Earlier progress reports

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29 May 07 - Traverse of the Cirque de Morgon

I walked the Sentier des Pyramides, so called for the strange rock spires found here, with holes eroded in the cliffs. A 'Pic noir' woodpecker clung to his tree, pretending to be invisible, then crept round behind the trunk, forgeting his tail, which stuck out rather obviously ...I continued into the cirque, remembering the last time I came this way in snowshoes. The light covering of snow on the mountains around the cirque was especially beautiful, and alarm calls of marmots echoed around.

The North wind kept the temperature at 6C (last week it was 25C), which was great for photos as there is no heat haze. After the summit, I continued along the ridge, marvelling at the cliffs and rock outcrops falling away to the lake 1300m below. I had thought of following the ridge around all the way, but snow made this too dangerous, so I dropped into the upper cirque and worked my way around past the little lake that dries in Summer, and onward over two cols and down on the Sentier de Charance. A deep rumbling sound stopped me; the sound of rock fall. Shortly after, there was a fine view of Le Gros Ferrant which seems to be a mountain in collapse. Soon, another boulder made its break for freedom, crashing into others that followed it on down.

10 hrs 1550m

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28 May 07 - Winter Returns

The recent hot weather was bound to break, and eventually it did, spectacularly with torrential rain. I puddled about, trying to keep between cloud and flood, dark Noah thoughts in my mind. Last night the rain turned to snow, dusting the trees down to 1200m, and the peaks are all white. What a change! And probably my fault as I was about to remove the snow roundels from my walking poles. I threw on my gear and headed out. Such a relief to walk quickly without overheating. I whizzed uphill, and suffered for the rest of the day for having started too quickly; I should know better!

Snow lay continuously from 1600m, and the forest was a delight. Enough snow to trace the outlines of the branches, and an unbroken path stretching invitingly upwards. A strong North wind had me wearing mittens over my gloves, and at 2000m freezing clouds, a strong wind and spindrift coated the Spring foliage in hoar frost. Spooky - I expected to see the ice queen from Narnia glide by in her sleigh. I pushed on, by now in waterproof trousers (it takes a lot to stop me walking in shorts!), unable to see the ridge, and only found it by climbing.

The wind at altitude strengthended into a gale, and driven snow prevented me from seeing my way. I was growing hoar frost courtesy of the freezing cloud, and thought of abandoning, but remembered the bearings for the ridge, and plugged on, with little idea of where I was, but trusting my compass. Eventually the summit cairn at 2426m loomed out of the cloud, and I turned around with relief, on the back bearing, snow having already filled my tracks.

Below the weather, I emptied the spindrift from my camera case, marvelling that it still worked.600m below the ridge, it was a another world; most of the snow had melted, and I disturbed two pine martens that scurried behind pine trees - and completely vanished. I looked in vain in the crown of the trees; presumably they climb really quickly.

1660m 9hrs (it was hard work)

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26 May 07 - Wolf tracks

Last night saw the first proper thunderstorm of the year, which I watched unfold from the top floor, vivid flashes and heavy detonations rolling around the valley. The storm cleared the air so I planned a ridge walk. My bike took me up to the ski station of La Chalp, and I quickly reached the pretty Lake du Crachet (2238m).

The rock in the upper valley is so fractured that snowmelt sinks straight in to emerge as gushing springs lower down. I hoped to climb to the Lake Lalatcha, however the route was snowbound, so I climbed to the ridge disturbing many marmots. Suddenly a fighter jet swooped up the valley, and as it reached the col, close enough for me to see the pilot, the plane flipped upside down and flew over and down the other side. Unusual to look down on the underside of a plane!

The ridge was a chaos of shattered slate, with clefts some 10m deep filled with snow. Fortunately, the snow that fell here last night was 'graupel', little hard pellets, and easy to walk on. There were tracks in the snow resembling a dog, and looking closely between 3 and 5 animals had been here, one or two lighter than the others. The tracks had been made the night before, and there were no other marks, human or animal. I showed my photos to a mountain guide who said they were probably wolf tracks, as a group of dogs at 2800m was unlikely without an owner.

I walked to the high point of the ridge (2925m), where the view of the surrounding mountains was superb, then walked along the ridge to the Col du Crachet (2631m) and along to the Pointe de l'Eyssina (2837m) before darkening skies made me hurry down.

MTB 900m. Walk 1665m

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25 May 07 - Tour of the Crete de Mean

The crete divides two hanging valleys above the valley of the Couleau. After walking up the main valley, the path passes close to a big waterfall - delightful to stand there and enjoy the cool of the windblown spray. Higher up there are slate workings, including a cave which has been 'converted' and would be a cozy place to wait for better weather. These mines came about in the 19th century, thanks to government subsidies intended to replace thatched roofs with slates.

I climbed to reach the valley of the Fouran, and the summer hut of the shepherd who will bring his sheep up once the grass has grown longer. The water supply to the hut had run dry, so thinking to help him out, I traced the pipe up the hill, and removed some heavy stones before cleaning the filter. This was not popular with the resident family of toads, who clearly felt the running water under heavy stones was a 'des res', so I put their roof back and left them to it.

The upper valley was filled with the usual glacial debris, and a small lake had just begun melting. I ate a Snickers bar, and watched several flocks of choughs fly off heavily on their stubby wings, churring plaintively. From the col, there was a fine view of the Tete de Couleau (3038m), but the descent was tricky, a long drop in scree following the crossing of an avalanche coulee, and later the path had been washed out by floods and erosion. On my way back, a small dark bird flew past me and vanished into a hole in a bank!

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24 May 07 - The gathering of the Cairns

An excursion today to Dormillouse, perched on an igneous outcrop at the end of a long valley and protected from avalanches by a ravine. It's the last permanently inhabited village in the Ecrins, with no access road so everything must be carried in and out. It gives a taste of what village life might have been like. Vegetables are grown in all the gardens, and the surroundings are a riot of wild flowers, though winters must be hard. The roar of waterfalls suffused the air and I tried to find the flower smelling of vanilla, only to realise it came from many thousands of wild narcissi.

I climbed through larch woods with big white wood anemones in flower, to emerge in high pasture, and an area of sinkholes and limestone plateau with crevices and holes dissolved by rainwater, like some giant jigsaw puzzle waiting to be finished. I picked my way between snow banks and climbed to reach lake Palluel (2472m) below the Grand Pinier. There was thunder in the air, so I hurried on through a strange landscape of rock terraces, to reach a place with dozens of cairns; an eery feeling in the stormy light, especially as I blurrily looked at a cairn on the skyline, blinked, and it had vanished - just a marmot mounting guard!

