Around Glenshee

after a nice relaxing night, the shackles of the city well and truly shuffled off we hit the hay planning a nice civilised 9am kickoff.

A tour of 4 munros, from Glenshee as an “active rest” day ahead of the upcoming Swiss Alps climbing trip.

Munro’s “bagged” Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol & Creag Leacach

Total Distance 19.2Km

With 2 weeks to go until we head off to Grindlewald and alpine adventure around the Eiger and Monch range I took up the offer of a cottage rented out by a friend  just south of  Glenshee, on the edge of the Cairngorms.

A chance to get away from the city, have some us time and also get in some new hills was just too good to pass up – so after work we jumped in the car and headed north from Glasgow, to the very small village of Enochdhu about 2 hours north (unless of course.. like us, you miss a turning and end up in the Spittal of Glenshee lol and then it’s more like 3 hours..).

We arrive, just as the light starts to fade, that beautiful low lying, clean spring sun cutting through the trees now blooming along the winding roads , already feeling the release that only the mountains and wilderness can give you.

We drop our bags and bones into comfy seats and grab a glass of wine.

McLovinMountains.com regular guest mountain guide, Andy Mallinson, and his better half Liz were our very welcoming hosts and as we planned the next day we had a great nattter about anything and everything . For Andy it was a rare weekend off and a chance just to get out on the hills with friends and enjoy a walk.

The cottage itself (River Cottage) is beautiful and I highly recommend a stay if you can get a booking , a full review will be on the blog ASAP.

Anyway after a nice relaxing night, the shackles of the city well and truly shuffled off we hit the hay planning a nice civilised 9am kickoff.

GlensheeApr2017-4

That morning we headed into Glenshee, dropped Andy;s car off, drive mine a couple of miles further and started to head up the hill. Our plan was the 4 munro’s of Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol & Creag Leacach all linked with a fairly easy undulating plateau taking the full round back to Andy’s car to 12 miles/19km.

GlensheeApr2017-7

GlensheeApr2017-17

I’ll let the pictures do the talking but its a beautiful walk, amazing views and frankly a pretty easy way to bag 4 Munros’ (it felt like cheating). Although relatively long its not steep at any point and with the 3 of us cheating away and setting a fair pace we were done and back to the car in a little over 6 and half hours, including stops for a bite to eat out the biting arctic wind in the shelter cairns on 2 of the summits.

GlensheeApr2017-9

GlensheeApr2017-16

It was a great way to get out, see the hills , get great exercise but still somehow felt rested and recovered after a week of work and heavy gym training.

GlensheeApr2017-11

GlensheeApr2017-20

Arriving back at the car we had a sneak look at the newly under development interpretation area being installed including  a beautifully designed arching wooden bench that seems to mimic the line of the mountains, contour lined designed walkway and plinths ready to take viewing information. Looking down Glenshee it will be stunning once finished.

GlensheeApr2017-13

From there it was  as top at the local community shop for coffee and cake , and to pick up a nice whisky and local gin for that evening spent in the company of Liz and her other guest Ben, a walker from Germany who was doing the Cateran trail.

GlensheeApr2017-18

Thanks again to Andy and Liz and as I sit here with 1 week to go to the alps I thank you , dear reader for staying with me on the journey and I look forward to sharing our Alpine Exploits to come!

GlensheeApr2017-22

 

Getting the blues

All of it supporting the motto I live and coach by which is “you have to leave your comfort zone , because outside of it is where the magic happens”.

You might remember, if you follow my blog that Sam (Mrs McLovinMountains) and I recently learned to ski and had headed out a month or so ago to Les houches nr. Chamonix for a few days  of slipping and sliding.

20170312_154125

We headed back this week after the lack of Scottish winter climbing or skiing options drove me back to the web and Air BnB in desperation and desire get back on it.

This time we left the comfortable familiarity if Les Houches to join friends Menna and Steve in the more extensive slopes of Contamines. With many more runs, longer pistes and steeper, more challenging blues we certainly had to “face the fear and do it anyway” .

Tough? yes, scary ? At times hell yeah but overall  fun , exciting and it certainly pushed our skills up !

20170312_154204

Followed by a days incredible and invigorating climbing on Cosmiques aréte (see  “Friends in high places“) then a day back in Les Houches bombing around easy greens at speed and the more pedestrian and shorter blues with ease it turned out to be a great example of Type 2 fun.. the type that can be scary at the time but afterwards you look back on as awesome and rewarding. (As opposed to type 1 – simple.pleasures like sex, good food or the cinema or the terror and never doing it again of Type 3)

One fundamental lesson that climbing and mountaineering have taught me is to progress, to really grow – to live really you need to do things that stress you (just a little), frighten you (just a little) and challenge your norms, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual.

