Alpine towns don’t come any more iconic than Chamonix, nestled in the heart of the French Alps. Renowned for its proximity to Western Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, Chamonix has long been considered the centre of Alpine mountaineering.
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!
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!
Our 2009 Alpine Trail Running camp took place in Chamonix last week. This annual event ties in with the Mont Blanc 10k, half and full marathon events – so if at the end of the week if you’d like a challenge it’s there with all the support you could ever imagine! Our runners all had different running backgrounds and ambitions which meant there was a lot of experience and stories to share.
Based in a luxury Yeti Lodge chalet our runners were able to enjoy a daily run along mountain trails, amongst pine trees and meadows, visit high villages with inspiring views around every corner – not to mention benefitting from fresh mountain air in their lungs! On our return we’d enjoy lunch, sunshine and hot tub all under the eyes of Mont Blanc!
One of the weeks highlights were the excellent tips and advice from World Champion runner, Lizzy Hawker who also gave a very inspiring talk of her worldwide running tales.
To round the week off several of our runners took part in the various races in Chamonix at the weekend with podium results! Sue Smith got 3rd in her category at her first ever mountain half marathon, Mara Larson scooped up two prizes with 3rd overall female and also 1st in her age category, and Janet Lefton completed the full marathon in an excellent time of 7h30 giving her the points required for the full Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 2010.
So what will your 2010 challenge be? To find out more about our running week check out the feature by journalist and runner Antonia Kanczula who joined us last week in the September issue of Health & Fitness Magazine.
Tuesday I arrived back to very sunny Alps - which was perfect because yesterday I was asked to be interviewed by BBC radio! The feature was about Chamonix's history & guiding culture for a piece on sustainable tourism in a mountain environment. The presenter Mark Stephen and I carried out the interview whilst 'on the move'. We spent the day walking along one of Chamonix's classic high mountain trails, the Grand Balcon Nord. Normally it's Lindsay that's in the limelight! So I wondered if i'd be stuck for words whilst my tales of the valley were being recorded.
Our walk began in Chamonix's town centre where we took the famous Aiguille du Midi cable car up to it's mid-station, the Plan de l'Aiguille at 2310m. Our morning took us along to the Montenvers Hotel for a traditional Savoyard lunch with views of the Mer de Glace glacier and numerous 4000m peaks all around us. Along the way Mark and I looked at and discussed the flora, glacial features and Chamonix making it's mark as the 'mountaineering capitail of the world' and how it's adapted over the centuries. Co-presenter Euan had been seeing Chamonix from a different angle - the air! As he'd taken a tandom flight paragliding from Le Brevent mountain! We finished up with a trip back to the valley floor via the historic Montenvers Railway. Another hard day in the office.
The piece will feature on BBC Scotlands 'Out of Doors' programme this coming weekend - and you can listen again on BBC iPlayer for up to a week later.