Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label Chamonix. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chamonix. Show all posts

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Haute Route

A view towards the Mer de Glace from near la Flegere

I’m off on my travels again.  This time without Sue – she’d love to come but unfortunately her neck problem prevents her from doing so.

She’s a keener climber than me, so would be less out of her comfort zone than me on this trip.  ‘La Haute Route’, or ‘High Level Route’ was conceived in the 19th century by some of the pioneers of mountaineering.  It traces a line from Chamonix to Zermatt, across the Pennine Alps, by linking a number of glacier passes, with the opportunity to visit a few summits on the way.

Early in the 20th century the concept was hijacked as a springtime skiing expedition, and in that form its popularity has grown over the years.

There’s also an easy low level walking route that has become established as one of the classic Alpine ‘hut to hut’ treks.  I’ve done that a couple of times, but have always hankered after following a higher line.

So, courtesy of a Jagged Globe alpine course, I’m getting my wish, albeit not quite in a purist manner (we get a taxi from Champex to the Mauvoisin dam).

The itinerary sounds fairly energetic and sociable, so I won’t want to spend all my free time squinting over my ‘phone, but I’ll try to provide a flavour of the trip as it progresses.

I’m just off to catch the 18.25 to Geneva, so I should reach Chamonix later tonight.  Tomorrow, weather permitting (it’s bad over there at present) I may go up to la Flegere for views across to Mont Blanc and (pictured above) the Mer de Glace, where the following day (subject to an atrocious weather forecast that may result in significant adjustments to the planned trip) we’ll be honing our ice axe, crampon and glacier travel skills before embarking on the high level trek.

Can’t say I’m looking forward to the ‘Alpine starts’!

Bye for now.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Alpine Exploits – 27 August to 15 September 2009

1901oes288 By way of an Index:

Day 1   -   A Home from Home
Day 2   -   Öeschinensee
Day 3   -   Path Bagging in Kandersteg
Day 4   -   Blue Skies over Switzerland
Day 5   -   First and Stand
Day 6   -   Kebabed in Kandersteg
Day 7   -   Relaxing in Kandersteg
Day 8   -   Hotel Restaurant de la Forclaz
Day 9   -   A Day Out In Italy
Day 10 -   A Second Home (from Home)
Day 11 -   Bad Pennies
Day 12 -   Mark the Mountain Guide
Day 13 -   Col de Balme
Day 14 -   Gentiana ciliata and the path to Hohtürli
Day 15 -   The Gasterntal and Kanderfirn
Day 16 -   Rote Chumme
Day 17 -   A Chance Encounter in Interlaken
Day 18 -   Studententorte
Day 19 -   A Quiet Day in Kandersteg

The Kandersteg Apartment – available to rent
Slide shows (to follow)
Web page (to follow)

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tuesday 8 September 2009 - Col de Balme

The memory of Col de Balme (2451 metres) rests in the minds of many folk walking the Tour of Mont Blanc for the wrong reason.

The views are superb on a good day like today, but on a bad day the weather can be grim.

The col is however notorious for the (un)welcome given by the guardian of the Refuge du Col de Balme. We experienced this nine years ago; Pete and Trish were there a few days ago. The guardian had not changed and nor had her welcome. The hut is cold, with damp in the air; there is a menu; one selects one's preferred meal; it's not available; a second choice is made; the guardian becomes aggravated - "why can't you choose something that's available?" Eventually you finish up with soup, the only thing she has got around to cooking today.

Pete and Trish found all this particularly tedious as they were recovering from drinking stream water coming off Mont Blanc. They had done this without realising that the numerous high mountain huts dispose of their effluent by chucking it down the mountain!

Today we returned to Kandersteg by an efficient underground route (aka Autoverlad Lötschberg - car transport through a railway tunnel) to discover the affect of 6 days of 6 Belgians on the apartment we have grown so fond of. Our worries were unfounded, as the Belgians had made a good stab at clearing up after themselves despite the sweltering heat. We have already dealt with all their rubbish, have renewed our friendship with 'ginger', and tomorrow will embark on our new careers as laundry attendants.

What it must be like for Annie and Peter, the owners, we hate to think; even as sort of caretaker visitors we find we have become very protective towards this place... indeed we have towards John and Janet's splendid pad in Chamonix from which we reluctantly departed this morning. Rest assured, everything there is spic and span, with not a crumb in sight.