I picked my way along to lake Faravel (2386m), another glacial lake, though the toe of the glacier has receded from the waters edge. Sitting quietly, absorbing the wild beauty of the place, a skylark hopped onto a rock barely 2 metres away, and launched into his crazy tumultuous song. I listened transfixed, and slowly turned to watch, at which he put his head to one side, gave a little startled trill and fluttered off.

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23 May 07 - Col de Reyssas

I rode up to the village of Means by mountain bike, then walked on the GR50 Tour du Lac, where a torrent livng up to its name thwarted my passage. I managed to roll a log across some rocks and crossed using a horizontal stick for balance. Padding soundlessly on pine needles, no-one had come this way for a while, as all the twigs on the path were unbroken. Rounding a corner, an elegant dark bird the size of a chicken flew off noisily, a frill of white at the end of its rounded tail. This might have been a Tetras-Lyre (Lyrurus tetrix/Tetrao tetrix) as they are known to live here, but I have never seen one before, so cannot be sure.

The ravine opened into pasture at 2000m, scattered with wild flowers, and suddenly there was the sweet scent of Daphne Mezereum. Where was the plant? My nose led me to the edge of the pasture, and there on the other side of the torrent was a small bush. Streams fed with snowmelt decorate the slopes here, with some splendid waterfalls.

I climbed steadily higher into scree, and around a big snow bowl to reach the Col de Reyssas (2494m), and then climbed the ridge to see rank upon rank of mountains, with Mt Pelvoux and Mt Viso clearly visible. A shape detached itself from a rock, and whirred off downhill; a bird like a partridge called a Lagopede (Lagopus mutus) already moulted from its winter white to the colour of rock, with white in its wings. A tiny pine tree was struggling for survival in a rock cleft at 2600m, and the ridge fell away sharply northwards into snow. A glider passed above, revelling in the fresh afternoon breeze, and a wing wobble answered my wave. I climbed to 2790m on the Pointe de Serre, and turned back as I was unsure I could downclimb the steep rock.

MTB 550m, walk 1700m

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22 May 07 - Major Change In Plans

Lacking the willpower and mental strength for this walk, I have decided to change my plans and not walk around the Alps this year. I find it lonely and uncomfortable in a tent, and look forward to returning to civilisation (people!) at the end of the day. I'm not fond of lugging a 20lb pack about either. I am in good physical condition, but the pack means I either overheat or have to slow down to keep cool. Instead I plan to spend the Summer and Autumn based in Embrun. There is a huge variety of walks in the Ecrins and Queyras parks that I want to explore, basing myself in Gites, doing either long day walks or 2-3 day circuits, with the occasional overnight in a tent. I will continue to walk almost every day, and expect to cover around 3,800 miles and 360 miles of climbing and descent, just in a more concentrated area. There should be plenty of material for me to write guidebooks for excellent walks of all levels in the Ecrins and Queyras National parks.

I will do some of the Via Alpina in the not too distant future, but will do that with a companion rather than on my own.

This web site does contain a lot of useful information, and is attracting donations to a very worthwhile cause. So it will stay on line. The useful information, (so I am told!), comes from a variety of parts of the web site, including the reports that I have been sending. So those reports and photos will continue, covering my explorations in the superb Alpine areas surrounding my Embrun base. Soon I will be able to add reviews of how various pieces of my light weight kit have coped with the demanding walks.

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20 - 21 May 07 - Third attempt at a start to walking around the Alps

Today I went to Larche, which is close to the Franco-Italian border. It's a forlorn spot, with an edge of the world feel under heavy rain showers; to get there from the closest bus stop in Barcelonette, I needed 3 hitches and a 10km walk. The welcome at the Gite was super though, with an enormous meal that I struggled to finish.

A cold front came through overnight, and today is fresh: 8c. I'm away early, in time to enjoy the spectacle of mountains playing hide and seek behind a veil of early morning mist, with a row of glacial hanging valleys above the clouds.I ground my way uphill, dumped my pack at 2100m, and from the apron of the Tete de Sautron, I walked across frozen neves to the Col de Sautron (2685m), dropped down and kickstepped across frozen snow to the Col de Portiola (2899m), a bitter wind driving in from Italy. The mountains here are bleak and barren. I walked back down to Barcelonette alongside the river Ubaye - one of the finest in Europe for white water sports.

1400m. 18 miles

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16 - 18 May 07

Arrived at Sospel prior to my making a restart on the walk, and walked 4km up valley by road to the mas fleuri, a tatty campsite that was the only one open.

Beautiful birdsong as I went to sleep at 8pm but woken with a start by something landing on my side. A dog had thrown itself on the tent, and the pole had snapped. Investigation showed the snap was at the centre join, where I managed to rig a stable configuration using the internal storm stabilisers. Got back to sleep eventually, but tossed and turned through the night, an owl making strange noises that resemble the depth charge noises you hear on old films of WW2 submarines - its partner faithfully echoing each call. Very eerie.

Up and away at 6.30am. everything soaked in dew. The climb started in earnest after 1km, and I was soon pouring with sweat in horrid conditions. 24c at 6.45am and what felt like 90% humidity. Drank 3L of water in 90 mins which is unheard of for me, and ran out, but steadily fought my way to Moulinet, where I stopped for lunch, ham sandwich and lots of water. Continued towards the Col de Turini in the afternoon, in 27c and high humidity. In places, where the track ran in a defile, the air was cooler, yet the rounded slates forming the base of the path were covered in condensation. It felt like a sauna. Possibly because of this, I slipped and fell, and jarred my shoulder. Nothing broke or tore, but it hurts to lift it above shoulder level, and also to push with a pole. I elected at the Col de Turini to return gently by road to Sospel, and caught a train to get it seen by a physio. He confirms that it is just a compound slight muscle tear, and that I should rest but gently stretch it for a few days, and gave me deep heat style lotion for it. Rather fed up at this. It seems I am jinxed with the Maritime Alps, so I will miss them out, and restart either from Col de Larche, or from East of Oulx.

1900m, about 27 miles.

