Friday, August 31

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Why was i so stupid to think that after 2 months of roughly no climbing I can go and do f**ing campus board?! Why why why?! So here it is... literally 5 days back into climbing and my right shoulder muscle or nerve (not joint) is injured, to the point that I cannot lift my bag or comb my hair sometimes. I just stop midway because of some sharp pain. Shits! this just goes to say that indeed i need to take it easy. Maybe that training is for our strong girls, but not for me, at least not yet. I hate my stupid head for trying.

Wednesday, August 29

In which she rambles

Whoa! After the half marathon on sunday we had PT for training on monday. Mmm ... This involved hanging on campus board, conditioning (pull-ups, push-ups, crunches) and yes! running 5 km ... I mean cmon! It was horrible! the whole day yesterday I literally dragged my feet and I had to go home around 4 to sleep because I could not take it anymore :) I'm back though, today is climbing training and tomorrow night after my late class I will do some stairs climbing cum heavy backpack. Yey!! For PT I did not do pull ups because I am still afraid that my elbow will pop out, but i did reasonably well for campusboard hangs and for some of the routes Alvin gave us (for one of them i couldn't even start though)... Alvin is our new training supervisor, he's kinda stiff, doesn't seem to understand our way of training and joking but i think/hope we'll break him in soon :))

Work related stuff: I have been very very busy ... I will be buying my plane ticket soon and I still haven't told my supervisor that i am leaving for one month and a half ... There's this guy that is sleeping in the lab and that snoops around desks ... I really hate that, so i'm planning a very very nasty joke for him, something in the lines of building a robot and leaving it on my desk and when he comes too close maybe the robot says something and sends an email to everybody in the lab :)) or only to me and him :) Geekish revenge, what can I say?

Also, wouldn't it be nice if fat was like dark matter? Still weighing but invisible? So we could all be slim but still weigh our god given mass? How cool is that? But then again people would not be able to hug each other :)) everybody will have an invisible boundary from which other people would bounce :))

This is a picture from one of the last routes i climbed in Romania. I'm posing such that I scare my mom (silly me). We had to do this route two times because the first time the wind blew my chalk bag away and M. wanted to go back and get it. I didn't, because I have my new colorful chalk bag that i won for boulderactive and I wanted to use it but couldn't because i was feeling remorseful towards my old one (!!), so losing the old one would have been the perfect excuse :)) I am stuck now with my old one, but it's ok, we've been through a lot together.

Sunday, August 26

Army half

Just a short post because my feet are aching a bit [no, I am not writing with them, but still]. Competed in the army half marathon today (that is 21 km to you). Woke up at 3:45 am to get there around 4:30 am. Race started at 05:30 am. I never stopped, which is an improvement from my lonely runs. There were so many people running next to me that it was embarrassing to stop, so thank you all. There was this short guy that kept on sprinting then walking, sprinting and walking, what a silly way to waste energy ...

The first lady finished in about one hour and a half (according to Marian) and I finished roughly in 1h 55mins. Pretty reasonable considering I was aiming for 2hrs 30 mins. Congrats to everybody there, especially those veterans .. There was this granny-like woman that finished in front of me, respect man!

[Granny like woman ... sheesh! I think I need some food and a lot of sleep]

Friday, August 24

Before and after

You gotta love those before and after pics. They always show a [very] ugly before pic and an extremely nice after version. It's never the other way around even though it would be a more realistic approach. So, here's my before and after pic. Notice the hair man, the hair!!! My hair was a lot of trouble while climbing and mountaineering so i decided that it was time to chop! chop! It's much easier to take care of it now ... even though in the mornings I look like a punker :) I will post a picture soon :).

Tuesday, August 21

The story part III. The giant

Now of course it was NOT my desire to spend the following perfect days hauling equipment from base camp to Zermatt and then traveling to Chamonix, France. In Zermatt I went to the guides' office and ask if Matterhorn is climbable. As you can see from the photo it is almost completely white, which apparently means that it's not climbable, especially by novice mountaineer intermediate climber like myself (seems the problem is not getting up, even if there are around 1200 m of climbing, but getting down, because you cannot find the rappel points in the snow). This left me in tears outside the office, but let's not talk about this now ... [Did you know that Dufourspitze costs 400 euros to climb with a guide!? Not including a preparation climb which you have to do before, which is around 200 euros ... Matterhorn is around 1000 euros to climb!!]