Anyway, we stopped again at the Col de la Forclaz, this time on the brightest and clearest summer's day imaginable. So we paused for a stroll beside the 'Bisse' - a small canal built in 1895 to channel water from the splendid Glacier du Trient to the col, for use in irrigation on the slopes below. The Bisse (it would be called a levada in Madeira) drops 60 metres on its 3 km journey from its source to the col, but from the Path to Col de Balme it looks as if it rises sharply to the Col de la Forclaz - an optical illusion.

There is no such excitement with the view up to the Col de Balme from the Bisse. As you can see from today's postcard there is no illusion regarding the 900 metre ascent to the unfriendly refuge on the col.

The Alpine flowers are mostly on the wane just now. As you can see from the image, even the Rosebay Willowherb has mostly gone to seed.

But summer reigns supreme - it was 31C when we arrived here on today's perfect summer's day.

Next day

Monday, 7 September 2009

Monday 7 September 2009 - Mark the Mountain Guide

Today's highlight was a visit Les Tines to Mark the Mountain Guide, expert alpiniste and purveyor of children's mountaineering epics.

He is also an outdoors blogger - see: and

We exchanged stories of common acquaintances and all matters mountaineering over tea and cake outside his and Jane's lovely house in Les Tines.

A most pleasurable afternoon, and a delight to meet someone whose exploits we have followed vicariously for some time.

His books are outstanding - essential for the library of any budding junior alpiniste.

We travelled to Les Tines via the Planpraz cablecar, then along the Grand Balcon Sud to La Flégère for lunch, and on down through lovely woodland to Le Paradis (aren't these place names wonderful!) and Les Tines, where the house numbers puzzled us until Mark explained that they represent the distance in metres of each house from the main road.

Before we left, Mark kindly posed with Walter (aka 'Leo') at the request of Andrew, our 7 year old friend, and fan of Mark's books.

The previously clear skies developed a little high cloud today, which made for a wonderfully pink sunset on Mont Blanc, from where paragliders continued to drift relentlessly down.

Today's postcard was taken near La Flégère at lunchtime, and shows Sue chomping under the magnificent backdrop of Les Drus and Aiguille Verte.

Happy Days!

Next day

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sunday 6 September 2009 - Bad Pennies

TGO Challengers. They appear like Bad Pennies in the most unlikely of places....

Mr Grumpy in the Trafford Centre

Weird Darren in a Cambridge mafia den

JJ - hobbling around Timperley Land

An Old Hobo on the top of Sergeant Man

Lilo Lil and Trish in the Gecko Bar

not forgetting Mr Slowman's regular forensic forays onto these pages

....the list goes on.

The Gecko Bar is a two minute walk from our present abode in Chamonix, so it seemed only polite to welcome Pete (Lilo) and Trish into our borrowed piece of wonderland, with its magnificent views of Mont Blanc.

We spent a somewhat surreal afternoon watching a cricket match between the world's northern and southern hemispheres, being played by residents of the Chamonix valley. Local rules applied (I won't go into them now) and the match umpire appeared to be a dog. A sizable crowd spectated from a hill that was actually within the field of play. We sat with beers on our patio as the game continued until sundown. Mont Blanc glittered under a cloudless sky in the background. Play was regularly interrupted by paragliding incidents. They kept landing on the pitch.

The match was eventually abandoned when the ball was lost in some deep grass in the dimming light.

Today's postcard shows Trish, Lilo and Sue, lounging with beers on our patio during a particularly enthralling passage of play.

Next day

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Saturday 5 September 2009 - A Second Home (from Home)

With six Belgians now settled in to Peter and Anne's pristine apartment in Kandersteg, we have been obliged to find pastures new.

"It needs an airing" said Janet, as she and John handed over the keys to their flat in Chamonix a few weeks ago.

So here we are, airing it. We've been here for a few days now.

We look out onto the Savoy Fields (nursery ski slopes) and over the rooftops of Chamonix to the pointed snout of the Glacier des Bossons, which draws the eye upwards towards the summit of Mont Blanc.

Today's postcard is this view from our living room window. We are so lucky. Often trainee paragliders can be seen frolicking on the lawn; in winter these are replaced by novice skiers. There's usually a wagtail, crow or pigeon grubbing around in the grass, and lots more to entertain the watcher having a lazy day in the flat.

Yesterday's sojourn in Italy allowed the French skies time to clear sufficiently to justify our catching the Brevent cablecar this morning to its mid station at Planpraz (2000 metres) and enjoying views towards Mont Blanc that we only briefly glimpsed through the cloud on our previous visit.

Even today, these views were hard won, as the cloud slowly cleared from our Grand Balcon Sud trail.

The path to La Flégère is fairly level. We romped along it in an hour and a half. Time for lunch! We've developed a habit of late starts and short days...