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12 & 13 May 07

My first climb of Le Meale (2425m) without snowshoes today, albeit with a wallow in snowdrifts at 2300m. Feeling flush with success, I strolled through the village of Les Orres and found myself caught up in a reunion, involving a barbeque and an impressive number of empty bottles, followed by an abortive mushroom hunt (if ever you encounter an awkward looking Frenchman in a forest, you have probably not interrupted a call of nature, rather he is pretending to not be looking for mushrooms, lest you should return and plunder his patch later). I was eventually let go having promised to accompany one of my hosts up Le Meale the following day.

This done, one of those endless Petanque (boules) matches started. Endless, because pride was at stake, and honour requires the winning party to always invite the loser to a rematch. I was hopelessly outclassed, but managed to throw as instructed, my partner correcting most of my mistakes. I fell into conversation with a shepherd, a still and quiet man, his face framed between shaggy hair and shaggy beard, and eyes that looked somewhere beyond me. The conversation turned to wolves and his face became animated. Jabbing heavily at the skyline with blunt fingers, his voice blurry with emotion, he said there had been confirmed attacks there, there and there, and turning towards me, there was pain in his eyes.

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10 May 07

Walking quietly along a back road, a weasel scurried out from the grass, a metre in front of me. He was shocked at his mistake, and crouched, chittering and weaving from side to side. A wicked little face, with fierce beady eyes, creamy tummy and handsome toffee coloured fur. Despite being very much larger, I felt intimidated, so one can imagine the fear and mayhem this little creature must spread.

Todays walk led me up the deep narrow valley of the Rabioux, and then above the Cascade de la Pisse which drains a hanging valley - yes, the English word comes from old French. A Frenchman descending, still euphoric at its beauty, regaled me with his impressions - nice to meet someone else with mountains behind their eyes! Part of the walk is alongside a small canal that contours round the hill and irrigates the meadows near Chateauroux. The stream rushes alongside the path, then dives into the hillside, to emerge, dark and fast under ones feet, then later it runs through old iron pipes, the joints wheezing and slurping. At one point the pipe has rusted, and with your eye to the hole, you can see movement in the dark and feel the cold draft as air is sucked in.

It's a stiff climb in the scree below towering cliffs to the top of the waterfall, and the high meadows where marmots are stirring are carpetted with gentians. Another sighting of what I call a Cadburys butterfly with velvety dark chocolate wings and cream margins. They happily fly near me, but will not let me approach within photo distance - frustrating! Resting in the afternoon sun, I marvelled at swallows swooping in and out of a barn, arrowing through a hole little bigger than a tennis ball, and skimming the ground by my feet in search of insects. Eventually, two collided at the hole, and the emerging bird crash-landed on a stump, where he gathered his wits before tentatively flying off. Within seconds he was looping and diving as though nothing had happened.

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1 May 07 - Lac de l'Hivernet

Today I walked to the Lac de l'Hivernet, a remote tarn at 2325m. I've wanted to go there for ages, as it sits below the poetically named peak of the Ptarmigans song (Tete de Chante Perdrix). However an active avalanche gully must be crossed, and only now is it safe. I climbed a steep path in the scree, and then worked my way along a rocky spur above the snowfields. Once over this, the lake appeared, half frozen, set in a bowl of snow, backed by cliffs and ridges. Views like this still take my breath away, despite walking almost every day. Marmots have woken from their deep sleep, and it's great to hear their alarm calls again, echoing around the hills. On the lower slopes trees are sporting fresh new Spring foliage, with the bloom of wild cherries splendid against a backdrop of pine trees.

Our local bumble bees are velvety black with iridescent wings; as if going out for the evening wearing a shawl over a little black dress!

1600m

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30 April 07 - The Ubac and the Adret

Today I wandered over the river Durance which is now swollen with snowmelt, and up the narrow valley opposite towards Crevoux and La Chalp, where there is a friendly little cross country ski resort. The 'Ubac' or north-facing slope still holds a surprising amount of snow, whereas villages such as St Sauveur on the 'Adret' or south-facing slope are full of butterflies and Spring blossom. I came across a patch of meadow with two rams, two billy goats and a donkey. They were playfully butting each other as boys will, and I felt quite relieved to enjoy the antics from the other side of an electric fence!

The pine woods here are full of ants. Indeed I came across a troop of them marching just below the snowline a few days ago. How do ants live under the snow? I've seen several jays picking at ants nests, and dancing around fluttering their wings curiously. I mentioned this to an elderly local, who chuckled gently and said that jays have learned that the ants will spray them with formic acid, which kills their fleas - clever birds.

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26 April 07 - Pic du Morgon

Today I climbed the Pic du Morgon, which is a beautiful mountain overhanging the big lake here. This has been tantalisingly out of bounds due to windslab snow on the final ramp, and steep ice above a drop on the access track, but the warmer weather has put paid to both of these.

I set off alongside the river Durance, now swollen with snowmelt and sporting white horses, passed Boscodon Abbey, and walked the access track which contours above a steep drop. To my admiration, a party of eight schoolchildren had reached the Cirque by walking a good quarter of a mile through deep snow below the Serre des Ducs, their trousers soaked to their thighs. In summer, the cirque echoes to the cries of marmots, and several of their burrows were unblocked, so they have been out feeding, though none were to be seen.

The Cirque is of glacial origin, with a chain of higher peaks surrounding a broad basin with little hillocks. The final climb to the Morgon from the Cirque was still snowbound, and too steep for snowshoes, so I clambered up rocky outcrops as much as possible, using my snowshoes to traverse gullies still filled with deep snow. In places I sank in to knee depth despite the flotation of my shoes, and my poles sank all the way in. Not a great place to fall over!

The view from the top was excellent, if marred by dark clouds to one side. A light came on in my brain, and as I started to descend as quickly as possible, the first peel of thunder boomed around the Cirque. The thunder was coming my way, so I lost height and got out of the cirque before it hit.

11 hrs, 1760m

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23 April 07 - Training Notes

During the Challenge, I plan to walk no more than 10 hours per day; enough for 30 level miles, or about 2200m of ascent. I'm deliberately walking more in training to toughen myself further, and to learn more about what and when to eat, when and how much to drink, how to recover properly, when to stretch and which stretches are important, and to check my gear.

With the advent of long days and warm weather, I'm permanently back in Aku boots, as none of my 3 pairs of cross-trainers cushion my feet enough, and no matter how I lace them, the short ankle cuff is insufficient to stop my feet moving forward in the shoe on steep descents. Moreover their crude Goretex linings transform the shoe into a sweat bath on a hot day. In contrast, my Aku boots absorb more shock, have a proper ankle cuff and the more breathable Air8000 waterproof membrane means that my socks remain almost dry.