If you have ever learned to drive you will know that feeling. In the beginning its all new and scary but son it becomes the new normal. We don’t learn and grow as people by repeating the things we already know and are utterly confident and comfortable with – or we’d all still be wearing nappies, eating rusk and living with our parents.

I don’t expect to be on the reds any time too soon, but I know I will at some point and  the smiles say it all.

20170314_110616

All of it supporting the motto I live (and coach) by which is “you have to leave your comfort zone , because outside of it is where the magic happens“.

comfort zone

Already I feel my motivation for climbing, training & challenging myself returning. Trepidation about the Mitt ridge has turned to excitement, planning now taking over in my mind rather than doubt.

Onward and upwards , the pendulum back squarely where it belongs.

Friends in high places

Sitting in the sun – still in big boots, climbing gear and shades, sipping coffee at a cafe in the main street among the tourist is something you only really get to enjoy in Chamonix

 

After a superb week recently in Chamonix Les Houches “perfecting” our new ski skills (see Les Houches. – A beginners. guide to skiing in the Alps) we had returned to work and the house renovations back in Scotland with a serious pang of sadness which of course is not unusual when leaving an incredible and exciting place like the Alps.

Within 2 weeks I was back on line and we had booked a long weekend to return this time to continue our skiing improvement but also, importantly for me to try and get a climb in with my planned partner for the Mitellegi Ridge, Steve Wakeford.

Steve had, I’m very glad to say, agreed to join us to form 2 teams of 2 for the route on the Eiger meaning Steve Dunne and Davy could be more flexible on their route plans as they have another objective in mind (more of that to come) and that I had a strong climbing partner, who is also someone I could enjoy the time with as well (not always an easy combination to find).

You may recognise Steve’s name if you are aware (and if not, why the hell not??) of the upcoming film Magnetic Mountains which at the same time  manages to centre around Steve’s climbing accident in the alps his road to recovery, the subject of risk and the questions of why we do it and is also – beautifully – shot/ produced by Steve and his partner and producer/film maker/climber and super mum Menna Pritchard.

Steve and Menna are quite simply an awesome duo! Lovely, friendly, driven, considered and just downright good fun (as well as incredible parents to the mighty little pocket rocket Fi!)  and with them having just returned from a  business trip to Oz we were keen to hook up, go climbing and just hang out. You may also remember from previous blogs that it was Steve and Menna who first got Sam and I onto ski’s and they made sure to check on our progress and give us some more valuable “coaching” – spending a day in Contamines showing us some more fun and challenging Blue runs and getting our skills up even more!

 

Anyway enough of all that , onto the climbing!

20170313_103138
The first snow ramp

Cosmiques Aréte is a classic alpine route, rated at a relatively easy AD grade its a must for all budding alpinists and a route that had so far escaped me so when Steve suggested it I was in! Conscious that Steve would naturally want to find out if I knew one end of a crampon from another I will admit i was keen to impress. I needn’t have worried.

20170313_120024
Are there any better views?

Not only was the climbing well within my capability, the situation and exposure stunning but Steve was the coolest guy on a route ever. Recognising I was yet to acclimatize he didn’t rush but we moved efficiently him leading the route he had climbed once before, overtaking 1 team and catching a second (who seemed to be climbing, pitch style with two ropes.. hence taking an age 😦 )

At no point did i feel anything but enjoyment , no pressure and hopefully showed that I could at least be trusted to belay safely 😀

20170313_122307
The crux slab, its a lot easier that it looks

After leaving the midi station via the steep snow aréte (overtaking the skiers heading down to Vallee Blanche ) and around the base of the aguille on your right hand, the route starts with a scramble up some snow and broken ground before  the first of 2 abseils. After dropping down and moving around the side of the ridge on the right , great exposure here, you reach the first steep gully before continuing to overcome some slabby rocks, another drop down and narrow exposed snow traverse brings  you to the 8m crux slab before  a turn on the left to finally at the slightly awkward exit chimney (some clever axe positioning means solid movement to get you started left )  – up and it leads to the final narrow snow ridge and off up the ladder to the midi terrace.

All in all the route offers a great mix of climbing and some incredible situations.

