russian Roulette odds were pretty high as far as my trips are concerned, I bit the bullet and went for it.

When I arrived in Chamonix the afternoon before our try-outs it was in the mid 70s (+23c) and full sun. Perfect weather. By the next morning, it was snowing in town. Overnight the weather had worsened drastically. In the mountains there was almost 2ft (60cm) of new snow and a blizzard still raging.

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Standing in the blizzard. Photo by the talented Marc Daviet.

As snow continued to fall, the entire Julbo Vertical Sessions contingent met at a small cafe in town. Brief introductions lead to a discussion about what was going to take place over the next two days. Plans were shaky at best, as all were weather dependent. Our plan was to take the Aiguille du Midi cable car up to its summit, then descend the ridge to arrive at the Refuge des Cosmiques where we would spend the night.

As the cable car ascended, the weather worsened. By the time we were half way up it was white-out conditions. At the summit, we cautiously ventured out onto the ridge. None of the guides had ever seen it in such poor condition. With it being too unsafe to continue, we spent the day doing a variety of skill tests and taking a lot of video and photographs for P.R. purposes.

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Francois battling the storm. Photo courtesy of the talented Marc Daviet.

Day turned to evening, and with no improvement in the conditions, we descended back to town via the cable car.  An enjoyable night was passed in fun conversation at a nice restaurant.

The following morning we all piled into cars and took a ride to the Italian side of the Alps. The weather was perfect and the day was spent climbing at a picturesque crag overlooking the quaint Aosta Valley. It was a feast for the eyes; ancient towns, terraced hillsides, and castle ruins laid in the foreground with the mighty Alps serving as a backdrop.

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Enjoying the view.  Photo by the talented Marc Daviet.

The pressure was on to perform and climb well, as it was really the only day that any of the candidates had to show their skills. Many of the routes were trying and there was the added challenge of climbing with the hodgepodge collection of the guides’ climbing equipment.

At the close of the day, we all headed back to Chamonix and shared a parting meal. Soon after, the Spanish contestant, Fatima, and I were graciously driven to the Geneva airport by  Antoine, the French contestant. We had a great time on the road, singing and dancing to songs on the radio and releasing some tension. The sunset over the Alps was breathtaking.

As fate would have it, I did not win the trip to Greenland. That honor would belong to the kind Antoine. In addition to being the strongest climber out of all the contestants, his caring and fun-loving personality will make him an excellent addition the the Julbo Vertical Sessions team. I can truly say that I am extremely happy and excited for him. Congrats, Antoine!

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