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22 April 07 - Exploring the Couleau

Today I explored the Couleau, one of the deep, narrow valleys in the Ecrins National Park. This is a long walk from Embrun, so I followed the GR50, which contours the main valley without sustained climbing, passing through typical French villages. Several kestrels and two kites were out, taking advantage of the strong wind to patrol for food. The path continued through beautiful light forest of larch, alder, pine and oak, with here and there, patches of primroses or cowslips growing in clearings.

The bridge over the Couleau had half-collapsed, so I continued over on tiptoe. The day offered a succession of treats: on one side austere cliffs from which a plume of spray fell 200m, on the other a strange pointy ridge. Near the top of the valley I could see five waterfalls. Climbing the head wall, the path was covered in Spring crocuses, literally millions of them, and for contrast, a patch of gentians in startling deep blue, the first this year.

I climbed to the upper of the two shepherds huts, just emerging from the snows, the upper valley dominated by the Tete de Vautisse (3156m). Deep snow prevented my walking round above the valley, so I dropped down, and climbed to follow another high level path through mixed woodland. With shadows creeping up the cliffs and food running low, I set foot back towards Embrun. Thoughtfully fingering my last biscuit in Chateauroux, to my astonishment the bakery was still open after 8pm on a Sunday! Two slices of tartiflette later, I was ready for the last 2 hour stretch. In gloom and then complete darkness, I splashed along the rough track without tripping, accompanied by sleepy 'toktoks' from roosting blackbirds and the creaking of cicadas. One of my best mountain days ever - when I am old, rheumy-eyed and wear purple slippers, its beauty will still be with me!

14 hrs 1950m 31 miles

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21 April 07 - Climbing Le Meale

Today dawned overcast and windy, an ideal day for climbing hills, and I felt ready to push myself.One walk I love here is the ascent of Le Meale, which offers contrasts and splendid views, not to mention such wonders as the rabbit emporium!Setting off fairly early to keep as cool as possible, I paced myself steadily on the climb.

Ewes and lambs have been overwintered under cover, waiting for the grass to come into growth, and the first flocks were released today,the ewes munching greedily, relieved to be out at last. A shepherd told me there may still be late snow. Local sheep seem not as tough as Scottish breeds, and when I asked him why he didn't farm hardier breeds, he laughed and said they would never withstand the Summer temperaures.

Down at the river, I stopped to wonder at the antics of dozens of swallows, flying up river and all around. A fisherman came and chatted, he with his broad provencale accent, me in my hesitant Franglais. He explained that some swallows were collecting water to mix with earth to build mud nests, while others were just feeding on insects.

The afternoon was spent repeatedly climbing the rock on which Embrun is built, guzzling water, and for the first time this evening, I had cramps from salt loss, though am delighted to have climbed this far in a day.

12.5 hrs, 3210m

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18 April 07 - Homme de pierre

A long way today, trying to reach the Belvedere of the stone man. The track wandered through villages and woods, where I saw another pine marten springing through trees, then past a shepherds hut set in summer pasture, and finished with a stiff climb at the head of the valley to reach a flatter area beyond. I got stuck at the top of the climb, where the path continued through a gully at 2100m, mostly blocked with snow that I kicked and postholed through.

Young larches have started enthusiastically into Spring growth, while the older trees are a little more cautious, their first growth a startling ruby red. Virtually the only traffic today was a pair of elderly men on an equally ancient tractor, pulling a load of cow dung, nothing in their getup more recent than 1980.

Spring flowers are everywhere now; primroses, violets and anemones. Today I stopped for lunch, and was thrilled to see a black woodpecker fly across the clearing, chirruping as he went.

10 hrs, 1700m

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16 April 07 - Boscodon

A short walk today, along the edge of the lake, up into the hills and over the Torrent de Boscodon to the Abbey, which is a Chalaisian monastery dating from the 12th Century, and a place of great peace.

The torrent of Boscodon drains a large cirque, and at times of heavy rain, as much as 20,000 tonnes of rock and debris can flow down in a wall of water and rock 20ft high. Sensors detect this, and the main road across the valley is closed until the danger has past.

In the hamlet of Beauregard, everyone seemed to be out chatting in the main street, and as I walked down, smiling and greeting people, an elderly lady came the other way, accompanied by her dog and a tame sheep.

Some young kids were staying with their grandparents in their house next to the track, and had been told to put their game of table football in the middle of the track. I edged around them; What's the score? Olympic de Marseille 4, Monchester Oonited 1!

Swallows have now arrived, and I spent a while watching them above the river Durance, twittering gently between insect snacks.

5 hrs.

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14-15 April 07 - Training continues with two days on Mont Guillaume

Following recent snowfalls, I set off to judge the snow conditions at altitude by climbing Mont Guillaume. Spring temperatures have melted most of the snow below 2000m, but above this, there is still a good metre of snow. I tried the route used last time, but on the part-compacted snow at 2200m, my snowshoes neither sank in properly nor gripped, and I slid relentlessly. I tried without snowshoes, and sank in to my knees. Kicking forwards didn't work, as the snow was thick and heavy, and forward progress by postholing was exhausting. I tried two further routes with similar results. Clearly, the mountains are impassable until the snow settles further, and my snowshoes can grip.

The following day, I set off on the South side of the mountain up a dry avalanche gully, and climbed 400m in boulders and scree to gain the start of a ridge, and then scrambled 350m following a snow-free line, along ridges and rock outcrops to 2450m. Here much of the snow had blown away, and the remainder was crusted and took my weight, so the summit at 2542m was a straightforward plod. Disconcertingly my altimeter packed up, which made me realise how much I rely on it. The Spring flowers are superb; in places it is hard to avoid standing on them!

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13 April 07 - A Pine Marten and Deer

I was wandering around the slopes today, walking quietly, lost in thought, when a rustle made me look up, and sitting on a log watching me was an animal the shape of a squirrel, but the size of a small cat, chocolate brown, with furry ears, and an alert, intelligent face - a pine marten, and I'm thrilled to bits, as he's the first I've ever seen. He looked me up and down, as though wondering what I was, then scrambled up a tree, and was rapidly lost to sight in the canopy.