After a few short hours of breathtaking views and good fun climbing we popped out of the last chimney and onto the exit ridge to see Sam and Menna waiting for us at the Midi terrace, together with some surprised looking tourists, amazed and slightly bemused to see these two guys climbing up the rickety steel ladder and over the barrier, off the mountain. No autograph requests but certainly a few snaps being taken 😉

20170313_124743
The iconic pillar on the Cosmiques ridge
IMG-20170313-WA0004
Standard “summit” pose , taken by Sam on the terrace

Here’s a short vid of the first sections, coming down the Midi snow aréte and onto the start of the route

Now it was down to Cham and for a coffee (ok ….and some cake) and to meet up with another friend based there, Charley Radcliffe who had just returned from what looked like an incredible off piste ski trip to Bulgaria.

20170313_135249
Steve taking it all in on the final ridge

Sitting in the sun – still in big boots, climbing gear and shades, sipping coffee at a cafe in the main street among the tourist is something you only really get to enjoy in Chamonix – truly the home of all thing mountain sports. We caught up, hearing stories of deep powder and cool fun, discussing a new coffee brewing team who had set up in Cham (it needs a good coffee place!) and peoples plans for the year before parting ways (me heading off to buy new gloves after losing one en route) agreeing to see Steve and Menna for dinner later that evening.

Be the end of the night we were all talking ten to the dozen, beer and curry going down well and plans well under way for the route in May. Steve inquisitive as always, taking a real interest in everyone and continuing to impress in me just how solid a guy he is, and positive climbing partner he will be.

An incredible day, with incredible people who get to live high in the mountains while we have to wrap up our transient days in the alps , jump back on a plane and head back to the 9 to 5 – but having friends in high places helps me feel constantly connected to the mountains and having such good friends in high places leaves me feeling very blessed indeed. The pendulum is in a good place.

And yes Steve, I am hitting the gym and working on my crevasse rescue skills dude 😉 Don’t worry!

Magnetic Mountains will preview later this year and I encourage everyone of you get on board, it will be a truly unique film in many ways. I personally can’t wait to see it!

For more information on Cosmiques Aréte and other classic alpine routes i recommend you check out Rockfax (you may even see a pic of Sam and I in it, not to mention Steve on the front cover on the Cosmiques)

And finally, just for a little fun, see if you can spot me on this last section of the climb, just before the exit Chimney, let me know in the comments box if you find wally 😉

IMG-20170313-WA0008

 

 

 

Les Houches – A beginners guide to Skiing in the Alps

after snow ploughing for what felt like a mile we arrived at a very steep (for a newbie) run out which saw us de-ski and walk the last 100 yards! #LessonLearned

 

We were brand new to skiing, having spent only a few hours under the help of  very lovely friends, recently moved to Les Houches – Menna and Steve (see A winter Week in the Alps) plus 3 or 4 lessons indoors at the excellent Snow factor facility in Glasgow under the expert tutelage of ex freestyle pro Mark.

Our aim was to head out there, find out what’s what,  just gain experience, try a few things out – get to Blue if ready – all with a big focus on fun !

We grabbed a great low cost Jet2 flight from Glasgow to the main Chamonix access airport Geneva, met our transfer bus (Alpybus) and an hour and a half later we were in Les Houches Mairie only a couple of short bus stops from Prarion ski lift.

As before we used Air B&B and found a great room in  Mairie Les Houches above Restaurant Chevanne, self catering , bog room, plenty of storage for gear and a balcony with a fantastic view of the Mt Blanc massif. I can highly recommend it and the host Mary (tell her Alan sent you ).

It has a Carrefour (think Tesco local but with quality meats, cheese and patisserie)  across the road to buy breakfast or lunch items, beer , water etc , 2 or 3 small local restaurants and a lovely little fresh basked pizza take out just up the street, tourist information, patisserie and importantly, bus stops (Chamonix 01, 16 & night bus).

It’s a quiet place great for chilling and undisturbed nights sleep to recover, but for bigger nights out or more variety, as well as the experiences always on offer head into Cham and get the night bus back (or a taxi for later partying).

leshouches
View of Mt Blanc from our balcony.

Now onto Skiing.

In Les Houches there are two main lifts/piste areas – Bellevue + Prarion.

Coming from Chamonix /Les Houches direction you arrive at Bellevue first , and it was here we had arranged ski hire but Prarion is the main area and a couple of minutes further by bus. This link takes you two a great piste map for both however I recommend the very impressive  FatMap app.There are also ski hire shops here , as there are around all the lift areas.. the ski infrastructure for those new to it is amazing – everything you need to hand and very helpful and used to beginners as well as experts.