Thus we decided that Mont Blanc (4808m, the highest in the Alps) will be doable - it being covered in snow is no biggie, unless there's avalanche risk - so we had to leave for Chamonix. Proposed route: again, start from 2300 m, go higher than the Gouter refuge (3800m), camp there and then in the same night attempt the peak. The slope is much much more steep and our backpacks were nearly as heavy because our stove was misbehaving so we had to carry water to save some time on the cooking (we had to melt snow otherwise). Plus at one point you have to cross a slope from one rocky point to another and there are rocks that fall from above, which means that you literally have to run for it and you are wearing crampons and your heavy backpack. Then it's just climbing, sometimes using ice axe but always with crampons (even though you are rock climbing).

We arrived in the camp around three. M. started building a wall to protect the tent from the fierce wind, and I started cooking! Yey!! It took me about one hour, one hour and a half to get the water boiling, and then M. around two hours to make the tea for the night ascent. Which means that, instead of eating two times (once to replenish our lost energy on that horrendous climb and once for the climb ahead) we only ate once.

We woke up around one thirty am, had some tea and some horrible cookie (too sweet) and manage to leave the tent around two. We were so drained of energy that the first slope up the Dome du gouter (4302m - we climbed it on the descent from Mont Blanc) got that horrible cookie flowing upstream, which made me really dizzy. When I saw two spanish climbers turning back though, and thought at what they must be feeling I decided that I didn't want to feel like that and moved on! Yey!!

There were a lot of people ahead of us, but because of the wind they decided to wait in the Valois refuge (4400m i think), which got us around the first ten on the summit around six o'clock!! There were some nice steep and sharp ridges to climb but after the dufourspitze one, they seemed so easy...

We spent around twenty minutes on the summit (the wind was very fierce) and then around nine we were back in the tent. We fell asleep as we were, I was wearing my harness, my sunglasses, gore-tex suit, everything except rope and boots :) We woke up around twelve and by five we were down at the train station at 2300m waiting for the train for Houches, then into a supermarket for some cheese and bread [mmmmm] then to the camping site and then to sleep!!! Whoa!!

The next day we went to visit Chamonix. I liked it much much better than Zermatt. Maybe it's the latin feeling or something ... but I just loved it. And all the equipment stores!!! Omg ... there were in Zermatt also but very expensive ... here they were quite reasonable ... mmmm ... Didn't buy anything, except some tshirts and a pair of merrell shoes that were on sale and unfortunately too small for me in the end ... alas ...

Friday, August 17

The story part II. In which I get burned

On tuesday on a window of good weather we decided to go up towards Dufourspitze. We were walking pretty good and settling in our rhythm as a team, the weather was stupendous, there was just one problem: because of the heavy snows from the past few days, we had no tracks. None! Nada! Zip! Zilch! And it's not like you have signs showing you the way or some special rock that does not get covered by snow or something ... So instead of taking a right and going up what seemed a hill full of crevasses and cornices we took a left and proceeded up an easier (ok, ok, lazy also) slope. We realized we were up a cornice when the snow under M. went "whoop", so M had to come back really fast and we had to get out of there. At least we knew that was the wrong way ...

Our nightly ritual had become getting up at two am in the morning, sticking our heads out of the tent and assessing the weather. This happened also on the night of tuesday to wednesday. Weather was better but still foggy, so we resumed sleep. In the morning the weather was super nice, so we decided to hurry up with breakfast and go up Gorner glacier for some crevasse surfing and some training.

When we came back to the tent we saw four teams coming down from the direction of Dufourspitze. "Shit!" I say to meself, "they have climbed it!". The four teams were british, japanese, hungarian, and polish. M. talks to the british and finds out that the snow was too big and they got tired of breaking it so they gave up. I spoke to the polish team and they told me that they got lost (was it by following our tracks? :D) and that the weather was foggy and when they got just below the first ridge (Doufourspitze just bellow the summit has one 70 degrees ice and snow slope, one ridge, one 60 degrees iced snow slope, another ridge and then a climb up the summit block) they saw an avalanche and decided to retreat.

