Sunday, 28 November 2010

It's winter!!

It's been a few weeks since I posted and in that time we've had several snowy interludes, but now winter has really arrived. The mountains have a good covering above 2000m as the frequent falls of snow have settled there and provided a good base.
The whole of northern Europe seems to be white this weekend and whilst that poses problems in some places, here it provides the perfect early start to winter.
So it's looking good for the snowshoeing. I'll be starting my snowshoeing a little later this winter but there's planty going on from the calssic Mont blanc region weeks to the always popular Italian Aosta Valley extravaganza to the beauty of the Val Vlarée near Briançon and finally the season will end with my annual Easter blast.
Meanwhile those snowshoes are trembling with anticipation!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Last summer trek, in Provence

After weeks of great trekking in the Alps it was nevertheless nice to have a change of scene, with the final trek of the season in Provence - notably the Verdon Gorge area. It had been 4 years since I had hiked down there so it was good to renew my acquaintance with both the walks and the hotel owners that I have known for years.

The weather was perfect, even the day it was supposed to rain. We enjoyed several summits, not seeing a soul all day, then we had a rather more social day hiking through the gorge itself.
The vultures are amazing there - the Griffin Vulture has been reintroduced and is clearly thriving. Evening is the best time to see them and I was trated to a wonderful display at the end of one day.

A finaly day was spent hiking up and around the Baou de St Jeannet - classic coastal views from this impresive limestone summit.
So now it's time to prepare for the winter. I have several snowshoeing trips which have places available - notably in the Mont Blanc Region, the Aosta Valley and the Dauphiné Alps. Time to brush the cobwebs off those raquettes....

Sunday, 5 September 2010

What a difference a day makes......

Last weekend should have a once in a lifetime experience for many trail runners, who had spent months training for and dreaming about the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail. Sadly, atrocious weather led the organisers to call off the event after just a few hours. A shorter race was put on next day, but many runners were not aware of this and had already gone home. Whilst the decision to cancel was totally understandable, this must have come as a devastating blow to those who had stood on the startline, listened to the race music, and set off on this fabulous adventure, only to have their dreams dashed soon after. As someone who has had the great good fortune to finish this race twice, I understand and sympathise with their extreme disappointment.

My Tour du Mont Blanc trek started on the Sunday in reasonable weather, but Monday was rainy, cold, foggy and fairly unpleasant. We plodded our way around in deep mud and a smattering of snow. Luckily there were a couple of very welcome cafés en route.

However, from Tuesday onwards we enjoyed superb conditions - clear skies, non-stop sunshine, crystal clear views...really as good as it gets. If only the Ultra Trail would have been this weekend, instead of last.

Of course, people don't always realise how lucky they are......but anyone who wasn't blown away by the beauty of the mountains this week is certainly missing something. And we had 5 days to stand and stare as the TMB route rarely takes you away from these vistas. Occasionally I think people miss the point and concentrate on the insignificant messy details of routine life - a cold shower, a tired afternoon, not quite the meal you were hoping for - but really in these conditions all you had to do was lift up your eyes and marvel at those mountains. I'm sure those thwarted UTMB runners would have sold their souls for such conditions!
Here ends my lesson for this week!!

Friday, 27 August 2010

A superb weekend!

It was rainy and cold pretty much all last weekend until Friday night when it started to clear up. I had a couple of clients and friends coming out for the weekend to test out two of my "Creaky Knee Special" walks and they always bring the good weather. And true to form they did so this time - Saturday and Sunday were hot and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, perfect hiking days.

We did the longest day first, with a full 8+ hours of hiking in total, up the Trè-les-eaux valley to emerge after several hours above the Vieux Emosson lake. We visited the dinosaur tracks, which are wonderful, but expected to disappear in another 50 years or so with erosion, then headed up again into the Veudale Valley for a descent that was a bit longer than that defined by the Creaky Knees Specials. I shall adjust that itinerary for next year!

The second day we took the Brévent lifts which got us up to 2500m somewhat faster than the first day and then we had time to fully enjoy the Aiguillettes du Brévent and des Houches before returning to the lift. This day was much easier on the knees, despite starting with a descent - it was quite gentle and I think most Creaky Knees candidates will allow a short descent like that to give such amazing views.

Monday saw the rain return as Jane and Charles went home!
Next up, the classic Tour of Mont Blanc. Forecast pretty good, once the rain stops.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Summits, remote scenery and wildlife - Great New Trek!

