accompagnateur

What goes up...

What goes up sometimes can stay up. That is how it worked for me this week in Chamonix. Arriving at Two Glaciers Camping in Les Bossons, 3km from Chamonix center, the adventure began with our small trailer serving as base camp, allowing me to stay up at this hiking and climbing mecca that is Chamonix. This also began the first week of ‘internship’ for me as Aspiring Mountain Leader (Accompagnateur). In the jargon, I am a stagiaire (intern) undergoing my 'stage en situation’ (practical training period).

To be sure, I had been filled with uncertainties. As I had cleared the paper work hurdles through winter and early Spring, then the classroom indoctrination last autumn and this June, it was followed by a process of identifying a mentor ('conseiller de stage) for this summer internship. And still yet, other questions loomed.

The situation of the 'stage’ is considered of primordial importance in the training cycle of a Mountain Leader (Accompagnateur). Its essence is twenty hikes which satisfy a variety of criteria. These hikes are either conducted or overseen by an accredited accompagnateur. This person serves as a mentor, teacher and overall big brother, or sister as in my case. At its simplest level, the internship sounds idyllic, but there are complications. 

For me, these amounted to a question about my role does a 'stagiaire’. Though it is a common experience for French students, it is a first for me. As well, I wasn’t sure how well the company owner for whom Christine, my mentor, works would accept my presence. He is not French but Scottish. In addition, just how would the mysteries of this profession reveal themselves. Its responsibilities and skills range from something like a naturalist who organizes outings for all ages, from adults to school children, to an intrepid leader with direct liability for the safety of the group, with all that implies in a potentially hazardous environment. 

Throughout the training that has led up to the 'stage’, I have seen a parade of instructors and subject-matter experts display exemplary skills. It is a versatile and adaptable knowledge base of mountains and people and a seemingly innate sense of safe conduct there. I perceived a giant task. 

Another, more basic question, had to do with logistics. I live in Annecy. The work is in Chamonix, which is more that an hour’s drive away. To accommodate this and avoid a daily trip burning petrol and time, we accelerated to find a camping vehicle that had considered for more distant plans. Voilà, the reason for the trailer. It provided me a squat in Chamonix. Finally, in order to tame my Pavlovian response to the combination of camping, mountains and daily hiking, Karen decided to join me with her portable office. In theory the trailer works as both office and communal meeting at the end of each day.  

After checking-in, we strolled the campground to find a site nestled next to a babbling brook. We set up camp and admired the immense tongues of the Bossons and Taconnaz glaciers as they framed the view of the Mont Blanc summit. With the build-in kitchen, comfortable bed and seating, we prepared opened the wine and made a salad to enjoy the late-afternoon sun.