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Jean M. Ollivier | all galleries >> Galleries >> Forties > Casse-croûte au sommet du Vignemale (3298 m)
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26 Août 1948 R. Ollivier

Casse-croûte au sommet du Vignemale (3298 m)

Pyrenees

VIGNEMALE
(climbed by JM 6 years old)
Translated by Julie Forbes
en Français


Baysselance, early the morning of 26 August 1948...

The second world war and its forty million dead in Europe has ended only three years ago. The Cold War is in full swing.
The « restrictions » and their procession of deprivations provoked by the conflict have come to an end only a year ago.
The survivors remain marked by these years of turmoil, unhopefulness, and material difficulty. Some have the opportunity to go on holiday.

A sky yet black, dotted by shining stars in calm air, silent and cold. Shoes resound on the frozen ground. One hears the metallic pick ring placed on the curb of dry stone in front of the refuge, the time to fit out the bags on the back after having verified their content one last time. Few words. All around giants are still asleep. The snow and the ice underline their slender lines, their aerial crests...

In the northerly direction the distant plain still dozes under morning mists. From the east emerges a pale, slightly rosy glow on which is drawn an infinity of summits. Innumerable peaks in successive waves pervade the horizon and melt westward into hazy meanderings. For the first time in my small and short existence, I became conscience of the splendor and immensity of the world. I felt at the same time transported to an other universe, absolutely cut off from the familiar world in which I had heretofore lived. It was also the first time that I felt myself a part of, confronted with total disorientation, beautiful things, and the mysteries of the nature. It is, I think, at this very particular moment that something came to nest in my soul, and to no longer leave it. From this instant onward, I know now, I loved the mountain. I would be henceforth always in search of a renewed discovery of the pleasure and the fascination obtained by this essential moment.
It is what one calls commonly a revelation!!!
I had not been able to see this sumptuous spectacle yesterday evening upon arriving at the Baysselance refuge, the evening mists and declining day having hidden this magnificence from me. Beyond sentiments and sensations, this image has remained engraved forever in my head. Peaks to infinity, they seemed to me. Never would I have imagined the mountain to be so beautiful and so complex. And from there to the summit the
road was easy, despite the frozen glacier, of which, I remember, the mountaineers feared crevices. At that moment this told me nothing. We followed a road intended to avoid these cracked zones.
The impression of flying, a violent shock on the back that cut off my breath, the universe rocking back and forth, charged with bluish and dull hues, the vision of a gulf without bottom. I have to this moment a very
reduced perspective of my future, there, at the bottom of this frozen split of unfathomable depths that is a crevice.
But what happened ? I oscillate at the end of a cord tied around my waist. I cling to the hat destined in principle to protect me from the of the sun at 3000 meters. I have the time to admire the living ice, to hear the water of the mills grumbling under the glacier en thinking « in petto » that I could die. A feeling even more terrifying than abstract for a child of six years. It is perhaps at this privileged moment that the value of life appeared to me, that a certain anxiety linked to the provisional nature of things, linked to the future as well, settled in me. This is how a personality is fashioned. Rough gift, nevertheless !
I almost fainted because I found myself again on the glacier, surrounded by compassionate souls, without knowing how I ascended it. Among these compassionate souls, a young woman - yes, very young, without a doubt, because I have this memory which is that of a young child - then kept me company during the happy and carefree return. A sort of mother, yes, but a mother whom I did not know and that seemed better to me. Ungrateful children. If she had asked me, I would have left with her and her companion. Maternal charm, feminine charm...a positive image was gleaned there, a saving buoy in this universe of brutes that contributed without a doubt to make me appreciate all qualities to which I credit women and to the pleasure that I feel
in their company, despite all that my father would say about « these strange animals with long hair and with short ideas». In brief, feminine charm was acting already. My inclination was strengthened by all the and admiration that my mother gave me. I represented for her a pure wonder, a light, although three brothers and sisters, Christine, Peter and Helen had accompanied me in life. Whatever you like, o improbable reader, nobody is master of his destiny as much as he would like to believe.