Later, I heard more leaves rustling, stopped and saw two deer foraging in the undergowth. They eventually saw me, and bounded gently across the path. Feeling somehow that more was to come, I stayed motionless, and shortly a fawn emerged, shaking his head in the sunlight in the middle of the path. He looked at me with equal measures of curiosity and unease, and putting his head down, he shuffled from one leg to another, the very picture of indecision. Eventually, a bleat from his mother decided him, and he lurched off into the undergrowth, back legs trying to overtake the front. What a super walk.

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11 April 07 - The Poem

Exploring one of the villages, I came across a house with a poem painted around the eaves, and while letting it sink in, the owner came out and said that it was by the young Arthur Rimbaud. In French it's beautiful; soft, dreamy, innocent and youthful. Hopefully this translation conveys something of it.

  • Through blue summer evenings, I'll stroll along paths,
  • Pricked by wheat ears, scuffing the cut grass.
  • Dreamily, I'll feel the cool at my feet,
  • And let the evening breeze bathe my bare head.
  • I'll utter not a word and think not a thing,
  • But infinite love will fill my soul,
  • And I'll walk far, far away, like a gypsy
  • Through the countryside, full of joy as if with a girl.

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9 April 07

A long day walking down the valley and back. Spring is in the air, quite literally. A pair of ravens in what must be courtship flight, one describing big circles, the other mirroring its movements precisely, almost balletic. Plenty of kestrels looking for lunch too, several being harried by anxious sparrows, and finally I've found the source of some squishy messes on the roads: groups of up to 40 caterpillars crossing roads nose to tail - fully paid up members of the dangerous sports club!

12 hrs, 33 miles, 1500m

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2 April 07 - A long day

Weather systems are sweeping Embrun every other day now, and as I'm not keen on walking in falling snow, I'm getting plenty of rest. Today, low cloud hung about the hills, so instead of climbing, I wandered a good way up the valley, thinking that when the next band of snow came, I would hop on a train and return home. The snow hasn't yet arrived, so I walked home by head torch instead. It's a delight to see the outlines of the pines and larches again from yesterdays snowfall. Feeling stiff and tired tonight after a long day.

13.5 hrs, 1400m, 37 miles.

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30 March 07 - Le Meale and Chateau de Caleyere as training resumes

Decided to turn the abortive start to my advantage, return to my Embrun base and resume training while forecast snow bands pass through. So, another trip up Le Meale, and it is remarkable how much snow has melted. The two avalanche couloirs that I crept across a fortnight back, unwittingly holding my breath are now bare rock. The day was clear enough to offer a 360 degree panorama of all our local mountains with, as backdrop, the 'Finger of God', the crooked summit of La Meije (4102m).

In one of the hamlets, I slowed to watch an elderly lady crossing the path ever so slowly on crutches, and, a mite concerned by her fumbling at a sledgehammer, I offered to help. However with practiced ease she expertly split a log by driving a steel wedge ino the end grain.

Lower down, a flurry caught my eye, and I realised there were some 90 rabbits in hutches in front of a house. Another tiny old lady emerged, and peered up at me with little sparkling eyes. Yes, these were for the pot, and very good too. Which rabbit would I like? Deftly she seized a doe and poking and pinching the poor creature, she smacked her lips loudly. This one is ready to eat (Pret a Manger). Sorry I said weakly, I'm camping. Oh, in that case, have some rabbit pate, but with the doe eying me reproachfully, I just couldn't. Buying sandwiches at Prets won't be the same! 11 hours, 2800m height gain.

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26 March 07 - An abortive start to walking around the Alps!

Woken several times last night by the snowplough, which, with its chains and arthritic rattlings sounded like an extra from 'A Christmas tale'.

Caught the early train to Monaco and started by 9.30, in warm weather and clear blue skies. All went well for a while but the day steadily disintegrated into farce.

One of the markers in Monaco strangely directs one to a lift! Later, I took the wrong route for La Turbie at an ambiguous sign, but the real difficulty was La Turbie, which seemed to be a Via Alpina free zone. Having combed the town, and met every cat (there were a lot), just one route left for the North, marked by a faded red flash. I took it, and diligently followed the route for 1.5 hours. The track grew smaller and smaller, and generally felt unused. Finally, with the track heading due South (!), with my destination clearly visible in the opposite direction, I abandoned the stage and returned to Monaco. The highlight of the day was a lovely old gnarled tree growing out of a boulder.

Tonight I stay with a friend in Cannes, and restart from Sospel in the morning. Hopefully, the signing will be more thorough.

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25 March 07 - Time to get to the start point

A 10 hour train journey from Embrun to Limone di Piemente, where I had planned to leave my snowshoes, thinking they would not be needed. Leaving Embrun wasn't easy: the dawn light slowly filling the valley was just beautiful. A man on the train was watching as well: a wistful look on his face.

What a contrast to travel through the Cote d'Azur, the red ochreous earth such a splendid contrast to silver green olive leaves. The train journey up to Limone from Ventimiglia was breathtaking; at one time, I could see three tunnels and a viaduct ahead, and then the railway traversing back down the valley before gaining height to return again higher up; a testament to the steepness of the valley, and to the builders perseverance.

Emerging on the Italian side, fresh snow was falling; already 10-15cm, with more forecast tomorrow. So my snowshoes are coming with me and we start tomorrow!

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24 March 07

Judy's training has been going well enough for her to make a short visit to the UK to complete the arrangements that need to be in place here, before she starts this epic "around the Alps walk". It was great for her to join Tracy, (web designer), and myself, Bryan, (webmaster), and my wife for a cosy family meal during which we were able to drink a toast to her planned efforts.

Judy is now back in France, and about to start her long walk. She took back with her the really great news that her employer, Latitudes French Property Agents, is generously contributing £1,000 to Cancer Research.

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11 March 07 - Crete des Prenetz

Set off today to climb the Crete des Prenetz, which at 2781m is the highest one can get here before snow consolidates in the Spring. This is really a long ridge emerging from forest at 1800m, which is supposedly climbable all the way, avoiding almost all chance of avalanche. The knolls were steep, and I felt on the limit several times, dislodging snow that skittered off 50m down slope.

Two eagles came to look at me, and fortunately decided I was too big to carry off, though I managed to photograph them, and saw some beautiful mother of pearl colours in the clouds.

I got cold feet (figuratively) and turned back at 2400m, with a choice between climbing another steep boss, edging around it above a cliff (no thanks!) and what looked suspiciously like wind slab snow at 35 degrees ... better to come back with memories rather than as a memory, I felt.

It was cold today, with a strong North wind, so I hurried down wearing all my clothing and took a break in a very welcome shepherds hut.