Just back from the Tour of the Grand Muveran, a new trek for me which proved to be just as exciting and remote as I had hoped. We enjoyed good weather for the first four days and on the fifth day the rain just made it easier for us to leave this spectacular area. A very convivial group obviously really added to the enjoyment too.

We all summitted the Dent de Morcles, despite brooding weather conditions, which was a highlight, as were ibex on several sections of the trail.

The accommodation was "traditional" - none of these luxury huts with showers and nice rooms on this trek - but it was worth a bit of "basic" to be in such stunning places and we appreciated our creature comforts all the more afterwards!
So all in all definitely a trek to repeat in the future for those who want a challenge and some memorable hiking.

August is shaping up to be a mixed month for weather, with snow frequently falling below 2500m, but this is good for the high mountains and I am counting on an Indian Summer in the Alps!
Next up, a weekend to try out my Creaky Knees Specials walks planned for next summer - watch this space!!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Normal summer alpine weather!

Photo Steve Berry

So after all that sunshine mid June to mid July we knew we'd pay! The weather has been mixed since then, but with plenty of really nice days. The rain has been good for the gardens as it was somewhat odd to have brown desert like grass. We're lucky here, as further south there is a serious drought forming and the cattle are already eating their winter supplies. The rain has fallen as snow above 3000m which has improved the state of snow and ice routes which had turned to grey ice earlier in the season.

So although I prefer not to have to hike in the rain, it's all for the best really.

We had a great Chamonix Zermatt trek and saw everything we were meant to, except the grand Combin which did not grace us with its presence this time around. But the Matterhorn from the Col Riedmatten more than made up.

Next on the agenda is the Tour des Muverans, a new one for Trekking in the Alps, which should provide quite an adventure.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Summertime and Big News for 2011!

Summer is definitely here at last. We've had two weeks of hot sun and it's set to continue. This is making for excellent trekking conditions.

There is still a lot of snow on the cols above 2300m, especially on the shady sides, but it's melting fast.

I just spent a week hiking the Italian part of the TMB and then moving onto lesser known trails in Switzerland. I was fortunate to be accompanied by some of the nicest people ever - what a great way to start the season - Thanks Michael, Denise, Eric and Gabrielle.

Although the winter seems a long way away right now (thank goodness!) it's time for me to start thinking about the Snowshoeing Season. Flights for the winter are cheap right now so this is also a good time to book. My Snowshoe Calendar for 2011 can be found on this link:

And last but certainly not least, 2011 will be a very special year as we'll be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Trekking in the Alps. How exciting is that? I intend that every trek / trip will be extra special fun and I'll be inaugurating a new idea:

Creaky Knees Specials. Do you want to be in the mountains but find the downhills an ordeal? Do stiff knees at the end of the day ruin your mountain hikes? Look no further there is a life after cartilage! Creaky Knees Specials: 4 and 6 day trips featuring challenging mountain hikes but with minimal downhill. After 20 years guiding here I can plan walks that take us high into the hills, with great views and spectacular terrain, and we'll use lifts / transfers to descend. There will inevitably be some downhill, but as little as possible - and you're allowed to limp a little! If you're fit but have knees / hips / ankles that are wearing out - these are the trips for you. Full programme will be available in Sept 2010 but do email me for more details, or indeed to tell me what you think of this idea.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Summer trekking: 50 Reasons to come!

Well it's finally hot and sunny here, as I believe it is in much of Europe this weekend. Elsewhere I don't know, but I hope you're all enjoying a wonderful spring.
The daily news is hardly inspiring though, is it? It seems to be there are many reasons why you might decide to stay home this summer and not come trekking in the Alps with me. Let's take a look:
The Economy: what a mess! Each day seems to bring more bad news, with the odd glimmer of hope when one world leader or another suggests a short-term solution to what are clearly long-term problems. But will this change in the next few years???
The Ash Cloud: quite where we are with this I don't know, they say that the planes can fly and that hopefully better legislation will be introduced so the flights are only cancelled if really necessary. And actually there are other very straight-forward ways of getting the Alps, at least from other European countries, notably the train, which is very efficient and not expensive if reserved in advance. Driving is also a good option, not difficult and actully pleasant if you make a journey out of it.
The Exchange Rate: Well after the last few months I'd like to say this can only get better - the Euro has certainly weakened these last weeks and the Dollar has gained strength. Sterling seems to be sitting on the fence with that one. Could get worse, could get better, but in the end it's just a holiday and the extra cost doesn't amount to that much, honest!!
Fitness - you're not fit enough for these hilly Alps! Nonsense, this is the perfect time to start an Alps trekking Fitness Programme.
It might be a sunny summer wherever you live - well there's a chance of course!!
I have 3 treks that still have places available:
Chamonix Zermatt Walker's Haute Route
meet 21 July trek 9 days - amazing alpine journey with big mountain scenery.
Tour of the Grand Muveran meet 7 August trek 6 days - big adventure trek.
Tour of Mont Blanc meet 28 August trek 7 days. The classic Alps trek.
Take 5 minutes to click this link, sit back and dream: here are 50 reasons to come trekking with me this summer

