Snow shoes Mercantour, February 2017

Fri 10th

It’s exactly 3 years since Chris and I took her last holiday to Finland where amongst lots of other things we went snow shoeing. She was so happy on that trip and we had a lovely quite magical time.
I’m still in bits and not really coping that well as yet.
I stayed last night in the Hilton at Liverpool airport and did actually sleep well. That’s something that’s slowly starting to improve as in I do sleep through sometimes now.
I’m writing this on the plane and just met my 3 companions for the week, Bridget, Pat and Graeme who are all in the row behind me.
A smooth painless flight with EasyJet. Only 2 hours. Arrived Nice at 10a.m. To be met by Mel who drove us to Berthemont which is an hour up the road.
Lovely to see him and Liz again. Pat and I are in the top gite and Bridget and Graeme in the bottom one.
Unpacked then baguette lunch with beer.
Mel showed us how to adjust the snow shoes to fit our boots and how to fit a Pogu mini crampon.
Bridget took us for a stroll round the village to warm us up. Nice in the sun.
Dinner with Mel and Liz. They showed us round the house.
Dinner – cheese twists with chilli, mozzarella salad, soup, daube (beef with orange) with polenta, roast spuds, broccoli and creamed mushrooms, custard and meringue pud. All amazingly good. Wine.
Sleep.

Sat 11th

My mum’s 100th birthday today.
Breakfast in the lower gite. Croissants coffee toast muesli yogurt.
Out to Le Boreon. Walked up to the Col de Salese at 2100m. Climb of about 600m. Hard work and felt v tired and out of breath as did others. Stunningly pretty and lovely.
Lunch – salad, cheese, ham, bread.
Back down with some practice at going down slopes. Dig heels in, back straight and knees bent!
About 6km or so.
Back to Berthemont. Rugby – Wales got beaten by England so Mel not a happy bunny.
Dinner – chilli popcorn, hummus, big cooked cheeses, gnocchi with fried cabbage and onion, cooked fruits with cream.

p1050553 p1050555

Graeme and Pat
Graeme and Pat
Bridget and Mel
Bridget and Mel

Sun 12th

Drive south for 45 mins. Walk up to the Cime de Roccassiera then to the ruined village of Rocca-Sparviera, looked into little chapel right up the mountain which had Templar crosses inside. Back up to the col and back down to the van.
Lunch – pasta tuna salad, boiled egg, bread, cheese.
About 13 km of distance plus 1300m of up and down. I did this walk with Liz and Mel but without the old village last time I was here in 2008. Lovely walk.
Dinner – crispy pastry things with beany inside, French onion soup, couscous with meatballs and tomato fresh sauce, choc nut fruit cream dessert. Delicious.

p1050561 p1050569 p1050575

p1050578
Pat having a little rest
p1050587
Old village high up the mountain
p1050591
From doorway of chapel
p1050598
Genuine wolf poo

Mon 13th

Out in minibus to Rimplas near Valdeblore passing ski station. Maginot line fort. Walked to La Couletta and stopped for lunch at 1400m.
Lunch – potato salad, ham, cheese, peanuts and hot apple juice in effort to reduce my post lunch heartburn. No plantar fasciitis today as on feet for much shorter time. Only 600m of up and down today. Lovely walk. Stopped in St. Martin Vesubie for Pelforth lager and small shopping.
Dinner – tapenade on crispy toast, spinach tarte, fish stew with roast potatoes, oranges with lavender. Yum.

p1050606

p1050610
Maginot fort
Roof in Rimplas
Roof in Rimplas

Tues 14th

To Le Boreon. Snow shoed up to Le Refuge Cougarde at 2100m. 1200m of up and down. Lunch inside refuge which was shut. Beany artichoke salad.
Graeme lost a snow shoe on way back down however Mel located it and fixed it back on.
Got a bit better at the snow shoe shuffle and the heels down descent techniques. Used the heel lifts to go uphill and the rear clips so as not to trip on steep descent.
Saw a chamois and some wolves in the wolf park just their tales.
Songs in my head
Climie Fisher – Love Changes Everything
Be Good Tanyas – Lakes of Pontchartrain
Dinner with Liz and Mel in their house – heart shaped pastry puffs, beetroot and goats cheese, pasta and sauce with beef strips, creamy fruity pudding. All fab.