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7 March 07 - Limone di Piemonte

With heavy rain now falling, I treated myself to a night in a Hotel, and treated the locals to my scary Italian! Limone is a lively town, still buzzing with excited tourists despite the rapidly melting snow. I drove to Terme di Valdieri, and climbed towards Rifugio Morelli Buzzi under the Cime d'Argentera, thrilled to be walking on the Via Alpina. A deep hissing sigh made me start, and looking around, a big male chamois (mountain goat) was surveying me with evident distaste. Unlike most chamois that scamper off readily, he stood his ground, and so I walked gently on, head down, so as not to disturb him. I think he must have been an old solitary male, as he was still there on my return.

The path climbed through fine beech woods with large patches of snowdrops, and there was that thrill of being the first to walk in fresh fallen snow. The snow showed tracks of several groups of chamois, all descending in search of food, and I spotted two before they noticed me, the noise of a waterfall drowning my footsteps. Holding stock still, I watched a doe and calf for several minutes until they became uneasy and dashed off. The view to the mighty Argentera was magnificent, in that clear and limpid light when rain has washed the sky. I felt deeply moved, and so aware of my good fortune in experiencing this astonishing place.

Driving back, I stopped in villages that I will come through and looked for food shops, the better to plan my food load.

A treat on my return to Embrun; our swifts have returned, shrieking around the rooftops in exuberance, whirling and jinking on the evening air in search of insects.

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6 March 07 - Sospel

Sospel is a lively town near Monaco, with some fine Italianate baroque architecture. In centuries past, it was a staging point on the 'salt route' between the salt pans of Arles and the plains of Northern Italy. The 13th Century bridge has a building in the middle where merchants would pay dues for their pack animals. In the 18th Century the town had twenty inns to accommodate wayfarers and their animals.

A friend had told me that the Via Alpina is difficult to follow from Sospel, so I walked the Northbound stage, only to find that the Via Alpina is signposted differently to the map! Consternation, I guess there will be more of this, but at least it is signposted. The path was bordered with violets, and passed olive plantations and the occasional fig tree.

I caught up with a huge group of French walkers, whose leader pointed out a fort on the other side of the valley, saying proudly that this was the scene of a rare victory in 1940, when the Italians were repulsed. A lady standing nearby murmured 'We Italians weren't all fascists; my husband was a Colonel in the French infantry'. The leader looked aghast at his faux pas and quickly said it was a rare victory over the fascists, and everyone nodded at this fine rewording! On the way back down on a hot morning, I stood aside for them, impressively still climbing in puffa jackets, cardigans etc.

My next recce was closer to the Italian border at Casterino, where the Via Alpina climbs to 2693 metres. I was able to follow a good track to 2050 metres without snowshoes, and the Spring melt was well under way. I saw something completely new to me: a flock of over 50 male chaffinches, all flying and landing in little bursts, resembling a flurry of Autumn leaves.

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5 March 07 - Monaco (by car)

I drove down to Monaco and back on the 5th, 6th and 7th, to check out the snow conditions and to be interviewed by Riviera Radio in Monaco.

Being a country girl, I wasn't sure that I would like Monaco, however walking past the boats moored in the harbour, there was a chatter of Kiwi and Aussie accents - that international community of boat hands that turns up in every port, and having spent time in both places, I felt at home. One of the guys polishing metalwork on a powerboat rattled off some statistics: 90 feet long, nearly 7000 horsepower, and a top speed of 85mph - wistfully he said that the boss rarely takes the boat out...

Every square foot has to pay its way here, so the clothes shops put their mannequins outside. These are sometimes artfully arranged in lifelike poses: I chuckled at a group of three in animated discussion, and did a huge double take at the headless pedestrian about to set foot on a pedestrian crossing!

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1 March 07 - Royal Eagle

I'm writing this in the cafe on my 'Pocketmail' at the ski resort of La Chalp, nursing a hot chocolate and watching everything turning white. The forecast was for 15-30cm snow this evening, but the weather has decided to deliver early! I set off from La Chalp under lowering skies, and climbed like a rat up a drainpipe to the Arete de la Ratelle (2578m), trying to reach the top before the snow came in. I almost made it, and had time for just one photo before the weather closed in. I had seen nice cornices on my side of the arete, but the falling snow removed all contrast and I stared at where I knew the edge of the cornice was but it was impossible to see; one could have walked straight off the edge without knowing it was there.

So with a 900m drop at 65 degrees to one side and cornices to the other, I thought of wimpering pitifully, but took a deep breath and carefully walked out on a compass bearing until sure I had reached my ascent route. On the way up, I had felt the visibility going, so dragged my snowshoes to make clear tracks, and this helped me to descend until I got below the cloud base and the contrast improved.

On the way up, I saw a white bird flying off, which may have been my first lagopede, which is thrilling. Inevitably, just afer putting my camera away on the summit, what should come effortlessly, imperiously, out of the cloud? An eagle! He was working his way along the ridge away from the weather, and passed perhaps 25m from me. He glared at me, as though to say 'And what are you doing here'! I love the way eagles are quite fearless - it makes one feel very small (and breakfast-like!)

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26 February 07 - Le Meale

With no high wind at altitude last night, the weather felt stable, so I took the opportunity to climb high. One of the safest local summits is Le Meale at 2426m, as the approach is through woods almost to the summit plateau, which reduces the risk of avalanche. I set off from Embrun at daybreak, and was climbing in snowshoes by mid morning. A farm dog shadowed me, clearly with his eye on my walking poles, hoping for me to throw him a 'stick'. My precious new carbon poles would suffer from tooth bites, so I was a bit anxious!

The mixed larch and pine woods were entrancing, a lacy filigree of twigs sparkling in the sunshine. Though there was no wind, I climbed through a steady haze of snow falling from the trees, and a few good dollops landed on my head and neck! The snowshoes performed great, and after crossing several avalanche couloirs, the summit plateau came into view, unfortunately at the same time as a weather front.. Windblown snow obscured any path, so I felt my way up, keeping to windward to follow shallower snow. Finally, with clouds blowing across, the summit ridge appeared, and I had a relatively easy plod to the cairn. Not a great day for summit pictures, unless you like the inside of a cloud!

I fell over several times on the way down, and in deep powder had trouble getting up, as with my poles taking my full weight, their handles vanished below the surface. At last, the first 'interesting' bird appeared - a female ptarmigan who thought the coast was clear in fading daylight. She scuttled, stiff-necked, uphill into scrub. I blinked briefly, and couldn't see her afterwards, she was so well camouflaged. Today has been the longest I've worn snowshoes so far - 7 hours and 1250 metres of ascent. 10.5 hours, 1700m climbed.

