Chamonix and Mont Blanc, and Knitting Spies in Wartime

Cross-posting to the knitting blog today because I've realised that five posts from now I will have 200 posts!

Trying to get my anniversaries to run concurrently -- on 6 September, I should reach 1,100 posts on this blog and, come August, I will have been blogging for 10 years!

Came across an interesting article the other day, about knitting used by spies in WWI and WWII:

"During World War I, A grandmother in Belgium knitted at her window, watching the passing trains. As one train chugged by, she made a bumpy stitch in the fabric with her two needles. Another passed, and she dropped a stitch from the fabric, making an intentional hole. Later, she would risk her life by handing the fabric to a soldier—a fellow spy in the Belgian resistance, working to defeat the occupying German force.
Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of two needles.
When knitters used knitting to encode messages, the message was a form of steganography, a way to hide a message physically (which includes, for example, hiding morse code somewhere on a postcard, or digitally disguising one image within another). If the message must be low-tech, knitting is great for this; every knitted garment is made of different combinations of just two stitches: a knit stitch, which is smooth and looks like a “v”, and a purl stitch, which looks like a horizontal line or a little bump. By making a specific combination of knits and purls in a predetermined pattern, spies could pass on a custom piece of fabric and read the secret message, buried in the innocent warmth of a scarf or hat."

Just the thing to weave -- sorry, knit -- into a story one day!

I was up nearly 4,000 metres last week! Close to 13,000 feet.

The town of Chamonix, France, at the foot of Mont Blanc, is already at over 1,000 metres, and I took the cable car up another 2,000 metres... I was clutching on for dear life, and I couldn't look out the window, but luckily the trip itself takes only about 15 minutes.

On our way to France!

25 metre-high statue of Christ the King

First sight of the Bossons Glacier

Tip of the glacier, apparently called the snout

The cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi at 3,842 metres (Mont Blanc's highest point is at 4,808 metres)

Images of and from Mont Blanc.

Noting for the record that the better, more daring shots, are photos that my mother took, since I was too afraid to lean over any railings or parapets.

It was 30 degrees Celsius in town, and 6 degrees up near the top...

Recording an ascent to the Aiguille du Midi in 1856

Looking down from the cafeteria...

Heading back down

Almost there

I can see solid ground!

The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was on in 1786, by Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard.
The statue doesn't show Paccard, but Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, who gave a reward for the successful ascent.

Old-timey mural

Back in the town of Chamonix

Church of St Bernard

Stained glass showing Grenoble, France

There was a small sidewalk exhibit all about authors and climbers through the ages.

The photos above is of Henriette d'Angeville, the second woman to climb Mont Blanc, 30 years after Marie Paradis in 1808. She caused a bit of a scandal when she married one of her guides, who was not of the same social class as she was. Here's a bit from Wikipedia:
"D'Angeville set off for Mont Blanc in 1838, in the company of Joseph-Marie Couttet, five other guides, and six porters.[1] A suggestion had been made by the guides to join with two all-male groups, but d'Angeville declined.[2] Her arrival in Chamonix created quite a stir; crowds cheered her on her way to the mountain. She received a social call at the Grand Mulets, at 10,000 feet, from a Polish nobleman (who sent his card to her tent), and an English group joined them as well.[1]
D'Angeville's party left for the summit on 4 September 1838 at 2 AM. Along the way d'Angeville proved herself strong and agile enough;[4] particularly on rock she climbed as well as the men,[2] though she did suffer from heart palpitations and drowsiness [altitude sickness].[5] The party reached the top of the mountain at 1:15 PM. Toasts were made with champagne, doves were released from the summit to announce their success, and d'Angeville was hoisted on the men's shoulders and cheered. A cannon salute welcomed them on their return to Chamonix. The celebrations the next day also included a special guest, at d'Angeville's request, the now sixty-year-old Maria Paradis.[4] Also present in Chamonix during that time, though he left the day before d'Angeville's successful climb, was a young, poor, and hopeful author and mountaineer Albert Richard Smith. Smith had tried to attach himself to an expedition but would not climb the mountain until 1851, after which he turned his experience into a theatrical show; he notes d'Angeville's expedition (and the "Polish gentleman [sic]") in his "Ascent of Mont Blanc."[6] ... Since Paradis, according to her own account, was partly carried up by her guides, d'Angeville is often referred to as the first woman to reach Mont Blanc's summit with her own strength.[7]"

I'd never heard any of the names, but they all seem like interesting people.
One young man disappeared on the mountain at the age of 27.