Excited as I was, not even talks about avalanches, big snow and all that could turn me back now ... I knew we were going to climb that night and that was that!! We woke up around two am, ate, dressed and at first wanted to wait for other teams to go first (it's easier to follow somebody's tracks) but since nobody was coming (we could see no lights from down below) we decided to go for it. It was my first time climbing at night and it took a while for my body to get used to it... Initially there was some low alpine clouds but when we got above them the weather was flawless. My right leg fell into a small crevasse but other than that everything was ok. I saw the most amazing sunrise of my life: Matterhorn and Liskam** were all red, everything else was dark blue and orange ... Amazing!! (no picture of course)

Just as we were going up the corniced slope we did not want to go up two days before, a very strong wind whose first customers for the day we were, started to blow. My feet started to freeze (note to self: salomon blue boots - don't know the model - are not fit for high altitudes) and then my hands (could put windstopper gloves on) and then M. started to feel very very very cold on his back. Reason?! The day before when we were walking up the glacier he unzipped the ventilation zippers on his gore-tex and forgot them open!! We had to stop for him to take out his harness, gore-tex, put a polartec on, put the gore-tex back on, harness on, gloves on and so on... I froze to death in the process ...

So we started going up the iced 70 degrees slope. At one point i wanted to take M's photo but the battery had frozen so i put another one inside the d200 but it was frozen also. Took one and put it just under my chin thinking i could warm it up (but I lost it on the summit, i think it fell in Italy). Instead M. took this photo of me*. After this slope we got up to the first ridge. This is where I forgot about the wind, the cold, and about putting sunscreen on our faces.

Now you see, because of the heavy snows in the last days, the ridge, instead of being your ordinary, garden like variety of rocky, granite, ridge on which you can easily scramble, we had your not so nice granite rocky ridge covered with a lot of snow (puffy snow, that is). Which means that when you are stepping on it you cannot tell whether you are stepping on the rock or into immortality, and you only have 1000 m or so on your right and on your left to fall upon. It's true that it's snowed up and you don't realize that you are this high, the only hint being that you can see people down there almost one inch height. So, instead of both of us going at the same time through the ridge, M. had to go first with me sort of belaying him [by sticking my ice axe into the snow, a crab in there and belaying from it]. Needless to say that M weighs around 30 more kgs than me which meant that if he fell my belay station was useless. It did not help that he said: "Claudia, if you want us to live, when I fall you jump on the other side of the ridge". I am a clumsy person by nature and every move I do is thoroughly rehearsed, so chances of me jumping on the right side of the ridge were very slim. So instead I would analyze (I was way beyond the point when I was thinking "omg we're going to die, omg i don't want to die, we also have to come back this way, there's no escalator at the summit, shit shit shit") the possible directions of fall and put myself behind boulders: if he were to fall, i would hit the boulder and hopefully be able to hold him. This is how we went through the second ridge also. Other teams (japanese and british) were pilling up behind us, but none wanted to go first, leaving to us the honor of being first on the summit.

Yey!!! I was so so so happy and relieved to be on the summit! I nearly hugged the japanese, and the british team (one british guy and his guide), I told the guide congratulations :)) The guide also complimented us [gulp]

And the view, ah the view!!

The first picture is of the japanese team descending, you can see Matterhorn on the left, Dent Blanche (the white one) and Weissorn (all are piramides). The next picture is of Nordend which we thought we could do that night, but we were so shacked after the 8 hours ascent and the 4 hours descent that we couldn't do anything more ... So Nordend with its ridge remains a dream. This is another picture of the japanese descending, and these are the british (guide and client).

Now, remember my previous picture where my face was burnt? This is where it happened... We forgot to put sunscreen, the wind was blowing, the sun was so strong, plus it got reflected from the snow ... Plus my nose was runny and I couldn't blow my nose because it hurt, so because of the wind blowing all the mucus froze on my nose [groce, you did not want to know this] leaving my nose and cheek encrusted [if you wish ... yuck!!!]

*will upload picture when i get home
**Liskam is the big wall behind me in the picture with me holding the flag next to the summit cross. It has a climbable 1000 m ice wall - the route is rougly where my left fist is :)

Monday, August 13

The story part I. I get there but I am not lucky

Two hours after I'd arrived in Bucharest I was at my place packing things for the trip to the Alps. Very happy to see my mom and my dog but anxious to get everything out of Marian's backpack and put all my climbing gear in. At that time I was still missing ice axe and crampons, but M. was bringing them down. By the way, M. was already on his way to my place for us to get going. I think it took us about four hours to leave my place. Everything was nice and packed in the car and off we went. We left my place around 6 pm, managed to get out of Bucharest around 8 pm and get to the border by 3 am, which is quite a long time if you know how M. drives. I slept in the car almost all the way to the border, but was fresh by 5 am when we got to Budapest. I drove on the autobahn until Stralzburg and M. took over and drove till Tasch. Our destination was Zermatt, but cars are not allowed there so we camped in Tasch (actually in Randa, which is close to Tasch, but nevermind).

