Wednesday 15 December 2010

Action Man 38


I am thrashing about the house looking for a AA battery but its just and excuse though to keep me off the road bike. I think I need it to I can chart my progress on the on bike computer. This amazing little tool acts as both disincentive and a mini mr motivator. Its been a while since I squeezed my self into the lycra suit, but it has to be done, an hour on the road bike is the best way I have found to burn it off the waist. The clothes code for road biking is quite strict as well. The baggy short is out, the wind drag is noticeable and the flapping on a fast decent unacceptable. The shirt also has a multitude of functions, is a banana holder, energy gel store and a fashion statement. Its also an inducator of allegiance. The French classics, PMU Team, Credit Agricole, sit aside US Postal Service, but choosing the right shirt is a code and a set of indicators about how commited you are to the sport. When the US Postal Service dumped the team amid scandal and the subsequent claims of wide spread drug use during the Tour De France and beyond, the shirts became a statement of anti establishment support, an instant classic. Wearing one in France is a real reminder to alpine riders that an upstart American, arguably the greatest ever rider in the world, just beat them at their own game. In the bottom of the drawer is my chosen shirt for the ride, it’s a Grateful Dead, “dead head” shirt, the statement is more reefer than EPO and that will do me.

Helmet or no helmet today, no helmet I decide, I pick up the bike, it still amazes me how light it is how fine the frame, how this the super hard tires are. I plug in my iPhone select the track and clip into the pedals. Locked onto the machine I slowly turn the pedals until the bike computer shows 18 miles and hour and 90 – 110 revolutions per minute. The rolling resistance is steady and fluid and I settle down into a steady rhythm, It’s a familiar cadence the swish of the wheels a necessary indicator of the leg pain which will soon arrive. I visualise that I am chasing a group or riders ahead of me and flick the gears into a harder and smaller chain set on the rear. I am sweating now and drips are running down my forehead into my eyes, the strains of Kings of Leon thrash around in my head, but I hardly notice the music as the sound of my breathing fills my consciousness. The hills flash by. After 50 mins I decide the torture and the reward are well matched. With a degree of relief and self-satisfaction I bring the wheels to a slow warm down stop.

I unclip from the bike and step off onto the living room carpet, the peloton instantly evaporates into a vision of soft furnishings and domestic detritus; the rain outside is turning to sleet and its pitch black. I fold up the turbo trainer and take the bike out of the room into the hall. All I have to do now is have a shower and explain away the damp patch on the carpet.

Action Man 37


In Contin, near Dingwall lies a big forest sitting just above the Rogie Falls. For years I have been walking have been riding in these beautiful woods, it’s a plantation but interspersed with nice silver birch and some older bigger Scots pines. The wood is full of little bike trails, ducking in and out of the trees on and off the forestry track. It’s special to me as the trails as mostly natural. What I mean, is that they are unsurfaced, crisscrossed with routes fallen trees and rock slabs and boulders. The bike trails have been ridden in by many wheels over the years, riders hunting though the forest, looking for those special features provided by nature and interpreted by the biking artist. When they are dry, the roots require a lightness of handling which is the lovely balance of natural trail riding. When wet, as they are today is an exceptional challenge requiring hyperaware reactions, gritty determination and some power thugery when climbing the slippery unpredictable surface.

Today I am riding alone, a rare chance to take the time required to smell the trees, touch the earth and to take a sly rest without the ribbing normally imposed on the trail slacker.

On the first technical climb, this vision of quite MTB contemplation is rudely slammed to the ground, literally. A transverse polished tree root precipitating the shoulder charge into the world, it’s a jarring thud, a sucker punch into the depths on my molars. Already filthy wet and covered in forest track mud, the addition of pine needles and moss adds to the acknowledgment that winter riding is dirty business. Dirt however in this case is good, very rarely do we, if like the majority, we live in an hermitically sealed urban environment, get the chance to play in mud without fear of embarrassment or disproving critical gazes. In a culture which values appearance and first impressions and substance, a mud smear on work trousers, a puddle splash on clean shoes worn for a meeting is an unwelcome additional code from which many of us rarely stray. Now coated in a veneer of dirt, the climb to top of the hill grinds away. No talking, just the sounds of me trying to breathe in rhythm with the pedal strokes and the gentle grating of the dirt filled disk brakes and mud coated gears. A roe deer darts across the trail, it pauses momentarily to gasp in fright at the ever darkening figure, a moving, dripping, panting vision of mountain biking contentment. On the descent the bike skips and slides its way down the rutted and muddy trail. Its great fun, a slow dance between bike rider and trail. It’s a day to be “on it” what neurons that still function, pull the bike and my body into a synergic conversation, (at least I think this is happening). Cold mud and ice water cover my face, drops force themselves into my mouth, the grittiness grinding away between my teeth.

Once embraced is liberating in the extreme. Contin, admittedly is pretty rural, and there is nobody to cast a judging glance, but today is a small and wet reminder, that its time to embrace the inner child and play in the mud.

