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Back in Blighty

Well I’ve made it back to England after my two years of partying abroad and it’s all change.

I started a job, got another and I’ve been working six day weeks ever since. I competed in the Lakeland 50miler in the summer and despite having the worlds longest taper (about three months) I managed to finish in just over 12.5 hours. It was a tough challenge but certainly whet my appetite for a few more ultra races in the upcoming few years.

Now though its winter! (honest) so I’ve been trying to make the most of the day trips to Scotland. Despite the best intentions of having a climby kind of winter I’ve only put the crampons on at the indoor ice wall in Keswick! Far more time has been spent on skis (much to my surprise).
Thankfully the skimo scotland series has been around! I missed the Lecht race as it seemed a little too far to travel from Birmingham, but the Glenshee race was a measly three hour drive from Carlisle and it was a great start. With a fantastic atmosphere and enough lycra around that I didn’t stand out in my skinsuit it was a fun way to spend a day. Coming 12th overall certainly helped.

Its the Glencoe race this Saturday, and with no extra training and considerably more ascent it should be a wonderful sufferfest.

Hopefully over the next wee while I will be able to dig out some photos and keep this a little bit more up to date!

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All about the hut

“We are thinking about a two day tour..can you get out of whatever you do on tuesdays…would be good to have you there!”

Pretty simple message there, and given how free my Tuesdays really are it was game on for my first hut tour. The objectives were La Luette and La Cassort with a night in the Dix hut in between. Things didn’t work out that way, but really, who cares? I spent two days in the mountains with two good friends and we had the whole lot to ourselves! What more can you ask?

We had an early start on Monday after I confirmed I didn’t have to wake kids up and were on the road to Arolla for half six. We parked up and had skins on by half eight. After a lifty warned us that we should watch out for piste bashers we made a speedy ascent up under the drag lift to warm up in the cold morning. After a brief encounter with a snow machine we were thoroughly iced up and got even more of a wiggle on to try and get the ice melted off our clothes! Progress was quick until we entered into the Pas de Chevre, where the handy skinning track stopped. It was powder bashing from here on in. Our skins got a good taste for rock over the next hour and our thighs cursed the deep fluffy powder. Foot forward, sink, slide back, repeat. Heads down, swapping leads we tractored through to the top of the pass. A cheeky descent by ladder and it was simply a matter of avoiding a few crevasses as we crossed the glacier and took a rather steep line up to the hut (possibly my fault).

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One conflab later we decided to skip trying for La Luette that day as we probably wouldn’t make it down before dark. Cue some serious messing around in the sun with a couple of descents of a little hill and drinking of tea. Then began the night long task of melting snow for water. Kelly discovered the toilets and dug them out from a 4ft snow drift. We had all the mod cons! With the fire on the room warmed up, luckily we had it to ourselves, there was kit drying everywhere!

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Pre dinner entertainment was the “Peanut Game” a variation on the cereal box game, after some very impressive stretching, it was time for a metric ton of risotto. After significant amounts of peer pressure I chowed down more than my fair share of the stuff, at least it would give me something to burn over night!

The risotto game was replayed with an early breakfast, too early to stomach much! As soon as we could see where we were going we were out of the door and blasting across the glacier towards our summit. As the sun rose the beauty of the mountains struck home, we truly had the place to ourselves. It was some playground.

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We scratched our way over some compact icy  snow and beasted through plenty of minging windslab before the last wallow to the summit. A quick jolly along the ridge revealed the full 360degree panorama. We took in the view, took some photos and headed down back to our skis. Skins off and thighs ready we sketched, slid and sank our way back down some of the most horrible snow I’ve skied yet. A quick bite of lunch at the hut and we retraced our steps from the day before.

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Back up the ladders of death and into the first deep powder we’d experienced yet, it was just a shame it was covering a boulder field! Skis suitably lightened we had the resort of Arolla in our sights, only to find the piste bashers had been churning, and we had a few hundred metres of ice blocks to ski down, yuck! Heavy backpacks really weren’t helping things.

All in all we were glad to be back at the car and en route to Grand St Bernard services for a coffee and a muffin.

It wasn’t for the up, it certainly wasn’t for the down, but to have the hut and the mountains completely to ourselves? I’ve forgotten the horror of the skiing already.

