What an Easter!!! Apart from a trip up Mont Blanc, Easter Monday – on my “Must Do” list for a long time now* – the following events, examples of the Reaper at Work – work with a big “W” – attracted my attention because of their particular interest or concern to me:
1) A revolution in Kyrgyzstan – that ousted a corrupt president, left 90 dead and a country on the verge of bankruptcy
2) A plane crash in Smolensk, Russia – that saw the death of the Polish president, his wife and ± 90 other members of the Polish cabinet, government, and military chiefs of staff on their way to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.
3) In the city centre of Grenoble, France thirteen persons viciously and gratuitously attacked a young man leaving the young man critically injured in a pool of blood, apparently just for a cigarette!
What was really shocking was that it would have passed totally unnoticed had it not happen in front of my son’s, then, front door, imagine the concern of a parent on learning that!
What was just as shocking was the banality of the affair, almost an everyday affair in a society today that sees teachers attacked and molested inside schools for bad notes given, or people aggressed in subways for mp3s or phones by, not even drug dependent or drunk just plain broke, university students!
Those were just a couple of the events that marked the western world and me this Easter 2010 and will make it, notably through this post, one Easter I will remember… but how to qualify the event that followed all that and brought the western world to a virtual halt Friday April 16th?
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the explosion of the Iceland’s Volcano “Eyjafjallajökull” volcano! A volcano the experts had been following for a while now (there was even a documentary about it recently on the cable). A volcano that erupted and paralyzed commercial (and military?) aviation* throughout the whole of Northern Europe, including Russia and down to Turkey!!!
*I was talking to my mother and she commented on the fact that for the first time in decades she wasn’t able to play “noughts and crosses” with the jet vapour trails flying high in the sky over her house in sunny southern Wales. “Yes”, I replied, ” the skies really did belong to the bees and the birds again, albeit for a short while… this time!!!”
A well-known ecologist was recently heard to say that humanity’s duty was to take care of our fragile planet or risk causing irreparable damage to it! A pundit responded to this, following the start of the explosion of the “Eyjafjallajökull” volcano, by saying that there was no need to be unduly worried for the planet, it could take care of itself… and believe me this episode is just a wake up call, warning the planet that, to paraphrase Robbie Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men… business men and politicians alike… can often go askew for a nowt.
Well, ok a volcano eruption is not exactly a nowt or a nothing, as the Pinatubo eruption proved in 1991. That eruption caused a planetary drop in temperature of ± 0.6 degrees Celsius, or again the Krakatoa eruption in 1883 that caused flame red sunsets the world over, including England and the USA, for years after the eruption actually ended and I won’t mention the Toba caldera eruption that happened some 73 000 years ago and almost wiped out humanity!
But what about the future and what’s the “Wake-up call” I’m talking about? Well the wake up call is in the fact that for all our technology and infrastructures we are totally defenseless against one of Nature’s most devastating phenomena, and this one wasn’t even a major eruption.
OK this “Eyjafjallajökull” volcano eruption reduced commercial aviation to a relative or real standstill in Europe, causing the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars a day in revenue (actually I wonder about that – if planes don’t fly they don’t use the gasoline, do they? someone pointed out to me today ) but what would happen if the Yellowstone caldera exploded? I will leave you, dear reader, to meditate on the consequences of such a cataclysm to mankind.
* Addendum 20/12/2012: The trip up Mont Blanc I fleetingly mentioned in my opening sentence above merits a few more lines than a passing, preface type mention, certainly after hiking my wife up and down some of the other mountains surrounding Grenoble and then writing lines about it here and there in blog posts!
So let me right a wrong. Mont Blanc is as majestic and as cruel as legend has it. Every year news reports tell tales of people fallen victim to the mountain, people who either underestimated the risk or people simply victims of the law of chance. Every year tens of thousands of people set out to reach its summit and dozens of people die or go missing in the process. So why go there? Well because you can! It’s so accessible, and I don’t just mean by cable car, that you get the impression people go up there for a Sunday afternoon stroll. The ascension paths get so overcrowded you’d think it’s easy, but it’s not, so why go there? Yes I know I’m repeating the question but the answer is quite simple: Fascination and facility!
So with that in mind, and having wanted to go there for so long, my wife and I set off, early Easter Monday morning, 2010, for a day trip to Mont Blanc with the sole objective of riding up the cable car to the “Aiguille du Midi”, at 3 842 meters altitude and planting our metaphorical flag, alongside the multitude of other “Metaphorical” flags… and fainted tourists!
NB. In case you don’t know, or have forgotten, what and where Mont Blanc is, here’s a quick reminder. Peaking at 4 881 metres Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Western Europe and sits on the border between France, Switzerland and Italy, it is also the 03rd most visited “Natural Site” in the world. The town of Chamonix, at the foot of the mountain, is itself at an altitude of 1100 meters, that’s just a little bit higher than Mount Snowdon in Wales.
On arriving at Chamonix my wife and I made our way to the ski lift, as did several hundred other people! So many in fact that the ski lift company had a team of employees waiting to route the visitors to respective queues depending on whether you already had a ticket or not, what time you ride up was and so on. Having bought our tickets, at 50€ each, we were then routed to a queue to wait for the next cable car up and duly waited a good thirty minutes for our turn. Our turn finally arrived and we were herded into the cable car along with seventy others and started our “Ascension” where some twenty minutes later we reached the “Aiguille du Midi” observation post.
On reaching the top memories from when I worked in Interlaken, Switzerland, came back to me and notably the stories of hordes of tourists, mainly Asian and specifically Japanese, dropping like flies when they reached the top of the Eiger and Jungfrau because they weren’t used to the altitude. I was also thankful for taking extra thick clothing because even if the temperature down below in Chamonix was mild the temperature at the observation post was around -5° Celsius, I was also thankful for the protective sunglasses because the sun reflecting off the snow can, literally, give you a blinding headache in no time. Yes I really was thankful that we weren’t attached to a cord and climbing our way up to the summit like the dozens we watched during the time we were up there.
Having achieved a long-standing personal objective and having bettered a personal best in the process (at 3 800 metres I’d only been higher in a plane) then after taking the obligatory “Look at me, I’m here” photos we, much to my wife’s and my lung’s relief, made our way down and that without succumbing to the temptation of paying “At the top” over the rate priced souvenirs and refreshments. The tea was all the better (and the postcards cheaper) sitting on the terrace of a café while contemplating the ultimate summit of Mont Blanc that we would, willingly, leave to others to reach on foot.
“Some words of wisdom to ponder over. After having failed to reach the summit of Mount Everest for the nth time a particularly well-trained mountaineer once said: Yes I failed [to reach the summit some 800 metres higher up] but at least now I know my limits. I stopped short of the summit because my body told me I couldn’t go any further and although I know I will never reach the summit of Mt Everest, 8000 metres still leaves a lot of other mountains to climb!
Is that a failure? No because the mountaineer understood that in defeat the real victory was in defining and accepting his limits. A lesson a lot of “Wannabe” mountaineers should heed. As for me unless there’s a cable car somewhere in the world that goes higher than the one up Mont Blanc that’s about as a high up a mountain as I am going to go!