All had begun some days before, on an elegant summit, the Monné (or Moun Né : 2724 m), ( http://www.pbase.com/jmollivier/monne ) which dominates Cauterets (942 m), a thermal station of the Pyrenees which knew a time of glory when celebrities such as Marguerite de Navarre (the sister of François Ier), Jeanne d’Albret, Catherine de Médicis, Elisabeth of Spain, Rabelais, Montaigne, Henri IV, Hortense de Beauharnais, Georges Sand, Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Debussy, St Saens, Sarah Bernardt and even Jean Ollivier came there « to take their waters ». It appears that already Romans had already made their ablutions there, as the quality of the water was so remarkable. Remarkable, certainly, because it is in this water that I undertook first breast-stroke with the assistance of my young aunt Loulou, 22 years old at the time. When my father tried to teach me to swim, he never had her patience, her optimism, and her relaxed manner. Result : he made me afraid and hurt me a great deal by maintaining that I was so much less gifted than so and so. Prestige and obsession with performance.
What was I doing on this summit ? I have not a single memory of the circumstances which pushed my father to bring me there. He explained nothing to me. It seems to be that this was the first time that we were going to make a journey together, the two of us alone. Our summer holidays took place in a hamlet close to Cauterets, Cancéru (936 m) with the children of peasants of the valley of our same age. A very moving and precismemory of these holidays, taken there two consecutive years, still rests with me. I was five and six years old. We experienced summers of dreams, no doubt among the most wonderful of our childhood, entirely at our liberty to improvise a multitude of games and occupations.

We imagined each day a thousand and more activities that filled our carefree days with gaiety and joy of living with the vitality of our youth, in nature adorned with meadows, magnificent beeches and fir forests, crystalline brooks leaping in rocks. We went for wild walks tothe "Col de Riou" (1949 m, a thousand meters above Cancéru nevertheless), in search of adventures and mushrooms, pushing sometimes until the breathtaking Pic de Viscos (2141 m)that dominates directly the villages of Pierrefitte and Luz, or strolling to the chalet of the Queen Hortense (1262 m)in passing by the promenade of the Empress. We could run for hours, happy, in search of an animal who had strayed from a farm. The young calf which had been entrusted to me at the Col de Riou to return to Cancéru at the end of a rope had stupefied me by its energy and its vitality dragged me by its
own good will, all along the descent. We made also rodéos with recalcitrant and stubborn donkeys.
We, children, played mad games in the the corn fields, in the scented hay in the barns, or the reservoirs of water, our «swimming pools» ! (the water was 10°C at the most !). We used sleds from the farm to undertake breathtaking descents in deep meadows. We also played at being fur traders and gold seekers in the «gaves» (torrents of Pyrenees ) and in the brooks by harvesting proudly flakes of mica (which resemble gold), and perhaps even some spangles of gold. Another game consisted of installing « mills » of hazel in the current to watch them turn.
To catch frogs, to track trouts (without ever being able to capture them), to play with tadpoles or yellow and black salamanders that fled under the cooking stove, to capture the large rats that haunted the surroundings of the forest yard where heavy rough timbers were stored, to teach the neighbor's cat to swim in the washer (tres mechant !), constituted a major part our innocent childish activities as well, full of conscious cruelty though they were.
There were equally episodes style « War of the Buttons» between bands of kids from the neighboring farms, with, especially « the infamous» Poulotte (his name is still in my head) that destroyed our «mills». As for these expeditions - Josette, my small friend, did not participate !
Already worried about efficiency and industrial output regarding rough timber, I remember that I counseled the woodcutters to use elephants rather than their poor horses, such that the transported tree trunks appeared so huge to me. They laughed a lot. I had in fact seen that the elephant is used effectively for this work in some countries.
I have never redisovered the taste of milk as special and delicious as it was cooked on the wooden fire in the great chimney of the farm, lit all the year, where our hospitable hosts invited us . It was a true gluttony, of which I can still recall the aroma and the subtle taste. A true happiness, never found since.
Being so happy and carefree : does it represent happiness ? Without a doubt. And we were almost aware of it at the time. We were steeped in harmony, we could count on parents and grandparents. Children that we were, we we knew nothing of clouds and storms sometimes bestowed upon us by nature, to feed our childish terrors. Because there were thereafter other terrors, far more important, but that is another story...
And then there was the great and beautiful Paulette, the older girl of the farm where we lodged. She led us on horseback to the Cauterets market. We boys liked both the horse and Paulette for whom I felt an indefinable blend of limitless admiration, respect and some thing or other (but what ?) entirely delicious. Perhaps she also gave me my extremely positive and generous image of women. She conformed so well to the feminine archetype that haunts our imaginations from a very young age : authority, softness, protection and beauty. For us and our six years at the time, it was Jeanne d'Arc before the hour (later studied in school). Better to leave things as they are !