In advance we had rented Ski’s and poles online from Sport2000, taking out own boots, helmet and goggles and for 6 days it was €64 each for what looked like almost brand new Dynastar 97’s, for a beginner – get beginner ski’s – better ones will do nothing for you as you are turning at lower speeds and will most probably be on pistes not the extended mountain. We turned up, the owner checked our weight and boots and set up the ski’s and off we went.

leshouches-2
On the said Dynastar 97’s

A daily ski pass runs at around €43 so multi day buying offers good savings. We opted for a 6 day pass at €215 saving us €25. You just buy at the ski lift itself , same price as online. This pass gives access to both the Bellevue & Prarion lifts , keep your receipt in case you lose it !

Bellevue has a great big, long, wide beginners green area, perfect for getting the absolute basics locked in if you don’t mind the slightly repetitive slow ski down, slow poma up. If you are an absolute newbie though its ideal as there are no corners, steep sections or even too many other skiers to worry about.

 

20170123_112313

Top Tip : Once after 2 hours you think you’ve mastered this level and decide to head onto Prarion for a much wider range of options I suggest you take the ski lift down the hill, jump the quick (2 minutes) bus (or walk) to Prarion and head up by lift.. instead of thinking the pretty benign looking connecting Blue run between them is “probably very doable”.. its wasn’t ! It was bloody terrifying!!.. after snow ploughing for what felt like a mile we arrived at a very steep (for a newbie) run out which saw us de-ski and walk the last 100 yards! #LessonLearned

So now we arrive at Prarion where the real fun begins and where we spent the remainder of our week, typically heading up the lift at around 9.30 and back down around 3.30 or 4.

At 1,900m the top station opens up into a wide easy, Green area for beginners flanked on the left by an easy Blue area with slightly tighter turns, undulating runs and a few steep sections to help you gain confidence as you prepare to take the next step onto the official Blues like La Cha and Abbaye.

Our week started with beautiful blue skies , almost no wind and actually very few people so its was like paradise as slowly built our skills, gaining speed, turning with more control, turning faster lines. Watching the kids at 3 and 4 learn is amazing, their confidence high they are soon whizzing by you with ease!

leshouches-3

There are of course places to rest and eat on the piste itself  . There is the large restaurant/Bar /Hotel at the top of Prarion, easy to access and with a large option of food and drink however the prices match the beauty of the views and scale of whats on offer.. think €25 for a simple pasta and slice of pizza, €10 for 2 coffees etc.

The better option for us was to head back down to the bottom at lunch, head into the patisserie and enjoy soup or a roll an a nice coffee at a  fraction of the costs. Your lift pass offers unlimited runs up and down so take advantage!

leshouches-15
Breakfast , lunch and new friends.

La Cha Restaurant, nestled between the trees below the top station and accessed by the Blue run by the same name is an alpine experience all of its own. Skiers sipping Vin Chaud, hot chocolate with rum or eating delicious lunches before heading back out  – its so clear that off piste relaxation is just as important a part of the experience as on and its not a chore we struggled to embrace !

leshouches-12
True ski eats at la Cha, half way down the Blue run of the same name

 

As I mention it,  La Cha (the restaurant) is half way down a  blue run of the same name (although also via Abbaye which is a bit easier), so we had to bite the bullet and, with the great and friendly “coaching” from a lovely lady we met over breakfast  – Doctor Jackie, we headed down, steeper and faster terrain through narrower pistes which were a departure from the serenity of the beginner area but easily tackled if you control your speed with turns or if needed the odd snow plough.

leshouches-10
Sam with the indomitable Doctor Jackie

The feeling of progression to “real skiing” is awesome and for any readers that know me you know I need to challenge myself and do more all the time so making it to Blue was both exhilarating but also in a way a relief that ” we can do it”. Feeling much more confident I go into tighter turning, better control but also enjoying a bit more speed that before.

As the week progressed I took a day out for a trip to Cogne to climb at Cascade Lillaz , for more on that look out for my next post and then returned with Sam to have 2 final days on the slopes. The weeks weather degraded a little, more wind, more cloud so with it less sun. The effect this has is to flatten the light – meaning its a lot harder to pick out the terrain, its contours etc so you need to be able to ski with more awareness an react to unexpected changed underfoot but the fun is by no mean any less!

 

leshouches-14
Restaurant at Prarion, flatter light

Coming to the end of the week we had time to reflect. This has been one of the most fun weeks holiday for some time – often we climb, hike and generally push ourselves hard , being excited and enjoying it and recharging in some ways but not truly relaxing. While skiing is a sport there is a great sense of fun and the aprés activity is all part of it. No pressure, no stress and it was with real sadness that we took out final run down the piste before getting the teleferique back down to the valley, proud at what we had achieved and smiling broadly at the weeks memories and escapades!