Action Man 36


Opps! autumn has slipped away, the last big wind has stripped the few remaining dashes of colour from the trees. They now stand bare, like stark skeletons, naked and shivering in the late autumn sunlight. Its time for the squirrels to hide there nuts, seal up the granary and cap the den, ready for hibernation. It’s a time for me to start enjoying the rugby on the TV and a few mid week champions league matches, after all “they do play very attractive football”. Its also time now, however to review the warm days of the year and prepare for the winter hardness and focus on what is required, in order to fire up the body on the powder snow mornings and the ice climbing walk-ins

Summer and the crispy mornings in Autumn, are easy; saunter up to the crag, hopefully in the sun and spend the days coiling and uncoiling ropes, repairing burst MTB tyres and walking up the odd Monroe. Winter for me is an all to different story, dark snow shovelling mornings, at times with temperatures into the big minus regions.

Temperatures where damp hands will stick to cold metal, it’s a time of head torch batteries and avalanche beacon checks in the lift queue, or in the car park pre a skinning up a mountain trip. It’s a time of bastard metal files, edging tools (for skis and snowboards), hot wax irons and cold fingers. Hot aches and cold toes, lukewarm flask coffee and rock hard energy bars. It’s a time of early mornings, frost encrusted cars and careful driving, snow tyres and salt, frozen windscreen washers and beanie hats.

I love the run up to full on winter and in Scotland if we have one, I am one of the few who do not complain about the super cold winds, the dark mornings of city slush. For I know if it’s a bit miserable in town is dumping its crowning white glory on the hills. The list of kit to unearth from the depths of the garage is huge. It ranges from the spiky ice axe to the soft spare set of gloves, harsh metal hedgehog crampons and the clothes tearing ice screw. They have lain dormant for over 9 months, a pregnant pause in their respective roles to accompany me on my winter adventures, lost behind kids bikes, burst paddling pools and garden tools.

There are also the forgotten skills, those essential tools that you hope will never really have to be used in anger. Deep white out navigation, the 100-meter pacing count, (67 on the flat) used to navigate at a critical mountain juncture, avalanche transceiver drill, and the essential Scottish winter skill of the eternal optimist. Not for me 2010, the worst winter in 30 years, it was the best. Bring on the dump, the ice and the dark, for it should hopefully transform our dreary autumn dampness, into a hard edged winter,counter pointed by the beat of axe against ice, and the melody of ski on snow.

Friday 3 December 2010

La Source in the press

La Source will be in the Saturday Guardian 4th Dec recommended as one of the top venues in the Alps. Could well be in the Observer on Sunday as well.....

http://www.greenalpinechalet.com/

Saturday 20 November 2010

Avalanche- Don,t get caught

Duncan McCallum- I am hosting and avalanche awareness course at La Source in the French Alps this Jan and again in March see this link for details..http://www.greenalpinechalet.com/yoga-special-weeks/avalanche-awareness-off-piste/

La Source and The Faction Collective Ski Company are proud to present The La Source/Faction Avalanche Awareness courses Avalanche awareness courses Winter

Action Man 35 Corsica

The smell of the thyme and crushed rosemary wafts across the hillside as the last rays of the sun dip behind the snow capped peaks. Huge Corsican pines stand on the hillside, the hardiest silhouetted on the ridges against the dying late autumn sun. A pair of Ravens wheel and talk to each other high above our heads catching the last warm up drafts of warm air at the days end.

We are in the Vallee de la Restonica in central Corsica, and my god its beautiful. There are few places that touch the sensory buttons like this; it has a wild, ancient impenetrable beauty, so rarely experienced in Europe. Its granite mountains are huge and impressive, its tree filled valleys soft and shaded. At this time of year the countryside is bursting with the colours of another dying season. Reds, yellows, fire bursts of orange. The complexity of the topography, the pouring boulder filled rivers, the dusty vineyards all combine to create a picture of a land of such huge contrasts that could not fail to make an impression. We are here to climb, to eke out a few more pitches on dry rock before the silent snows arrive. The rock is turning from orange to ochre as the sun leaves the cliff, almost immediately it goes from tee-shirt hot to fleece cool, and whilst the rock will retain the days warmth for an hour or so more, this change heralds the mystical turning of the clock from climbing time to the magical beer o’clock.

But before we pack up the climbing detritus, count the carabineers, coil the rope and drink the last of the day’s supply of water I have one more thing to do. Its been a while since I have been on a trip where the focus has been on the climbing, life just seems to have been in the way; the daily tasks simply leaving little time to find the required hours for the selfish pursuit of my vertical world. I need a little test, a reminder of what I can do if I push, and not to simply climb easy routes from memory or autopilot.

The rope is secured at the top of the cliff, so the stress of leading is taken out of the equation, leaving no chance of taking a knee grinding elbow scraping whipper (fall). I ask for a tight rope at the base of the climb as I would hit the ground in the first 2 meters just on the stretch of the rope. I pull off the ground onto the small sharp starting holds. The change of gear is evident, it’s a reminder of days and years in the past, hard pulling, on small granite edges, the feeling of being light and free on the rock, of looking quickly to work out the sequences, the pressure of crystal under skin, sore, pressing deep into the stuff of being.

I can feel myself become alive, the controlled aggression required to climb well, is dredged up from deep within my soul, where it has lain dormant for over a year. It comes up from the soles of my feet with a rush of adrenaline, a fighting shout, a grunt of power (what remains) to the crushing tips of my fingers. It’s a reminder of what commitment feels like, the desire to succeed, the hunger, the over riding the fear of falling. It’s a window into a long gone youth. But more pertinently it’s a reflection; a mirror so blatantly held up against my face, the only thing that’s holding me back is me, my own fear of failure.

