Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Failing into Success (part six of seven)

Sleeping upon mats along the floor of a gymnasium in the middle of the afternoon made for a short nap. However, both Harry and I were ready to get going after only a couple hours rest. We got the low down on the course changes then went to the dining area to grab down some coffee before heading out. This would be another small bit of familiar territory from our TDG experience heading through Pré Saint Didier then to the edge of Courmayeur before heading up and around the base of Mont Blanc proper.

The new route would be easy enough to follow as the changes simply had us going along the standard UTMB trails. Basically, the passes off of which they had routed the shorter race--deeming them too dangerous due to the snow--were the one's over which we were to travel. The higher passes of our original route, were completely inaccessible. Aside from the weather, the other concern was that Harry and I were both feeling the miles we'd already travelled. I had a fairly minor issue with my foot, but Harry was nursing a much more disconcerting issue with his shin. From what he described it was almost exactly the same issue I dealt with at the end of TDG.  We were heading into terrain and conditions that would be tough even at full strength. Doing so with an injury of unknown severity hinted at tempting fate.

Initially things seemed to be going fine. It an was easy path all the way to Courmayeur. We felt relatively rested and in good spirits. Since the original trail was supposed to go up from Saint Didier we needed a short bit of assistance finding the trail out of town. After that we were up and onto the muddy, steep climb. The weather wasn't horrible to begin with, but it seemed to get worse the higher we climbed. By the time we arrived at the top of the climb, it was dumping snow. Luckily, we had also arrived at a Refugio.

Maison Vieille was empty except for us, but the proprietor and his adolescent son welcomed us with hot soup and cup after cup of coffee. They were so inviting and friendly that we were extremely tempted to just stay here for the night and hope for better weather in the morning. The refused to let us pay for anything explaining that with the cancellation of UTMB, they had plenty. They offered us beds, but we wanted to make more progress before we slept. Besides, with all the coffee we'd just downed, it would have been fruitless. Most parties had passed through here and while the official route was to go further up and over the pass, he explained that most people had opted for an alternate route utilizing the road to Rifugio Elisabetta. He definitely recommended this given the storm that was continuing.

We weighed the option in our mind for quite a time before finally deciding on the road. Harry's leg was not in great shape and taking on another pass in the middle of the night in the middle of a storm seemed less than wise. We headed down the path to the road. It seemed to be going in the opposite direction a bit and then it descended quite steeply. The mud was terrible and I ended up taking a pretty solid fall and slide down the trail. Suddenly it didn't seem all that much safer than the original route. Eventually we made it to more level trail and then onto the road. We passed through a little village and then it was a long, slow, gradual grade going up.

We walked in silence for quite some time. I think we were both exhausted. It was Friday night and we had less than 2 days. It continued to rain and then snow as we climbed higher. The road ended and we continued on a wide trail that narrowed and then continued straight on alongside a lake. It was very dark and when the path continued along a levee with water on both sides of us it became very eerie. I kept having the feeling that the path was just going stop and we'd be standing there in the middle of the lake. We could see the light of the refugio, but it seemed far above us and not getting any closer. 

The final climb up to the refugio was a pain, but we were both happy to be there though we said nothing. By the time we arrived, it was around 3am and the place was silent. We got out of our wet clothes and then wandered around a bit figuring we'd just find some place to sleep. Eventually someone found us and showed us to two empty beds in a dormitory filled with racers. As I crawled into my bunk the Italian guy next to me looked over and gave me a thumbs up.

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