 

Oh and big lesson – no matter how well you ski, look good doing it!

#AllTheGearNoIdea 🙂

leshouches-13
Two very happy campers #AllTheGearNoIdea

 

For information on all aspects of Chamonix valley and its varied activity opportunities as well as weather and lift reports see Chamonix.net

The local Tourist information offer bus timetables or they can be downloaded here  – for Les Houches ski are its the Chamonix 01, 16 and at night the bus Nuit

 

 

Maybe more

The battle continued, slabby rock under powder, no gear options and all the time swimming upstream.

Scottish Winter

Well? Where is it?

As May and Eiger adventure approaches we wanted to get some early 2017 winter climbing in so back in November I had booked the CIC (Charles Inglis Clarke) hut at the foot of the north face of Ben Nevis with the idea being to get a couple of days of proper Scottish done.

Fast forward to Friday and we were on the torturous slog up from the North face car park, our packs heavier than even usual winter due to food, sleeping bags and various other bits and bobs to see us through a couple of days under the mountains (..that would include Whisky ). My legs burning, heart pumping and breathing hard under my ropes, gear , axes, crampons and I’m sure the kitchen sink we hiked up and in, to finally arrive at the hut around 8.30pm .

In the dark, the path and world around us lit only by circles of light from our head torches, twinkles of light ever present as sleet and snow began to fall we walked up the hill, crossed the style, trotted along the mountain path , the tiny light from the CIC taunting and teasing us for what seems like hours.

We arrived, hot under our gear, soaked and weighed down but already the energy and excitement was in us – we were here to climb!

An evening of banter and a  dram, maybe more, with the other lads staying at the hut later we agreed given expected poor conditions we would hit Tower Ridge and use it as a gauge for what else might go. Off to bed on the bunks, alarms set for a very civilized 7am.

cic-feb-2017-7

Up and at em, get the porridge and coffee on, pull all the various bits of gear together and watch the conditions develop out the window. It was snowing.. a bit.. a little bit. Basically the rock was black, the snow was wet and winter was still a pipedream but as we do we headed out to see what was what and play it by ear.

We were here to get on the mountain so to the mountain we go!

The walk up towards Douglas Boulder told us what we feared already.. lots of unconsolidated snow, no ice and lots of rock. But hey that’s what mountaineering is all about – get on and do, and change the plan as needed .. until that point where you need to stick to the plan!

We passed Douglas gap on the right and started up broken and step terrain on the ridge itself. Scratch, hook, swim, scratch . Soloing around looking for a route that would take us up we had some fun, scraped about and all in all found it poor going but still good fun. Getting the crampons on and axes out always gets the blood going.

The battle continued, slabby rock under powder, no gear options and all the time swimming upstream. Finding hooks for axes, jamming crampons in slab grooves or into poor turf, the smell of points sparking on rock and the scraping of crampons and axes ever present to the ear –  it was great practice of course (given position, run out and lack of gear and to give it some perspective imagine a short grade  4+ type pitch). After exploring for a while we arrived on the ridge just above Douglas gap.

cic-feb-2017-6

Decision time.

Do we spend all day (maybe more) battling it , snow getting heavier, wind getting up or call it a day, move to find a suitable abseil anchor (by no means ever an easy cop out) and head down and back to the hut?

The votes were cast and the latter won, not of course entirely happily but when the plan is agreed we stick to it. Moving on “just a bot to see” can turn into a long day and a dark descent so sensible heads on we headed for the gap and the Chimney to rap down.

cic-feb-2017-3

Davy set up the tat and as we were about to head down another party were moving up the chimney so a long belay stand began. Patient of course but freezing by the time it came for me , last in line, to abb off.

Clip in, rope on, get in position, unclip, fingers almost numb with cold and set off down the steep and awkward chimney. Arriving at the bottom we made a second abseil due to the steep and unconsolidated gully below the chimney, quick rap here and gather up then ropes we made our way down. Snow deeper now, rocks hiding below to catch a crampon point and trip you at every option. But its Scottish Winter and we love it!

Back to the hut then, kettle on, gear set out to dry and decisions to be made.

But first new friends to greet.

The Rab creative team were in the hut having arrived later in the morning , 3 of their athletes on the face shooting a new film to showcase some interesting new gear. As we all chatted the unmissable sound of a chopper made an appearance. Low, near and circling – its never a good sign.

In the mountains it means one thing.

Rescue.