Action Man 34 The Night Rider

Late Tuesday afternoon, it’s just above freezing, and it’s already dusk. It’s 5pm, the team emails and texts have circulated, and the meeting is set. The nights have drawn in and by this time in November the majority of the light-weight mountain bikers have already sprayed down there steeds with GT85 and are heading to another lame spinning class in some designer gym somewhere in the town.

But for a few slightly perverse and dedicated riders, the onset of the comfort-eating season brings with it a whole new game. Night Riding, for most committed cyclists owning a flashing red light and a headlight for their bike, is more to do with making sure some distracted commuter does not mow them down on their way to the pub, or a fly date with a mistress.

But for us, tonight, it’s the lumens that count. The brighter the better and by the time we are all assembled in the Glen Tress car park its already dark. Not just a wee bit dull, but black as a coal cellar. After the usual dicking about, fixing lights, wiggling loose connections and waiting for stragglers, we start spinning up the hill to the start of the single track. Night riding is quite peculiar; who would choose to ride at speed in a dark forest, past shoulder brushing trees, over jumps and down rock steps, sometimes covered in ice and wet pine needles? But it’s wonderfully addictive. The chat from the group is filled with edgy friendly banter, as those with the less powerful lights ride in the beams of the night riding technocrats.

If there was ever an arm of mountain biking that would appeal to the slightly detail orientated, socially dysfunctional, it is this. Discussions centre on wattage, beam angles, head mounted lights or handle bars, burn times and the all-important deal. Soon the rhythm of the climb falls into place, warm breath caught in the lights makes us look like a band of two wheeled dragons.

Centred on the column of light, the familiar trails become a new experience and little shadows become huge obstacles requiring a concentration never exercised when daylight riding. The dark places in the forest become magical hiding places for deer, foxes, badgers and childhood beasts of the imagination. Its sensory depravation of sorts but it leads to new heightened senses. The feel of the bike, the sounds under tyre, the reflected sheen of a tree root or wet rock. The cold too adds a dimension to the blue-beamed focus of the journey. A puncture or chain mishap becomes a communal experience. Everyone pitches in as to be abandoned alone in the forest with a mechanical issue is as isolating as it is dangerous. At the top of the climb, the first of us wait and switch off our lights so as to preserve the valuable battery life. Once all the lights are switched off, we are plunged into immediate and utter darkness. In the distance, the occasional shout is heard from the others in the raiding party and as they approach flashes of their lights flick through the tightly packed pine trees. Assembled at the summit of the climb it’s time to switch on the downhill brain, as well as the descending lights. With little margin for error on the fast descent, this is where night riding comes into its own. Like Alice down the rabbit hole we careen downhill, through our own long tubes of blue light.

Action Man33

The pheasant hit the windscreen with an alarming thud and exploded into a thousand feathers. For an instant, in that moment of impact the world stood still as Subaru and hunters’ target collided. One bred to provide the tweed-clad with a kill trophy, the other built to transport at high speed 4 hand-handed boulders (climbers) to the crag with road sucking handling. Thousands of well-bred birds lined the A68, oblivious to the dangers of flying into the path of metal machines and getting in the way of the small bands of late autumn cold rock hunters. Northumberland is a very special place, tens of sandstone edges break though the moorland heather all over god’s county, providing some of the best bouldering (climbing without ropes) in the UK. After the ubiquitous café stop to indulge in fruit scones, cream and jam washed down with strong coffees, the four of us piled back into the car and headed to “Back Bowden” crag. After a short walk across the moor, we arrived at the sun lit cliff. It a perfect morning, the puddles are ice capped and frost on the grass is waiting to be released from the night’s icy grip by the first kiss of the early morning sun.

And so the ritual begins, a slow warm up both mentally and physically. Its time to loosen the drive from the neurons and engage in a world of ice cold rock, power and friction. The finger tendons are supported by rolls of zinc medical tape and climbing shoes are squeaked and rubbed clean. The rock is cold and bites into the skin, the pressure and the cold squeezing the blood from the fingertips. After a minute or so the hot aches begin, painful but welcome. They herald the start of the day’s full action.

Bouldering is about learning what you physically can and cannot do. It’s about pulling on the smallest holds you can imagine. It’s about attempting the hardest movements you will ever do without the encumbrance of rope and gear. It is the essence of climbing -pure movement. It’s raw because it comes down to skills and strength, nothing else. I think that is why it’s such a fun and fabulous volume in the mountaineering library. Unlike tramping up an alpine peak which is a macro experience in so much as it involves thousands upon thousands of individual movements made over great distances, a bouldering problem may only have 5 or 10 body movements made on a 3-6m high lump of rock and in a field full of sheep. It’s a chance to get involved in a world of micro subtleties. It’s the millimetre perfect placement of a foot. It is the ability to use a minuscule outward slopping hand hold where the ancient individual grains of embedded sand have to be caressed, or crushed into success. It’s about trying and not being put off by failure, it’s the Robert the Bruce spider, refine, refine, and then flow. Ultimately though its not the climbing that I remember with the most fondness. It’s the crunch of the frozen grass under foot. The sharing of the coffee flask, the encouraging others to push to their limits and being pushed myself to attain what a first may have literally seemed out of reach. It’s the joy of shared experiences, laughs and the banter. Oh yes and the speeding tickets and the green unmarked police Volvo……

32. Action Man The boot on the other foot

The bag is packed, flights booked and the pre trip arrangements for bills, work, and final goodbyes said to lovers and friends. For some trips these are just the normal formalities; who will feed the cat, and walk the dog. And if this is often an enough occurrence, even the dog gets used to being abandoned as you pursue your driving passions. For me this has been a pattern for over 30 years of travelling to do adventurous things and to work.