The binoculars revealed a procession of 'ants' heading down from Mont Blanc's summit towards the prominent spike of the Aiguille du Midi.

Then it was a gentle 500 metre ascent up to Lac Blanc - apparently one of the most famous walking destinations in the Chamonix valley. The path lived up to that reputation. It was crowded. A lower pond gave excellent views whilst we enjoyed a second lunch, but the vistas from the Lac Blanc area were all a bit much. The sun was too high to allow for any particularly good images, but we tried our best, next to a jovial Englishman with a huge tripod.

Sue's muscle problem forced her to retrace her steps and return via the La Flégère cablecar and a stroll beside the River Arve.

Meanwhile I enjoyed a longer descent via Les Tines - a beautiful route over mixed ground - including some ladders - then lovely woodland, with Mont Blanc all the while looming high across the valley.

During the descent I managed to escape from the multitudes. Over a two and a half hour period I saw just half a dozen people - English mountain bikers. They said they were enjoying it. They were walking their bikes down a gentle slope. For some reason, at that point I was going uphill towards La Flégère!

Sue had managed to acquire some grub, and a salad nicoise was quickly knocked up whilst we oo'd and ah'd at the sight of the sun's shadow slowly slipping up the side of the highest peak in Europe.

Time to turn out the lights.

I have a funny feeling that tomorrow we may bump into somebody we know!

Oh, and Alan, you should be aware that Sue is inclined to accept your kind offer - given its date, presumably to join you on next year's TGO Challenge. She travels light these days, Alan, but sadly does not come without 'baggage'. About 12 kilos, which she assumes you will carry in the manner to which I am becoming accustomed (without protest).

Thanks mate!

Next day

Friday, 4 September 2009

Friday 4 September 2009 - A Day Out In Italy

During last year's two month hike along an 'Italian Border Route' we spent several days, if not weeks, high above the Aosta Valley, crossing many of its side valleys as high in the mountains as practicable.

Today we visited the town that gains its name from the valley. Aosta dates from around 2900 BC, when the it was the military centre of the population of Salassi. Since then it has passed through many hands (it is known as the 'Rome of the Alps') and is full of antiquities.

Today's postcard shows the Arch of Augustus; it was built in 25BC and is the symbol of the town of Aosta.

We had a full day amongst the sights of the town, but en route we felt compelled to visit our old friend Alessandro, at his hotel (Hotel Aigle) in Entrèves near Courmayeur.

Alessandro was his usual laid back smiley self, and immediately offered us cappuccinos and cakes. They were delicious.

Alessandro was discovered for us last year by Nick, who assisted with our bookings at the time. Nick now works in Shanghai and has difficulty accessing these pages due to Chinese censorship, but an email to him brought an immediate response 'say hello to Alessandro for me, and enjoy a glass of wine with him'.

So we returned to Hotel Aigle this evening to enjoy one of their excellent dinners, a glass of wine, and a surprise offering from Alessandro - a film of the 2008 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. We thought this was an excellent documentary, certainly worthy of commendation should it be entered in any of the upcoming mountain film festivals.

Alessandro was a most generous host tonight, treating us as friends rather than as customers. Thank you, Alessandro, it was a pleasure to meet again, and we do hope to join you for a walk when that can be arranged.

For the record, and in keeping with the tradition of these pages, tonight's delicious menu was:

Calamaretti in olio e limone

Risottino di Cogne

Filetto di trota nel cartoccio con melanzane al funghetto

Insalata mista

Strudel di mele

Next day

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Thursday 3 September 2009 - Hotel Restaurant de la Forclaz

This is familiar ground.

Sue and I started and finished the Tour of Mont Blanc here in 2000, and I more recently spent a night here with The South Africans on the Walkers Haute Route.

I've been here in scorching heat, with cold beers being downed ten to the dozen by hordes of folk enjoying the mountain views from the tables pictured in today's forlorn scene.

I've seen the furled brollies flapping in wind and rain enough to terrorise the hardiest of campers.

I've never camped here, despite carrying a tent - the draw of the cosy hotel has always overpowered my more frugal or 'love of being outdoors' instincts.

We passed by today. The weather was moderately benign (we saw only one careless hat being blown away), no fleece was needed over the t-shirt, only a few spots of rain flecked past us, and there were some pleasantly sunlit views amongst the grey uniformity.

Most patrons were inside, sipping beer or tea, some reading papers; others were arriving from the low level route from Champex. They were hugging their hats.

A typical afternoon at the Hotel Restaurant de la Forclaz, I suppose.

Next day