Winter is here! This week I have been running in fresh snow in Chamonix. The temperatures have been sub zero keeping it light and fluffy underfoot. Over the past few weeks the Alps have been receiving regular snowfalls which enabled the partial opening of the Swiss resort of Verbier to open and this weekend the Grand Montets Ski Area in Chamonix will also be partially open. The expected date for the opening of the cross-country ski tracks is 4th December in most areas. And what with owning brand new XC skis i'm feeling a little impatient! In the meantime, i'm off out on my snowshoes as we don't need lifts to use those.

Just back from leading an expedition with 20 Hertfordshire based students to Morocco, the High Atlas Mountains. With stories of mountain summits, riding camels, chameleon sightings, souk surfing, the rewards of manual labour and copious amounts of couscous!

Verulam School from St. Albans were a team of 19 boys, 1 girl & 2 teachers. We began our adventures by taking an early-bird flight to Morocco, North Africa which allowed us a day to relax by the hotel pool and acclimatise to the heat of Marrakesh, some 40 degrees or more! On leaving Marrakesh our team made their way across the Marrakesh plain to the High Atlas Mountains. A short acclimatisation walk there took the group to a view point where we could see the great peaks of the High Atlas, old ice and snow left from winter and the summit of Mount Toubkal, 4,167m, above sea level this was one of the teams’ objectives.

Another goal for them before the trekking phase was to help a village to build a new footpath, each student (and leaders!) took part in the community project carrying bags of, sand, stones and cutting the pathway in this remote mountain village at 2,100m. Walking up hill is hard enough in 40 degree heat let alone with loads on your back too!

The next phase of the trip was their expedition for their Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. The challenge was 5 days walking and camping under remote supervision, in groups of 6, including the challenging ascent of Mt Toubkal. Mt Toubkal was successfully summited by all students even following some bouts of sickness. We all proudly stood at 4,167m above sea level, looking across to the Sahara desert. A fantastic achievement.

The final phase to the expedition was some well deserved R & R by the sea in the town of Essaouira where the students enjoyed cooling off in the pool and exploring the old town and local shops, or souks. The beach had a very unique atmosphere due to its combination of fishermen, swimmers, quad bikers, kite surfers, camels and horse riding! This is where the team enjoyed riding a camel, saw a chameleon in action and walked with an overnight camp in the dunes before heading back to Marrakesh.

Back in Marrakesh the team were once again welcomed by the overwhelming heat with temperatures of 52-54 degrees! The two days in the town allowed for further souk exploration & bartering, the enchantment of snake charmers, a little sight-seeing, relaxing respite by the pool and a final drink to celebrate a very successful expedition.

Europe’s Grand Canyon - the famous Verdon Gorge – soon will feature as a NEW walking trip for 2009. Having just returned from a rock climbing holiday in the south of France I came back buzzing with tales of the Verdon Gorge. I was climbing and walking there and getting all the logistics together for a new multi-day journey for T&T's next year. I truly think this walk goes through some of the most dramatic and natural scenery in France! The Verdon Gorge is 25km long making it the largest canyon in Europe. The rock cliffs are so impressive and from the top the river below seems so tiny. But from the bottom in the gorge the sky seems like a dot! Whilst walking you can witness griffin vultures swooping around and rock climbers plastered to the rock faces. The trails I went on were very varied from fantastic mountain/rocky scenery to historic mountain villages. The villages are all set in high panoramic venues and have a great selection of restaurants, bars and plenty of museums for local history. The end of my walk took me to the lake at Moustiers where you can have a sunbathe or hire a pedalo for a closer look at the gorge itself. The itineraries in this area are endless what with the famous GR4 and GR5 also meeting in this area and the lovely lavender fields to explore.

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