The weather was extraordinary, as you can see from these two pics. Of course, knowing my luck, it was bound to get shitty. The plan was as follows: Dufourspitze, Nordend, Liskam, Weisshorn, and Matterhorn. The last three are listed as AD (assez difficile - sort of difficult), while the first two are listed as PD (peu difficile - a little difficult) - this of course changes depending on the weather.

The next day we were supposed to meet some guys from the Arad branch of the Explorer club at the basecamp at 3100m on the Gorner glacier. Now, there is a refuge on the Gorner glacier at 2900m called Monte Rosa Hutte, but one night there costs around 50 euro, so the practice for most east europeans is to haul all the camp gear (tent, sleeping bags, mattresses, stoves, food, cutlery) to 3100 m and camp there. Basically, while going up and down the slopes that lead to Monte Rosa and our camp, you can tell by the size of the backpacks who comes from eastern europe and who doesn't. Guess where do I come from? :)

You can actually tell from the picture that the weather was turning shitty. You have to trust me on this: behind that rock you can see Matterhorn on a clear day! The guys from Arad were already attempting Dufourspitze. I think they were very silly to rush it. Normally what you do when you first reach the mountain (so you are not acclimatized) is go up to the 3100 m camp, rest there, the next day in the morning walk a bit higher on the slopes then at night attempt the peak.
[Why do you start your climb at night? To ensure that the snow bridges over the crevasses are frozen. If you start your climb during the day you stand a very good chance of finding them bridgeless and thus difficult to cross.] So the guys from Arad rushed it and attempted and climbed Dufourspitze from the first day they got there, which was good because the weather forecast was nasty for the next 5 days, but bad because it left many of them deadly beat [one of them nearly had a stroke because after they got down to Zermatt he drank two or three beers. Sheesh!!!!]

So the weather was turning bad and we were looking at five days stuck in the tent. We roughly had food for 5 days, but what to do with the boredom? Needless to say that stuck in the tent means STUCK IN THE TENT, just go out to go toilet and that's it!! For entertainment we had M.'s ipod, the D200 camera and it's manual plus a book with all the 4000m alpine peaks. Ironically, I spent 5 days reading about peaks that I never got a chance to climb. Everyday we would get about 2 hrs of good weather which allowed us to walk around, walk up towards Dufourspitze, up on the Gorner glacier, etc. In one of those hikes (when i say walk, i generally mean walk up on at least 50 degress slopes) the weather was pretty good but there were no tracks (because of the heavy snow fall on the previous night) so we lost the way to Dufouspitze: instead of going right and up a slope, between some seracs, we went left and nearly stumbled on a cornice. We had to return to the tent because the weather was returning to normal (i.e foggy with high chances of snow). The forecast i got from Marian's text messages was confirming what we saw: 60% chances of rain, 40,30,10,0,0!! (the last zeroes were on sunday and monday, this was tuesday, alas!)
You can imagine my happiness when the clouds lifted for the first time and I could see all those huge mountains surrounding the plateau!! It was amazing!! I felt so small and yet so happy and content! I always get this feeling when I see big rock walls, can you imagine now that I saw 2 thousand meter rock and snow and ice walls? mmmm
This is me looking professional. Dufourspitze is those rocks somewhere in the backround, roughly 4-6 hours from where I am standing. The amazing thing is that everything looks so close but it's damn far once you start walking towards it.
And of course ... being snowed in is always a pleasure, but not when you have 7 days left and you haven't climbed anything.

Friday, August 10

I know ...

I've been bad and promised the Alps story but I have barely managed to shake off the bloody jet lag, so please please please forgives me. I have uploaded the pictures here (in case you're bursting with curiosity). You can deduce from the pictures that we've climbed Mont Blanc and Dufourspitze and that I was badly burned (see portrait). Circumstances of aforementioned burn and climbs will be related in detail tomorrow. Over and out.

PS. In this picture I am not crying but laughing at my reflection in the lens.
PS2. Getting sun/snow burned is definitely one of the most effective peeling therapies: my zits were gone! (they're back now, though ...)

Tuesday, August 7

Honey, I'm home!!!

ok boyz and girlz, I just returned!!! I have been computer free and internet free for the past month! It has been great! Watch this space for amazing stories (so modest I am!!)