Accompanying photos available
Published in January 2004 edition of Off Piste Magazine
So it came to pass
that the fates of seven men became
intertwined in a grand adventure.
Men of clear mind and noble heart
are often compelled by the chase,
thrust into a widening circle
of hearty pursuits and fleeting glory.
Such as it was with this band of seven.
Men as these – independent in thought and deed -
needed not a leader, as the way of one
is the way of all.
-Bill Hartlieb and Mike McGuffin plan a trip to the Haute Route joining Chamonix to Zermatt.
The notion of an honorable voyage
through the High Road of lower Gaul
came to Thighstrong and No Beard
in a matched dream.
Thighstrong was a great and modest warrior,
strong in word and deed,
a veteran of many battles,
and a holder of many victories.
No Beard, by contrast, was of more modest stature,
but his desire ran deep.
On this and many other journeys the two had formed a matched pair.
As it ever was, there would be no rich treasure
awaiting the pair at the end of this journey,
but earthly spoils did not motivate men as these.
With hearts resolute Thighstrong and No Beard
undertook the recruitment of trusted companions.
Deeds of note and worth require
men of unswerving conviction.
Men true and strong are seldom known,
but to only those of this rare conviction
do the high hills reveal their secrets.
-The Italian Aldo Cattano joins the team three days before departure.
-The American Eric Lundeen and Kean Hall, a Londoner living in Italy, join the team.
Eric the Elder, a possessor of a
fierce and independent spirit,
a man accustomed to victory, and intolerant of failure
readily accepted the challenge.
A second explorer equally quick to answer the call was Halkean.
A Briton among Romans,
Halkean was a skilled and quick warrior,
a modest man of few needs.
As it is with all quests of note,
news of Thighstrong and No Beard’s plan
was shouted in feasting halls and
whispered behind the flames of campfires
from Carthage to the Land of the Laps.
Many warriors wished to join the chase
one succeeded – the Roman Aldocatt.
A man of many tongues
Aldocatt rivaled Thighstrong in
strength, and his skill in battle stood unmatched.
-The team meets two Swedes: Frederik and Kalle at the Trient hut. Frederik is suffering from altitude sickness.
-The seven ski into Val D Arpette and then take a bus to the Swiss town of Bourg-St.-Pierre where they are stranded by heavy snow.
The solders snubbed their home fires,
and assembled in the Gaul town of Chamonix,
where they feasted and took on supplies.
But adventurers crave adventure,
and soon the five pined for the road.
Through high mountain passes and
over frozen glaciers the men traveled.
Though burnt by the sun and
laden with stores and armaments,
the men did not relent in their pace,
until they reached the safety of a mountain fortress.
-Bill and Mike warn three French skiers of the avalanche hazard below the Velan hut. Less than an hour later an avalanche buries eleven, the three Bill and Mike had cautioned are killed.
-The team takes a bus to Arolla from where they make the trip to the Dix Hut.
Here the five became seven.
Ikeafred and Straightdown were Geats,
full of the strength and courage of youth.
Ikeafred was weathering a terrible affliction
of which none know cause.
Straightdown cooked broth and kept vigil.
The North had installed within Ikeafred
a hearty constitution,
and his strength quickly returned.
Men of similar motive
are often joined by the venture,
and these hearty youths
formed an unspoken alliance with the five.
-En route to the Vignettes Hut, Bill collides with a defenseless female skier seriously angering her boyfriend.
The following morning the travelers
descended into a mountain village.
They were greeted warmly by a noble elder,
Who provided wise council
on the ways of the local people
and the temperament of her native hills
Throughout the day and into the night
storms raked the mountains above.
The blizzard passed leaving behind
young snow which held tenuously
to the high slopes and mountain passes.
Death was near any man foolhardy enough to venture forth.
Thighstrong and No Beard warned three travelers
of the uncompromising danger,
but the trio rebuked this council.
Within the hour each drew a final breath.
-The Matterhorn, which looms above the route, is obscured by clouds.
-Mike and Eric struggle through breakable crust, while the others have little trouble.
The guild, now seven,
knew the vice of impatience.
and thus they allowed the mountains time to find peace.
In a days time they traveled overland to a remote village
where they continued their pursuit.
The seven were returned to the mountains
and a great joy was felt by all.
The gods were kind and travel was light.
The men arrived at a mountain fortress at midday
and spent the remaining daylight at play.
Men accustomed to hardship
can become as schoolchildren
when under a cerulean sky.
The following day the seven
moved camp to a third mountain fortress.
During the march Thighstrong
clashed inadvertently with another party.
The risk of a great conflict loomed close,
but Thighstrong was a diplomat as well as a solder.
He recognized that on this day
it was better to parley than to fight.
The evening was spent among happier company.
Voyagers from around the known world
were gathered at the feasting table
and the stories continued until
the final candle was spent.
As with many ventures,
where camaraderie and challenge ennoble the heart of man,
this endeavor moved too quickly towards a close.
On the final day, the seven broke camp before viewing the sun.
Leaving the fortress by torchlight
the men faced an unseen nemesis.
A pernicious wind had battered the stone walls throughout the night,
but undaunted the men forced open the castle gates
to face the enemy.
The seven fought as one,
and not a single man had fallen in battle
when the tempest fled with the rising of the morning sun.
Sadly, the tumultuous wind
was not the only enemy of the day.
This second foe was much more sinister,
as its aim is the destruction of men’s souls.
A nefarious spirit had cursed the snow
rendering weapons forged by human hand useless.
The reward due from hours of uphill toil was stolen,
and cries of despair could be heard deep into the valleys.
Thighstrong, Ikeafred, Straightdown, Halkean and Aldocat
conjured a dark spell providing them with levitation,
but No Beard and Eric the Elder, who remained pure of heart and free of heel,
The men had wished an audience with a noble mountain,
but, as it is with many desires, this dream remained unfulfilled.
A low sky blocked all aspects of the famed massif
and the seven descended into their destination disheartened.
The men returned home by caravan,
where they enjoyed many drinks of ale,
and talk of new adventures lasted long into the night.