p1050614

p1050619
Bridget, Graeme, JR and Pat

p1050620

The big courgette
The big courgette

Weds 15th

Mel took us to the Tinee valley, another very steep sided valley about an hour and a quarter away. Up and up and up to Col de la Couillole at 1680m. Snow shoes to Sommet de Countent at  1990m.
Saw a black squirrel.
Back down, very hot and sunny, sloppy snow.
Tip: put pole through hole in snow basket in order to keep poles joined together and easier to use when needed comme ca.
Stopped at La Colmiane ski station at Valdeblore for Leffe beer for Mel, Graeme and me and hot choc for Bridget and Pat.
Dinner – dips, chard soup, butter chicken, basmati rice, chana dhal, lentil and potato curry with pitta. Home made coconut ice cream with melon liqueur. Yum yum.
p1050628 p1050631 p1050637 p1050640

Thurs 16th

Utelle. Gorgeous walk up to the Sanctuaire de la Madone d’Utelle. 380m up. Quite steep on last 150m to reach plateau.
Went round the church. No quality control re the art in the cloister. Heard some singing/chanting.
Stopped in Lantosque for a St. Thomas beer. Good beer.
Back at the ranch, Bridget went for a horse ride with Liz.
Final meal upstairs with Liz and Mel.
Blue cheese and walnut (their own) on toast. Pasta with truffles. Big salad with eggs, ham a la Nicoise. Pineapples with booze on. Freixenet. Stayed up late with Liz and Mel.
p1050663
Band of travellers

p1050665 p1050660

p1050657
Fossil
p1050653
The bells of Utelle
p1050651
Lintel in Utelle

p1050650

Door in Utelle
Door in Utelle

Fri 17th

Up at 6.30. Breakfast at 7. Left at 7.45. Had to take mountain route diversion because of landslide on main road. It was very high with vertiginous drops, OMG! Then raced along the motorway to the airport. Seemed fast after a week of pootling along.
Easy flight. Slow on motorway getting home.
How lovely it was not driving or cooking and being in a beautiful and dry place with good company!
Videos from the trip.
The holiday was run by Mel and Liz from SpaceBetween.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

MAPandCOMPASS

Italy 5th – 9th July (Valsavarenche)

Monday 5th July
This day’s breakfast was excluding flies and seemed a bit better, croissant with jam inside, not sure about this, I like them plain.
The shoes/luggage superstore was shut until 3.00 in the afternoon so this was no good but Bennets was open and had a household section with very cheap luggage in it, so I bought a holdall on wheels for €19. I then had a coffee in the shopping centre which was nice but decided not to linger as the customers weren’t so delightful. I got a taxi to Stazione Dora. The queer ticket girl told me to go to platform 1 but actually the train went from platform 2, this meant a rush to get onto the train. Very nice train, new and air conditioned and quick to get to the airport. Annie and Caroline were sunning themselves next to the taxi park! I got under a shady tree and we just waited a couple of hours for Mel and Liz. We all got food – I had a huge aubergine, courgette and mozzarella sandwich as well as my own home made sandwich.
Lovely to see Mel and Liz, Liz is now the 7th person with an arm in a sling! We drove up to the mountains which takes about an hour and a half and stop in the village of Villeneuve where we stopped to get a map for Mel and then had a beer in a cafe. I rang home in case this was the end of my mobile signal.
After another half hour we were at the Hotel Genzianella which is a lovely old hotel in the hamlet of Pont near the head of the Valsavarenche valley which is in the Valle d’Aosta. Now that we were in the countryside everything was all clean and lovely.
We got settled in and I have the bed near the window. We devised some rules like a rota for showering, and no hairs in the plughole! The room was lovely – all wood panelled but the bathroom, complete with bath, is very dark. A and C wrinkle up their noses at the idea that someone might use the bidet!
We had dinner, the first course was pasta with ham and cheese, the second was slices of pork braised in wine, mashed spuds and mixed veg. Finished off with creme caramel.
We went to bed early. Not exactly a peaceful night but quite long (9.5 hours) so we must have had some sleep! Annie sleep talking at first which gave me a jump as had forgotten she did this.