Up until now, its more often than not been me dishing out the goodbyes, throwing the sac in the plane and flying off without a backwards glance to those left behind, who then are consigned to waiting for news good or bad and the prodigal sons return. Of course I have done close to my fair share of being the house husband, holding the fort when wife’s and partners head of to visit friends, or take extended journeys to yoga retreats in far off Fort William or Karalla India.

Nope this month was different, someone very close to me (more on that later) decided to finish a very adventurous year by flying off to Nepal to climb a mountain. As soon as the date arrived this felt different, the flights in to Kathmandu during a storm prone October, started the process of slight concern, the sms message from the back of a motorbike (with no helmet) made me twitch a little. But through the pixilated world of low bandwith skype, enough contact was maintained to keep the heart from fluttering every day.

Then came the jeep journey to the trailhead, and anyone who has trekked or climbed in Nepal / Himalayas will understand, this is something else. Steep sided washed out roads, poor vehicles and mad “ god willing” drivers compound the madness, a text saying, “ tire blow out, 6 hours late, now dark with huge drops off the road, great fun” was the marker for a big change. I know I should not worry, after all life is for living experiencing, loving new exciting places and pushing the comfort zones every so often. Over the next few weeks no contact was had, I know she is sensible, fit, and quite skilled in looking after herself in the mountains and well able to turn back if it turns to poo, but its the not knowing. What was the sherpa like, what were the others on the team going to be like at altitude or under stress, and with such a short window, 2 days, being allowed for the summit, would they push to hard if the odds looked close?

Sitting back at home with no contact, no real understanding of the trip program was an interesting experience, a very mixed experience. I know that having this experience was and is important to her, that to project irrational worries and concerns did no one any good especially me. Not being able to see and feel the risk, make informed decisions and live it myself, left me just having to trust in the universe, but I am not sure I liked it. So to all those I have left in front of the fireplace over the many years I have been playing in the mountains, sorry, I now know a little of what you have been through. However to cage a lion and having to live with the frustrations of the caged beast, mmm….

Monday 4 October 2010

Spectrum Magazine Sept 2010. Hair Loss

Hair Loss

Its funny how you often reference your self though exterior affectations, creating an image of yourself to feel comfortable with your place in the universe. Clothes, activities, music, and cars all make up a projected image for the outside world. These accoutrements act as a shield often protecting a soft interior from a hard world full of forces beyond your control.

For a man there are many steps you must go through on the path to peace, (if you can find it) and these are about accepting who you are and learning to live with the cards you have been dealt. Occasionally you can reshuffle the pack, chuck out the jokers and bend the corners of the aces in the pack so they can be more easily found.

One such moment is the day that you embrace or accept hair loss. I can hear you laughing as I am but hey, it’s a visual sign of ageing, or as would like to think, ‘maturity’ - whatever that is. My transition from longhaired rock god to bald coot was almost instantaneous and excruciatingly painful.

Working as a cameraman on ‘The Edge’ for Triple Echo Productions and BBC Scotland was an amazing opportunity. To make a series about Scottish mountaineering was a dream come true and unlike most productions we were filming using 16mm film. It was the real deal and not video, but on the mountain it was quite a responsibility especially when you chucked in an ice climb on Ben Nevis mid winter into the mix. We had just finished filming Dave “Cubby “ Cuthbertson on a Mega Route X, a top quality ice wall on the north face. Wrap was called and we were all exiting the hill and looking forward to a beer in the fort. I carried out the derigging so was carrying about 25kg of gear as I abseiled back down the ice wall. Descending the rope I looked down to check a foot placement, and a long length of hair wrapped itself around the rope and got pulled into my abseil device. In no time my head was pulled down into the Figure Eight through which the rope passed.

With so much weight on the icy wet ropes and with no way to let go for long enough to rig a prusik (a way to climb up a rope in an emergency) I was essentially trapped and unable to let go, unable to move up or down. Every time I shifted my weight the hair got pulled deeper into the jammed rope jack-knifing my back. Soon my forehead was touching the device in my harness. With the lock of hair well and truly stuck, I had only one option. I tried to slowly pull my head back whilst jigging up and down on the rope but it just made it worst and it was bloody sore. I took a deep breath and yanked my head back as hard as I could, and with a brain stripping yelp, ripped my head free leaving a large clump of frozen hair stuck in the rope. Relieved to be free I slowly lowered my self down the ice wall, and looking back up I could see a chuck of long hair slowly spinning around stuck to the rope above me. It was painful for sure but the greatest damage was to my carefully tailored image now that I was left with a massive - or so its seemed to me - chunk of bare, red forehead painfully heralding the loss of youth and the onset of middle age.

Everyone has to eventually embrace the ageing process, the saggy bits and/or the loss of hair. It’s a good thing. It’s a transition. The back comb, the flip over, or worse still a toupee are all cosmetic and faintly ridiculous, what matters is what is inside. No amount of cosmetic surgery, botox or decoration will hide your reality from your self. I am not appealing to you to grow older gracefully. On the contrary, grow old disgracefully, embrace the inner baldy, shave it off and get out and play.

