Friday thought #47 Being a tourist in Chamonix

With only a couple of days to go until I leave Chamonix for good, it seemed only right to do some of the tourist things that I’ve never got round to doing in my almost 9 years here, plus some of the old favourites that I will never get tired of. August is by far the busiest time of year in Chamonix, with wall to wall people lining the already crowded pedestrian streets and a permanent line of cars trying to park in the town centre. These last 2 weeks of the summer are especially busy with the world famous ultra marathon ‘Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc’ looming; there are runners literally everywhere and the town is absolutely at capacity, but every now and again you just have to brave the crowds and even embrace the overwhelming busy-ness of it, because people come here for a reason. It’s amazing! Some of my highlights over the last couple of weeks:

The endlessly spectacular Aiguille de Midi:

If you ever get bored of the views from the top of here, there’s something wrong with you…

View down the famous arête and across to Switzerland from the top of the Aiguille de Midi
View down the famous arête and across to Switzerland from the top of the Aiguille de Midi
Looking down the Chamonix valley towards Les Houches across the Bossons Glacier
Looking down the Chamonix valley towards Les Houches across the Bossons Glacier
Majestic Mont Blanc with climbers in the foreground just finishing the Cosmiques Arête
Majestic Mont Blanc with climbers in the foreground just finishing the Cosmiques Arête

The tramway du Mont Blanc and hiking up to the Tête Rousse mountain hut This is the start of the classic route up to Mont Blanc and a path well travelled by many thousands of people. A beautiful day out:

The Glacier de Bionassay on the way up to the Tête Rousse hut
The Glacier de Bionassay on the way up to the Tête Rousse hut
The stunning Tramway du Mont Blanc, over 100 years old, how on earth did they build it in 1907??!
The stunning Tramway du Mont Blanc, over 100 years old, how on earth did they build it in 1907??!
So many ibex en route, we lost count
So many ibex en route, we lost count

The Lac D’Emosson funicular

An incredible 3 part ride from the tiny Swiss town of Le Châtelard up to the Emosson dam and reservoir. Two incredibly steep funicular railway rides with a beautifully quaint and spectacular open air train ride in between. Absolutely worth a visit.

One of the 2 incredible funicular railways
One of the 2 incredible funicular railways
Setting off on the tiny tourist train
Setting off on the tiny tourist train
Rounding the corner to catch our first sight of the Emosson dam
Rounding the corner to catch our first sight of the Emosson dam

Friday thought #39 Commercial races vs running alone

So last weekend I completed the Cross du Mont Blanc; a 23km race up and down the mountain trails of Chamonix, and I loved it! I’ve never done anything like that before and I was fairly apprehensive about how I would find it, but at the same time very excited to be involved in a big event with people from all over the World. It was nothing like the scale of the huge marathons with tens of thousands of competitors, but 1500 runners on single mountain trails only wide enough for 1 person feels like enough!

I’ve never been a runner, never will be I don’t think! But I’ve discovered I much prefer trail running to classic road running. I love the varied nature of it, the ups, downs and the beautiful views, rather than the repetitive pounding. I’ve been training a lot over the last few months and always run with headphones in, lost in my own thoughts and those of the podcasts I listen to. I love the tranquility, the solitude and just simply being in nature. But despite this I have to say I got totally caught up in the buzz of the race and absolutely loved the whole atmosphere! From the exciting, mass start, the crowd cheering, the cowbells being rung throughout and just the sheer positivity and support of everyone from start to finish. It’s brilliant. I don’t think I’m going to become a regular racer, but I’ll definitely do another and I recommend it to all as an experience at least once!

Mid way round, what a backdrop!
Mid way round, what a backdrop!
The finish, finally!
The finish, finally!

Friday thought #38 The cool stuff you see when trail running!

Last year, in perhaps a moment of madness, I decided to enter myself in to the Mont Blanc half marathon. 23km long, with over 1000m of vertical ascent, around the mountain trails of Chamonix. Whether this was a wise move or not will be revealed next week…! So I’ve been training, and earlier in the week I thought it would be a good idea to run the whole course, mainly to see whether I could actually do it! Of course I took my camera, as this, early summer, is a truly beautiful time of the year. In almost 4 hours I saw maybe 10 people, and had the chance to spot things that I just wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t been on foot. Lovely!

Beautiful alpine flowers!
Beautiful alpine flowers!
A path of tangled roots
A path of tangled roots
Sheep just chilling in their alpine meadow!
Sheep just chilling in their alpine meadow!
Literally in the middle of a forest, how handy!
Literally in the middle of a forest, how handy!
And look how posh it is inside! I couldn't resist a photo!
And look how posh it is inside! I couldn’t resist a photo!

Friday thought #30 What to do when visiting Chamonix…?

