Archive for the ‘mont blanc’ Tag

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

Les Gets, Mont Blanc, Portes du Soleil

Uncle Fester and Mont Blanc from Mont Chery

Les Gets, Mont Chery, Portes du Soleil

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!

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

Our Apartment in Les Gets

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

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

Les Gets, Mont Chery, Mont Blanc, Portes du Soleil

Les Gets and Mont Blanc from Mont Chery

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

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.

Ranfolly, Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

West from Ranfolly, Les Gets

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

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.

Les Gets, Mont Blanc, Portes du Soleil

Mont Blanc above the cloud

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

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.

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

Clouds and Mountains

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Mont Blanc framed by clouds

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

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.

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

Here comes the rain

Les Diablerets, Portes du Soleil

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.

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

Early morning icy slopes

Avoriaz, Portes du Soleil

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.

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil

Sunset

Les Gets, Portes du Soleil, Portes du Soleil

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

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French Odyssey Part 13 – Panoramas & Finales   8 comments

After our hugely enjoyable 2 days in Chamonix walking the Grand Balcons and climbing the Croix de Fer, we headed off to our next and final holiday destination in the Jura mountains. They are an extensive area of small mountains, ridges and valleys along the French/Swiss border north of Lake Geneva. We only had a day there before we started to head home in earnest and as always I was determined to make the most of it. It’s a massive area with loads to see and do but I wanted to explore the long limestone ridge that overlooks Lake Geneva and had chosen a hotel not far from there. We stopped of on our way from Chamonix for a cuppa by the car at the Col de la Faucille.

The views back across the Lake to the alps were superb. From here, Mont Blanc really shows its massive bulk and height dominating everything else around it.

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Mont Blanc from the Col de la Faucille

To the north the Jura spread out as an extensive rolling pasture dotted with lakes, bisected by deep valleys and gorges. I would guess that the walking would be simple and rewarding and much quieter than the alps.

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Val de Valserine

Our hotel was another Logis at the Hotel le Pre Filet, a charming out-of-the-way hotel amongst the pastures with huge 2 storey family bedroom.

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Hotel le Pre Filet

Only problem was the restaurant was shall we say a little out of our league with not much in the way kids food. We had no food in the car and the hotel was the only place for miles so we headed into the nearest town St Claude to find a pizza place or similar. Alas it seemed Monday was restaurant night off and the whole town was closed and I had two hungry kids in the back. Salvation was found in the form of a kebab van in the main square and a feast of chips and Steak Americain in the car was the order of the day. I salute the kebab van man!

Next morning was clear and gloriously sunny for our final day.

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View from the hotel

The hotel put on a cracking breakfast that included what looked like hard-boiled eggs – except the egg boiler was tucked away in a corner out of sight. As Viz would say “Imagine my surprise when I cracked a raw egg onto D’s plate”. Luckily we all did see the funny side and I did notice a couple of other discarded plates with semi-cracked raw eggs on them – live and learn.

I purchased a map and we headed back up to the Col de la Faucille. The Grand Montrond looked like a nice short walk so we headed off following a mix of ski trails, roads and paths up towards the ridge of the Monts Jura. It was a stunning morning, clear skies with views for miles into the heart of the Jura.

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Across the Jura

The ridge was dipping in and out of the clouds so I was hopeful we might get a decent view. After passing some lovely pastures full of wild flowers and a couple of very scabby donkeys we made our way to the summit

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Name that flower

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Scabby donkeys

It was one of those “wow” moments that take your breath away. You get no idea of the view to come until you crest the summit. Laid out below your feet is Lake Geneva with the Alps spread out behind as far as the eye can see.

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D, Lake Geneva and the Alps

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Swiss Alps

Mont Blanc again dominates the skyline.

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Mont Blanc

The wispy cloud made it all the more atmospheric. It was quite simply one of the best views I’ve had in the mountains. To cap it off sitting in the far distance between the points of a nearer peak was the Matterhorn. Awesome

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Matterhorn distant in the centre of the shot

We stopped on the summit for a couple of hours, eating lunch and admiring the views.

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Lunch on the summit

I took a short stroll along the ridge and it would be a superb long walk right from end to end, a distance of about 16 miles or so.

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Petit Montrond

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Crete de Neige

All too soon it was time to head back down. Our holiday was coming to a close but this was a fitting finale. Another place to add to my ever-growing list of places to return to.

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Jura skyline

And that was pretty much that. We got back in the car and started the long drive home. It took us a day to get back from the Jura via an overnight at a B&B hotel in Troyes, the Eurotunnel and the Harvester in Swindon.

It was an absolutely fabulous holiday. I have to give up a good chunk of my annual leave to do a 3 week holiday which means I have to sacrifice some skiing trips, backpacking trips and the like. However I get plenty of payback from spending some real quality time with Jane and the kids doing the things we all enjoy and the whole family love the places we go and way we do the trip. France is a fabulous place for a holiday with so much to see and do and something for every taste and inclination. We are already planning next years trip, where to base ourselves for a couple of weeks, where to stop off and what do, favourite at the moment is Roussillon down by the French/Spanish border on the Med. Might be able to get some walking in, in the Pyrenees which would be awesome.

So to finish off my top 5 memories from the trip

5. Any of our meals outside our Provence holiday home

4. Kayaking in the Tarn Gorges

3. Grand Montrond, Jura

2. Any of a number of lazy days by the pool

1. Picnic lunch on the Grand Balcon Chamonix

Hope you enjoyed the ride

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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