Such was the bucolic context in which we lived when my father took me to the Monne of the Cauterets.
I do not remember his proposal to climb there. Proposal, a great word. Decision would be a word better suited. One did not discuss much with my father. And then, well, perhaps I would find interesting things there. Why not go ?
I held fast to taking my hazelwood stick like all shepherds of the valley, great or small. It was, besides, a handmade present from Josette's older brother (8 - 9 years old) and, consequently, indispensable for climbing the mountain, this mountain. This story of this stick will continue, as we will see later on.
The ascension of the Monne from Cauterets can be considered serieuse due to its 1800 meters in height. A good test of endurance in any case. Higher than the Viscos !
We left early on a sunny day and passed the forests rapidly (I still see myself jogging behind my father in the tree shadows dotted by light and proudly holding my stick), to climb the great slopes converging on a rocky and steep summit. In my memory, it passed fairly quickly, without problem, though I felt a little annoyance at not being with my friends, to never talk, and to always walk without ever stopping, in an environment that seemed fairly ordinary to my eyes. And without even understanding why we were there. My father had not even encouraged me (nor had he lied !) in telling me that there was an ice cream vendor up there. But what is the motivation for a child of six years ? It is doubtless not very important. The child walks and garners no memory.
The summit, the tower of the horizon. The panorama did not leave me an unforgettable memory (in the literal sense). My preoccupations must have been elsewhere. It was splendid however. My father named all the visible summits in insisting on a huge mass to the south, Vignemale ! For me, Vignemale or somewhere else, nothing important. I wanted to return to my purling streams, my friends, Josette, and our games. But my father insisted. It is Vignemale, the highest summit of the French Pyrenees. The highest peak, he repeated. The highest.
(At this time it was it was not easy to go to Spain, to climb the Nethou for example. One would climb "Les Pics d'Enfer" leaving from Marcadau. Unthinkable these days).
And there was the trap (but could I escape it?). This is no longer very clear in my head. Who wanted to please the other, to offer him something exceptional ? Because Vignemale is a much more serious undertaking than the Monné, at least for a six year-old child. Was there a proposal, and a thoughtless acceptance from me, I who had no idea what the distant and small mountain I saw could represent, or an explicit request to go shine on the highest mountain ? Knowing me, knowing my father, I simply did not want to annoy him, and failing that, wanted to please him by asking him to climb it. Perhaps also, in an attack of euphoria, would have I seen myself climbing the highest the highest summit, and would I have asked to climb it since it was the highest? It's possible. Childish heedlessness. I thought, deep inside me, to never go there !
By the way : did my father want to please me, please himself, win a bet, establish a performance, beat a record (which still exists : the youngest «summiter» of such and such summit) ? He never told me. I think that later he would not have dared. Scholars of Pyrenees know the story of Louis Robach (1871 - 1959, 43 ascents of the Lost Mount, 3355 m) who had specially trained his seven years old son to take him to Vignemale. My father admired Louis Robach very much.
The fact remains that the affair is sealed and I forgot it at once in descending the normal path of the peak, nearly breaking my neck by going too rapidly down a risky passage. I have a very vivid memory because this wrong step evoked in me, immediately, despite my young age, images of dramatic falls coming from dreadful tales of accidents on the mountain (for example : «All that we found from such and such a person could be put in a box of «Nescafé». Yes, yes, I heard such stories at this time...imagine the atmosphere). I had been as well a direct and nearby witness of a severe fall from a training rock at Gavarnie, 2 to 3 years previously. A howl, a great "pof" and a noise of broken bone similar to breaking a stick of bamboo. A big stick of bamboo !
"But what do you want, life is hard, it's a constant combat, and we must face it head on, with bare hands, and with courage. Man preys on man, we maneuver ourselves in a ruthless jungle. We must, therefore, fight it, and to win, it is necessary to have surmounted all difficulties, all traps that life sets before us, to forge our character. Life overtakes us, we have to be the best...."
This was my father's normal discourse. He always nourished an extreme distrust towards his neighbors (?) and even his family members, unfortunately. This discourse, it already seemed to me at the time, was hammered in, and two notions emerged from it : one does all one can to be the best, therefore, one is the best. "Others" think only of ripping the skin off our backs (version americaine de l'idiome, je crois) so we must distrust them. Only the champions have the leading edge. (idiome francaise intraduisible).