Spectrum Magazine Sept 2010. A Bad Sign

A Bad Sign

There is an argument going on in the hill walking and mountain world at the moment that raises the hackles of many on both sides. So I thought I would stick my boot into the debate. Actually it’s not really a debate its more a polarised rant between two sides that will never meet due to extreme comprehension differences. Great, a good bun fight. Its not about something like commercial trip on Everest, or the use of fixed bolts on rock routes or even wind farms or pylons in National Parks, all of which deserve a good bit of mud slinging if you’re in the mood. Nope, its about way markers and footpath signs.

In an effort to encourage people into the hills to partake in healthy walking activity it is suggested that sign posts are placed at key points along road side, path junctions and on ridges to make navigation easier and to promote people to venture in the hills.

What a dumb idea.

Not the encouraging people to be active I mean, pretty much all of my work life is to do just that, either by trying to inspire people to think deeply about the value of an outdoors life or by designing and building climbing walls and adventure parks and of course spouting on the Adventure Show about sport, and love of mud.

Nope it’s the sign posts. Scotland is wild barren and beautiful, one of the great joys is the exploration of its landscape and its scenery is as a personal journey. Also it’s a mountain, not a duck ramble in the Lake District, there are certain skills you need to have to survive in the hills. More importantly conditions in the Scottish hills are sometimes so bad and it can change from good visibility to appalling and in a very short space of time you can not see. Nobody in there right mind would suggest that you should not carry a weatherproof Jkt in the hills even in summer, so why take away another valid safety tool, a compass.

In Fact the argument for putting sign post on mountain tops to point the way down is so ridiculous it just demonstrates how far away the realities of the hill walking and mountaineering fraternity can be from those who don,t practise there sports in the mountains.

There is no real argument here, you need to be prepared, with all of the personal skills and equipment to happily survive in a potentially uncomfortable and difficult environment. The proliferation of stone pitched footpaths unfortunately is a necessary evil needed to protect the hills from erosion. But how many times on these paths have prepared walkers and climbers come across street shod, sandwich in bag carrying families struggling up these stone staircases. On Ben Nevis which is as close to a way marked mountain in Scotland, the numbers of ill equipped punters struggling on the hill is alarming. Never shy of an opinion I am, however I do change my mind often why counter arguments are well made, or sometimes just made. But on this one I am not for moving. Hill walking is not just about walking up a hill. It’s a skill with depth and richness. If you want to play tennis you don’t ask for the court to be made wider to hold in your bad shots or to lower the net lower because you’re backhand is rubbish. Oh but I forgot playing tennis your unlikely to get into trouble and wander over a cliff. So as I think no one is advocating putting steel cables over An’ Tellach yet, learn the stuff, respect the wild landscape and enjoy the great gifts of freedom and take some responsibility for yourself. But if you do want to follow a cable or rope to the top of a mountain, Everest has one waiting for you.

Spectrum Magazine Sept 2010. The French Alps

Alpine first steps

I was brought up, or brought myself up, on a menu of Chris Bonnington, Dougal Haston and Joe Brown climbing books. As a dyslexic they had to be of interest as reading was a tough challenge for me: you should see these stories before they are edited….

When I started to climb the natural progression was from local crags to mountain crags in Scotland, then to winter climbing, the Alps, and ultimately the Himalaya. At the age of 17 I bought a rail card and headed for Chamonix the French Alpine Mecca, intending to get along the road to the Himalayas. The campsite was a hot sweaty walk from the Cham train station. In those days it was a small football pitch called Snells Field, an illegal climbers squat with a reputation for being rough and drunken. On the site was a motley crew of Glaswegians hardened in the valley of Glen Coe, a few Japanese, some laconic Yorkshire men and us. About 30 in all. We got a feel for the valley which included an aborted shoplifting attempt in the local supermarket. Incidentally I eventually paid whilst the other stuffed sausages and cheeses into the pockets and rucksacks. Not bold enough. Some creeping future guilt projected me towards the till.

On the way back to the campsite, the air bristled with electricity, and soon lightening and thunder filled the granite walled valley. The storm lasted for three days. Heavy hot air filled the forest turning the football field into a series of small tent platforms each surrounded by a moat attempting to divert the stream of under trap water.

Fun really, but soon the scene became very sober. Our Japanese tent mates had been high up on a remote route called the Walker Spur and had all died in the storm, stuck in heavy wet snow without enough protection or shelter. Their remaining friends trooped in and in silence dismantled their dead friends’ tents, and left us all of their remaining tins of food. It was a pitiful and heartbreaking sight. The Mont Blanc Massif is a beautiful, wonderful, and completely unforgiving place. Fired up by the strength of youth and with minimal experience, hundreds of young bucks like myself throw themselves into the mountains with little or no knowledge of how to survive in the high snowy Alps. More by luck then design, most survive to build up enough knowledge and instinct to manage a few routes during the hottest summer months. But experience has shown me that it’s often better to be out in the Alps during the spring or the autumn when the weather is cooler and more stable.

Two or three days after this and I find myself queuing for the Aiguille du Midi telepherique (Cable Car) with a hairy bloke from Stirling University. I have never climbed with him before but he looks the part, all Moac Tartan Shirt and full beard. And what’s more, he looked like Doug Scott, a climbing legend, and he was called Doug. What could be better?