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Col De Coux

So, I guess its been almost a year since I’ve posted on here. What better way to get back into it than a quick post about an adventure in the vein of the entire of the last 12 months. I’ll do some back dated posts as I get time but for now…
The snow has started to arrive in Villars. After an early dump before October half term I got excited and have had my skis waxed and edged for weeks waiting for it to get skiiable. After a couple of forays up to the Grand Chamossaire last Thursday and Friday the weekend (Monday+Tuesday) came and it was time to get the skins out for a proper one.
The Col de Coux is on the French/Swiss border and at 1900m was slightly below the avalanche serious danger line of 2000m. It was sheltered on the way in and so deemed safe enough. The skin up was mainly spent on thin snow on the road, and once we’d left that some kind soul had put a track in for us. As we came up towards the Col the sun blasted through the clouds creating some amazing shadows and a great excuse for a break to take photos. We sheltered behind the old border control building to snaffle down some sandwiches before dumping the skins in the bags and psyching ourselves up to ignore the deafening saddness of ski base over rock.
Much to our surprise the first pitch was glorious. I went off line a bit and found my first steep and deep powder line of the year (hopefully many more to come!) and felt some of last seasons confidence returning. After that first happy flow we had to negotiate a boulder field, which was less than inspiring and then it was practicing the short turns and narrow snowplough as we careered down the road on ice and melting slush. One brief interlude came as I attempted to ski down a rather grassy looking snow slope, it was good practice of jumpturns, but my edges got rather muddy!
Once back at the car it was high fives all round and down to Manor for a cuppa and back to school for an afternoon nap!

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photo credit to Kelly Hillyer

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Challenge for the month

In this job I am outclassed on every level of things I would consider myself adequate at. Hobbies I have had over the years like mountain biking, running and climbing are taken to a whole new level here. My running partner is an ultra runner, and by the feelings in my legs after a day out with him a damn good one. The people I climb with warm up on 6c routes with 7s as a season ending aspiration. My boss mountain bikes in ways I could even dream of. Its been a humbling experience all round, but hopefully one that can take me higher and further than I would ever have thought.
Now if only I can get over all the aches and pains because the challenge for the month is 40,000m of ascent on foot.

It’s who you know

I’d come back from this six months with every intention of settling down for a couple of years just to get some capital and take stock of where I was headed in life. It had been an awesome trip but from quite early on I’d decided I didn’t want to do it like that again. 

So there I was, desperately searching for part time work at home whilst broadly searching for jobs that would get me within an hour or so of the western highlands and a friend says to me she knows of a school in the Swiss alps that might be looking for people. I’d never really considered working with children before, my mum’s family is Irish Catholic so the cousins had been introduction enough, but hell, the Alps?? I wasn’t going to say no. 

Two weeks later theres a one year contract on the table and a decent offer backing it up. 

Guess I’m not over the travel bug just yet. Watch this space, looks like there’s more adventures on the way! 

Picachures

Picachures

I didn’t manage to upload any pictures while I was writing the blog, but this is the more arty-farty selection from the 2700 photos I took over the last 6months. It has cost me a lens but it was worth taking my SLR for these shots alone. Comments welcomed if you got ’em. 

Last Stop then Home

Our final stage on this trip was Mumbai. Through an act of Godly generosity we managed to avoid a 22hour train journey between Delhi and Mumbai and fly instead. This was a much more relaxing process and meant with less days in the city we could afford to end the trip in some decent accomodation. 

Mumbai was fantastic. We were back to that more southerly easy going nature and although it was muggy it was nice to be by the sea and around the palm trees again.

The city itself is a brutal mix of old and new and so you spend as much of the day looking up at the crazy architectural mixmatch as you do at where you’re going. It really was wonderful. We had been slightly apprehensive about the lack of metro there, having found the one in Delhi to be a life saver, but when we got to the train station the journey was dead simple and not busy at all. 

We spent one day in the south of the city and pretty much managed most of the free sites. The museum was student but not foreigner friendly, so thats anther point chalked up for my out of date student card! (Its turned out to be pretty useful on this leg of the trip.) But we mainly just wandered around, as usual. 

Its well worth a couple of days, if only because it really was just a friendly place, and although we didn’t manage a night out, we were told it really was a good place to do it.

After all that excitement it was quite saddening to be hitting the airport and to be flying back home. Especially when duty free turned out to be teeeeny! But there it is.

It was time for home.