View from hotel
Airport reflection!
Tuesday 6th July
Breakfast of muesli and yoghurt, sweet croissant, ham and cheese and an espresso. We, as in A, C, M and I set off just after 9.00, leaving Liz with the Italian phrase book and various supplies rejected from our picnics.
We went up the road through the remains of Pont, sad old timber houses left to rot, and past the other big hotel and the campsite. Beautiful walk going up and up – lots of Alpine flowers, a marmot, a chamois, big birds of prey and some wolf poo! In general, we walked in the order Mel, Annie, Caroline and me taking up the rear. I was a puffing Billy all the way up. It gradually cooled as we rose in height which was lovely. At Grand Collet (nearly 3000m) we stowed the bags and walked up the boulders a bit more. This gave us fab views across to France. We had our first lunch up here.
We slid down some steep scree to a big wide U shaped valley. On the plateau we had our second lunch. We met a couple of gay girls and A got very excited! It was flat for a good long stretch, following the river. Lovely clear rushing water and falls. We reached a cross with a plastic pink crucifix on it looking over to Gran Paradiso. It seemed quite a way down from here but my knee was being a bit rubbish. Whilst having a short rest I took my hat off and forgot to put it back on.
Soon back at the hotel for beer with Liz. I had a shower in M and L’s room as A and C managed to dismember the rota system causing themselves great confusion! A and I went to the campsite shop and I bought a new hat, a better one, baseball style with a flap at the back to keep my neck shaded like a French Foreign Legion hat. Seeing as how both hats made me look stupid there wasn’t much in it! Whilst I was busy buying the hat, A was busy chatting up the girls from earlier, so this was a bit of luck for her, and I still hadn’t really noticed them! I also bought a lip salve as mine had disappeared.
Dinner was pasta and ham, pork and polenta and salad followed by an eggy pudding – bit heavy. Lots of wine.
We went into the lounge where a fire was burning because the bloody football was on the telly with a great crowd of Dutch people watching it. We sort of supported Uruguay to annoy them. I had a sip of L’s genepi – nice! but I had a headache so went to bed, I had thought I’d be able to escape football in the mountains. Our beds here have 2 blankets and a big cover on them.
Camp site at Pont
Let’s all play with our cameras
Head of the Valsavarenche
Genzianella
GP in the background

Wednesday 7th July
We left the hotel at 8.50, a slow, steady climb through the forest all along the side of the river. Very lush and green. We went all the way to the head of the river and the first snow/glacier ice. At this point we had our first lunch.
After lunch it was straight into the ice axe arrest, we did this in the following ways, getting it right and then moving onto the next, more challenging way of falling.

