Friday thought #11 Wingsuiting – a terrifying sport!

October has provided us with some amazing weather here recently, and one day last week it was a perfect day for a trail run in the mountains. The run ended up at the mid-station lift of the Aiguille de Midi cable car, the highest one in Europe and whilst this is a beautiful spot on its own, I had a free afternoon so decided I might as well head on up the lift to the very top, always breathtaking and worth a visit no matter how many times you’re been up there. Being almost 3000 metres higher than the town, I was pretty cold in my running kit! But I took my time wandering around the various viewing platforms taking photos and generally admiring Mont Blanc and its stunning neighbours! Looking up I was thrilled to learn that I had timed my visit well as teetering on the edge of one of the highest points I spotted a tiny figure in white wearing the distinctive outfit of a wingsuiter. He was geared up and ready to jump, from a height of 3842 metres.

I quickly flicked my camera on to burst mode and managed to capture the whole jump. After stitching the photos together I am pretty happy with the following astonishing sequence as he descended. You can see near the bottom that he’s just starting to move out away from the rock face, he then plateaued and I watched him fly across the valley at the most incredible speed until he became so small that he dropped out of sight.

As a sport this seems to be becoming more and more popular and I have absolutely no idea why! The thought of jumping in to nothing, a total void, especially that close to a rock face, chills me to my very bones. It’s something I can confidently say that I’ll never ever do, but I can understand that to the adrenaline junkies out there it’s as close to flying like a bird mankind will ever get.

A view that's pretty hard to beat!
A view that’s pretty hard to beat!

Friday thought #10 Beautiful Autumn

I wrote a few weeks ago heralding the coming of Winter, the colder days, the darkness creeping in earlier and earlier, the imminent arrival of the snow… But I feel the need now to perhaps delay that slightly and cling on to the beautiful, and highly underrated, season that is Autumn. I find myself thinking the same thing every year and once again reminding myself that Autumn is one of the most stunning times of the year. In the Alps it is all about winter and summer, the periods bridging the gaps are simply referred to as ‘Interseason’ and I believe are totally forgotten and glossed over.

I feel so strongly that we must embrace these ‘in between’ periods and not just see them as time to kill before the ‘proper’ seasons arrive. There is so much to do in the mountains right now, with the added benefit of it not being too hot, so you can often actually do far more than in the sumer. There is also no-one around. Summer peak season is so overrun with holiday-makers, yet no-one seems to come in the Autumn. It’s like a secret, our own personal paradise, deserted and beautiful. On a walk last week I found myself becoming quite the nature lover and flora photographer! Everywhere I looked I saw stunning colours in the trees, the leaves and the heather. I’ll include some of my amateur snaps, no photoshop, no colour enhancement, just the pure beauty of nature at its best.






Friday Thought #6 Winter’s coming…!

It’s a sentence most people dread. September in England signalled the end of summer and back to school which inevitably brought with it short, dark days characterised by cold and rain. September meant Winter was coming which generally led to negative grumbling and griping about the weather and how hard done by everyone was! Winter and positivity were two words not often associated with each other! I think it’s safe to say that England doesn’t really get much of a seasonal weather pattern, it can get slightly warmer in the summer and marginally colder in the winter, but in general the weather pretty much stays the same, so although I was aware of ‘seasons’, I’d never really experienced them.

You grow up dreading winter and desperately waiting for summer, so how I ended up living in a mighty cold ski resort and itching for winter is anybody’s guess! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the summer, especially in the Alps. It’s by far the most convenient season and I am genuinely sad that it’s pretty much over for this year, but the wonderful thing about living in the mountains is that you get four distinct seasons and you know exactly when it changes. This year the summer here has been pretty dismal, as I believe it has been across most of Europe, but almost as a special treat to make up for it, September has been absolutely glorious. Up until last week the sun has been shining and it has been genuinely warm; shorts and flip-flops weather still. We’ve been climbing, hiking, running and even swimming in the lakes, not what you’d expect from an often ‘dreary’ month. But this week we have clearly felt it ‘turn’. It has suddenly gotten very cold in the mornings and evenings, the trees are all turning fiery red and golden and the darkness is rolling in earlier and earlier. It’s such a snap change, Summer becomes Autumn almost overnight, not Winter, Autumn.

This is why I love it here so much. Everyone enjoys the summer but as soon as it cools down and the trees start to change, the thoughts inevitably turn to winter and the chat turns to skis, lift passes and winter plans. But before all that excitement begins we get a grace period where we get to ease out of summer mode, eek out the sunshine as much as possible, but gradually start to get our warm clothes down from the loft and think about when the snow will come.