The collective hope that it was perhaps just training was quickly dashed when the door opened and a member of Lochaber MRT advised a party of 3 had been reported avalanched and asked us to make room, heat the hut and get hot water ready as they expected more team members and with hope the missing climbers to arrive soon.

Pots boiled, fire on, room cleared and space made the choppers an team members converged around the face until after some time the walking wounded began to arrive.

Thank goodness all 3 were walking, and talking but they were also bruised and broken. But alive, that’s all that matters.

Their eyes said it all.

That is a nightmare of mortal terror I never want to experience first hand. As blood was wiped away, back and shoulder injuries assessed and counselling of shock was underway no-one could help but be shaken by the sight. The MFRT amazing. Profesional , efficient, good natured throughout keeping spirits up before leading them off to the helicopter for an airlift out for hospital attention. and Perspective on life and climbing, the risks and the rewards, the decisions brought very quickly  into sharp focus.

cic-feb-2017-4

We had made good choices today . In the route, in our approach and in our decisions.

By now our plan had galvanized.

We’d be climbing nothing tomorrow so without getting in the way of medics tending the injured gents we assembled our gear and made off back down the path to the car – about a 90 minute hike with a plan to head to Glencoe, The Clachaig Inn and at least 1 beer.

Maybe 2. Maybe more.

cic-feb-2017-5

2 hours later we are in Boots Bar at the Clachaig, that hub of mountain culture and history in the shadow the the mighty Aonach Eagach and the atmosphere of Glencoe with social media pings and voicemails kindly  asking after our safety as already reports the avalanche was on the national news.

We met up the Rab crew (including the bear battler himself Greg Boswell) and other great friends, we talked as we always do about climbing, the mountains and of course the events today.

We laughed we shook hands and hugged and yes we had 1 beer.

ok 2.

Maybe more.

If you would like to support Lochaber Mountains Rescue their donation page is here.

 

Bivvi under the stars

What better way to get a mini adventure out of 24 hours!

It may surprise a few readers that I have never actually wild camped or bivvi’d before now.

With our Eiger Mittellegi ridge  adventure planned for May training is now well under way on a a number of areas like fitness, rope work, knowledge and also experience.. the one thing you cant read about or buy!

To get the experience ball rolling , and address the post Christmas/house move fitness hurdle Davy Wright and I planned a night of bivvng and then a day of climbing on and around Ben Nevis’ North face. It is winter after all and the routes will be in awesome condition right? No.

With VERY unseasonable high temperatures for January (11° C anyone!) The Ben along with most of the other central and west highlands had shed its first winter coat and rock was the order of the day.

Decisions to be made then. While rock is fun we decided with a Bivvi as part of the plan to opt instead for the Carn mor Dearg (CMD) arete with a night on the lower slopes of the CMD.

So arrived in Fort William about 6, grabbed a quick dinner then headed up to the North Car park for the slog up to the Ben (I’m sure it gets longer every time I do it) . Packed and dressed for winter , our packs weighing what felt like a small child we (well I) huffed and puffed our way up the hill, stripped down to baselayers until we found the expected small level plateau at about 500m.

This is Scotland, January, at 8pm and its 9 degrees!

For me it was also a great chance to test some gear – look out for the gear test reports  VERY soon.

We set up , bedded down and then tried to got some kip before waking at around 6am to start the days walking.

For anyone who’s not done it before a bivvi is a a unique experience. I have to admit i was  a little unsure of how I would feel being “exposed” to the elements (and creepy crawlies) .. would I get wet, would I freeze etc.

The reality is amazing!

The bag itself felt solid and together with the Thermarest and new down bag , on soft ground, made for a pretty comfy night. 

Lying looking up in the near pitch dark seeing then ocean of stars (between clouds) was truly amazing. I gazed at them for an age and before I know it nodded off – relishing how good it was to be truly away from it all on a Friday night rather than in the pub or feet up in front of the TV as has been my recent activity …

20170107_101037

After an early rise setting off to CMD summit and the ridge – note the bare Ben ! 

 

Yes.. you wake up now and then.. slide about 6 feet downhill and lose hats, torches and 1 elusive glove in the bag and yes going for a pee requires some effort and is bloody cold but I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the outdoors and a little bit of adventure!

Awake at 6.30.. up and about to get warm then back into the bag to get some grub to fuel the day.davy being the true outdoor fanatic he is has pre prepared porridge midge in these extra tough zip lock bags that you can pour boiling water straight into. 

Brew on, porridge made and belgian chocolate brownie going down well we were good to head off.