I registered this without completely grasping it. But he put the worm in the fruit (another idiom?), and it was hard, very hard, to get rid of it.

Vignemale was an initiation. My father put into practice his ideas which were somewhat reactionary. I followed, not having any other point of reference. But these things were engraved in me, and they stay on the edge of my consciousness -- as proof of a very exact memory of these long ago events. It seems that it was after Vignemale that I no longer made thoughtless concessions and that I never again blindly obeyed my father.

Did this have consequences on my behavior in life ? Partially, without a doubt.

I understood confusedly that it was bizarre to offer this magnificent tool as a reward for the success of the ascension. These vainglories evoked nothing in me. The pick was logical; it was necessary to accomplish the ascension, just as I had used the baton of shepherd to go to the summit of the Monné.
This logic must have obtruded itself suddenly on my father, who, having having completed the ascension, forgot his promise, judging that this success constituted the reward. Beautiful dialectic. Despite my repeated complaints, I never obtained the pick. Cruel injustice, disavowal of the given word, execrable example of breach of promise towards a young man in the making....who has never forgotten it. Vindictiveness !

Certainly there were other logical preoccupations in the thought of my father, of this genre : this course is exceptional, one will not make others ; this sharp tool can be harmful in the hands of a child ; and more practical : you are growing up quickly, and it will soon be no longer to you. C'etait mal me connaitre (explique-moi ce que tu veux dire par cette phrase...et puis je peux fournir une meilleure traduction) As much as what it is to appreciate and to keep a present, that was to understand reasons for his actions. But one explains nothing to a child, as though he had no need to understand, or that he is incapable of understanding.

The void, the absence. Some words were said, without a doubt, but they did not convince me, nor have I retained them.
Maman had made me a mountain bag fitted to my size, that also was a promotion. But a bag must be carried. To the Monné, no bag.
Then, instead walking from Cauterets, we took the bus, my father and I, to climb to baths of La Raillère (1048 m), the bus service stopping there for the curistes and only climbing as far as the Bridge of Spain (1496 m), starting point of the path. It extends some kilometers more than today, with a bonus of more of 400 supplementary meters for the difference in level.

