Tuesday, 8 December 2009

This is it - winter is finally here

After several false starts it seems like winter really is here this time. Even though yesterday it rained as high up as 2000m, this turned to snow overnight and today everything is white again. There must be a huge amount at higher elevations and this morning we were awakened by the booms of the avalanche detonators at the nearby ski stations - this is a sure sign that the season has commenced.

So it's time to get out the snowshoes and the skis.
The animals have come down from the higher slopes and there are animal tracks each morning in the garden. This week we've been treated to the sight of two huge stags (red deer) who have discovered an abundance of apples lying in the snow under a wild apple tree nearby - their very own "all you can eat buffet"!

My snowshoeing starts just before Christmas with various private bookings, and the open weeks and 4 day trips begin 23 January. Most trips still have places available, although the Aosta week is now full. And my free days for private guiding are filling up fast.

Go to http://www.trekkinginthealps.com/ for more info. The dates and prices are on the calendar page as a downloadable PDF.
It's time to start making tracks!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Is this it? Has winter really arrived now?

Well after a cold snap in October we had a fantastic week of hot (yes hot!) sunny weather. It was really like summer again - what a treat. We were climbing high up on the Perrons cliffs and were down to T shirts. Luckily we made the most of it - because this week all that changed and the lovely green world we knew has changed to white.
Okay so there are some good points - sunset views of the mountains, always super at this time of year, and even better when the mountains are plastered as now; and of course those glaciers need filling in before the winter season really gets going.
But it's always a shock when the first proper snow comes - time to put the snow tyres on the car, sharpen the skis and brush off the snowshoes, stock up with red wine for those long winter days when Vallorcine is cut off from the rest of the world (allegedly).....

Anyway we are now more or less in winter mode and we know there will be less of this:
and a lot more of this:

And this:

And this:

But hopefully not too much of this:

Hope to see you in the snow - come do a trip: www.trekkinginthealps.com

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Back from holidays and autumn is here

Well, after a great month away in the USA, it's nevertheless good to get back to the Alps. There is a solid layer of snow above 2500m as we found out to our cost last week on a ridge climb. Fabulous views though. The trees are golden and the days getting shorter.

Amazingly, high up at 2600m there was a trumpet gentian, embedded in frozen snow, giving us a last taste of summer before the winter sets in. So now we can enjoy these last relatively snow-free weeks before winter really arrives in earnest. But it's definitely time to plan for the winter - looking at flights there are still lots of good deals for the winter months, but prices will increase nearer the time.
I have lots of snowshoe trips planned and still also have some free days for private hire, but some weeks are already booked up. Take a look on my website for further details www.trekkinginthealps.com or drop me an email on info@trekkinginthealps.com

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The end of the summer....?

It's been a great summer season here - warm all the time, even in July when there were a fair number of evening storms. We have hardly walked in the rain at all and August has seen wall to wall blue skies almost every day. How good is that? For hiking on non-glaciated terrain the conditions have been perfect; the same is true for cragging - everything has been really dry and the warm temps made climbing at altitude really pleasant.

Sadly there is a downside - the high mountains are suffering - heavy rockfall on many faces, grey, icy and melting glaciers, and lots of open crevasses.

Care must be taken when choosing high summits and climbs - anything remotely prone to rockfall should be avoided and beware hard grey ice on many slopes.

My treks have been great fun, especially the ones far from the crowds. Last week I did something I called Not the Tour of Mont Blanc with a brilliant team and we enjoyed near solitude on many days, even though we were really very near the famous TMB trek.

On this subject, last weekend saw the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail around the whole Mont Blanc massif. Having promised family and friends that I would not do this again, having succeeded on it twice, I was satisfied to watch from a distance and to enjoy the fantastic ambience that this race now generates in Chamonix. For the 3rd year running conditions for the race were perfect.

Now the season is drawing to a close and we'll all be glad to take a break for a while.

I have provisional programmes for my snowshoeing and summer treks and holidays and these can be found on my website http://www.trekkinginthealps.com/

Ill be back with alpine news in a month or so!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A very busy month!

