Lindsay and I have enjoyed a great winter here in the Alps, meeting new faces and catching up with the regular ones too. We've visited some of favorite locations and have been exploring new areas too. And next season will have a few more regions to visit either on snowshoes or skis.
The Alps are blossoming as we speak, there's still snow high on the mountains, but the valleys & middle mountains are enjoying the sun and warm temperatures taking shape ready for summer. Everything looks lush & green ready for walking, biking, hiking and relaxing!
So it's our 'inter-season' at the moment. Time to play & enjoy a little bit of Tracks and Trails staff training be it on our bikes, running you name it! Lindsay's just back from a rock climbing trip to Provence and is desperate for a new road bike. I on the otherhand enjoyed a weeks ski mountaineering last week, exploring and getting height to acclimitise for a challenge i've had in mind for sometime. To ski Mont Blanc!
I spent 5 days skinning to high places and enjoying, the spring snow ski touring in preperation for a 2 day hit on Mt. B. I've always been weary of the ski descent due to it's threat of serac falls and large crevasses. We had however heard that the conditions were good and what with a great forecast and good snow covering it was time to give it a go! So last week I went up to the Grand Mulet refuge with my husband Olly which is at 3,000m for the night. It's situation above the glacier is amazing, the views/sunset alone are worth it! We woke for a 1.30 breakfast and by 2am were back on our skis skinning in zig zags gaining height. The skies were clear and all you could see were the lights of headtorches of others on the same mission. Our summit of 4810m seemed along way off at this point! After a couple of hours we switched to crampons and axes and strapped our skis to our backs to ascend the ice pitch the 'Arête Royale'. This section is a little bit of front pointing & walking but steeply rises along a knife edge (probably a good thing it was still dark!). But the track was good and the ice very 'grippy'! This section is a good 700m or more of the climb and as it's pretty much vertical you gain altitude very quickly.
This finally eased to enable us to switch back to our skis and skin the flatter section to the Col du Dôme. Here we were back on crampons passing the Vallot Hut which sits 4362m for the final climb to the summit. The sun was now up and the views of the 3 Monts and panorama around us was opening up to view many great peaks like the Gran Paradiso, Grand Combin, Matterhorn - you name it. The ridge to the summit was cold to say the least! We took our pictures and felt the warmth immediately as we left the top to return to our skis and sarnies. Now for the ski down - the Glacier des Bossons, from the Col at 4280m back to the Plan d'Aiguille at 2310m. I've skied many glaciers but this one is huge. I've looked at this glacier so many times and wondered what it's like up there. But I felt so small in this massive ice field. What with creeking noises as the ice shifts, the serac debris to slalom ski around, ice pillars to ski under, crevasse holes to negotiate & jump over(!) you almost feel the glacier is moving whilst your on it! But the snow was good, some cold & soft and then spring snow towards the end. The ski was fun but felt very commiting, a great memory to share with your other half. It reminded me of how the mountains are still on the move and we are there to both enjoy but respect them!
I just can't wait for my next adventure. Julia
A great day working with Oliver Ensor from Chalet Savoy in Les Houches. We had a bunch of fun guests to take snowshoeing up to Chalets de Chailloux above Coupeau which is a fantastic spot for a winter wonderland experience and views of Mont Blanc. Oliver's wife Elaine prepares the best cake ever! Lindsay
Today started off as a normal day in Chamonix - blue skies, sunshine and an hour or so out skating on the cross country ski tracks. (What a wonderful place to live!) But the afternoon was not quite so 'normal' - well not for me anyway. My husband had arranged an early birthday present for me a - tandom paraglide flight. For many years now I have watched people launch themselves off from the mountainside with a parachute in tow and wondered what it would feel like. It looks so graceful. So as a 'treat' this is how I spent my afternoon! We met with, Sean Potts, a Chamonix based instructor & pilot. His cool, calm and collected manner coupled with his 22 years of flying immediately made me feel totally safe under his wing!
It was -12 just in the carpark so I was well wrapped up for the 900m ride up a Chamonix cable car to Plan Praz at 2000m. Not wanting the cold to ruin the experience. We walked to the launch area and Sean gave me what seemed very few instructions as he unscrambled what he called 'spaggetti' - the glider and cords! I took a good look around - we were stood on the snowy mountainside with all the familiar but always impressive rocky spires all around with the sun on our faces. Within 10 minutes of leaving the lift we were both hooked up to the paraglider and began running together in what felt like slow motion off the mountain side above the trees. There was a slight moment of panic as you realise it's too late now!