Finally, if pick there were not, I could neither take my famous shepherd stick. It was too ridiculous, one does not take a shepherd up there. Think of it, on a glacier ! But where is then the logic ? The only logic I retained is that of ridicule and a sense of shame. Shame of oneself, one's successes, failures, lack of confidence, timidity, negative perception of life. There, no more explanation, and for once that there was one, it was not good.
The absence of pick was largely compensated by the large and heavy new leather shoes that squeezed my small feet. Normal equipment to confront the high mountain and the glacier. Completely unknown equipment to me until this day. For one had always gamboled about with light sandals, this clothing became a serious handicap when it came to walking many kilometres and to absorbing the strong differences in gradient during two days. New shoes, delicious generators of blisteres. I was in sandals for the Monné, as proven by the photographs. This detail can reveal that the « diabolic » paternal project received the beginning of realization after the ascent of the Monné, and not previously, in which case it would have been judicious to make it in mountain shoes. But if the Monné failed, because of large shoes, justly ? One would not have gone to Vignemale. One would have bought the large shoes for nothing. My poor mother suffered from this tightness all her life.
I took the whole measure of the handicap caused by too heavy and rigid shoes, and the weight of the bag, although small, many hours later, 1700 meters higher, at the bottom end of the Valley of Gaube, in the last rising sharp bend to the Hourquette of Ossoue (2734 m), to a stone's throw of Baysselance refuge (2651 m). I sat down on a stone saying nothing and alet my father continue. In my head it was finished, my life stopped there.
Lassitude, weariness, desperation. An immense fatigue, legs of lead, a shame and an infinite fear. Shame on me who was no longer able to row, to be worthy of my father; irrational fear of him whose reactions I feared in the face of what he could consider as cowardice. He is a person who gave me, at a young age, the frightening sentiment that our lives - at the very least - to we children, could depend on the decision of an omnipotent being of indisputable authority, our father.
I vaguely understood that it was bizarre to offer this magnificent tool as a reward for a successful ascension. These vainglories evoked nothing in me. The pick was logical, it was necessary to succeed at the ascension, just as I had used shepherd's baton to go to the summit of the Monné.
This logic must have forced itself suddenly on my father, who, once the ascension was achieved, forgot his promise, estimating that this success constituted the reward. Beautiful dialectic. Despite my repeated complaints, I never obtained the pick. Cruel injustice, renunciation of the word given, execrable example of breach towards a small man in the making…. that he has never forgotten. Vindictive, even !

There were also certainly others logical preoccupations in my father's thoughts, for example: this climb is exceptional, and we will not make others; this sharp tool can be harmful in the hands of a child ; and more practical : you are growing up rapidly and it will be useful to you no longer. It was hard to know me (?idiome? traduction?). For all that it is to appreciate and to keep a present, how then to understand the reasons for his act? But that is how it is; no one explains anything to a child, as though he didn't need to understand or was incapable of it

The void, the absence. Some words were spoken, which no doubt did not convince me, nor did I retain.
Maman had made me a mountain bag fitted to my size, a special offer. But a must be carried. To Monné, no bag.
Then, instead walking from Cauterets, we took the bus, my father and I, to climb to baths of La Raillère (1048 m), the bus service stopping there for the curistes and only climbing as far as the Bridge of Spain (1496 m), starting point of the path. It extends some kilometers more than today, with a bonus of more of 400 supplementary meters for the difference in level.
Finally, if pick there were not, I could neither take my famous shepherd stick. It was too ridiculous, one does not take a shepherd up there. Think of it, on a glacier ! But where is then the logic ? The only logic I retained is that of ridicule and a sense of shame. Shame of oneself, one's successes, failures, lack of confidence, timidity, negative perception of life. There, no more explanation, and for once that there was one, it was not good.
The absence of pick was largely compensated by the large and heavy new leather shoes that squeezed my small feet. Normal equipment to confront the high mountain and the glacier. Completely unknown equipment to me until this day. For one had always gamboled about with light sandals, this clothing became a serious handicap when it came to walking many kilometres and to absorbing the strong differences in gradient during two days. New shoes, delicious generators of blisteres. I was in sandals for the Monné, as proven by the photographs. This detail can reveal that the « diabolic » paternal project received the beginning of realization after the ascent of the Monné, and not previously, in which case it would have been judicious to make it in mountain shoes. But if the Monné failed, because of large shoes, justly ? One would not have gone to Vignemale. One would have bought the large shoes for nothing. My poor mother suffered from this tightness all her life.
I took the whole measure of the handicap caused by too heavy and rigid shoes, and the weight of the bag, although small, many hours later, 1700 meters higher, at the bottom end of the Valley of Gaube, in the last rising sharp bend to the Hourquette of Ossoue (2734 m), to a stone's throw of Baysselance refuge (2651 m). I sat down on a stone saying nothing and alet my father continue. In my head it was finished, my life stopped there.
Lassitude, weariness, desperation. An immense fatigue, legs of lead, a shame and an infinite fear. Shame on me who was no longer able to row, to be worthy of my father; irrational fear of him whose reactions I feared in the face of what he could consider as cowardice. He is a person who gave me, at a young age, the frightening sentiment that our lives - at the very least - to we children, could depend on the decision of an omnipotent being of indisputable authority, our father.

