Shoulder-season weather gets a bad rap in a lot of mountain towns. There’s not enough snow to ski, but too much for bagging summits or climbing crags. Town empties out. The tourists leave, and so do most of the locals, packed off to beaches in Italy or Costa Rica for a bit of sun and surf before the real storms let fly.
But if you’re willing to put up with snow in your summer hiking shoes, there are rewards to be had on these three-season days. You leave the heat of summer behind in the valley, climb through autumn past ripening myrtille and tiny, tart framboise, up toward the bright white line of winter.
Moving up through the seasons in this way is a bit like experiencing a sped-up version of real life: like all changes, it rewards adaptability. The temperature might swing through sixty degrees; banks of cloud roll in, parting minutes (or days!) later; snow morphs from ornament to objective hazard. It’s messy and un-straightforward. You have to change your mind. So to enjoy it, a certain mental flexibility is required.
It’s good practice, though, experiencing change. It’s uncomfortable at first. You get attached to reaching such-and-such a summit, only to find that you’re knee deep in snow with cold feet and hundreds of meters left to climb. So you turn back, cross the col instead of the peak, and soon find yourself back among the berry bushes. It stops feeling like giving up, and starts feeling like something else: moving forward.
It’s still summer in Chamonix. But the occasional storms are drawing the snowline down like the tide. It’s an exciting taste of the winter that lies ahead. But I can wait. There are plenty of summits still to try for, and berries left if I have to turn around.