I felt the wind lift us up and take the weight from beneath us and we were flying! It's a lovely sensation to be floating, bobbing and being buffeted by the air. As the warm air rises you gain lift and can hold your height giving you time to play on the thermals. Once the initial anxiety and excitment faded, there was plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and take in that you are actually flying! Half way down I was given the controls and made some turns as we joined other gliders in the sky, Sean took over for the last few swooping turns and made a very smooth landing. So if you've ever thought you'd like to have a go what better place than with fabulous views of Mont Blanc! For further details on planning a flight as part of your trip to the Alps then drop us a line and we'll make it happen. I can honestly say whether you are 8 or 80 you'd love it.
Two families joined us last week - one from the US and the other the UK to enjoy some of the best of what Chamonix has to offer. In a week we managed to squeeze in rafting or hydrospeed (crazy swimming in glacial water!), canyoning, rock climbing, mountain biking, rope courses, a visit up the Aiguille to Midi cable car and Mer de Glace glacier and....if that wasn't enought to tire folk out we trekked on 4 of days with a night in a mountain hut! A pretty busy week for all ages not to mention the guide! But there was still time to relax in the hot tub and enjoy afternoon tea to help re-fuel for the next days adventures. Highlights for this group were canyoning, being able to explore and climb with nature, and the night in the mountain hut where the following day we were able to walk onto the adventure park and play on zip lines and the high ropes course. Just another day in the office! For more pictures check out our Walking pages and Family Weeks.
This weekend Chamonix is absolutely buzzing. Two weeks ago the valley was really sleepy with just the locals, a few walkers and the early alpinists filling the cafes and restaurants. But this weekend is seen as the true 'start to the summer season' as this is when all the mountain huts & refuges open for business - not to mention the warm weather we are now having. 31 degrees yesterday!
The last weekend in June also hosts the 3 Chamonix trail races, the 10k, the Cross (half marathon) and then the marathon which set off this morning. So Chamonix is not only full of walkers & climbers but is bursting at the seams with runners! It's a great feeling to take part in these events where you all have a common interest and everyone's really friendly. I've taken part in the both the Marathon and then the Cross so this year I thought i'd give the 10k a go. After the winter season and the lack of snow free trails & roads it always seems hard work to get your 'running legs' back. You wonder if your ever were 'a runner'? But training for the 10k has been really good fun and refreshing to the body. Normally i'd be training for the longer distances and concentrating my time on the 'long runs' but for the 10k i've enjoyed adding the speed seasons into my training and steadily noticing a difference. But although you need speed for a 10k this one also requires hill strength too, with 350m of ascent it's definately not going to be a fast PB (personal best) that you are after! The winning time for the course was 40:41 for the men and 47:06 for the women, I was pleased to come in 2nd senior lady, 4th lady over all with 51:13. I am now looking forward to my gentle long run today to head out to cheer on the marathon runners!
Last week I was joined by Leslie from the US, Arletta from Poland, Team SA (from South Africa) and Susie from the UK on our multi-activity winter week. There truely were an international feel to our week. Over the 6 days the group stayed in a luxury chalet and were able to enjoy getting to grips with both cross country skis styles - trying both the classic and skating - and experienced days out in the mountains in winter travelling on snowshoes. The holiday is based in France but as we are so close to Italy we are also able to nip across the border for a chance to sample a little Italian snow and of course not forgetting the cuisine too. Team SA were able to add on a few days and experience a little of what Switzerland has to offer and when they left us headed off to Zermatt to alpine ski under the eyes of the Matterhorn. I'm waiting to hear how they got on?
Today was a first for me....I joined my group and tried 'hydro-speed'! What I hear you ask?.....Well it's what they call jumping in a full flowing river wearing a wetsuit, helmet & fins whilst lying on a type of body-board! In this case the river was the Arve, a glacier fed river flowing pretty quickly through the centre of Chamonix. Our group of 12 with 2 local guides swam and kicked along approximately a 5k stretch of river using nothing more than a body board and the waves. We were taught to spin, dive, turn, and even eskimo roll. What a mad way to spend an afternoon, but what fun! Why - is the next question you might ask?! Well as with all our trips we think it's best that we check out the routes & activities first so that we can offer first hand experience of the activities.
So for the past two weeks I've been joined by two lovely, adventurous families that have come to the Chamonix Valley to explore not just the walking trails with me but have also experienced what else the area has to offer. I've accompanied our families in mountain hut walks, on rafts, horse riding, biking trails, rock climbing, glaciers (with ice-climbing in a crevasse!) and via ferrata. Tomorrow we are getting wet again when we head to one of the valleys canyons. Wish me luck!