From the Baths of the Raillère, indeed, the road was long. My father, as an experienced guide, set the pace that could allow me to arrive safely at port. Nevertheless it was long, very long. The magnificent forests of hookpines emerge on the first curiosity of our expedition, the lake of Gaube, prized by romantics of the last century. Victor Hugo noted that there « the water is luminous, the light is wet ». Baudelaire felt there « a joy mingled with ». The English writer Milford was impressed : « the colossale size and prodigious height of the rocks, the frightening magnitude and the solemnity of the landscape that surrounded me, combine to excite in me involuntary sensations of astonishment and respectful fear.»
As of me, I am otherwise impressed. What a lot of water, for we children who paddled in drinking troughs or irrigation cisterns. What must one do to amuse himself her, thought the small boy. Why don't we ever come here ? I have a mad wish to remain there, to play with the tadpoles, to catch frogs, to adapt to myself all this space for play which appeared completely extraordinary to me compared to what already appeared so wonderful at Cancéru. My Vignemale is here. It's not very high, but that does not matter. It is enough for my happiness. I had even never dreamt of such a paradise on earth, the Walhalla !

What importance for an adult ? The walk continues along the immense valley, and the lake of Gaube disappears from my view, with its seductive sparklings. And this was only the beginning of a long and terrible frustration. Where are we going ? In the backdrop, walls appear to advance at the same time as we progress. The path crosses and re-crosses the torrent which offers welcoming basins with a beautiful bluish or green water. Basins where it would be so good to stop, to have a swim. What torture, like that of Tantalus ! No sooner reached, it is necessary to abandon them, to leave these pretty white pebbles, these cushions of tender green grass, these spurting fountains, this serenity. I swore to myself return there one day.

The wall which bars the bottom of the valley thickens. My father still moves forward, inexorably, without an explanation. But where do we do to pass, what are we going to become ? We walk. I find again, engraved at the bottom of my memory all the perplexity that was residing in me. On the right ? On the left ? Straight ahead ? Because now I have the impression that we are arriving at a dead end. But where is the peak ? In an instant the idea crossed my mind that my omnipotent father is going to overcome the obstacle that dominates us. I do not want that !

The torrent and its reassuring gurgling is far. There are no more than stones and some tufts of grass. No human trace. [At this time, the refuge of Oulettes of Gaube, at the foot of the North faces that we just reached, did not exist .] And walls, severe, immense, impregnable, plunged in the shade and sustained at their base by tortured and worrisome. glaciers. Anguish. I had never seen a glacier before. The mystery thickens. But how are we going to pass ? I have no notion of the size of this universe that I have not chosen. Doubt overcomes me, I no longer have confidence in my father, however imperturbable, but always silent. I have the impression of being punished for a fault of which I am unaware. I feel myself in the wrong, and do not dare to say anything. Fatigue, lassitude and disappointment unite to increase my uneasiness. The afternoon moves forward. We walk. We do not stop walking. I've had enough ! But I do not have the courage to shout it.
Because now we are climbing. It seems to me that we are going to bypass the walls by the left side. I wonder if we will have the time. I begin to lose my landmarks. Or rather no, I am completely lost. Reasoning without doubt by basing my experience on Monné, I thought that we would return to the house that evening (la phrase la plus incroyable du recit, ca !)All that I saw demonstrated to me clearly that we were not taking the right path. What would be the miracle ? Large perplexity.