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25 February 07

Today it rained, so I set off to test my wet weather gear. The rain turned to snow higher up, and the day became an enchantment. Clouds blew over the mountain top in big whorls, and the view across the valley changed all the time - now one peak visible, now the valley floor. It's astonishing how rain and snow change so many things. For example, there are many rose briars (eglantines) here, their branches a dull mid-brown unnoticed next to their lovely red rose-hips. After rain, thousands of tiny drops adorn the branches, and in fleeting sunlight, the bush is elegant, dainty, transformed ... higher up, snow lies thickly on the branches, and the bush becomes an abstract study in white lines.

I stood for a while with my eyes closed, listening to scurrying, rustling noises and the occasional muffled thump. Imagining an army of little animals playing grandmothers footsteps, I opened my eyes, to realise the noises were just branches shedding snow. Thrilled with my waterproofs; after 1300m of climbing, I was completely dry! What a difference good clothing makes. 7 hours, 17 miles.

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24 February 07

Spring is only just around the corner here; the first fledglings were cheeping in their nest in a hole in a walnut tree, while other birds are flying with dry grass for their nests. I came across a group of beehives perched on a large boulder; well, if you're an Alpine bee, I guess you expect a suitably mountainous home! Today's walk was long, and there was time to absorb the varied beauty of the place: centuries old chestnuts lining a sunken track, tiny rivulets swelled with snow melt, coursing over thick moss, and patches of yellow snow (quiet there in the back, please!) caused by catkins shedding their pollen. In the afternoon, I tried to force my way up a narrow valley, which became steadily rougher until I was picking cautiously through a boulder field covered in deep snow, all too aware of the risk of injuring my foot or leg in a hidden hole. Eventually, I had to ford a river and walk back out.

One of yesterdays highlights was a group of 'Demoiselles Coiffees', strange narrow spires surmounted by a large rock. These unlikely formations are caused by ground waters that are rich in carbonates precipitating carbonate under the capstone, and in effect cementing the column together. No doubt there is some proper geological term for all this, but as we are in France, they are called 'ladys with bonnets'! My Achilles tendon still grumbles occasionally, but seems to get better when used - how strange. I still can't wear walking boots, and have bought a pair of Salomon Gore-tex trail shoes with the heel cut down; so far so good ... 10 hours, 28 miles, 1450m.

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17 February 07 - GR50 and attempting the Pic du Morgon

After an early start, I crossed the bridge over the lake to think about climbing the Morgon, which at 2324m, towers 1.4km above the lake. The climb started gently through pine forests, and a colony of long-tailed tits worked their way along a hedgerow, completely ignoring three bossy bluetits yelling at them. After several easy kms, the track climbed increasingly steeply up a snowy gully in a series of zigzags verging on a scramble, before emerging some 500m below the Pic de Morgon. I slogged on a bit further, and spent a while in deep snow cutting slabs and finding slabs of wind-blown snow with poor adhesion, so I'll return and clinb it from another direction.

These two days walking have been in Lafuma running shoes, as my tendon grumbles with walking boots. The trip back down was 'interesting' as my shoes have poor grip in slushy snow, and I had to check my footing carefully. There followed a brisk walk back to Embrun, by which time some feeling had returned to my soaking feet. 9 hrs / 20 miles

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16 February 07 - Tour du Haut Dauphine (GR50)

The GR50 is one of Frances long distance paths, that passes close to Embrun. After a short climb, I set off westward. Absent-mindedly, I took a pit stop next to an electric fence, and can tell you that this is NOT recommended! Checking afterwards, an insulator had cracked, so some of the current must have been leaking to ground. It certainly woke me up. I guessed that with the strong sun, snowshoes would be superfluous. Wrong! As the track climbed through 1500m, the snow became steadily deeper until I was 'postholing' and cutting my shins and knees painfully on the icy crust.

The track proved to be quite a highway for all the animals that had taken refuge in the forest, with traces visible of two hares and also a group of deer. Delightfully, one could see where they had put their forefeet on the pine trees to eat lichen from the trunks, and how they had stripped a willow of all its catkins. I camped in a clearing, hoping to hear some animal activity in the night, but perhaps I slept too deeply, as some owl calls were all I remember. 9.5 hrs / 27 miles

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14 February 07 - Training continues near Briancon

Under a flat, snow-filled sky, I took the train up the valley to Briancon and walked three short loops, staying always close to town in case of more tendon trouble. Briancon is the highest town in Europe at 1350m, and I spent most of the day enjoying falling snow. The old town was fortified by Vauban, and has narrow cobbled streets. In the 17th Century, snow lay so deep that residents had to dig tunnels to get around! 6 hours/17 miles

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13 February 07 - Walking again as Training Restarts

I had to stop walking four days ago due to Achilles tendinitis - a gnawing pain in my left heel that didn't go away. Fortunately, I stopped before it got too bad, and rested up, stretching carefully and plying the tendon with ointment. I finally saw a nice physio who confirmed the diagnosis, and told me what to do to avoid it recurring. So today has seen a tentative return to walking, on roads and tracks without much gradient, stopping to stretch so often I felt silly. No matter; all seems well, and I had a lovely day out to the Lac de Siguret in glorious sunshine.

The snow we've had over the last two days has left a delicate dusting over all the forests, and the sunset was an absolute belter: an astonishing range of colours from canary, through peach and apricot to delicate pinks and crimson. Mixed in there was that arresting shade of turquoise you see in the Mediterranean when there are sandbanks under the surface. To the other side, there was a beautiful shading of dove grey, through steel to slate, with a touch of indigo to boot. I feel very insignificant in this vivid scenery of mountains and huge skies. Did 17 miles with 800m of height gain today.

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6 February 07 - The really hard work of training from my French base camp.

I've stopped running, and no longer take a heavy pack which I carried to help strengthen my legs. Instead I now have 3 objectives to work to:

  1. Endurance: increasing the number of hours I can walk every single day from 7 hours up to between 10 and 12 hours a day.


  2. Power/Power Endurance: at present I climb at an ascent rate of 400 metres an hour without a rest. But I need to be able to climb at a sustained 500m/hr for 4 hours and also at 600m/hr without stopping for a rest.