It's been a month of non-stop trekking, so lots to report. After a great Tour of Mont Blanc at the end of June and my first Mont Blanc Summits week early July, reported in my last post, we have since had the Tour of the Matterhorn and Tour of Monte Rosa treks, both of which took us into remote areas of the Italian Alps where we found unusually snowy slopes for this time of year. Late snow in this region has not melted on many shady slopes.

This actually made some ascents easier, as normally tortuous scree slopes were covered with a smooth layer of snow. Other slopes, however, required caution and I was glad to have my usual small groups of people - this means I can easily look after everyone and ensure security. Bigger groups that we met were having problems and some even had to abandon the treks.

Whilst weather conditions were far from stable during these two weeks, and I frequently put my waterproof sac cover over my backpack as a dry weather insurance method, we did not once walk in rain. The Tour of Monte Rosa group were lucky to have good condtions for their ascent of the Breithorn summit above Zermatt.

These treks were followed by a wonderful trek from Zinal to Zermatt with a family group of parents, two young girls, a sheep and a cat (not all actually living creatures you understand!). All performed brilliantly and "kicked ass" on several occasions!

We finished with a hike up to the base of the Matterhorn for some and an ascent of the Allalinhorn for others.

The flowers have been fantastic this summer, and we've also had some great wildlife spotting, althought the marmots seem to be a bit scarce - maybe the long winter proved too hard in some places.

Finally this last week saw my second Mont Blanc Summits week for this summer. These weeks feature 3 two day expeditions, one in France, one Switzerland and one in Italy. After a cloudy first two days, we had perfect condtions and did 3 non-glaciated trekking summits in the last 3 days, all with full 360° views of the neighbouring glaciated summits - Monte Blanc, the Matterhorn, Monte rosa, the Gran Paradiso.... These weeks are really fun beacuse we are not on a specific trek and so we tend to go to places where there are no other people. We did meet a large number of Italians on Monte Zerbion as it has a huge Madonna on top, but they had all come up by an easier route so most of our day we were alone. We also enjoy very varied accommodation - refuge nights are interpersed with nights in luxurious accommodation - notably a vineyard in Italy.
So now some days off will allow me to plan the programme for 2010 - firstly the winter snowshoeing and then the summer treks.
The link for the 2010 snowshoeing programme will be on my blog in just a few days.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Mixed weather but great hiking

Last week saw me hiking with a very mixed nationality group of women - Swiss, American, Belgian and Australian. We did the Tour of Mont Blanc, heading off backwards (clockwise) so as to avoid being on the same trail as the Chamonix Marathon which was taking place that day.

Really hot conditions lasted the whole week and whilst storms threatened every day we were lucky until the afternoon of the very last day and that only after we'd successfully descended the dreaded ladders at Les Cheserys - with some acrobatics along the way!

This week the weather has been very variable and we've had some wet and cold conditions. A week of local walking, taking in lots of non-glaciated summits, has taken us from the Mont Blanc region, to the Aravis, the Emosson dam and today over to the Italian Val Ferret where clear and cold condiitons this morning gave us perfect views of the whole of the Mont Blanc massif - and a great ascent of the Tête entre Deux Sauts.

The Tour of the Matterhorn followed by the Tour of Monte Rosa are next on the programme - hoping for lots of sunshine.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Wonderful warm hiking in Mallorca!

Well they told us it would be too hot to hike in Mallorca in June - in fact I did wonder myself, but mid-June was the only date the group could all manage. And it turned out so much better than expected.

Not that it wasn't hot - we're talking low 30°s most of the time - but up in the hills it was really pleasant. How great to be able to have a week's walking and not to have to even think about the weather, never to need to put on long sleeves, let alone rain gear, or to search out a picnic spot out of the wind!

Of course, there was a bit of sweating going on, but that's generally a good thing and most normal people sweat hiking uphill anyway.

A further unexpected advantage of going to Mallorca at this time of year is that the majority of holiday-makers are not walkers and so we rarely met a soul on the trail. Just great. We were treated to lovely views and the daily mid-day fly-over of a huge group of about 20 black vultures when we were in the main mountains of the Sierra Tramuntana.

So now back to the Alps where it feels a touch chilly but allegedly things are going to warm up during the week. I hope so - my TMB trek starts next Sunday.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Dream Team in Mallorca!

