I woke up at midnight. Head throbbing. I can’t believe it’s too hot to sleep. I am in airbnb flat in a village in Aosta valley in the Alps. I know it’s midnight because the church bell sounds 12 times, and then every half an hour it rings again. I dreamed I was climbing and every step was pain, my legs hurt, my lungs hurt, I breathe heavily, my heart screams and I keep saying “I can’t do this”, “I can’t do this”, “I can’t do this”, and I walk, and with every step I say “I can’t do this” and it becomes a chant, and the words become a hum. A song with no meaning. 12 times “I can’t do this.” A church bell. I can’t sleep. I am going to be dead tired tomorrow when I am about to start climbing the mountain of my life. The Alps. Gran Paradiso. The highest mountain peak of Italy. And tomorrow night I’ll be sleeping on my way up in a hut with 20 people who will be snoring. Nice.
We left Montenegro two days ago, three of us, a weird group of people. Two guys, a father and a son, and me, a middle-age woman who gets comments how this need, this compulsion to climb mountains, is a middle-age crisis. We also have a “spiritual guide”, a guy who wanted to go with us, but couldn’t. He is worried, and he gives us advices all the time before we leave. He’s with us in spirit only. We also call ourselves the RGB group, because of the colours of our equipment – red, green and blue.
In the morning we packed and left for the mountain. We were about to start from Valsavarenche. My backpack felt like 100 kilos and my back hurt from just lifting it. I am thinking about what to leave out and how to make it easier but then, me, as I am, I say I’ll be fine. I just have to get used to the weight. As we left the car, all of us loaded and heavy, I am nervous to start. We have only 5 km to go and only 800 meters in altitude to climb for tonight. I’ll be fine.
I wasn’t. The backpack was too heavy, I hated every person we met on our way because they were all nice, saying “buona sera”, and “bonjour” and I couldn’t even respond as I was fighting for air. On 2735 meters above sea level we finally found refuge Vittorio Emanuele II. The surrounding area is all stones, a huge pile of rocks, which looked as if somebody, some titan probably, threw them there. No grass. No trees. Just stones and some snow in the distance. And the sound of water. Melting from the glacier. I was dead tired and I hoped for a good night sleep. In the mountain hut.
Of course I didn’t sleep. Some people around me snored heavily and I was awake half of the night. But I was also very excited to start the climb. I got my capuccino first thing in the morning. It was really good. I got rid of some things from the backpack and everything was set for climbing. Climb the huge pile of stones and beyond to the snow in the distance. These days I rely on my instincts. I try to enjoy every breath, every thought, every step of the way, every word of the book I was given before this adventure. Like I am a big satellite dish catching good vibrations around me and transferring them into positive energy. And I walked, sometimes first in the group, sometimes last, as I was fighting for air. The stones kept surrounding me, but we climbed and I felt we are closer to the goal. I felt like I was spreading my wings and I was close to be able to fly. The goal is Gran Paradiso. It should be enough to name something Paradiso.
After some time of walking up the stone ridge we came across a straight line of snow. Such a clean border between stone and snow. That’s it – this is where it starts. We armed ourselves with boot-crampons and ice-picks, sun cream, helmets and special sun glasses and started our slow trek through the snow. Occasionally we would encounter a deep ice cleft in the glacier with its blue gleam. I wanted to get closer to peek inside and imagined how I could find a way to get out if I fall into it. Because I felt strong. But I am aware that I would probably just die if I did. And then the fog and the strong wind came. We kept walking, tracing the foot steps of previous climbers, but we couldn’t see more than a couple of meters ahead of us. We didn’t think about giving up, as we knew the peak was close. We could see the dark stone that rises above the snow every now and then when the wind would blow away the fog. So we kept walking, fighting to breathe. 4000 meters above sea level does that. It takes your breath away.
And then suddenly here it is. The big rock on our right side, and a rope hanging from above. We, slowly, one by one, climbed the rope and found ourselves on top, made some photos and went down. When I was waiting for the others to climb down, Danilo, the father, approached me and gave me the ice-pick, and said: “Congratulations! You deserved this ice-pick. It’s yours.” The “spiritual guide” sent me an ice-pick as a present. And I started to cry. Luckily I had my black sun glasses so nobody could see. But I cried. Tears of joy. I don’t know why, it’s a relief, it’s pride, it’s joy. I know I sound like an emotional fuckup (sorry mom) and I don’t know why I’m doing all of this, but I cried tears of joy. When is the last time you cried of joy? I felt how intensely strong I am. Much stronger than I planned to be. Strong because I know I can do whatever I want. I was afraid I was going to crumble on the mountain and instead I flew.
Going back was easy, the weather was great and we took lots of photos. After some time spent so high in the mountains you learn to appreciate the grass and the trees.
In the next couple of days we planned to climb Mont Blanc. It was the ultimate goal all the time. Gran Paradiso was just a check if we can do it. I knew I can do everything now. We went to Chamonix, strong and self-confident. We had sun and wind burned faces and lips which is the ultimate seal of the mountain climb. The weather forecast was bad though. The wind was 60-80 km/h, which I could only imagine as driving with my head out of a car window with an outside temperature of 0 degrees. No, thank you. We argued for three hours if we should try to climb, but the rain and bad forecast for the next three days made us decide. We set to go back home sooner than planned, disappointed, and feeling down. We were quiet most of the time which didn’t resemble our noisy start a week ago, the funny games and laughter of the beginning of our road-trip.
Now, however, when I see the photos I am able to remind myself of where I’ve been, and what kind of strength I felt. The tears of joy. Like I was hanging out with the Gran Paradiso titans who made those piles of stones. The titans of Mont Blanc will be my friends next year.