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.
Just back from a great trip round the Dents du Midi range in the Swiss Valais region. This is the most westerly massif in Switzerland and on the whole not too many people visit the area. This in itself is surprising because it is absolutely stunning, the seven jagged summits of the Dents du Midi provide a great centerpiece for this 'tour'.
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.
On 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.
Tracks and Trails has been involved in the latest instructional DVD to be produced by the British Mountaineering Council. It's the third time I have been asked to provide the commentary for this excellent series of films and it's great to be involved in producing educational and inspirational material for outdoor enthusiasts.
Whoever said that we often take our own backyard for granted was wrong!
I have just returned from a walk in the mountains behind our village of Finhaut in Switzerland and was blown away by the beauty of this crisp autumn day. I set off from the Lac d'Emosson and climbed up through the Gorge de Veudale surrounded by the golds, and reds of the trees and grasses. A stiff hike saw me to the summit of the Cheval Blanc at 2830m.