Thursday, 13 May 2010


So it's springtime - flowers, sunshine, grassy meadows, frollicking lambs and all that.....
Well not exactly! The mountains are plastered in snow and rain has certainly won over sun these last days.

That didn't stop us having a great time last week exploring the hills around the glorious Annecy Lake. This is the first time I have offered a trip there and although the weather did not play game it is clearly a great place to hike. Limestone summits abound and the views would be superb out over the lake and also towards the surrounding massifs.

We did enjoy some beautiful spring flowers and the beech forests were delightful, all the leaves being pale green at this time. Birds were plentiful and we even spotted an ibex.

Back here in the Land of Snow it really is snowy - not in the valleys thank goodness, although snow is forecast at 1300m in the next days, but the mountains sadly look like this:

Hoping that the ash cloud will clear off and the sun will shine for the next 6 months!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Change of Season, new activities!

So, winter is finally giving way to spring, it's official, the crocuses are pushing up, the garden is at least brown if not green and we're wearing shorts!

It's been a fantastic winter season in many ways, although the last weeks were particularly dangerous and there were almost daily avalanche ski fatalities which put a damper on things.

We enjoyed a great week exploring the Val d'Anniviers region - a wonderful area for snowshoeing that I will certainly be going back to.

Unfortunately the unsettled weather prevented us getting to grips with the Val d'Hérens but that will be for next year.

As usual the Easter week was beautiful - fresh snow fell the first weekend giving the summits and slopes a fresh coat of white. Conditions were excellent and we had some great walks, always with Mont Blanc as a backdrop, seen from all angles - Switzerland, the French Aravis and the Italian Val Ferret.

My favourite dog, Skip, joined us for our final day when we went up above the Italian Val Ferret for what has to be the best views ever!!

So now it's time to relax, regroup and enjoy some spring downtime.

But summer is just around the corner and there are some great treks to sign up for - notably the Chamonix Zermatt Walker's Route, the new Tour of the Grand Muveran, and the classic Tour of Mont Blanc.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Fun in the sun!

We've had sun - a lot of it! By last week the temperatures had risen so much that the snow in the valleys was melting fast, giving way to grassy slopes and primroses!

The snow higher up was good on the pistes, but off piste was generally a risky affair on snowshoes, usually involving much falling into holes, some rather bigger than others. On the other hand, for the skiers it was even worse, being almost impossible to ski.

But walking in T shirts, picnicking in hot sun, enjoying fabulous views.....not really something to complain about!!

Of course just as we thought spring had come it's now all changed - blizzards, snowy roads, deep snow warnings......back to the thermals - and hopefully some more mega snowshoeing days!!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

What a difference a week makes!

Last week I was complaining the snow was too deep! Not this week - the snow in this area of the French Alps is fairly hard and compact. Now this makes it really easy to go uphill, but coming down is not so good - you don't sink but you surely do slide around. It requires a fast leg turnover to keep yourself on a good descent trajectory and to not end up legs akimbo.

One of my group said to me, you really need different snowshoes for different conditions. And he's right. In the deep stuff you want enormous shoes, especially to make the trail uphill. But in this harder snow it's very difficult to descend on big shoes, especially if they are long at the back, because you need to be able to dig the heel of the shoe into the snow to descend without sliding. Personally today I took out shoes which are made for children and they were perfect!

The forest tracks are packed down hard and icy and it's tempting to think you don't need snowshoes at all. But at your peril! Our snowshoes have great traction, being liberally supplied with crampons and other spiky bits, and these are proving to be awfully useful for descending these footpaths. We took our shoes off today a tad too early but five minutes later, seeing my group sprawled ignominously across the track I quickly issued a "put the shoes back on" advisory before injuries occured.
Pretty damn useful these raquettes!
But the upside of these conditions is that the views are to die for, it's warm enough to linger on the summits at lunchtime and the avalanche risk is diminishing by the day!