Tuesday, 25 March 2014

From two wheels to two planks

Garburn Pass and Mi' Julie glinting in the sun ;)
Since getting back from Chile I seem to have got lucky again with the UK weather, and the end of February and beginning of March have been full of fun days out biking and climbing in mild springtime temperatures in the sun. 
Climbing on Beeston Tor in the White Peak
I love Spring, everything turning green again, cold frosty mornings that turn into clear dry sunny days, daffodils and crocuses springing up everywhere bringing some colour to hedgerows and gardens, and new lambs gambolling in the fields.
So despite being excited (of course!) to head back to the Alps for another week skiing in Chamonix, this time with my sister Clare, it felt a bit strange to switch from biking back to skiing mode again.

Clare shredding down the slopes at a sunny Grands Montets
In retrospect we probably should have looked at the weather forecast before we left a bit more closely, but instead I threw all my winter clothes into a bag, knowing that when I'd left Chamonix at the end of January, it was still snowy and cold. 

Clare and Rachael enjoying the afternoon sunshine 
However, for 6 of the 7 days we were there skiing, the temperature in the valley was 20 degrees! People were riding round on bikes, climbing on the roadside crags, and sitting outside cafes in t-shirts and sunglasses. I had not packed for this!
If we'd been there to ski on the pistes all week, it probably would have been a bit of a disappointment, as the warm temperatures and bright sunshine, meant snow was rapidly disappearing lower down. However, conditions up on the glaciers were fantastic!

Clare on the Vallee Blanche

Looking across to Mont Blanc
It was great to be able to introduce Clare to some more adventurous skiing than she'd done in the past, and along with Rachael, a new friend who I'd met at New Year in La Grave, we managed 3 days and 3 different descents up on the Vallee Blanche, including Clare's first ski tour, up to the Pointe Hellbronner and descending underneath the Aiguille Noire, as well as a few days at Les Grands Montets, skiing down onto the Glacier d'Argentiere, as well as some of the lift-accessed Off-piste bowls and gullies that were still holding great snow and not too full of moguls.

Clare's first day of ski-touring!
Rachael and Clare head down onto the glacier

At the Aiguille du Midi before walking down the snow arete
Clare did brilliantly and didn't looked phased by any of the stuff she hadn't done before! Despite having skied a lot and being a good skier, she'd never worn crampons or walked down a ridge with skis on her backpack until we exited the Aiguille du Midi on the first day. Nor had she had to ski past giant crevasses on a glacier with the instructions not to fall! Or execute a kick turn on touring skis on a steep icy slope, with a large crevasse lurking just below! (I think I was more worried for her than she was!)

Walking up from the end of the VB to the start of the ski out

Clare on the way down from the Pointe Hellbronner

Rachael on the way off the Glacier d'Argentiere

Lunch spot with a view!
For me it was a great week. There was no powder or fresh tracks to be made like I'd got used to everyday throughout January, but being able to ski in the sunshine wearing just a t-shirt and softshell at 3500m, still enjoy good snow conditions, and finish by sunbathing with a cold beer at the end of each day made for a pretty relaxing, fun week. 

Sunshine plus snow equals smiles!

Clare below the jumble of seracs on the Vallee Blanche
It was strange to see so many people up on the Vallee Blanche, and moguls on the sections where the variations join the classic route, due to the number of people up there....almost like a piste compared to when I was last up there in January! Worryingly, that also meant there were far more ill-equipped people skiing there, without a guide, without harnesses or any backpacks to hold safety equipment, or to suggest that they had any idea of mountain knowledge, many with a total disregard for the environment they were skiing in, or oblivious to any kind of basic glacier skiing precautions....It's easy to see why the Chamonix search and rescue service is one of the busiest in the World.

Queues of people coming down from the Midi

Busy day at the start of the VB descent
Rachael skiing down the moguls  on the "piste-like" section of the VB!
Anyway, it was a bit of a shock to spend the last day skiing in poor visibility and falling snow! The factor 50 suncream I'd been religiously applying to my face each morning was definitely wasted that day! It at least meant the slopes were quiet, and we couldn't really complain after such a beautiful sunny week.

Back to proper winter weather!

Let it snow, let it snow!
Despite our flight being cancelled on the way home, Easyjet redeemed themselves by putting us up in a 5 star hotel (which definitely cost way more than we paid for our flight) with an Amazing breakfast buffet...of which we obviously tried to eat as much as possible to get our money's worth ;-)

So after a two day return to the UK and a crazy couple of days washing and repacking stuff, tomorrow I'm off somewhere totally new! 

Map from http://go.hrw.com
I'm heading with Leanne and Hilda to the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway, further north than I've ever been before, so far north it's in the Arctic Circle! It's famous for it's fantastic ski touring, from the sea to mountain summits and back again, for great snow conditions, amazingly beautiful scenery, and for being one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights.....

I AM EXCITED!!!!!!!!!

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