The Arve River, which flows all the way to Geneva.
Glaciers are made of compact ice, not snow, and the ice cap of Mont Blanc pushes out the glaciers, which melt into rivers, dragging silt with them -- which is why the Arve is the sediment-y colour it is.

Leaving the glacier

Two glaciers!
The Bossons Glacier and the Taconnaz Glacier. Apparently, Bossons is a safe glacier, whereas large ice blocks break off from the Taconnaz Glacier, and an avalanche barrier is needed.

Next time, I'd like to visit the Matterhorn, since Tolkien was there in 1911!

A quick ROW80 update!

I've been all over the place the last couple of weeks, slowly drafting a missing scene for The Charm of Time, adding a few changes to Druid's Moon before submitting it again (and the epilogue is done!), writing a new short story (this seems to be semi-regular summertime thing for me, and I love it!) tentatively called "The Tattoo", and working through another round of beta comments on "At Summer's End" before I resubmit it. The latter is this week's priority!

What's the highest peak you've stood on?
Or the lowest place you've descended to?


I've lived at 7.000 feet when we worked in Yellowstone NP. We were at 6,000 feet the summer I was pregnant for my eldest. That wasn't exactly fun!

I've been at the continental divide - a bit under 10,000 feet, if I remember correctly.

As far as descents, I've been about 50 feet below ground level twice - in northern Florida, and here in New York. Other caves and caverns I've visited might be deeper, but those are confirmed.

I love your travel posts, and the knitting spies (I may need to do something with that detail, too!),

Your mother is a gifted photographer!
Hi Deniz - fascinating to read about the knitting - hadn't thought of that aspect of giving over a code ... saw one about utilising code via sending postcards and theatre tickets ...

Going up Chamonix must be amazing - lovely photos and how fabulous to have your mother out with you and the family ... I haven't been that high - probably 5 or 6,000 feet in South Africa ... and down a mine out there - not that deep I don't think ... I wasn't that happy at that and it was very hot ... 720 feet down ...not deep but enough!

Cheers and have a good summer with all the things you've got going on ... Hilary
S.P. Bowers said…
I love how people used their talents and whatever they had to fight for what they thought was right.

Beautiful pics!

I don't know what my highest/lowest is. Sea level is probably lowest, and highest is probably around 11000-12000 ft altitude. We drive over a mountain that high every time we visit family.
Crystal Collier said…
Whew! That looks cold! It's been a long time since I was that high up in the mountains and I wonder if I could even breathe there anymore after living 8.5 years at sea level.

The spy knitting... I'm reminded of A Tale of Two Cities, where the French Citizen is constantly creating her tapestry of offenses so that she'll remember who to punish one day.
Beautiful pictures! I'm envious of all the traveling you get to do. And your description of knitting made me think of Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, except she knitted for sinister reasons.
Wow, Deniz! That's fascinating about the spy-knitting.
beste barki said…
I had not heard about code knitting. Your pics are great too.
Michael Di Gesu said…
Hi, Deniz,

WOW some pics! That is what a trek! Beautiful though. Not sure I could handle that high... My highest plateau was in the Andes Mountains in South America. Bogota, Colombia ... elevations around 9K feet. As for lowest... New Orleans about 600 ft below sea level.

VERY interesting facts about knitting code .... thanks for sharing! Hope all is well!
Zan Marie said…
As always, I love your pictures, but the code knitting a marvelous! What a use of needlecraft!
Deniz Bevan said…
Thanks, everyone! So neat to hear all the heights and depths you've been to!

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