Under the Milky Way

Some people called it bold. Some called it “not the smartest thing to do”. Others just called it crazy. Opinions were plenty when I announced I was leaving for UTMB a week early in order to climb the Pointe Percée and hike the surrounding area. Still, there were many arguments for it, especially the benefit of spending a few days above 2000m of altitude.


Friday, 17h. I close my laptop after a rather stressful week at work and hit the roads. First stop: Dijon. What was supposed to be a good night of sleep before taking on the mountains becomes an evening/night of work and about 5 hours of sleep instead. But none of that matters the next morning. All that is now behind me and all I can see in front of me are mountains. Some final stops at a supermarket and a camping store (filter bottle: check! small stove: check! food & water: check!) later, I arrive at Sallanches around 15h. I visit the tourist info and am told it’s a bit late to go for Pointe Percée, that I should probably wait until tomorrow. No time to waste though, I drive the final bit to the parking lot, gather my stuff (way too much, obviously) and hit the trail.

Just minutes later, I’m out of breath. Definitely not used to the weight of the backpack. The fact that I’m eating & drinking while hiking doesn’t help. I stash away the food and get out the trekking poles and things get better. I reach the Chalet de Doran in about half the indicated time, reorganize some things, buy an extra bottle of water since the one I brought is leaking after letting it fall down a cliff, and carry on. The second part of the climb is longer. Steeper too. Almost at the top, I discover I lost my filter bottle. Damn it! Oh well, I’ll just retrace my steps tomorrow without that heavy backpack and see if I can find it. I spot 2 other hikers coming along the same trail. Maybe they found it! Slim chance, but who knows! I continue across the ridge and find the perfect spot to pitch my tent. Pointe Percée on my left, Mont blanc on my right… Things could be worse. I head back to meet the two other hikers, a young couple who live near Sallanches. The guy is holding a black bottle. I could hug him to death. We chat for a while and then they head back down. I head for my tent, read a bit, fall asleep. I wake up with the urgent need to dehydrate. I step out in my briefs, walk 10 steps and, with nobody but some sheep around to see me, I get on with it. Mt. Blanc in front of me, Pointe Percée behind me and the clearest view on the milky way I ever had above me. By far the most majestic piss I ever took so far.


I wake up to the sound of rain and decide to stay in and have breakfast and read a bit. I put a pot outside to catch some water. When the rain slows down, I get out and head for the Pointe Percée. To do so, I have to retrace my steps across the ridge I crossed the day before. It turns out to be pretty much impossible. The ridge is composed of sharp slate stone combined with little particles that have eroded some time in the past. Combined with some water, this makes for a slippery slope. Carefully, I cross the ridge and start climbing. Things go well and not much later, I encounter a memorial stone for a perished climber. Ignoring it, I try to get further but without gear, the last 150 something vertical meters are impossible! I turn my back to the stubborn rock and take in the view. It’s misty & limited, but breath-taking none the less. Given the fact that I’ve been hiking for just over an hour max, I decide to circle around the valley, back to the tent. Hard wind and rain turn this stroll into a rather dangerous endeavour. After spotting a bearded vulture and a couple of capricorns, I head back to the tent for diner & some reading.


And again, the sound of rain serves as my alarm clock. It also sounds like the wind has picked up overnight. Not really looking forward to packing my stuff and heading back in this weather. I wait it out for a while, but when I finish my book and my last food, I’ve kind of had it with this rain taking me hostage! I pack everything and then swiftly wrap up my tent’s outer canvas and get going. All goes well until I reach the slippery slope again. It’s become more slippery compared to yesterday and, on top of that, the wind is hitting me on my left side. Given the 15 to 20k in my backpack which gives me a less than perfect weight distribution, my enthusiasm drops below sea level (which is quite the stunt given the 2200+m of altitude I’m at). The roughly 150m ridge takes me 10 minutes and the relief lifts such a weight of my shoulders I almost think I lost my pack along the way. After double-checking, I start descending, which is a lot more fun. Back at Doran, I decide to get some food and spend the night. The welcome is amongst the best I ever had. The food is good, the stove is hot… I’m not complaining. I could stay here for a while, but then again, Kim is arriving at the Geneva airport tomorrow and there’s this race I intend to run

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