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!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Staying safe.

It's been a week of very varying conditions. Over in the Aosta Valley in Italy, where I was with my group, there was extremely heavy snowfall last weekend and consequently lots of deep snow and a high risk of avalanche. Making the track on snowshoes proved to be quite a challenge some days - where are all the other people when you need them? Most days we didn't get to say "Buongiorno" to anyone!

However, despite not always getting to our objective, this gave us some great days in wonderful snowy alpine scenery, untouched by anything other than animals tracks.

It was generally agreed that the mountains are to be savoured not conquered and what we lost in "summit experience" we gained in snow fun and wildlife sightings.
On one outing we saw chamois, ibex and foxes, all close enough for us to sit and watch, but undisturbed by our presence. What a privilege!
Sadly, it was also a week that saw several avalanche deaths in the Alps. It's proving to be quite a bad year as the snowpack has been so variable - the temperature has fluctuated enormounsly these last few days, from rain last weekend to freezing cold and windy conditions by Friday. Today, whilst it is beautiful and sunny here, the south of France is under snow.

The beauty of the mountains gives us all energy and strength, but we need to remember that summits are not a given, turning back is sometimes the hardest decision to make, but it's important to realise that just being outside in these conditions is fantastic - and we certainly had a lot of fun just getting as far as we could!