We had hiked 100 miles, and on this day, we would only hike about four more. But the trail guide suggested it would take us about three hours, all of it straight up another mountain.
And we would have to climb ladders.
I had seen images of the ladders – narrow, metal-runged contraptions rising vertically 30-40 feet up the side of a rock face. I had told myself not to worry about them – how bad could they be? Clearly people climb them on these hikes. But I have a healthy respect for – some might say a fear of – heights, and the very idea of the ladders left me slightly breathless.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
Before we even got to the ladders, there was plenty of steep terrain to hike, all of it up hill. We began at a steady, solid pace, finally taking a long break to read and pick blueberries.
When we arrived at the base of the first set of ladders, we took a few minutes to adjust our packs and mentally prepare. We put away our hiking poles. We checked our boot laces to be sure they would not trip us up. We snugged down all the straps on our packs. I went first.
I did not look down. I did not look out. I kept a laser focus on all of my limbs. I followed the “rule of three,” which means always have three appendages touching the ladder while moving the fourth one. Hand, hand, foot foot. Slow and steady. I made sure that my boots felt solid on the narrow rungs, and that my hands had a death grip on the metal higher up.
I triumphed over the ladders, and it was a good feeling to have faced the fear and done it anyway.
From there, we had only a few more uphill miles to Refuge Lac Blanc, our last destination on the trail before we completed the entire circuit. The lake is an easy day hike from Chamonix, and when we arrived, there were plenty of people visiting. The sun reflected its light in the aqua water and bounced off the snow on the mountaintops that faced us. We had omelettes and salads for lunch, plus we shared a blueberry tart that tasted as if they had plucked the blueberries from the trailside five minutes before putting them in the dessert.
Because our hike that day had been so short, we had plenty of time on our hands, so what else would we do but hike around the area? We felt light and airy without our packs, and jumped from rock to rock like mountain goats. After a few hours of exploration, we returned to the refuge for some hot chocolate and a little bit of reading.
Right before dinner, we had some excitement: An ibex, complete with giant horns, emerged from the mountain slopes and graced us with his presence as we watched from the window.
It was a perfect way to end a perfect last day on the trail.