I have a nose in the notched heels my father's shoes as he moves ahead with the regularity of a metronome. My legs, pulled downward by my large and heavy boots, have a harder and harder time carrying me. In deep places of the path each tedious step requires great effort. I can touch with my finger what might be hell : to suffer, by losing all hope that this will end.

The suffering becomes such that, exhausted, I sit on a pebble, at the edge of the path with this patchwork of feelings. In time to tell me that I was going to get lost, my father becoming conscience of an absence, turns around and comes back to me with a smile. I no longer remember his words, but I was reassured. At the bend of the path the squat black silhouette of the refuge Baysselance appears in the distance, the goal of our trip of today, my father finally confessed. The joy that I had ! I have linked this surrealistic vision to concepts that I already knew. This building, far off, to me suggested a steam engine, with a small wagon, and I tell it to my father, who smiles at this evocation.
I rediscovered all my energy and spent the evening playing with very interesting pebbles
that lay strewn around the approach to the refuge. I constructed some small refuges... My father talked with people he knew…

I have only a vague recollection, not a single impression nor particular memories of the «conquest» of the summit. Only the grain of the rock on my fingers during the short climb which leads to the summit, above the glacier. This summit is a place that is visited frequently. This thing must have impressed the tourists, because a retired army engineer, the General Engineer Lemoinne, took a picture of father and son and sent the picture that I now possess .
There also a question remains : why so many pictures of the Monné, a secondary summit, without a particular aura, and nothing for Vignemale ? Assuming that the photos had not been lost, though possible after so many years, several suppositions can be made : a shortage of film, forgetting the camera, or a deliberate wish to not take a picture. I never will know.
The descent was made in company of tourists (I feel as their presence in the ascent as well...), who chose the direct itinerary despite the crevasses. What intrigues me still is that my father followed them, perhaps for their conversation, or perhaps because they had told him that the crevasses would not pose any problems. I heard indeed some words on about the crevasses at the moment of leaving. Therefore I had only to follow, why would these problems concern me, all things considered ? Ah, how far that is from the privileged relationship between the guide and his client that one teachs to neophytes.

These dirtiness of crevasse split the glacier on all its width. Although very deep, their width allowed a crossing by a well insured jump, and I followed <>, still handicapped by my large shoes. Until the moment at which a crevasse seemed really too large. The perspective made it seem farther to the other side, the width was smaller and I implored my father to go and see.
From the other edge of the crevass he kept me on a lead at the end of a rope tied around the waist. We were going farther, the hole was as mercilessly large. The good mood that had presided over the good progress of the day turned to vinegar. That began to become as ridiculous as the shepherd's stick at the summit of Vignemale. In a deserted spot, I am sure today that we would have been able « to negotiate». Farther then, yes, farther please ... until the moment ...
Without explanation, and by an abrupt gesture, he pulled the rope to make me come to the other side of the crevasse. Was he thinking perhaps of catapulting me over the abyss ? But I fell in the frozen and frightening hole, far from earth….

From this day onward, an instinctive distrust was installed between us, for a long time...

JM Ollivier, 1998
Translated by Julie Forbes

Reflections by way of epilogue

In this year 1998, fifty years, therefore, after the adventured narrated above, I returned « to do» Vignemale, and the Monné. By curiosity, and to understand.
The Monné, climbed during the day, from Cauterets to Cauterets is a more difficult ascension than Vignemale spaced out over two days.
But the Monné is situated in a familiar perimeter, on familiar ground. Cauterets remains almost always in sight, during the climb, and even Cancéru when one is high enough. I have provided enough elements to develop a reassuring logic to our climb, a sort of extrapolation on a larger scale than what we were doing at the time. Accomplished moreover by the usual means and without a bag. The photographs testify also the good father-son relationship in the course of the excursion.
Vignemale, was a real rupture, which would have required - is it necessary to say it? -- simply a little explanation and attention. But when my father was in his bad days...




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Pedro 07-Oct-2006 23:36
Merci Julie