Having visitors is a perfect opportunity to reflect on what you love about a place and why you choose to live there as it forces you to come up with a suitable itinerary that will entertain, occupy and create lasting memories for your guests. Or maybe it’s just me who thinks that visiting guests need their visit planned out step by step? Others may just choose to wing it but the thought of people flying over to visit, and me having nothing planned for them, fills me with horror! What if they have a rubbish time?! What if it’s your fault?! Maybe it depends on the type of visitor, or maybe it’s my love of organisation…! But whatever the reasons, recent visiting family forced me to consider all manner of things such as; where have they already been? What’s the weather going to be like? What can we do in the rain? How much will it cost? How much time have we got? What would they like to do? Do I need to book in advance? What will we eat? What is there to do?! …… And the list goes on and on.

The first few times people visit, it’s easy. You tick off all the main attractions, the cable cars, the famous walks, the viewpoints etc, but once they start arriving for their 4th, 5th, 6th visit, that’s when you start to scratch around for activities and destinations they haven’t already seen. It’s fine when you live there all the time, if it rains you just stay indoors and potter around, but visitors need a holiday, it needs to be a worthwhile visit.

So I’ve decided to compile a small list of activities and excursions I would recommend for non-skiing, non-climbing visitors to do when in Chamonix, all based on my own experience and the reactions of real-life visitors.

* Take the cable car up to the Aiguille de Midi – the 2nd highest cable car in the World! Look up to the highest mountain in the Alps and look across to tumbling glaciers in both France and Italy.

* Take the historic rack and pinion railway up to Montenvers to see the famous Mer de Glace and visit the ice caves.

* Hike up to the magnificent Lac Blanc, either starting from ground level or by taking the Flegere cable car to give a significant head start!

* Take the cable car up to the Plan de l’Aiguille and hike across the high mountain pass to the Montenvers railway station before taking the train down.

* Either snowshoe or walk up to the Vielles Luges restaurant in Les Houches for lunch or just a vin chaud and a bit of people/mountain watching.

* Book a table at the Cremerie in the woods of Argentiere and hike up with head torches for a memorable alpine meal in wonderful, cosy surroundings.

* Drive up to Plaine Joux, facing Mont Blanc, for a perfect view of the whole mountain range, then take a gentle stroll through the forest to the lake before heading back to watch the parapenters literally running off the side of the mountain…

* Spend the day in nearby Annecy, have lunch in the sun or take a swim/hire a pedalo in the beautiful lake.

* Drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel and pop out in Italy to spend the day in a different country eating delicious, cheap Italian food!

* Jump in the car and head off to explore beautiful central Switzerland – Interlaken and the surrounding area at 3 hours drive is well worth a visit.

These are only but a small handful of the things you can do whilst spending some time in the French Alps. If you enjoy the outdoors and appreciate stunning natural scenery then you will never be bored in a place like this, you just need to be willing to alter plans at the last minute as the weather has a knack of hindering even the best laid plans!

Enjoy!

So many options!
So many options!
Toblerone??
Toblerone??
Top of Europe...
Top of Europe…
Who needs an itinerary when the views look like this?!
Who needs an itinerary when the views look like this?!

Friday thought #15 Snowy walks and ski tours!

Winter is coming to the mountains!! It’s getting darker, much much colder and the snow is imminent. It keeps falling high up and we’ve had some teaser flakes on the ground down here, but we’re still waiting with baited breath to see when REAL winter is going to hit. A few resorts have tentatively opened across Switzerland, France and Italy and getting back on the skis was as exciting as ever, but as always happens at this time of year, it’s hard to let go of summer! We’re still clinging on to the beautiful sunny and autumnal walks and the wonderful feelings that come with with hiking up a stunning mountain trail and breathlessly reaching the top, knowing you’ve just done something brilliant.

But this last week I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to end quite yet! Snowy walks under blue skies are still possible, just! Once the skiing kicks in properly I’ll be all over it and love every second, but I think when skiing people often forget their surroundings and just don’t have the time to stop and appreciate the mountains in the way you can when travelling uphill, and a lot slower! That’s why ski touring is so special. You drink it all in on the way up, appreciating every second and every peak, then when you finally reach that summit, strap on your skis and get your reward, you know you’ve earned every turn.

We’ve done some wonderful early season ski tours already this year and fingers crossed for a good winter so that there will be many more to come, but this week a friend suggested a snowy winter walk, and we managed to sneak one in, maybe the last of the year, and if so it was a good one! Forest trails are so beautiful in winter, and this is the perfect time of the year to enjoy them. In a few weeks they’ll be buried until spring so make the most of them while you still can!

Breathtaking views on snowy walks
Breathtaking views on snowy walks
Beautiful, snow laden branches
Nature at its snowy best
Beautiful, beautiful ski touring, with the added bonus of the Mont Blanc Massif in the background!
Beautiful, beautiful ski touring, with the added bonus of the Mont Blanc Massif in the background!
A tough finish, but totally worth it when this is what you're aiming for!
A tough finish, but totally worth it when this is what you’re aiming for!

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.

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