The Frendo Spur

The Aiguille du Midi telepherique is truly a magnificent engineering achievement. In two long sections, it runs from the valley floor from 1000m to 3842m, a head spinning altitude, at break neck speed which leaves the unconditioned gasping for breath and in the first hot sweat of altitude sickness.

We get off at the mid station, below the mountain proper, and hike in the mid afternoon heat to the couloirs at the base of this classic route. A steady stream of stones are falling off the mountain thudding into the snow at the base of the climb. We wait an hour or so, and as the sun dips behind the massif we sprint under our heavy packs onto the orange granite that marks the start of the route proper. Our packs are traditionally heavy. It used to be that you would climb the first part of the route, a long rock buttress to below a long sun licked snow arête in the evening, and then rise at dawn to climb the snow arête in the frozen cool of the next morning. By pitch 3 it’s obvious to me that I am moving a little better on the climb than Doug. He is not feeling too great, maybe fatigue, maybe altitude. So I find myself pushing out in front as the sun turns from white to yellow, to orange and deep ocher blue. The Route is a magnificent 1200m long. Just as the sun decides to start illuminate some Californian surfer we reach our bed for the night, a small flat platform the size of a good-sized garden rug. We break out the primus and it splutters into life. I am pooped, and soon the tepid pasta and tea works its magic, and we drift off to sleep, the lights of Cham blinking in the valley below. The still of the night was broken occasionally by the sound of distant rock fall. These mountains are always alive.

By the light of a dimming head torch we packed our sacs and cajoled our stiff and cold bodies into action. A short pitch or two of easy rock climbing led to what could be the most perfect snow ridge I have ever seen. This time Doug is really lagging, and I lead up the snow. It’s hundreds of meters to the summit ridge and the end of the route, but I am enjoying the special place I am in. By 10am we are at the rock buttress at the top of the ridge, the last obstacle to the end of the route. This is the hardest climbing of the route and now it is rarely done, but back in the day this was the crux and the best way to finish the route. By now the Chamonix guides are on the arête below having caught the early morning cable car and are steaming up the arête to the summit rocks, their poor clients dragged along by an unforgiving leash tugging constantly at their waists. Poor clients, but the guides’ fitness is truly impressive and it signals a massive difference between the newbie and the professional. The rock buttress is a big struggle and I resort to full alpine technique, which involves forgetting style and pulling on every bit of fixed gear, slings et al. After an epic struggle with the “bitch” rucksack on my back trying to pull me off the rock backwards, I flop happily in the sun on the Ridge at the top of the route. Poor Doug is floundering below, getting slower and slower, but after much hauling and cursing we finally sit together happy and tired in the sun. 3000m below lay Chamonix all ego and testosterone. We however are spent. I have a lot to learn.

Back in the valley after a fab Alpine route above Chamonix I arrive sore footed and sun burnt back to my steamy, overheated tent in the football field that serves as the illegal campsite home for British and dosser climbers. Its kind of filthy and we sneak into the Biolay campsite adjacent for a free shower and a clandestine crap whilst trying to remain below the custodians’ radar.

The campsite is raucous tonight. All of us residents have climbed big routes during a fab week of calm, storm free weather and it’s time to celebrate. As a quieter highlander I am slightly overwhelmed by the riotous Glaswegians at the other side of the campsite. The Glasgow crews, the Todd Twins, are hard partying, hard climbing, and accompanied by Paraffin and the aptly named Harpic. My idea of fun is a six-pack and a small toke, but these boys are in full mode and have built a huge fire in the campsite. By the wee hours they are still going strong and their spirits are well lubricated by equally spiritual beverages. It is going off. I am now lying in the mouth of my tent watching the dancing and the increasing tempo of the celebrations. Some time as the night wore on the fire was being stoked by lighter fuel bottles and empty camping gas cylinders.

A new level of frenzy ensued as one of the band of brothers decided to launch a full, oversized canister of propane camping fuel onto the fire. The crowd of twenty or so scattered with shouts of “fire in the hole”. It seemed an age for the climax to happen. All of a sudden the fire exploded in a fireball, forcing shards of shrapnel into the dark sky followed by burning branches and flames. It was exciting, youthful and very funny at the time. A huge sleep alarming boom shook this part of the valley.

Having climaxed, the talking and laughing slowly subsided during the night. I admire their freedom, their sense of the abandonment of convention that I seem bound by. I love their ‘grab it by the scuff of the neck’ attitude that they display.

Sleep comes easily.

Its 8am and the smoldering embers of the bomb crater are now the only residue of the night’s antics. However something far more sinister is moving in the dawn. From my sleeping bag I hear some brisk and angry French voices, and as I open my tent door I am met by the muzzle of a machine gun and am face to face with a rather large Alsatian straining at its leash. Its handler is a member of the gendarmerie. It is a military body charged with police duties among civilian populations in France. You do not piss these guys off and they want us scum balls off this site and now. Whilst the majority of the heat is focused on the fireside camp, I pack up in silence and wonder where in hell I am now going to call home for the next couple of weeks.

Just like all refuge or squatter camps, if you move in and clear one out without actually deporting the residents, another one will soon spring up somewhere else. Deep in the woods above the telepherique station is a quiet, discreet group of plastic sheeted climbers’ summer hovels. It gains a few more residents armed with ice axes and crampons, ready to do battle in the high peaks.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

La Source/Faction Avalanche Awareness Weeks


Press Release – La Source Eco Chalet.