Last week's hiking holiday in Mallorca could not have gone better, partly due to the wonderful walks, scenery and weather, but far more due to the group -"Grupo Sharp" as we were endearingly referred to in the hotels!

I felt like the 19 years of Trekking in the Alps was summed up in this group of people who had all already trekked with me over the years, but some of whom I had not seen for a long time. We were a great mix of nationalities too - British, Italian and American - and I am certain new friendships were forged.

Everyone got on well, and we were most fortunate to have 2 singers with us who regaled us with great trail songs whilst we were hiking.

Thanks folks for being such fun.

Now it's time to look forward to the summer treks. I have places free on the Tour of the Matterhorn, Tour of Monte Rosa, and two Mont Blanc Summits weeks, which will be great fun weeks doing non-glaciated peaks in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.

And then we'll start to think about next winter - but for the moment let's enjoy the spring flowers!

Friday, 17 April 2009

The end of the winter - next step, Mallorca

Over the last week the snow has melted astonishingly fast - but only in the valleys. The is a still a huge amount of snow above 1500m and the skiing and snowshoeing will be good for weeks yet. In fact just yesterday we had heavy snow during the afternoon and the forests are snow-covered again today.

The last few days saw us out on snowshoes in Italy at the Rifugio Bonatti where Skip the lab joined us for a hike opposite the Grandes Jorasses.
But it's time to change the snowshoes and skis for walking shoes and climbing boots. The crags in the valley are generally dry and the climbing season is getting going. The trails are emerging from the snow - but be warned, there will be névé on trails above 2000m well into the early summer I think.
So to get good hiking we need to head south - Mallorca in this case - for a week of summit-bagging amongst the splendid limestone scenery of the Sierra Tramuntana. If it's anything like last year we are in for a blast!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Spring has come at last!

Finally the spring has really arrived - after 6 months of deep, dark winter - well actually not all deep and dark but very, very snowy.
In the space of a week we have gone from this:

To this:
There is still loads of snow around but we've reached that wonderful time of the year when you can do a ski tour or snowshoe hike in the morning then hang out on the balcony in shorts in the afternoon - or even get a few hours at the crag if you have the energy.
Long may it last - it's amazing seeing flowers and bright green grass after 6 months of whiteness. Not that this winter hasn't been good - it's been incredible and will remain on record as exceptional for the snow cover, throughout the Alps and beyond.
There has been considerable fresh snowfall this last week in many areas and this added to the high temps mean that the avalanche risk is quite important, especially later in the day.
We'll be snowshoeing and skiing well into the May this year but for now most of us are just enjoying rediscovering ground and the joys that that offers!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Start of spring brings return of winter!

It's been hot and sunny for almost two weeks and we were getting very used to it. The snow has gone in the main valleys and the flowers are pushing up, and the new leaves beginning to appear.
But winter is not over yet it seems. High winds the last few days were definitely signs that change is a-coming and tonight it's started to rain - luckily it's forecast to get colder and snow - rain is not great for snowshoeing and skiing!

Even though it hasn't snowed for the last 12 days there is still fresh and untracked powder to be found.

Conditions have been excellent and there seem to be fewer people around - certainly we have found ourselves alone for much of the time on our snowshoe hikes. So now we're supposed to have another top-up of fresh - but the meteo people don't seem sure how much, so we'll see. Heavy snowfall on top of the hard snow on some slopes would provide potentially very dangerous avalanche conditions.....

But hopefully the sun will soon come out again and we can get back to tracking that powder and enjoying those blue sky days.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Snow sun, snow sun....and so it goes on!

It's been an interesting week in the Alps. Heavy snow-fall early last week took many of us by surprise but gave some amazing, if very cold, conditions.

Once the snow stopped though it warmed up very fast - that's the difference between March and January. Now the days are long, the sun is high in the sky and settled weather usually means those wonderful sunbathing lunches at the top of the mountain after an early morning ascent.

Of course, winter is far from over and the last few years have seen lots of fresh snow in April - we'll see this year, it feels like we've already had more than our share of the white stuff.