As the sun came up we were treated to one of the most stunning cloud inversions I have ever seen . Simply couldn’t stop looking at it but the hill beckons so off we head.

20170107_085056

20170107_090742

We finished off the day with a walk along the CMD Arete – a big day and with a cheeky steep 200m ascent to finish you off up to the Ben summit plateau.

20170107_111532

Davy Wright on the ridge.

 

What better way to get a mini adventure out of 24 hours!

 

A winter week in The Alps

We geared up and managed a couple of great pitches, taking our indoor ice wall practice outdoor and it paid off.

Feb, 2016

Day 1 arrive in Chamonix  via Geneva,

Best way to Chamonix is via Geneva, approx. 2 hour flight from the UK , then hire one of the many transfer buses (before you land as you can’t book at Geneva) for a 1.5hr hop to Chamonix (I’ve used Alpybus each time and they seem very good). You can either pay in advance or pay the driver but if you opt for the latter make sure and take Euros with you as Geneva ATM’s do not give out Euros to non-Swiss residents. Rough costs is 55 Euros each way.

Accommodation wise there is lots to choose from but Winter (November – May) is ski seasons so prices tend to be higher than Summer (June – October) . Options include Air BnB or you can opt for one of the hotels. We chose Hotel Alpina this time (booked via Booking.com) and it was almost center of town so has easy access to everything and even a local ski hire company connected for discounts. A room in winter can cost £30 a night of you Air BnB or £100 a night upwards for a hotel.

Cham is a vibrant town so if you are staying centrally be ready for the odd late night music disturbance or “Happy” reveler in the streets but it’s not too bad – you can always join in!

The town is small and you can easily walk around it end to end. Outdoor shops are abundant and there are a great spectrum of bars and places to eat. We can highly recommend Big Horn in Cham Sud – a new arrival (but great!),  Moo Bar  and a lunch time favorite  Boccalatte and , other favorites for drink and buzz are Elevation and Bistro du Sport (climbing/skiing videos on a loop) – I highly recommend Mt Blanc beer , especially the Vert (green one) with added Genepi!

Check-in done first thing to do is check weather and avalanche forecast for the next day – one way is via the Chamonix app available for Android and iOS , or check your hotel lobby for postings. The Chamonix Website and apps include webcams, lift times (needed if you plan to go up the mountain) and ski information. Access to the Vallee Blanche area for hiking/climbing is via the Aiguille du Midi lift and with a top station and restaurant at 3842m elevation it’s a great place to start your acclimatization and get some awesome views!

 

Day 2 Weather reports and what to do

With a day on our own before we were linking up with oir guide for a few days climbing we took one look at the weather and decided to stay in the valley and maybe take in some local sights. Sam (my wife and climbing partner) needed new boots so we took the opportunity to hire a car (Europcar in Chamonix, opposite the station,  is very good but go in person , the website is not up to date ) and head to a nearby town called Sallanches to visit the outdoor “mega store Vieux Campeur.

viex-camper

Prices are a bit cheaper than UK and Chamonix town and the range can be bigger so it’s a god idea if you need kit and can drive.  The outdoor stores in Cham do stay open until about 7.30 pm though so last minute gabs are easy. Never worry about not having gear with you, you can buy everything in Cham!

From there we parked in Sallanches lovely town centre and had a walk around for a bit before grabbing a late lunch and then heading back to Chamonix to relax and prep for the next day

Day 3 Ice Climbing in Cogne– Ice is fickle so our guide James Thacker had a personal challenge finding us routes that were in condition and accesable given the bad weather in Chamonix Valley. The answer was Cogne on the Italian side of Mt Blanc so off through the tunnel we headed (Carry your passport at all times as border guards are on high alert these days). If you want good routes and  no crowds get up early so at 6am we are grabbing coffee and pastry in a bakery before arriving at Valnontey valley to access Patri a WI3/4 graded route. The walk in was beautiful, deep snow making it inevitably comical at times but at last we reach the route base (avoiding protected nesting areas marked by signs).

walking-in

We geared up and managed a couple of great pitches, taking our indoor ice wall practice outdoor and it paid off. Bullet hard ice and amazing views made for a super days climbing. Patri splits at the top to Patri a droite (right) and Patri a gauche (Left) so plenty options. Bolted belay points makes abbing off simple once finished. A great intro to WI (Water Ice) climbing.

Day over it’s the walk back out, drive back to Chamonix and a beer and sleep ready for the next days climbing!

