Mountain festivals. So many are flourishing everywhere, offering various experiences, from walks with famous mountaineers to climbing sessions with athletes. How do they all differ one from the other? I guess looking at the organisers can give us some clues. If they are keen on the mountains, and not profit per se, they will surely craft an interesting event.
So when I heard about the Chamonix Mountain Festival, I wondered what it would be like. Chamonix is such a famous resort, with people flocking from all over the world. How do you entice them to take part in a “Brand Experience”.
First of all you create a good “deal”, just like Black Diamond did.
Black Diamond is the world leader when it comes to reliable tools and gear for all things mountain, from crampons to ice-axes, skis to helmets, quickdraws to harnesses. The chance to spend the day with a BD athlete AND have some gear as well? Too tempting to forego.
I signed up to be with BD ambassador Jon Bracey, also a certified mountain guide. Jon is from England, but has lived in Chamonix for the past ten years. Together with Matt Helliker, he is the founder of Vertigo Guides offering tours and routes in the Mont Blanc Massif and elsewhere.
I had met him at another event, the Cogne Ice Opening, in December 2013, and knew I’d have a good time with him.
I was not aware, however, that I would be his only client that day. Having a mountain guide “for yourself” does not happen very often, unless you can afford the expense each time, so I made sure I treasured every moment.
Having recently recovered from a broken heel, I did not want to do anything extreme, though I was keen on getting some experience at altitude. The Pointe Lachenal (3613 m) seemed to fit the bill.
En route, Jon filled me in with all sorts of useful information – how many meters of rope between each person when walking on a glacier, how to tie a clove hitch and a munter hitch, how to build a snow belay. And of course we talked about gear: how my BD Aspect harness differed from his, screwgate vs the new BD Magnetron VaporLock carabiner with integrated magnet, two-point VS one-point crampons – this applies more to ice climbing.
Sharing an adventure, be it small or big, however, does not merely involve discussing technical details. We walked past the spot where I had my accident (it was on the Voie Rébuffat route, under the Aiguille du Midi) and Jon showed some interest in that, asking how I felt, what I thought, whether I would go up there again. I liked that.
The Pointe Lachenal itself is an interesting route, involving rock climbing, one rappel, a charming traverse, overlooking pretty cornices – from a distance! – and famous landmarks such as the Grand Capucin, the Tour Ronde, the Dent du Geant.
We had set off with the sun shining and blue skies in the morning, but the forecasted bad weather arrived earlier than expected, with our hike back to the Aiguille du Midi more akin to a cavalcade in the storm.
I am grateful to Jon for his time and to Black Diamond for supplying the gear.
I hope to see some more similar events at other festivals, as this formula is clearly a successful one.