Archive for the ‘French Alps’ Category

Annual Trip to See the Snow?   6 comments

End of January means my annual ski trip treat. Just a long weekend this year as TJS wanted to try it but can’t take a week out of college so I thought it a bit harsh to go for the full week while he stayed home.

In truth not best skiing trip I’ve ever had. The runes were bad after a journey to the airport involving a puncture, a closure of the M1, getting the flight time wrong in my head and me making my flight with only 10 mins to spare (exaggerated a little for effect – the flight was 30 mins late so that bought me some time) There has only been two major falls of snow in the Alps this winter and slopes were amazingly bare and thin. Looks like there is plenty of snow from the photos but trust me this is bare by Alpine standards. It surprised me greatly to see such a change in the usual conditions. Perhaps global warming is to blame but my Uncle Donald in America told me that’s just a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese so it can’t be that

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We did have some nice sunny days though and even if the skiing wasn’t as good as it could be it was still great fun. Clear skies and winter air is always a treat and any day spent away from work is a good one

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This does of course leave more time for convivial eating and lunchtime drinking in the sun

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My camera had another fit and went into strange mode for the next few pictures. Not exactly representative of the views at the time but an interesting effect

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A nice sunrise before a cloudy day

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It even rained on my last day – skiing in the rain is even more miserable than walking in it. I’ll leave you with my abiding memory from the trip. The Le Red Wine bar which is now my spiritual home. Gave us a decent excuse to go shopping as its next door to the supermarket. If Carlsberg (or Grimbergen in this case) did supermarkets……

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Fun in the Winter Sun   10 comments

Back to late January for some rather nice photos of mountains, snow, selfies and over-indulgence

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For the first time I went for a whole week’s skiing when fresh snow never fell. Not great for off piste powder skiing but rather good for cruising in the sunshine and topping up the tan.

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Obligatory selfie

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Ski bums

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Blue skies

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Cold beers

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And some skiing

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Snow-capped peaks as far as the eye can see

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A proper mans drink and a ladies tea cup

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Blazing sunshine

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The roof of Europe

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Yet more food

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And we even squeezed in a little more skiing

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Mountains galore

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And a slideshow with video footage thrown in for free…..

On the Slopes in France   9 comments

My annual ski trip to France and back to the same place as last year in Mottaret. I think we’ve found our spiritual home for our ski trips.

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

Some new pals this year. TBF who started skiing before I did came along for the ride. Equal measure of enjoying some time away from the day-to-day grind of mum and housewife and a love of the mountains in winter. Like me she loves the cold clear air of the high alps and the felling of warmth from a mountainous blue skies. Not entirely sure that she completely shares my passion for unsafe velocities on snow but there is hope

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

Also joining us was The Yorkshire Gardener. Like TBF she started skiing many years ago after spending some time in Colorado. She hasn’t been for many years but seeing as, like me, she’s approaching the half century milestone, decided to treat herself. Spending a week cooped up with me and Uncle Fester is debatable as a treat but it takes all sorts

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

As always we had a fabulous time. We were a little worried a few weeks before the trip. The Alps up to then had one of the worst snow seasons on record with several resorts suffering badly from a lack of snow. Even in the week before we went the slopes looked bare and rocky. Before and while we there though the weather delivered what for a skier is a perfect mix of regular snowfall intermixed with blue sky. By then end of the week there was metres of the stuff. Luckily we’d seen it coming and moved the car underground. Would have taken us a couple of hours to dig it out had we left it outdoors.

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courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

Having some new members of trip was rather nice. It was especially nice seeing TYG enjoying her first skiing for 20 odd years, it really was a special treat for her, although I’m hopeful that she’ll be able to join us on a more regular basis – she gets the croissants in the morning for a start! 🙂

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courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

TBF was less enthusiastic as she needed some lessons.

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We hired a guide/instructor for a couple of days, the skilled and friendly Rab Macnab.

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We split each day into a half day for TBF to try to get her up to Intermediate level and a half a day for me and UF.  TBF found the learning a little frustrating but by the last day all the tips were starting to click and things were progressing nicely. Now that both our kids are older, again, I’m hoping she can join us on a more regular basis. Whilst she sometimes got a little down on herself, she improved markedly from the start of the week and I think she enjoyed the week – at least I hope she did

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

Me a UF had a day on-piste with Rab to help us improve our own technique. UF has had a few lessons over the years but I’ve had just one half day, having been pretty much self-taught. Rab was very generous in his praise after watching us ski but you could see the “but” coming in his assessment from a mile away. Let’s just say I still have a long way to go. Our second half day was off piste and Rab took us to some new little known corners and into one terrifyingly steep drop that we both bottled out of. It was a cracking afternoon though. Rab comes highly recommended and I think it’s a given that we’ll be seeking him out again next year

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

The rest of the week was a mix of blue sky and heavy snow but we got out every day for a full day which is the main thing.