  1. Feet first, on back – left and right sides.
  2. Face first, on front – both sides
  3. Head first, on back – both sides
This was tiring as each time we had to go back up our slides to start again, thus requiring a second lunch!
We moved further on up the glacier to 2550m and then practised walking in crampons. Up a slope, down a slope, across and up, across and down. This was harder this year than it had been last year, partly because of my knee not being as good as it could be (M and I worked out that my knee goes “back a long way”!)
After all this, we went back to the hotel, we only saw 2 people on our whole way up and down. We went through the campsite, there was a hat very similar to mine that someone had put on top of a big pole but it wasn’t mine. C and I asked in the shop, which was plunged in darkness, making shopping even more fun, for snow baskets for our poles. Both C and I were using our poles a lot to take pressure off our respective ankle and knee. We had to explain that we had no money on us and would return later. Back at the hotel for a beer and then C went off and got our baskets which cost €3 for a pair. I had another shower in M and L’s room and then rang home from the big rock across from the hotel.
Liz had found a hat, which was very similar to mine but not mine, however I gratefully accepted it as it was better than mine! I also found my lip salve which had somehow got under the bed.
M came and told me and C what to pack which was fun just flinging stuff out, got our packs nice and light, but he could not be persuaded to go for soft shell at all!! L had given me a couple of stamps which I then promptly lost during the flinging.
Dinner was mushroom risotto, turkey and gravy plus chips and Swiss chard followed by choc mousse or ice cream, not sure which but I couldn’t quite manage it.
There was more ruddy football but less intrusive. M and I shared a whisky.
Each night I have a short read using my headlamp but don’t like to overdo this as A and C are trying to sleep and C sleeps very lightly.

Head of Valsavarenche
Most arresting!
Blimey!

When I was in the French Foreign Legion …
Pont
Thursday 8th July
A leisurely start but we were ready by 9.00. Farewell to L. A nice walk up to the Federico Chabod Rifugio which is at 2750m, we started just down the road from the hotel at 1861m.
The refuge is lovely, clean, welcoming and civilised, the total opposite of the Gouter Hut from last year. It has flush loos, loo paper and running water and electricity.
I had pasta and tomato sauce for lunch – huge portions. C and M had gnocchi with leek and Gorgonzola which they said was delicious and I developed a hankering for this.
We had a bit of a rest after making up our beds, also nice and clean – cleaner than a YHA at least. We had a room with 6 bunks in it. I was in the top one above M, and C and A are in the bottom ones. A had Stephano the guide above her, so to speak!
We then went off for what turned into quite a big walk along path 10a, going up to about 3200m. It was quite exposed in places and there was some scree so we said we didn’t want to go back that way. We got up to the snow field with M testing the snow very carefully. To get down we went down the boulder field, some of which were enormous. We had a scary moment when a big slab had moved a bit when M passed it, a bit more when A got to it and then when C was at it, it just shot off down the mountain. M and A moved out of the way really fast and we were all ok. I was well out of its trajectory. We got back to the refuge after about 4 hours out and met Stephano the guide – a nice, gentle but firm man!
Dinner was more pasta and tomato sauce, pork slices and greasy veg. Where do all the pigs live? No pigs to be seen anywhere. I was a bit anxious about the big walk but decided to do it.
We all went to bed early after looking at the sunset. We saw the guy who ran the hotel we’d stayed in in Chamonix last year. It was very hot in the refuge and even hotter in bed, I felt roasted alive and was drenched from head to foot in sweat, just in my thin sleeping bag.
Hotel Genzianella
Looking back to hotel

