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!
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.
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.