The Best Eco-Lodge in the Alps' the Times and 'One of the Finest Chalets in Europe' the Guardian

La Source and The Faction Collective Ski Company are proud to present The La Source/Faction Avalanche Awareness courses

Avalanche awareness courses Winter 2010/2011-Jan9th and March 13th 2011

Avalanches are the greatest hazard facing the off-piste and back country skier or snow boarder. The advent of fat skies and the growing trend in snowboarding to venture in to off-piste areas has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of accidents amongst the unaware or ill prepared snow lover. In many cases a little snow safety knowledge could have prevented these incidents.

In partnership Faction skis La Source is offering a 6-day residential and non residential “Avalanche Awareness“ week. If you are serious about moving from the piste into an off-piste environment, a solid understanding of the risk of avalanches and some good knowledge on how to plan trips, routes and how to react if something goes wrong is essential.

The week includes 5 days of practical on-mountain instruction. The course is based on the well-established Avalanche Skill Training AST2 as overseen by the Canadian Avalanche Centre but adapted to a European Mountain environment.

The week is designed to give a solid grounding in the essentials; this program is suitable for those with little or no prior avalanche training.

To get the best out of the week it is suggested that participants should have good level of skiing or boarding and be able to ski powder runs.

Course Structure – will cover

· Avalanche – Conditions and factors leading to an unstable snow pack

· Avalanche - terrain recognition and hazard avoidance

· Use of transceivers, rescue and search techniques

· Avalanche emergency response, efficient digging, probing and call out procedures

· Ski touring and back country travel prep and equipment selection

· Safe decision making

· Route finding in avalanche terrain

· Defensive skiing techniques, slope cutting and places of safety

· Snow structures, and weather observations

· Snow pack analysis, Snow profiles, 'Rutsch blocks'

· 'Shovel' tests and additional field tests

· Use of avalanche information gathered by professionals

Optional depending on group level: Glacier Travel and crevasse rescue

Dates and Prices:

Week long course: 9-16th January €1050 Residential or €500 non-Residential

Week long course: 13t-h- 20th March €1050 Residential or €500 non-Residential

Minimum of 4 guests and one non resident

Equipment:

Please look at your ski and snowboard clothing critically. Fashion snow clothing; heavy fabric and baggy clothing is not suitable for ski and snowboard clothing, nor is any cotton underwear or tee-shirts. You are going to be operating in a mountain environment in potentially cold and difficult conditions.

The most suitable clothing is clothing made for mountaineering or serious back country skiing and should be able to be used in a layering system

Optional Equipment

We will supply a limited number of

Avalanche beacons

Collapsible Avalanche Probe

Shovels

La Source

La Source is an eco-ski and adventure sports chalet in beautiful Samoens, the heart of the Grand Massif, 1 hour from Geneva.

It has been described as 'The Best Eco-Lodge in the Alps' by the Times and 'One of the Finest Chalets in Europe' by the Guardian.

It is one of the few true eco-chalets in the Alps and offers a rare mix of cool, laid back comfort, with quality service and exceptional organic food.

La Source offers a mix of week long holidays that combine holistic activities, ski and adventure sports. Run by yoga teacher, ex-Outward Bound Instructor and adventure sports film maker Saskia Anley and Adventure Sports guru, TV presenter and columnist Duncan McCallum, La Source is not your average ski chalet!


La Source and The Faction Collective Ski Company are proud to present The La Source/Faction Avalanche Awareness courses Avalanche awareness courses Wi


Press Release – La Source Eco Chalet.

The Best Eco-Lodge in the Alps' the Times and 'One of the Finest Chalets in Europe' the Guardian


La Source and The Faction Collective Ski Company are proud to present The La Source/Faction Avalanche Awareness weeks

Avalanche awareness course (Sunday to Sunday) Winter 2011

Avalanches are the greatest hazard facing the off-piste and back country skier or snow boarder. The advent of fat skies and the growing trend in snowboarding to venture in to off-piste areas has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of accidents amongst the unaware or ill prepared snow lover. In many cases a little snow safety knowledge could have prevented these incidents.

In partnership Faction skis La Source is offering a 6-day residential and non residential “Avalanche Awareness“ week. If you are serious about moving from the piste into an off-piste environment, a solid understanding of the risk of avalanches and some good knowledge on how to plan trips, routes and how to react if something goes wrong is essential.

The week includes 5 days of practical on-mountain and La Source Chalets based theoretical instruction. Based on the well established Avalanche Skill Training AST2 as overseen by the Canadian Avalanche Centre but adapted to a European Mountain environment.

The week is designed to give a solid grounding in the essentials; this program is suitable for those with little or no prior avalanche training.

To get the best out of the week it is suggested that participants should have good level of skiing or boarding and be able to ski powder runs with little or no difficulty.

