A father-and-son pilgrimage on the Tour du Mont Blanc
It was on a grey winter’s day in my parents’ house outside Glasgow, watching storm clouds gather and sparrows dive for shelter in the garden, that I first suggested Mont Blanc in summer. After what had happened, I knew I should make more effort to spend time with my 74-year-old dad, but what I was proposing at his age was a risk. A 10-day hike around one of Europe’s highest mountains seemed a little extreme.
“Old age doesn’t come alone,” he replied, implying the aches and pains, arthritic hands and memory loss from a recent life-threatening stroke couldn’t be ignored.
He glanced at me with a fatherly look, suggesting he knew better. I wondered if he could make it. In his youth, unquestionably; but now I wasn’t so sure. Perhaps a trip hiking Mont Blanc’s steep-faced valleys, following a hut-to-hut trail through France, Italy and Switzerland, was already past him.
Now a grandfather, he had spent his best years in the Alps C summer after summer, in fact C and to take him along this pathway in search of a route to his past, to stir memory in long-forgotten footprints, seemed like the right thing to do.
“You’ll remember the mountain refuges are beautiful,” I said casually, compelled to disturb what lay hidden in his memory. “That’s half the reason for going.” It was shrewd of me to work in the idea of fondue, red wine and good company; we booked a flight, and four months later, arrived in the shadow of Mont Blanc (4,807m) in Chamonix, France.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a challenge for anyone, regardless of age, condition or state of mind. A bucket-list pilgrimage for long-distance hikers, it is a 170km, high-altitude journey on foot, a ritual walk through great landscapes and drama that plugs hikers in to something unquantifiable, yet life-affirming. While I travelled for a love of people, food, drink and culture, my father had always been drawn to places that weren’t as easily accessible. The mountains appealed because of their unreachability. Hikers, he once told me, came to learn about themselves.
That first sunlit afternoon, it was instantly obvious we’d made the right decision. The pathway ahead was quiet, little more than a few bell-clanging cows, a couple of errant dogs, a rosy-cheeked French farmer en route to his summer cottage. Hedgerows and thickets of wild Alpenrose lined the trail’s edges. On the horizon, stone-faced peaks sat above the plateau, skirted by pine forests and chequerboard fields. Quick-footed hikers trotted past us, eyes focused on a ridge that marched south to the Italian border. But there was no sign of worry etched on my hiking partner’s brow. Only determination.
My dad’s hazy accounts of his time in the mountains remain among the defining stories of my childhood. The first time it left an indelible mark was when flicking through a junk box full of projector slides taken circa summer 1970, when he and two friends completed a previously untried route up the notoriously dangerous North Face of the Eiger (3,970m) in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. At the time, he was 27 and to scale the final 1,829m North Pillar wall on the way to the summit was unthinkable. The extreme highs and lows were not easy for him to recount. Along the way, he suffered frostbite, dealt with unexpectedly bad weather and bivouacked night after night in sodden climbing gear on treacherous, ice-coated vertical slabs. Afterwards, he was quoted by The Herald newspaper, the expedition’s sponsor, saying: “I'll never set foot on that bloody mountain again in my life.”
父亲在阿尔卑斯山的旅行故事一直是我童年最清晰的记忆。那是1970年的夏天，我翻弄着一个杂物箱子，里面有很多用于投影的底片。从底片上可以看到他和两个朋友刚刚征服了一座极难攀登的山峰――瑞士伯尔尼高原（Bernese Oberland）的艾格尔峰北坡（North Face of the Eiger），海拔3970米。当时他仅27岁，攀登北峰山顶的最后1829米简直难以想象。途中他经历了极端险峻的情形，气候恶劣，皮肤冻裂，多少个夜晚露宿在垂直险峻的冰崖上。之后，一篇报道文章曾引述他的话说，"我永远不会再踏足这座该死的山峰了！"
Still today, it’s almost inconceivable for me to comprehend.
