Meanwhile… on the flanks of Mont Blanc….

Meanwhile…  Helen was intrepidly sussing out the cooking skills of those at the Refuge du Goûter…

Green soup of uncertain origin and flavour

Green soup of uncertain origin and flavour

If you can work out what is in the soup, answers on a postcard, please…!

The main course at the refuge was no better… the conversation went something like…

[Unknown hiker one] :  What is this meat?
Helen:  could be chicken…
Jola: could be beef…
[Unknown hiker two]: It might be veal…
Gill :  is it pork?
James the Guide:  I don’t think it is fish…

Needless to say, at least two members of the girls group were feeling sick on the sides of Mont Blanc…  might be altitude sickness…  But I suspect the food had at least a small role to play…

The girls reached the summit of the Dome du Goûter – an amazing achievement given their obvious lack of decent substenance!!

but I am sure they will be back next year to make the summit of Mont Blanc – more than likely carrying their own food!

Dawn breaking past the Aiguille du Midi

Dawn breaking past the Aiguille du Midi

Paragliding and parawaiting on the Dune du Pilat

Taking a wee break from Chamonix – (I don’t get out of the valley much) – Tim and I set off on a bit of a ‘boys tour’ to go paragliding.. 

Our aim: to soar the Dune du Pilat.

The car loaded with tent, camping equipment, an assortment of paragliders and harnesses, and enough Pimms to last at least the first day, we headed out of the Chamonix valley – and arrived at the Dune du Pilat a mere 8 hours and 600 km later…

The Dune du Pilat – or sometimes spelt Dune du Pyla – is the largest sand dune in Europe measuring 117 metre high, 3000 metres long and 500 metres wide.  It is approximately 60km from Bordeaux on the Archachon basin – not too far from Cap Ferret.

We found a fantastic campsite – the Panoramic – with its own paraglider take-off, a couple of bars, swimming pool, a nice restaurant, and a pitch for our tent with a view of the sea!!  Superb!

Sunset over the Banc d'Arguin (view from our tent)

Sunset over the Banc d'Arguin (view from our tent)

 

So, the next ten days were a succession of waiting for the sea breeze to kick in enough to go paragliding… and then paragliding…   …cooking fresh crab, Pimms, delicious Bordeaux wine, sampling the freshest oysters, swimming in the Atlantic, and generally chilling out and enjoying the view!

They were paragliding until the breeze finished – long after the sun had set… and twilight had dimmed to darkness.

Paragliding in the dusk on the Dune du Pilat

Paragliding in the dusk on the Dune du Pilat

But it wasn’t ALL play…  for example, this next shot is of me hard-at-work eating out whilst simultaneously doing menu research for next winter season!!  Chateaubriand topped with pan-fried Fois Gras…  so, who said blokes were no good at multi-tasking?

Simply delicious...

Simply delicious...

Walking on the Aiguillette des Posettes

Beautiful day today, so we decided to go for a bit of a walk..  Up the Aiguillettes des Posettes.

Starting off at the Vallorcine railway station, the path leads upwards past old farms, under the cable car and into the forest…

Above Vallorcine

Above Vallorcine

Emerging on the ski piste not far from the top lift station.  Great views looking back at the Emosson dam.

View towards the Emosson dam from the back of La Tour

View towards the Emosson dam from the back of La Tour

 It was a late lunchtime when Helen and I made it up to the Col de Posettes – the first time I’ve been there without snow on the ground.. The landscape is familiar yet different.  The view of Grands Montets and the Mont Blanc is superb…

Helen:  Come on… lets go..
Leighton:  Hang on – I just want to photo the view…
Helen: Screw the view..  I need food.
[spluttering gasps of horrified shocked astonishment from the British walkers on the Col admiring the said view!!]…

Cairn on the Aiguillette des Posettes with Mont Blanc in the background

Cairn on the Aiguillette des Posettes with Mont Blanc in the background

Rare shot of Leighton in front of a camera

Rare shot of Leighton in front of a camera

Our Rough-legged Buzzards are back…

Over lunch, I looked up and saw a couple of large birds of prey circling –  just about level with our chalet in Chamonix valley.   Helen and I dashed to the window to take a closer look – and low and behold – these two enormous birds were swiftly joined by two more… and then we spotted a fifth flying way up high above…

Last year, we noticed that the usual couple were joined by a third – their offspring…

 but we were shocked and overjoyed to witness five of these beautiful creatures in flight circling each other…

We think they are Rough-legged Buzzards (Buteo lagopus)  judging from the markings on their wings and their screeching cry.

Rough-legged buzzards in flight above chalet Maison Jaune

Rough-legged buzzards in flight above chalet Maison Jaune

They are about 50-60cm long with a 130cm wingspan, and have a high-pitched, almost cat-like, scream.