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courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

 

courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens, skiing, off piste, downhill

A trip to remember for all the usual reasons but also this time for the different vibe we got from having some new people with us to share the fun. If only I go skiing every week 🙂

Winter Playground – Meribel-Mottaret Skiing   9 comments

My annual “Slide” trip to match my identity. The usual end of January boys trip for some skiing in the Alps. This year was back to our favourite area, the Three Valley’s in France with its huge ski area and modern efficient lift system. We stayed in the middle valley in Meribel Mottaret for the first time in a lovely apartment right on the slopes.

There was blue sky

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There was time for eating (Steak Americaine on the slopes here)

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There were snow-capped mountains

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There was skiing

 

There was more blue sky

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There was some cloud

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There was more eating (afternoon waffles and beer became a mainstay)

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And there was more skiing

 

There were awesome atmospheric days

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There was a whole heap of sunshine

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There was always time for beer

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And amazing views from the apartment balcony

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courcheval, meribel, meribel mottaret, mottaret, Three Valleys, Val Thorens

More sensational views

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And lots of partying – by others – we’re all too old for such things. This the is La Folie Douce in Val Thorens, famed party spot throughout the Alps and always kicking in the afternoon

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Time to reflect and take in the scene

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That included Europe’s highest mountain

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The views just kept coming

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And the sunsets were breathtaking

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And whilst overindulging were common-place

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It was the skiing that lives long in the memory

 

We enjoyed one final day on the slopes before heading home after a an amazing week

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Skiing in Les Gets, Portes du Soleil, January 2013   8 comments

I’m back! Not posted any stuff for a month or so. Call it a lost mojo or the fact that I’ve been busy tinkering with my ever-growing collection of gadgets, editing videos and, well, being out and about generating stuff for the blog. I’m way behind as a result and have lots to catch up. A couple of walks in the Black Mountains and Brecons, a superb day out in the mid-Wales mountains near the Elan Valley and a trip to the Southern Highlands of Scotland with the lads. But before all that a little report of my annual skiing trip to the French Alps. Slight diversion from the majority of my walking relating posts but you can’t have a blog with “slide” in the title without doing a bit. At least the photos were nice

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Uncle Fester and Mont Blanc from Mont Chery

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Uncle Fester in action on Mont Chery

There were supposed to be 5 of us but due to some family and work-related problems it ended up just being me and Uncle Fester. For anyone who’s interested we always fly out on a Friday night to get a full 8 days skiing in, flying home the following Saturday night. After a trouble-free QuesyJet flight from Bristol to Geneva and a night in a hotel in Annemasse we headed to the resort of Les Gets for our weeks skiing in the Portes du Soleil. It claims to be the largest ski area in Europe and it certainly does give you a sense of travel as you move around the dozen or so separate resorts. Most of the resorts are very pleasant and the skiing for the most part is superb and uncrowded. The tree-lined runs are top notch and there is everything from easy beginner slopes to some seriously steep stuff (Avoriaz has “The Wall” reputed to be Europe’s steepest marked run). There is a huge choice of slopes but there are several disconnects where you either have to walk, take a bus or do both. Our other favoured area is the 3 Valleys where there is none of that tomfoolery. I’d certainly go back to this area again but in all honesty the range of skiing in the 3 valleys and super efficient, well-connected lift system and slopes is far better. Nice to try somewhere different though and we had a great weeks skiing. Our apartment was also rather splendid (apart from the slippery access road with its entry barrier halfway up an icy hill!) and particularly spacious as it was sized for the 5 of us!

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Our Apartment in Les Gets

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View from my bedroom window

The first couple of days were, clear, sunny and cold on wonderfully groomed pistes, great for getting back into the swing of things and just enjoying the simple pleasures of swooping through the sunshine and adrenaline rush of high-speed activity that I love.

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Nameless Peak from Mont Chery

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Les Gets and Mont Blanc from Mont Chery

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Trees in afternoon light

We spent most of the time in the immediate area of Les Gets itself as we just didn’t feel the need to explore. The first video collection I hope captures the mood.