  3. Strength Endurance (how much you can do before your muscles say enough!): I climb 1700m now in a single day (1300m/day repeated every day). I need to push that to 3200m in a single day (2000m/day repeated ever day).

I'm strong enough now, but my cardiovascular performance needs to improve, so it's time for some AT (anaerobic threshold) training with hill intervals every 5 days. And that's as nasty as it sounds! A hill near my French training base has a 75m vertical height, and taken at speed results in much heavy breathing and wobbly legs! My first excursion of multiple ascents on this 75m hill, gave a total of 1650m climbed and descended in 3 hours 40 minutes. And an individual ascent of the 75m climbed in 3.5 mins (though I'm ready for an ambulance after that). Over the next few weeks, I hope to push myself to be able to climb a full ascent of 2200m in 4 hours.

I'm also walking further and pushing the daily total mileage up. And as my climbing ascent rate picks up, I will be increasing the daily total amount of metres climbed.

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4 February 07 - Cartwheeling on Mont Guillauime anniversary

I've joined the French Alpine Club, to meet and walk with others here. Today we celebrate the 110th anniversary of the first ascent of Mont Guillaume using skis by Col. Widman of the Chasseurs Alpins, who set out to show that skis could be just as useful in ascent as in descent. His action caused the mountain brigades of many of the worlds armies to adopt skiing with skins.

We climb the first 450m by headtorch and the next 750 metres through pine forests. Someone kindly lends me an avalanche transceiver and I join a small group to snowshoe the final 500m to the top. Our guide takes us up steep slopes, and the snow is deep - despite snow roundels, my uphill pole sometimes sinks to the hilt. On the higher slopes, the snow is easier: crusty and windswept. As we are climbing fast, I'm comfortable in a T-shirt and my summer trousers, but add gloves, and then my RAB VR jacket in the wind higher up.

At the summit, there is a little chapel, and a sublime view of the lake and all the local landmarks. I could look for ages, but our two guides are in a hurry, so we set off straight downhill, glissading in powder snow. My snowshoe catches something under the snow, and I can't extract it, so cartwheel to pull it out. The slope is 50-60 degrees, and now I have snow everywhere, it's tempting to repeat it. We're all falling and laughing now.

Finally we join the others, and head back to find the cause of the hurry - which is a picnic for 35 people!! And when the French picnic, it's in style: hot onion soup, wild boar pate, innumerable cheeses, salads, filter coffee and liqueurs....

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1 February 07 - Training in France continues

Another day dawns under this Provencal sun - the sky vivid azure, two planes from Nice in the distance, their contrails like little comets. As a break from all the climbing, I have a long 'sentier en balcon' or walk along a contour line in mind, through a string of hamlets overlooking the lake.

I'm taking mainly minor trails to sharpen up my navigation and map reading, which leads to some bushwhacking when the map shows a path that is no longer there. An incongruous sight is an elderly boat perched some 700m above the lake, named 'Little Fantasy'.

Having checked the way with a farmer, my route lies through his yard, where the succession of smells is like a three course meal: firstly a group of cattle steaming pungently, then past bales of hay in a hangar exuding their sweet smell, and finally a waft of nuts from a shed of split chestnut logs! 26 miles/1200m

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30 January 07 - Question: What's a flounder?

Apart from a flatfish, it's me in knee-deep snow without snowshoes (doh!). Not to be confused with a flummox, which is me when the snow gets deeper.

Had a brilliant day walking up to Les Orres and back in glorious sunshine, the whole day spent in shirtsleeves. Walked through several hamlets; always fun to spot all the wildlife: geese, turkeys, and innumerable chickens.

Surprised to see a red old style Mini barrelling through a village. Shortly after came another (yes, blue!). Thinking we were into a remake of the 'Italian Job', I waited for a white Mini, but next came an old Porsche, with a spare wheel tied to the roof! Had a chat with a local, who had sensibly stopped cutting his hedge on a blind corner, and this is the tenth run of the historic Monte Carlo Rally. It seems this comes past Embrun every year ... why am I not surprised? Something always seems to be happening near this busy little town.

The snow lay thick higher and I had a 4 hour plod to Les Orres and back, ample time to regret my snowshoes ... my self-appointed companion in this enterprise was a friendly farm dog who took delight in bounding through the snow, in places swimming through powder when her feet failed to touch bottom!

On a fitness note, my legs are just fine this evening: courtesy of lots of strength training, however my cardiovascular system doesn't know what's hit it, as my training of late has been limited to high intensity, short duration bouts. 1000m ascent, 7.5 hours

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28 January 07 - Training in France now underway.

Ventured out today for a little walk in the woods, and kept stopping to marvel at the beauty of the place. Time to drink in the frozen features of a waterfall, and sitting beneath the tall, strong pine trees, snowmelt plopping from the branches at intervals, I seemed to lose all awareness of self.

Later on a solitary thrush, I think, in the very top of a tree, pouring out his liquid lament. I don't think I've ever felt so fully of and part of the world.

Alerted by what sounded like a raven, I held still, and was rewarded by one flying past some 30m away, croaking away companionably, his heavy bill and cuneiform tail clearly visible. A lucky sighting, as in Summer, they are usually found at 2500m+.

On the outskirts of the town, I stopped for a chat with a French man, who was ironing his clothes outside on the terrace. I asked if this was to impress the neighbours, and he laughed and said that he felt like enjoying the view so brought his ironing board outside!

Walked further than intended today - the mountain seemed to be calling me on, and I covered 800m of ascent. Brilliant clear skies all day, and I now have the beginnings of a suntan!

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26 January 07 - Greetings from Embrun - got here at last!

Embrun is in the French Southern Alps, some 25 miles from Italy, and 75 miles from the Mediterranean as the crow flies. We're about three quarters of the way from Lake Geneva to the Med.

The trip down was demanding. With a car full of gear, snow everywhere, and more forecast, I took a longer route to avoid the worst of the weather. Looks like the Gossamer Gear nightlight sleeping pads will be good in snow, as I slept in the car at -9C and was comfortable lying on them, with my big RAB Ladakh winter bag as a duvet.

With just 8 weeks before setting off, I've come here to train hard. There's a 1760m climb from my door to Mont Guillaume, with other mountains of similar scale just a short distance away. Snow is lying thinner than usual; in the shade, it's skiable from 1600m, but with daytime temperatures above freezing, plenty is thawing.

However right now, I just want to sleep: my last three days at work were standing at an Exhibition, which strangely is much more tiring than walking all day.

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