 

Beautiful walk in and out

 

topping-out-patri

Topping out of the first pitch of Patri


 

Day 4 Ice climbing in Lillaz valley,

Today was more ice. Given the desire for a shorter (non-Scottish!) walk in we initially headed for the left of Lillaz Valley where a cascading waterfall freezes to form a superb multi-pitch route almost 10 minutes from the car. Sadly the rising temperatures has rendered it unclimbable for now so we turned around and headed across the valley to Lillaz Gully. After a steep push up the hill we arrived at a stunning twisting, narrow gully full of cascade ice and snow pitches. Steeper and a bit tougher than Patri it made for amazing climbing into the afternoon. The full route runs to around 8 pitches however time means we only did a few before backing off, just as some small avalanches were starting as well as darker clouds creeping up the valley. As we reached the car the first rain drops started so we timed it well.

Picture below of James starting off on pitch 1 of Lillaz Gully (WI4), looking back down the gully

lilaz-1-copy

lilaz-2-copy

Day 5 Snow shoeing around Les Houches, Le Prarion

Our climbing objectives pretty much done and continuing tough weather meant we opted for a more “relaxing” day next. A great way to see the Chamonix Valley are and have a real alpine experience (if you don’t ski) is to snow shoe (or Raquette as the French call it) !

Hiring snow shoes is very cheap (think 7 euros a day) so we grabbed a pair each and headed to the next village of Les Houches to hit the snow shoe trails. There are raquette trails all over the valley and we grabbed a pass at Les Houches for a day (around 24 euros) and headed up the ski lift to head off. The falling snow, trees and thick ground covering meant we entered a world of quiet, white enchantment – think Narnia without the weird animals. Walking in such thick snow is almost impossible but the snow shoes make it easy and you can cover  a lot of ground pretty fast. It was superb, great fun and on our way to the summit of Le Prarion (1860m) we stopped to practice some avalanche search skills. Learning how to use a transceiver , getting a shovel and probe out and ready in under a minute –  and some guidance on types of snow pack formation, temperature gradients, and crystal formations  (Alp’s vs Scotland) as well as basic but essential rescue tips.

snowshoe

A highlight of the day was a top on descent at an amazing little find called Les Vielles Luge  , just off the piste it’s a tiny but amazing restaurant. Its somehow manages to pack lots of skiers in to a tiny place but in comfort, the staff are brilliant , the atmosphere very friendly and the food and drinks delicious (think hot chocolate with rum and strawberry cheesecake as well as traditional fare). Small, wooden and with mountain paraphernalia round the walls it was a great respite from walking.

 

 

Approaching Les Vielles Luge

snow-shoe-cabin

The alpine interior

cabin-interiro-copy

After eating and drinking our fill it was time to get the snow shoes back on and head off down the mountain to finish our day.

Day 6 Skiing for beginners at Les Houches,

It was out last day so we had to make it count.

One benefit of social media is making new friends and we have now forced some great friendships in Chamonix with some amazing ad at ti e inspirational people. Two of which Steve and Menna were kind enough to offer to teach us to ski. As I’m slightly older than 25 learning to hurtle down a slope at high speed on 2 planks was daunting but it was well overdue and if I plan to gain entry to more challenging climbs skiing would be essential so off we went.

A quick stop into the ski hire shop at Hotel Alpine saw us fitted out in boots, skis, poles an a helmet for less than 30 euros! Steve picked us up at 8.30 and we headed to Les Houches once more and up the ski lift (a day pass is around 45 euros) .Steve is a superb skier and mountaineer while Menna has recently learned so we had benefit of experience and someone who remembers what it’s like to learn, and under their expert tutelage and  after a few tumbles, scary turns and frustration at 4 year olds flying past us we soon managed to enjoy ourselves. By the end of the day we were getting more confident, the ski lift operators even coached us each time we clambered on!

Les Houcehes offers all garded of run as well as nursery slopes so is ideal for beginners an more experuecend skiers alike! The mountain backdrops prvide a stunning atmoshpere and we had a truly excelelnt day. Late afternoon we decided it was time to head off so while Sam and I jumped back on the ski lift Steve and Menna opted for a more direct route, with Steve taking the black run directly under the lift so we could watch him in awe!

Ski lesons now booked for more! If you want to find out more about Steves incredible story look out for the forthcoming film Magentic Mountains http://www.magneticmountains.com/

 

The planks, Sam and I looking the part

 

What a backdrop!

ski3

Alan McIntosh is an aspiring mountaineer who together with his wife now travels to climb and hike across Scotland and Europe and has recently competed the Big Hex Mountain challenge where he and his team set the official and current time record. For more info contact him on Instagram @Coachmacca or see his tweets at @McLovinTheMountains.