After a couple of days we got what we wanted, an overnight dump of fresh powder.

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West from Ranfolly, Les Gets

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Cloud and Powder

When I was learning to ski I was a speed junkie, enjoying freshly groomed slopes to whizz down at unsafe velocities usually ending in a spectacular fall that became my trademark. After a lesson on powder skiing I was hooked and nothing beats floating through deep untracked powder after fresh snowfall. This day was as perfect as it gets, champagne powder and after an hour so the clouds parted to reveal sensational views across the Alps to Mont Blanc.

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Mont Blanc above the cloud

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Uncle Fester emerges from the trees

Ranfolly, Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

Ranfolly, Les Gets

A cracking lunch and a large beer outside in the sunshine at our favourite cafe completed a pretty much perfect morning. An afternoon cruising around the uncrowded slopes, dropping in and out of the powder finished the day off to a tee.

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Clouds and Mountains

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Mont Blanc framed by clouds

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Evening light

One of my best ever day’s skiing and I hope the next compilation supports that elation I felt when I got back to the flat.

To say we had all kinds of weather during the week is an understatement. After a couple of days of cold clear weather and a day of fresh powder we had what every skiier dreads – rain. The lower slopes turned to mush and it was raining as high as 2000 metres.

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Here comes the rain

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Les Diablerets

The video clip below is taken from an afternoon of solo skiing as Uncle Fester took his leave and sensibly spent the afternoon in the flat. I’m far too tight to waste my hard-earned and very expensive lift pass so I stayed out and spent a happy couple of hours getting some alternative shots in the cloud and rain. For the uninitiated these shots were taken from a chest harness rather than from a head-mount hence the lower angle and regular views of hands, poles and skis.

Nice thing about a rainy day is that the slopes are deserted so I had the resort pretty much to myself. I did discover on my last run to the flat that what was light fluffy powder the previous day was now porridge causing a rather spectacular face-plant that I managed to capture. The rain also had the rather interesting effect of turning the hard compacted snow on the estate road into watery sheet ice. Very hard to walk on in ski-boots and pretty much impossible in trainers as I found out when I went to do the shopping!

What did we get next? Well it rained all night but at some point it stopped the skies cleared and all that heavy wet snow turned to ice.

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Early morning icy slopes

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Avoriaz

The runs were absolutely rock hard the next day, although the sun was out. Uncle Fester wasn’t at all happy and quickly took his leave of me again. I took off on a solo tour of the area. I don’t mind skiing the icy slopes. It’s much less taxing on tired legs (skiing in powder and heavy snow is hard work) and the runs are slick and fast, ideal for a speed junkie like me.

Les Diablerets, Portes du Soleil

Les Diablerets

This final video captures that solo day and I’ve left the sound on the clips so you may be able to hear the sound of the skis carving across the ice.

The rain returned the penultimate day although rather than the light drizzle of before it was now a ceaseless downpour that even I wasn’t keen to experience. We did venture out after lunch on the assumption that surely it would be snowing higher up. It wasn’t and Uncle Fester left me to it after a couple of runs and went back. I stayed out to make the scientific and clearly obvious discovery that skiing in heavy rain is deeply unpleasant. Skiing gear is designed to be windproof and warm, not to keep you dry in a downpour. As I sat alone on a chairlift, soaked to the skin and with water dripping out of my gloves I decided that I’d proved my point and been quite foolish enough. Unsurprisingly, no photos or video footage from this little excursion.

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Sunset

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Farewell

The final day was a cracker with more fresh powder to play in, but distinctly cold and windy. Not a bad finish to a fun week with very mixed conditions, great learning process as I always say, normally when lying face down in the snow after a fall. Roll on winter 2014

French Odyssey Part 12 – Ridges & Frontiers   2 comments

After our fabulous walk the previous day we were hungry for more. My Cicerone guide had a walk above La Tour around the Col  de Balme that took in 3 small summits and I could use the uplift to gain the height. Plan formulated we set off on another clear sunny day with just a few wisps of cloud and a strong breeze. This time the trip on the upper chairlift was slightly chillier but the kids still enjoyed it.

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Chairlift with Aiguilles Rouges behind

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Time to get off

Once up at the top the views were again stunning and we could clearly see our route for the day, up to the craggy Croix de Fer and back over the Tete de Balme and a smaller un-named grassy hill.

