What a wonderful discovery - the Apuane Alps in Tuscany. Just been staying in the area for ten days with a view to perhaps offering trips there next year in 2010! The area is truly wild and beautiful with forests of beech trees covering the mountainsides with rocky limestone ridges rising high above the treeline. It was my first visit to this part of Italy and it did not disappoint me. There is some excellent walking to be found on paths which are not crowded, and have a great feeling of remoteness. For me it was particularly interesting to see that some of the walks resembled Scotland with juniper, and blaeberry scattered over the hillside. However, the food experience was very different to Scotland with plenty of opportunities to enjoy fresh local pasta, autumn fungi, and of course some incredible local cheeses!
I was based at Promiana which is only an hour or so from Pisa airport and is a great base to explore Florence and the stunning medieval walled city of Lucca - so excellent for combining walking, or mountain biking, with culture. A day in Florence meant a visit to see 'David' by Michelangelo, and the Duomo with its frescoes, and of course some retail therapy in the street markets. My Christmas shopping was done in 2 hours!! My base was the lovely farm and villa at Lavvachio which is run by two Scots, Jamie and Ailso. The accommodation is truly beautiful with lots of tasteful art and antique furnishings. The fact that Ailsa is a cordon bleu cook and professionally trained make meal times an extravaganza of taste! The villa sits high on the mountainside surrounded by olive groves and chestnut trees, with much of the fresh food coming from the herb and vegetable gardens, or the livestock - ducks, chickens, guinea fowl, goats and sheep. If you would like to join us in Tuscany, Italy in 2010 then do get in touch and we can either arrange a bespoke guided walking trip or we may even offer a scheduled departure if there is sufficient interest. The photo shows myself and Kathy Grindrod on our ascent of the Pania Della Croce, 1858m, the dominant limestone peak in the area above Promiana.
Normally as the summer season comes to a close in the Alps i'd be packing up for autumn in the UK, but not this year! In October I leave to work in Nepal leading treks in the Everest 'Khumbu' region. My desire to travel and visit the worlds mountains ranges was the incentive for my job. What a job!? The Mount Everest National Park has been a popular destination for trekkers since the 1950's and I will be in the Khumbu for 2 months leaving Lindsay to hold the fort for Tracks and Trails!
Apart from leading treks I also have another goal whilst on other side of the globe and that's Everest Marathon! So, myself and a fellow runner, Janet (who keeps claiming she's not a runner!), will join a total of about 70 runners from around the world, along with a few local Sherpas, to run from Basecamp (5184m), 42km to Namche Bazaar at (3446m). Ok so it's pretty much gently downhill... until a 500m climb towards the end, the sting in the tale! Janet and I recently completed a 5 day run as part of our training where we ran the famous Walkers Haute Route (High Level Walkers route across the Alps) which involved going from Chamonix, France to Zermatt in Switzerland covering aournd 135km crossing many high passes with a total of 9,000m ascent. And she says she's not a runner! I will be in touch to blog between trips and let you know how we get on.
Another stunning day in the Chamonix Valley. This summer really has been amazing in terms of sunshine and generally great weather. Yesterday, I made my first trip this year along the Grand Balcon Nord high above the valley, and was reminded yet again that the Victorians in thier quest for fresh air and beautiful views definitely knew where to put a path! At the moment the autumn colours are beginning to come through with the 'myrtilles' turning deep red and the Rowan berries are hanging heavy on the trees.
After the traverse we pushed on up to Le Signal Forbes the high point where Scottish scientist James Forbes carried out his observations of the Mer de Glace Glacier. Nice for me as a Scot, to know that our understanding of how glaciers work and move was defined by a fellow countryman. The views from here as you can hopefully see from the photo are absolutly stunning and there is always a satisfying collective gasp from our clients as they glimpse this natural wonder for the first time.
The Mer de Glace, or Sea of Ice, at 7 km's long and 200 metres deep is the longest glacier in France. Like all glaciers, it is constantly renewed under the effect of two phenomena: accumulation of snowfall and also melting. It flows permanently under the effect of its own weight and although not perceptible to the naked eye, it is considerable. From more than 120 meters a year in its upper part, the Mer de Glace moves about 90 meters per year in the region of Montenvers, which is about one centimeter per hour
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!
Just back from a ten day Tour de Mont Blanc with a great bunch of guys. Interesting for a female guide to deal with an all male team, but they were no trouble! According to Russ he was in no doubt who was in charge! We had great weather for the trip with glorious sunshine and some stunning views of the glaciers and peaks. We were a Scottish guide, two Canadians, two English and an Irishman. I have to say we had great laughs and sent young Cody up a few extra peaks. It's always tricky when one of the team is younger and more energetic than the majority but as a 22 year old Cody coped extremely well with his more mature team mates and totally repaid the trust I placed in him which allowed him to always be a hop, skip and a jump ahead of the rest of the group. He waited at every junction and never once did I feel that he would abuse the 'slack' which allowed him to be a wee bit ahead. If you read this Dad, you should be proud of him. Despite trying to load him down with group kit he still had so much energy. Kevin, the Irishman, was a shining example of someone who had put in so much effort to get fit for the trip, and credit to him for his efforts which more than paid off. Russ and Richard were experts on beer and their sense of humour provided many humours interludes. Anyway, guys - I had a great trip and thanks to you all for your company!
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.
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'. We enjoyed blue skies, alpine flower meadows, marmots and chamois, and of course views to France and Switzerland. The accommodation was excellent with warm welcomes from our hosts in the tiny cliff top village of Mex, at the Alpage de Chindonne, the Refuge de Bonavau and the Auberge de Salanfe. I was particularly amused to learn that the cat at the Bonavau is a 'tres bonne apliniste'. Apparently, Pimpernell the cat climbed the highest peak in the Dents du Midi range, the Haute Cime, at the tender age of four months. Since then she has enjoyed many alpine ascents in the area. If you have a cat with similar alpinist tendencies I would love to hear from you! To be honest I should have guessed she had natural ability after seeing her climb the outside of the hut to reach my bedroom, via the lower terrace, the window shutters, the drain pipe and then my balcony before clawing her way through the open window. I had a great time with Pete and Trish, and Anne and Nigel. It was so nice to meet up with the guys again and on this occassion I got to meet thier 'better halves' as well
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.
I've just spent two days working on a project to save one of our rarest mountain habitats. The aim is to produce a new DVD to be distributed by the charity, Action for Mountain Woodlands . Montane Scrub, which is made up of the likes of juniper, dwarf willow and birch, is disappearing fast from our mountain sides. Over-grazing by sheep and deer isn't helping the plight of a habitat which dates back 14,000 years. Action for Mountain Woodlands is hoping that creating a DVD explaining what Montane Scrub actually is, and why it should be protected, will encourage more people to help preserve it for the future. It's a habitat which all of us who visit the mountains will pass through but I bet most of us dont really notice as we head up the hill with our sights set on the summit. Next time you are out maybe take a few minutes to check whether these 'little gems' are underfoot.
Anyway, it was great to be asked to present the DVD and for Tracks and Trails to do something to protect this fragile environment. I had two great days working with the team from Blue Stone Film on both Ben Lawers, in Highland Perthshire, and also in the Cairngorms. It was a reminder of how special our mountain landscape is. One of the high points was seeing two Capercaillies deep in the beautiful Caledonian Pine Forest near Glenmore. I will let you know when it's published and hopefully you will want to view it to see what you can do to help our mountain environment.