In the vein of enjoying every last drop of that sunshine, last week I went for a wonderful long run along the Chamonix valley, starting and finishing at 2 different points which resulted in a reasonably long wait for a bus at the other end. Again sitting and waiting for a bus is a prospect that conjures up images of miserable commuters huddled under a rainy bus stop. It’s a strange place to count your blessings, but I couldn’t help but smile as I sat on a bench in the sunshine facing a spectacular mountain range bisected by a stunning glacier, and to top it off, the trees in the foreground were at that perfect autumnal point where they can’t quite decide whether they want to be red or green.

It’s the little things that make the difference… I love autumn!

Red or green, red or green...??
Red or green, red or green…??

Friday Thought #3 Seeing the same view from a new perspective

Anyone across Europe would be hard pushed to disagree that this has been one of the worst summers in living memory, weather-wise. Despite an early heat surge in late May/early June, lulling us all in to a false sense of security, July was abysmal and August not much better, well certainly throughout Western Europe anyway. In the final weeks of August here in the Alps we were experiencing midday highs of lower than 20C, and an afternoon thunderstorm that you could almost set your watch to; hardly what you’d expect from summer in France. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, there have been some lovely sunny days and if you are feeling enterprising you can always make the most whatever the weather, even if that means charging uphill in the rain for several hours simply to get some exercise!

I will generally spend a large part of my summer holidays rock climbing and mountaineering, but with rain forecast almost every day it was difficult to ever get a firm plan in place and in the high mountains, heavy rain means snow; not ideal for climbing on rocks. The last few weeks have seen the return to work and to more of a routine, and of course coinciding perfectly with this, the sun has come out and stayed out for the past week or so! Despite having a wonderfully extended summer holiday, I often find that once I return to work I end up doing more, as time seems more precious when you have less of it. When you have every day free it’s not so pressing to get out and make the most of every minute! So I have thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected week of warm weather and have used it to explore the hidden corners of this valley, places that are sitting literally on my doorstep, but which I have never set foot in.

I have lived here for almost 8 years now and feel like by now I should have seen every view. Of course no-one even in a whole lifetime will walk every trail or slide across every skiable patch of snow, but despite having spent so much time in these mountains, I am constantly amazed at how much there is still to discover. A simple run up in to the mountains behind my house last week revealed a completely new area I didn’t even know existed; full of charming chalets and beautiful meadows, and a day hike suggested by a friend took us across an area I had never considered walking to before. We were absolutely astonished that the view across the valley to Mont Blanc that we had looked at so many hundreds of times before could look so different and unveil smaller peaks and features that you simply can’t see from anywhere else. Looking down from a small peak to discover a series of hidden mountain lakes that can only be found by your own exertions is a wonderful feeling, especially when you are the only people there!

This is why I love the mountains so much. You can look at the same view day in day out and it will never be the same, and if you take the time to step out of your door on a sunny day and explore these wonderful places, you are guaranteed to see something that will take your breath away, and you might even discover something completely new!

Secret hidden lakes!
Secret hidden lakes!

New book for the Chamonix Book Club!

The new book has been chosen; this time a non-fiction. A far cry from The Book Thief, the new choice is ‘It’s not about the bike’, by Lance Armstrong. This was an interesting choice by one of the group who was a huge fan of the 7 time Tour de France winner, and is interested to see how people’s opinions may have changed since he was exposed as a drugs cheat. Does his cheating completely cancel out any success he ever had? Or is what he achieved still impressive despite now knowing what he did?

We shall find out!

First non fiction choice for the Chamonix Book Club

Getting away from it all and making the most of bad conditions

Living in a well known, massively overcrowded ski resort can become trying at times, especially during the school holidays. Being a non native myself I have no grounds to complain about the influx of expats and tourists in Chamonix, however it does nothing to dampen the irritation of never-ending queues wherever you go, from ski lifts to supermarkets, an endless sea of clueless punters trying to make themselves understood and carrying their skis as if they were a transporting a small child.

Couple this with a pitiful amount of snow falling in December, and the winter season was off to a bad start, with many of the pisted areas becoming so hard packed with artificial snow that it was more like ice skating than skiing.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, once you’ve lived somewhere for a while you start to learn how to escape the crowds and find the places that remain quiet and untouched, even in the busiest periods. Having only discovered the joys of ski touring in the last few years, and the pleasure and solitude it brings, I still marvel at how just a small amount of effort uphill can bring the finest rewards. Often the reward you are seeking is that all important powder stash, or the best snow around that can’t be reached from a piste. But sometimes no matter how heard you search, the reality is that the snow is pretty awful everywhere, and the best you can hope for is a day filled with beautiful views, fine company, a good lunch (!) and most of, total avoidance of those icy, crowded pistes, resulting in a long run down with no-one else around (even if it does involve a bum slide at the end!)

Slightly challenging conditions at the end of a long day!
Slightly challenging conditions at the end of a long day!
Ah, a whole mountain to ourselves…
It should always be fun…