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D, Tete de Balme and Cros de Fer

There were only a few people about, some walkers, a few climbers on their way to higher routes and mountain-bikers using the lifts to access the steep downhill routes now a major alpine activity.

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Aiguilles Rouges and Mont Buet

We walked across to the Col de Balme where the route enters Switzerland.

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Aiguille Verte and Mont Blanc

The kids found the idea of standing with both feet in two different countries highly amusing but I suppose the idea of walking from one country to another was a novel one for them

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Straddling the border

We continued on a steady climb up to the col between the Croix de Fer and the Tete de Balme, all the while the views back along the Chamonix valley to Mont Blanc and across to the Aiguille Rouge and Mont Buet (another one of my successful summits) were stupendous.

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Climbing to the col

As we reached the col we also got a view of the Lac de Emosson and its huge dam. Not an area I’ve visited but it looks superb and my guidebook had lots of walking routes in there.

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Lac de Emosson

We set off along the narrow grassy ridge towards the Croix de Fer, pleased that we were the only people about.

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D on the ridge to the Croix de Fer

Pretty soon it was clear that L was a little nervous so she and Jane returned to the col while D and I carried on to the summit. It’s quite narrow and rocky in places but so long as you have a decent head for heights very straightforward (although in wet weather or snow it would be a different proposition.

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Route of ascent

D was well chuffed that he had climbed an alpine peak albeit a small one but the views all around and over into the Rhone valley in Switzerland were breathtaking. Alas I had a grubby fingerprint on the camera lens so the photos are not as good as I’d like – one of the downfalls of my Panasonic FT3 and its lack of a lens cover

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D enjoys his first alpine summit

Satisfied we rejoined Jane and L and walked over the easy grassy slopes of the Tete de Balme and it’s un-named neighbour.

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Croix de Fer

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Summit of Tete de Balme

The views back across to Mont Blanc from here were particularly grand.

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Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley

We were on the look-out for a decent picnic stop but the wind had picked up through the day and it was pretty cold. We spied a small tarn below us and headed down, managing to find a sheltered spot. Had it been warmer I’d have been tempted for a swim as the water looked clear and inviting.

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Picnic time

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Fancy a swim?

Time to head back though and we retraced our steps and back around to the Col de Balme and the chairlift down, still marvelling at the views and for me as always very reluctant to head down.

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Jane and L, Aiguille Rouge behind

It was incredibly windy on the chairlift and we were glad to reach the warm shelter of the gondola on the lower stage.

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Hold on tight!

Our time in Chamonix was over. We had an absolutely stunning couple of days but I felt flat as we got back into the car. I wanted more. I could have walked for days in this area and the possibilities are endless. I’ll be back, but we still had one final day to enjoy and we headed off for the Jura mountains for the last proper day of our holiday

French Odyssey Part 11 – Mountains & Chairlifts   5 comments

So our Provence adventures were over. After a fond and sad farewell to Francis and Laura at our home from home in Cotignac we set of for the first leg of our journey home. We were heading for Chamonix in the French Alps, a long all day drive of around 5 hours but a scenic one through the pre-alps mountains. Most noticeable thing on the journey was the temperature. From 37 degrees the previous day in Provence it dropped steadily as we drove north to a chilly 12 degrees when we stopped for a in-car feed at the Col de Grimone.

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Col de Grimone

As we approached the Alps all the summits were swathed in cloud but I had high hopes that the weather was clearing. We arrived in Chamonix and checked into our hotel for the next couple of nights, the Hotel Excelsior one of the Logis de France chain. We headed into Chamonix for a meal and it was chaos, thousands of people everywhere and nowhere to park. Clearly there was some sort of event on which turned out to be the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc. Basically it’s a fell race around the Tour de Mont Blanc long distance walk route. Jane has done this many years ago and it takes the average walker 10 days or so. These people were running it non-stop in between 26 and 48 hours. As we watched the finishers come in it was hard not to get wrapped up in the event and we cheered and clapped the finishers of the main event and some of the other events like a multi-day fell race that looked suicidally tough.