More Via-Ferrata…

Helen and I took nephew Tim (the photographer at our wedding) down to Passy for his first go at Via Ferrata…

Thrilling stuff…  Annoyingly my leg started shaking involuntarily when going over the “bridge”…

Tim on the three cord bridge

Tim on the three cord bridge

The things we do for fun!!

Tim on the two cord bridge, Helen in the background...

Tim on the two cord bridge, Helen in the background... Looks safe, heh?

I am still not confident enough to be taking my best camera out whilst hanging on… so photos from my iPhone.

Event of the year 2009…. Our wedding!

Saturday 11th July 2009.

We were so lucky!  The weather was simply perfect – not too hot, not too cold… slight breeze.  A few cumulus clouds floating around to keep the sun off…

Helen and I were joined in matrimony at the local town hall in Les Houches at 14:00…

The chalet was looking amazing..  All decked out with beautiful decorations…  The balconies full of purple and white petunias…  600 white “avalanche” (appropriate for the ski chalet!) roses on the decorative arch, and the floral decorations…  Another 400 white roses in the table decorations…  White and purple balloons strung down the steps with white tuile..

Just about all our friends and family made the trip over… From the UK, America, and Ireland..  Plus loads of our local friends from Les Houches and Chamonix – both English and French…  Wow!!  About 140 people all in all.  Thanks everyone!

Gary Bigham and the Crevasseholes provided the musical entertainment…  Superb group who played a number of sets both before and after the meal…  They play regularly at the MBC microbrewery bar in Chamonix – and we’ve known Gary and Matt for years!!  Thanks guys! 

 balcony-640x480

For me, the day was truly special.  The best day of my life!  Helen looked absolutely stunning in her ivory silk wedding dress… I had a fantastic time….

Well…  See all the photos for yourself  here!!

Funny story – about three days before the wedding, I looked up and saw the local council about to trim the verge on the roadside near the chalet…  which would have destroyed ALL the ferns and greenery we were planning to use in the floral decorations!!  Quick as a flash, I ran up to the road (still carrying the lump hammer I was using at the time) and begged the man to stop..  Luckily he took pity (or thought best of it re: lump hammer) and gave us an hour or so where we frantically cut all the ferns and greenery for the flowers!! Close call!

[Ed. note: Helen’s gorgeous wedding dress and bolero was made by her sister, Sheila, of Dorset Wedding Dresses]

Via Ferrata – walking on walls and swinging in the breeze

Just 20 minutes drive from our chalet in Chamonix valley, there is a “via ferrata” in Passy called Curalla.

For those that don’t know, a “Via ferrata” is like a footpath on a rock face…  They were first developed during the First World War in the Italian Dolomites for moving troops around the alps.  It literally means “iron road” in Italian, and consist of permanent metal cords, metal rungs (stemples) anchored into the rock face itself.

With a harness and special karabiners, you attach yourself to the fixed cord for safety, and “climb” the metal rungs, across wooden bars suspended over the sheer abyss, across rope bridges a few hundred feet off the ground….  ascending the ladders, traversing the mountainside clinging to the rock, to the rope, to the rungs…

 

James leading the way...

James leading the way... what you can't see is that we are already 200 metres up!!

 

It was our first go at Via Ferrata, and James proved his worth as our guide.  His calming voice giving instruction, instilling confidence, belaying parts to doubly-ensure our safety (we used a rope as an additional safety measure – which also helps to reduce how exposed parts of it felt), together with handy tips like, “Keep your eyes on me and don’t look down!!”…

Though parts consist of “ladders”, I am not used to being on a ladder attached to a rock hundreds of feet above the forest below, dancing from foothold to perch to rock, praying the glue they used to afix the rungs to the rock face is strong enough!!

 

Helen crossing the 4m wide "Pont du Mont Blanc"..

Helen crossing the 4m long plank called the "Pont du Mont Blanc"..

Both Helen and I were surprised by how exposed you feel.  Not surprising, really… but the rope bridge was something else!!  A single cord beneath your feet swinging in the breeze… two cords at chest level to cling onto!

Sure, our karabinas are attached to the cord so we can’t fall – at least not very far!! – but adrenaline kicks in, and my leg muscles start twitching!! Felt like a tightrope walker as the rope trembles and swings from side-to-side with the fear in my legs!

A better impression of the height...

A better impression of the height...

All in all – it was a fantastic thrilling adventure which, to me, felt surprisingly different to climbing… It is less strenous than climbing – not so tough on the finger muscles – but you still get to enjoy the most amazing views, enjoy the thrill of the height… the courage, the adrenaline, the fear of overcoming a challenge!!   Helen and I will both definitely be doing more!!

Not really for those with vertigo, or fear of heights, though!!