On August 29th, representatives for the three French, Swiss and Italian science journalist associations climbed Mont Dolent, where the borders of the three countries meet. A symbol to illustrate the good tri-national cooperation that has been established in the bidding process to host the World Conference of Science Journalists 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
By Olivier Dessibourg, President of the Swiss Association of Science Journalists SASJ
It all started with a joke. And ended with painful feet, knees and legs. But also with wonderful memories, a team spirit even stronger than before and magnificent images! At the top of Mont Dolent, the exact point where the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland meet, we planted the logo-flag of the World Conference of Science Journalists WCSJ2019, that we would like to be attributed to Lausanne, Switzerland, by the World Federation of Science Journalists. But it was very very tough ride to get to this climatic moment.
Last February, Stéphane Praz, who co-manages the bid for the WCSJ2019 with me, launched – with much laughter – the idea of climbing Mont Dolent, as a symbol of the good collaboration with our French and Italian colleagues. How come? Some weeks before we chose the theme of mountains/ice/cryosphere as a background for our tri-national candidacy. And looking for images to put into our Bid Book, we linked the points in our heads and ended up on this mountain standing at 3820 meters of altitude, at the far end of Val Ferret, in the Canton of Valais, Switzerland.
I told Nicolas Bideau about this crazy idea, head of Presence Switzerland, the governmental entity responsible for the image of Switzerland abroad. He was at once very enthusiastic and even proposed to shoot some pictures and make a promotional clip about this adventure, to support our bid. We took care of finding mountain guides, and set a date in late May to try to climb with skis. Unfortunately, weather conditions were too poor at the time to allow us do the trek. We had to postpone the ascension to the summer time.
August 28-29th was the first of the two slots we booked. The week before, a lonely sun was brilliantly shining on all weather forecasts reports. But on D-day, some storms were foreseen in the late afternoon. Not enough to keep us at home, of course. We left La Fouly with Stéphane and Yves Sciama (from the French Association des journalistes scientifiques de la presse d’information) who had just driven 4 hours from nearby Valence (France) to join us. Also present were Nicolas Bideau, his teammate, cameraman and drone-pilote Mathias Vauthier, and two other persons. First, adventurer Raphael Domjan, who became famous in 2012 for having accomplished the first circum-navigation with a solar ship, PlanetSolar, and who now plans to reach the stratosphere on board of a solar plane with the SolarStratos project. We wanted to have someone representing the cutting edge of the Swiss science and innovation. He was accompanied by his cameraman Stéphane Chopard. And of course, our three French guides, Clément, Geoffroy and François. Unfortunately, Jacopo Pasotti, our Italian colleague, had just hurt his neck in a climbing accident a week before and couldn’t be replaced at the last moment.
The climb to the bivouac Fiorio was a very nice 3.5 hours walk, setting out amongst cows and ending among green stones and cairns, with, at the end, a fantastic view on the lower tong of the Dolent glacier. The hut itself is no star hotel, as is has neither electricity, nor heating, water or cooking facilities, it only serves to protect from natural elements. But that is more than enough for the few hours one tries to rest before setting out again.
We left the hut at 4am, with headlights, to walk an hour among the rocks, trying to find our way to the glacier. Which we finally arrived at. After preparing all the necessary material to walk on raw ice (crampons, ice axe), and after having formed rope teams of three, we started the long ascent on the glacier, having to zig-zag a lot: the summer this year has actually been so «dry» that there have been very few precipitations – mainly snow at that altitude –, leaving the big crevasses open and making the glacier surface look « dirty » due to the dust. During the first hour, we had the privilege to experience one of the most beautiful sunrises I personally have ever seen, with the first sunrays touching the famous Grandes Jorasses and the Mont-Blanc, top of Europe, just in front of us. Incredible!
On the way up, most of us managed to take some of the great pictures that go with this article. And when we reached the final rock-wall, 200 meters below the summit, we thought we were almost done. Bad thought! Once more because of the dryness of this summer, the stones were not stable. We had to be extremely careful so that none of us got hurt.
After five hours of an exhausting and largely vertical trek, we reached the summit. So impressive, when there is just 500 meters of emptiness on each side of the 1 meter wide path on the rocks that one has to follow to reach the summit – a path where on crosses a small white statue of a Santa Maria. But there, we were rewarded by a majestical 360° panorama. We were able to plant our flag (thanks Stéphane for having carried it all the way), and shoot some images for our promotional clip. Our Italian colleague Jacopo Pasotti, from at home, sent us some recordings to be included. But «hey guys, we only did the half of the expedition», we were immediately reminded by our head-guide François.
You imagine going up in that unstable rock-wall was tough? Going down, the same way, was even more dangerous and demanding: sometimes leading in front of my team, secured by my guide Geoffroy, I put my feet on stones that would simply split from the mountain and crash a few dozen meters below, with a dramatic thump. So we lost quite some time reaching the glacier again. There we also had to be very careful, as the snow by then had melted in some places, increasing the risk of one of us falling into the crevasses possibly hidden beneath.
It was well after 2 in the afternoon when we were finally back at the Bivouac Fiorio, totally dried out and dead-tired. All of us, even the toughest ones, were just happy to have a drink, rest for a while and even get a few hours sleep before going down the Petit Col Ferret and back to La Fouly and the heat of this late-August 2017. But with such a huge pleasure to have shared a wonderful, tough but incredibly rewarding and memorable experience in the magic Alps – thanks to all my rope-team mates! And just like this incredible experience, we would like to share with all of you the great project of bringing the WCSJ2019 to Lausanne – so, if you’re interested to be part of it, just contact us.