The skies looked to be clearing as we returned to our hotel so we went to bed fingers crossed for a decent day in the Alps the following day

Alpine mountaineering is where my heart is. In my younger days a summer holiday meant 2 weeks camping in an alpine village with a combination of walking and climbing high alpine mountains. I loved it. There is no greater feeling for me than standing on top of an alpine summit under a deep blue sky, with snow-capped peaks stretching away as far as the eye can see or sitting at a high alpine bivvy site surrounded by mountains and watching the sunset or sunrise. There is nothing like an alpine sunrise or sunset – it’s a time for silent reflection and just wonder at how awesome the natural world is. If I had the time I’d love to share some of those experiences through my blog. Perhaps one day I may scan my photos from those days and relive some memories, for now lets move on to a new one.

I woke early, too excited to sleep and peeped from behind the curtains. It was cloudless! D was awake and we went straight outside for a look. It was chilly but the sun was lighting up Mont Blanc as we wandered by the pool and we both couldn’t wait to get up high.

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Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc from the hotel

It was clearly going to be storming day. I’d chosen a route to make use of the cable cars and chair lifts (expensive but worth it) so we could make the most of the day up in the sunshine. We took the cable car from Les Praz to La Flegere and then the chair-lift up to L’Index for a walk across to Lac Blanc and then back along the Grand Balcon Sud to Planpraz and back down to Chamonix. The kids love the lifts, like a fairground ride, especially the chairlifts (as a skier the novelty has worn off for me!).

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Chairlift to L'Index

As we stepped off the chairlift at L’Index the view was quite simply breathtaking.

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D, L and Mont Blanc

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Aiguille Verte & Mer de Glace

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Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille d'Argentiere, Aiguille de Chardonnet

The sky was deep blue and cloudless and in front of us the whole spread of the Chamonix alps, Mont Blanc, the Chamonix Aiguilles, the Grand Jorasses, Aiguille Verte and much more. Behind us the towering rock peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges. It was warm and perfect for walking but we sat and gazed at the peaks in absolute wonder. It was the perfect day. Spending a couple of days in the mountains was a gamble and I thanked whatever gods were smiling on me for our good fortune. I pointed out Mont Blanc du Tacul, my highest Alpine summit and the Aiguille du Tour smaller but one of my favourite ascents. I could sit and look at these views all day and I still gaze at my photos longingly. D loves walking but L is not so keen so I do feel a little frustrated that a family holiday in the alps isn’t really an option just now. What the view was telling me is that however I do it I need to get back and soon.

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Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Aiguilles

The walk across to Lac Blanc takes you across typical alpine terrain of boulders, scree and rock but it’s a good path and easy to follow.

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D & L on the path to Lac Blanc

Today it was a  day to take it easy and admire the scenery and the kids enjoyed the rocky scrambly parts.

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Jane, L and D, Aiguilles Rouges in the background

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Grandes Jorasses & Mer de Glace

Eventually the path meets the main one coming up from La Flegere and it was seriously busy. L wasn’t really enjoying the walking part so me and D headed up to Lac Blanc to take look leaving Jane and L with instructions to find us a decent stop for a picnic lunch. They did better than that and found the perfect spot on a shelf just off the path with a large flat boulder to laze on.

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Lunch in the mountains

I had thought that Lac Blanc would be a good place to stop but it was crowded and noisy. Sitting in the warm sun, surrounded by snow-capped peaks stuffing my face with fresh bread, cheese and fruit I couldn’t have been happier. When I think back to the whole 3 weeks in France, THIS was my moment.

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Life is good

Reluctantly we had to move on as we still had a few miles to walk to reach Planpraz for the last lift down to the valley. L was moving really slowly so I had  to carry her a few times. The Grand Balcon Sud is a sensational walk, traversing across the NW slopes of the Chamonix valley. Walking this direction (NE to SW) you have Mont Blanc in front of you all the way. As you pass La Flegere and start to head across towards Planpraz, it dips in and out of the trees creating some glorious vistas and situations.

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D on the Grand Balcon Sud

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Jane and L, Aiguille Verte behind

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High above the Chamonix valley

We stopped about a third of the way along for an afternoon snack and it became clear that L wasn’t going to make it across to Planpraz in time for the last lift.

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L and the Aiguille Verte

We decided to split up so Jane and D could enjoy the rest of the walk and me and L strolled back to La Flegere.

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L on the Grand Balcon Sud

It was with great reluctance that we headed back down to Les Praz although we had a pleasant sit in the sunny park near the church before we headed off to collect Jane and D.

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Les Praz

So how to finish off the perfect day? Back to the hotel for a swim in the outdoor pool under the gaze of snow-capped peaks.

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Hotel Excelsior and Pool

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Mountain Swimming

Perfect day? This one works for me!

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