Rifugio Federico Chabod

Big un
I want this wood pile

Friday 9th July 
Woke at 3.30 with swimming head, I knew immediately it was BPV (benign positional vertigo), I don’t get the paroxysmal bit. I firstly negotiated getting out of the top bunk and finding my specs, finished packing, wobbled drunkenly from side to side down the stairs to breakfast of grapefruit juice, cornflakes and milk, bread and jam and coffee. I mentioned I was feeling dizzy to Mel but didn’t go into the whole thing about BPV as usually people get completely misled by the word vertigo and don’t understand the condition.
We set off at 4.30 up the scree in the dark, headlamps aglow. I was struggling to stay upright and it was only my poles that kept me balanced. After about an hour Mel and Stephano asked if everyone was OK, I told Mel I was still dizzy and struggling, and explained about the BPV. Mel immediately understood as he has suffered from this himself. I’ve had this happen since I was a teenager and just to put the record straight it has nothing to do with altitude vertigo, for me it gets set off by stress and not enough sleep. It can go on for days or weeks but usually these days occurs quite briefly and passes off once I can get stable. I went for loads of tests about it years ago but only actually found out what it was from reading a book by Barbara Kingsolver called Prodigal Summer. In the book she actually describes a procedure which can help to clear the symptoms, the Epley manouvre, however it is not something you can do up a mountain as it involves  basically twirling yourself over and over backwards and forth whilst horizontal!! I definitely hadn’t slept very well being so hot and was a bit anxious about the climb up.
Mel and I said farewell to the girls and Stephano and set off back down to the refuge. On the way we were very privileged to watch a group of 9 or so ibex doing their clashing horns ritual for a good long time. Mel held onto me so that I could safely tip my head back and watch them without falling back through dizziness. We got to the refuge about 6.30 and left at 6.45 as M didn’t want to hang around there waiting all morning. We went straight back down to the car park in 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was a lovely cool walk and we only met a park ranger, complete with his gun. They carry guns because when the park was set up, hunters still hunted in the park and the only way to stop them hunting was to meet fire with fire. Thankfully no park ranger has had to fire his weapon. On the way to the car park, I ate half a granola bar.
Back at the hotel, Liz was much surprised to see us. I had a 2nd breakfast of coffee and 2 pains au chocolat. Mel had a coffee and went straight off back to the refuge (he did it this time in 1.5 hours!)
I had a bath and then Liz and I left the hotel at 10.30 and walked up to the big green valley we had come down on Tuesday. We were out for quite a while and I had 1 and a half granola bars but did not give any of them to the hungry fox we met! It was a lovely walk, very hot. We got back at 4.00 and A, C and S had just got back with M and so we helped them to celebrate their successful ascent of Gran Paradiso at 4061m. They said I would have hated the exposure of the very top bit.
We drank lots of beer and ate lots of crisps.
I had another bath, did a bit of packing and found my stamps. All lost items now recovered.
A herd of bullocks went up the road, very sweet and on the menu later.
Dinner was pasta and tuna, veal which was yet another item that turned out to be pork and salad. Liz and I went for a short walk to the campsite and had a look at the bullocks in their new field. Everyone was early to bed.

Ibex clash

Liz and neat bit of path
Foxy
Scabby foxy

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

Lizard impersonation

And finally …. Mont Blanc

Big mountain from hotel window

Tuesday 8th September Day 1

Somewhat frustrating pre-flight irritations after being ready for days in advance! First of all a traffic jam at Yeadon, then my pre-paid car park entry wouldn’t let me in and lastly had to pay extra for my luggage. And all of this meant I missed my airport coffee!
Met up with Ann and we had a smooth, easy flight. Jet2, being budget, make you pay for refreshments so I was glad of my home made sandwich.
On arrival in Geneva, we were met by Mel plus Annie and Caroline. Straight off to Chamonix with me navigating Mel out of the airport and onto the right motorway, fairly straightforward, just followed the signs to France!
After an hour or so, we got to our hotel, La Chaumiere and met up with Liz who had been out for a run. Warming up for the big one! Lovely to see her (and Mel of course!) again.
Ann and I got a nice room with a balcony looking straight up at Mont Blanc. I whizzed into the town and bought a couple of pairs of cheap but warm trousers as had managed not to bring the right ones, grrr! I brought quite a lot of things I didn’t need at all but the trousers were the only thing I really missed. Still the $5 (keyboard needs a Euro symbol) ones did very well and now I’ve repaired them, I’ve passed them on!
On returning to the hotel, we met the guides for the trip, Pierrot Fiorucci who works in the Mercantour with Mel and Liz, and Stephane Benoist, who hails from Nice, and about whom, more later.
We ate a 3 course dinner which was very good.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map with me and my navigation partner, Cath.