The high winds and sudden change in temperature mid-week left a snow-pack that was far from stable as several serious avalanches proved. It is worrying to watch the super-quick tracking by skiers and snowboarders of the slopes opposite our house, which are renowned for being prone to avalanches. Wednesday afternoon saw several wind slab slides caused by skiers and the rescue helicopter was out until dusk searching for victims.
So about 4 weeks left until Easter. I will be out snowshoeing with groups, for much of the time.

Then summer is coming. So here's a list of treks and holidays that I will be guiding, which still have places left on them.
Mont Blanc Summits 4 July
Tour of the matterhorn 12 July
Mont Blanc Summits 1 August
Aosta Valley Italy Summits 8 August
Tour of the Grand Muveran 8 August
Austria Otztal Alps 15 August
Tour of the Matterhorn 29 August
Email me for more details!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Snowshoeing for everyone!

It's been a month of mixed weather so far - very cold, lots of snowfall and pretty windy. But in between times we've also had some great sunny days and even during the bad weather we have been able to find good conditions by switching between countries - being based on the alpine frontier we have the choice of slipping into Switzerland or across into Italy if the weather is dodgy here in France.
The fresh snow allowed us to perfect the Snowshoe Roll and other similarly upside down techniques, most of which seemed to involve digging.

We've had some great walks far from the crowded ski pistes. This last week there were holidaymakers from Britain, Swizerland, and two thirds of France, but the lift-free mountains were also crowd-free - most days we don't even get to say one "Bonjour".

There is amazing snow-cover throughout the Alps region - unusually so, since most years it seems if one side of the Alps has lots of snow, conditions are leaner on the other. But not this year. And more is forecast, as soon as Sunday.

Over in Italy I have been accompanied several times up my favourite peak by a local village dog who not only loyally stays with us despite the temptation of faster skiing groups, but also entertains us with his antics in the snow - we could not ask for a more energetic and joyful companion.

And so the winter continues. These last few sunny days could lead us to believe that spring is coming but don't be fooled - it's only mid February - there another two months of snowfall yet. But the days are getting longer, the sun stays out later and there are SO MANY SLOPES TO RUN DOWN!!!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

An amazing week!

A week ago the forecast was "iffy", the weather turned cloudy Sunday evening and the next few days, whilst not looking bad, did not look really great.

How wrong that forecast was! It went from good to better to amazing! The snow was generally great for snowshoeing (although pretty blown for skiing above tree-line) and the weather cleared to perfect by Tuesday - the clarity of the views was exceptional.
This was a week where we were able to do everything we set off to do and by the end of the week we'd run out of superlatives to describe the conditions. We did classic snowshoe summits in France Switzerland and Italy and also had a wonderful two days at the Grand St Bernard Hospice where there were only 6 other people staying. It must be said that the snow there was blown to bits and I was grateful not to be skiing. This meant that there were very few skiers around, but snowshoes will plough through anything and plough they did.
The weather has now changed and tonight they are forecasting 70cms of snow over in Courmayeur and 40cms in Turin! We are just hoping all this will stabilise for next week in the Aosta Valley. Meanwhile for this week we have a mixed forecast but already today was okay in the woods with fresh snow. And over here on the north side of the massif we are somewhat protected by the Föhn so let's hope for a week half as good as last week, which would be just fine.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Fresh snowfall after weeks of sunshine!

It's been an amazing few weeks - day after day of sunshine - very cold around Christmas and New Year but the days are getting slightly longer and it has definitely been warmer lately.

We still have plenty of snow for snowshoeing and off piste skiing and conditions have generally been very stable.

But a top-up won't do any harm and that's what's happening today - light snow at the moment, but forecast for more or less the whole week with hopefully some sunny interludes from time to time.

So the up-coming Trekking in the Alps Snowshoeing trips should be good. There are still a few places left for trips in early February and March - notably a 4 day trip meeting 17 March and a 6 day trip 28 March.

The skiing has been really good too. I imagine the pistes are getting a touch icy but off-piste there are still places to go with lots of untracked slopes. And now is also the start of the heli-ski season.
The ski de fond pistes in the valleys are generally excellent, due to the cold January temps and the hefty snowfalls of December.
So we'll let this latest snowfall settle then get out there and lay down some tracks!