This coming year an adventurous group of hikers will join me for 11 days of hiking & exploring the culture in the grandeur of the Mont Blanc Massif. Here’s a piece of history integral to Chamonix, climbing capital of the world.
My story begins one early morning in Chamonix, France. I was wandering the streets looking for a cup of coffee. One after another I saw rugged looking mountain men and women all dressed up in wool climbing clothes of the past, many with carefully braided climbing ropes slung over their shoulders and ice axes. “Que se passe-t-il?” (What’s happening?) I inquired. “C’est la fête des guides” (it is the festival of the guides) one of the mountain men replied.
Established in 1821, the Chamonix Guides Company gathers over 150 certified mountain guides and leaders. They provide mountain guiding service through the Mont Blanc massif and throughout the world. Famous, talented guides have been members of the “Compagnie”. Today, young talented guides join the organization each year during the traditionnal August 15th Guides’Festival.
Forgetting coffee, I quickly ran back to my hotel and grabbed my camera and raced back to follow the gathering procession of guides who paraded from the Office du Guides in the Chamonix center to the cemetery on the south side of town.
Once they reached the cemetery they began to sing from somewhere deep in their hearts in honor of all the guides who have died in the service of guiding. At the end they paraded back to the stairs of the church where they gathered for a group photo. What a morning! Much more exhilarating than any cup of coffee! The images will stay in my memory banks forever.