In those days, there were other equally spellbinding tales, most of which took him to the Chamonix valley. He summited the Grandes Jorasses (4,208m) in blinding sunshine. He scaled the ice walls of the Aiguille du Chardonnet (3,824m). Hell, on one occasion, he even posed atop the remarkable Aiguille du Grépon (3,482m), a fist of angular rock crafted like a church spire C an exploit that would test the mettle of even the most carefree climber. To an eight-year-old boy, these were unforgettable adventures, shaping my travel perceptions in years to come.
像这样的旅行故事还很多，大多发生在法国霞慕尼峡谷，他曾登上了海拔4208米的大乔拉斯峰（Grandes Jorasses），他攀爬了海拔3824米的若昂峰（Aiguille du Chardonnet）凛冽的冰崖。他甚至站在最令人仰望的海拔3482米布朗峰山巅 Aiguille du Grépon拍了一张照片。对一个当时年仅8岁的儿童来说，这些令人震撼的探险经历对我未来的旅行生涯产生了巨大影响。
That was now more than half his lifetime ago. And, yet, here we were, marching side by side around the Mont Blanc massif, tracing an invisible route with our fingers over the same harsh and elemental summits he’d conquered long ago. What I’d always seen as an unhealthy obsession with the mountains revealed itself to be a bond I never knew we had.
As day one drifted into days two and three, we crossed from France into Italy, over the Col de la Seigne, a crested hilltop long an ancient gateway for shepherds to the Aosta Valley. The southern aspect of Mont Blanc and its fraternity of Italian-set buttresses and peaks C Punta Baretti, Picco Luigi Amedeo, the Grand Pilier d’Angle C were spectacular, and had him reminiscing over a glass of wine in the resort of Courmayeur on our third night. Never one with words, he was hard-pushed to explain why these landscapes meant so much to him. Words failed and he shook his head as if to free a lost memory.
旅途第二天和第三天我们从法国徒步到了意大利境内，越过了法意交界的塞涅山口（Col de la Seigne），沿着牧民古老的山路到了奥斯塔山谷（Aosta Valley）。这是布朗峰南部，连绵山脉景色壮观。我们在第三天晚上的下榻处喝了杯红酒追忆过去的时光。
The days passed and began to take on a predictable rhythm, the path carrying us ever forward. We rose late, left later (stalled by having to medicate my dad with a daily dose of pills), stopped for lunch then enjoyed a beer on the back of a farmer’s wagon. Finally, after some 20km of up and downhill slog, we’d reach our stop for the night, long after everyone else, but just before stillness descended upon the valley.
“Wait for your old man,” he’d sigh, struggling to catch his breath. “We’ll get there eventually.” And yet this ticking time bomb soldiered on. The base-camp beard and summit gleam from the 1960s had disappeared, but the smile stayed put.
By week’s end, now back in France after more than 150km through the Swiss farmstead villages of La Fouly and Champex, I sensed we may have achieved what we both had thought impossible. We made our final push towards the Col du Brevent above the Chamonix valley, side-stepping along a devilishly narrow path, then tackled a series of unforeseen rudimentary ladders bolted into the rock, my dad enthusiastically swearing with every rung. It was an apt final hurdle. We climbed up into a narrow world of stone, light and echo, meeting Mont Blanc face on. An ailing Scottish grandpa in good company with the grandfather of the Alps.
一周过去了，我们走过了150公里，穿越瑞士的弗利河谷（La Fouly）和尚佩克（Champex）再次回到法国境内。我感觉到，我们父子俩可能成就了最初我们都以为难以完成的旅途。最后一站是霞慕尼山谷的布雷旺峰（Col du Brevent），山路极为狭窄，还得攀登嵌入岩石的悬梯，父亲一边攀援一边咒骂，但充满热情。我们终于攀上了山巅，放眼环顾布朗峰，回声朗朗。一位苏格兰老爷爷在儿子的陪伴下攀上了阿尔卑斯山！
To capture the moment, I took a family portrait, but only then did it dawn on me it was nearly the same composition as on a slide I’d first seen in one of those junk boxes, taken almost 50 years ago. There was that smile, those eyes fixed on the horizon, the beautiful Alpine ridges of Mont Blanc crowding out the background. For a split second, it looked like nothing had changed.