Course Structure – will cover

· Avalanche – Conditions and factors leading to an unstable snow pack

· Avalanche - terrain recognition and hazard avoidance

· Use of transceivers, rescue and search techniques

· Avalanche emergency response, efficient digging, probing and call out procedures

· Ski touring and back country travel prep and equipment selection

· Safe decision making

· Route finding in avalanche terrain

· Defensive skiing techniques, slope cutting and places of safety

· Snow structures, and weather observations

· Snow pack analysis, Snow profiles, 'Rutsch blocks'

· 'Shovel' tests and additional field tests

· Use of avalanche information gathered by professionals

Optional depending on group level

Glacier Travel and crevasse rescue

Dates: 13.03.2011 till 20.03.2011

Other potential dates

09.01 to 16.01

16.01 to 23.01

23.01 to 30.01

30.01 to 06.02

27.03 to 03.04

Minimum of 4 guests

Price: 1055 euro per guest. Full board in La Source Eco-Chalet (pack lunch and hill food not included)

500 euros for non-residents.

Equipment:

Please look at your ski and snowboard clothing critically, fashion, snow clothing, with heavy and baggy clothing is not suitable for ski and snowboard clothing as is any cotton underwear or tee-shirts. You are going to be operating in a mountain environment in potentially cold and difficult conditions.

The most suitable clothing is clothing made for mountaineering or serious back country skiing and should be able to be used in a layering system

Optional Equipment

We will supply a limited number of

Avalanche beacons

Collapsible Avalanche Probe

Shovels

La Source

La Source is an eco-ski and adventure sports chalet in beautiful Samoens, the heart of the Grand Massif, 1 hour from Geneva.

It has been described as 'The Best Eco-Lodge in the Alps' by the Times and 'One of the Finest Chalets in Europe' by the Guardian.

It is one of the few true eco-chalets in the Alps and offers a rare mix of cool, laid back comfort, with quality service and exceptional organic food.

La Source offers a mix of week long holidays that combine holistic activities, ski and adventure sports. Run by yoga teacher, ex-Outward Bound Instructor

and adventure sports film maker Saskia Anley and Adventure Sports guru, TV presenter and columnist Duncan McCallum, La Source is not your average

ski chalet!


Tuesday 21 September 2010

Avalanche Course - Winter 2011

Press Release – La Source Eco Chalet.

The Best Eco-Lodge in the Alps' the Times and 'One of the Finest Chalets in Europe' the Guardian


La Source and The Faction Collective Ski Company are proud to present The La Source/Faction Avalanche Awareness weeks

Avalanche awareness course (Sunday to Sunday) Winter 2011

Avalanches are the greatest hazard facing the off-piste and back country skier or snow boarder. The advent of fat skies and the growing trend in snowboarding to venture in to off-piste areas has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of accidents amongst the unaware or ill prepared snow lover. In many cases a little snow safety knowledge could have prevented these incidents.

In partnership Faction skis La Source is offering a 6-day residential and non residential “Avalanche Awareness“ week. If you are serious about moving from the piste into an off-piste environment, a solid understanding of the risk of avalanches and some good knowledge on how to plan trips, routes and how to react if something goes wrong is essential.

The week includes 5 days of practical on-mountain and La Source Chalets based theoretical instruction. Based on the well established Avalanche Skill Training AST2 as overseen by the Canadian Avalanche Centre but adapted to a European Mountain environment.

The week is designed to give a solid grounding in the essentials; this program is suitable for those with little or no prior avalanche training.

To get the best out of the week it is suggested that participants should have good level of skiing or boarding and be able to ski powder runs with little or no difficulty.

Course Structure – will cover

· Avalanche – Conditions and factors leading to an unstable snow pack

· Avalanche - terrain recognition and hazard avoidance

· Use of transceivers, rescue and search techniques

· Avalanche emergency response, efficient digging, probing and call out procedures

· Ski touring and back country travel prep and equipment selection

· Safe decision making

· Route finding in avalanche terrain

· Defensive skiing techniques, slope cutting and places of safety

· Snow structures, and weather observations

· Snow pack analysis, Snow profiles, 'Rutsch blocks'

· 'Shovel' tests and additional field tests

· Use of avalanche information gathered by professionals

Optional depending on group level

Glacier Travel and crevasse rescue

Dates: 13.03.2011 till 20.03.2011

Other potential dates

09.01 to 16.01

16.01 to 23.01

23.01 to 30.01

30.01 to 06.02

27.03 to 03.04

Minimum of 4 guests

Price: 1055 euro per guest. Full board in La Source Eco-Chalet (pack lunch and hill food not included)

500 euros for non-residents.

Equipment:

Please look at your ski and snowboard clothing critically, fashion, snow clothing, with heavy and baggy clothing is not suitable for ski and snowboard clothing as is any cotton underwear or tee-shirts. You are going to be operating in a mountain environment in potentially cold and difficult conditions.

The most suitable clothing is clothing made for mountaineering or serious back country skiing and should be able to be used in a layering system

Optional Equipment

We will supply a limited number of

Avalanche beacons

Collapsible Avalanche Probe

Shovels

La Source

La Source is an eco-ski and adventure sports chalet in beautiful Samoens, the heart of the Grand Massif, 1 hour from Geneva.

It has been described as 'The Best Eco-Lodge in the Alps' by the Times and 'One of the Finest Chalets in Europe' by the Guardian.

It is one of the few true eco-chalets in the Alps and offers a rare mix of cool, laid back comfort, with quality service and exceptional organic food.

La Source offers a mix of week long holidays that combine holistic activities, ski and adventure sports. Run by yoga teacher, ex-Outward Bound Instructor

and adventure sports film maker Saskia Anley and Adventure Sports guru, TV presenter and columnist Duncan McCallum, La Source is not your average

ski chalet!