Monday, August 31, 2015

Day One - Novel to La Chapelle d'Abondance - Cowbells and Ice Cream

The weather was excellent as we set off after a leisurely breakfast - a big blue sky but still cool for our first climb. The path initially climbed up beside the road, cutting the switchbacks, but then left the road and then the trees behind. We reached our first col (Col de Bise) after a couple of hours and started tucking into our excellent picnic lunch (including a boiled egg and dried fruit) before saying goodbye to Lake Geneva. The cheese from the Abondance valley is famous and, as we headed down the other side of the col, we soon encountered the cows that provide the milk. Presumably, there's a relationship between side of udders and the amount of milk provided...

Pleasant descent, with the second climb ahead over the col
After the initial steep descent, thing became very pleasant - walking gently downhill on grass, surrounded by contented cows with huge bells. We reached the Chalets de Bise and stopped there for some home made ice-cream (made from the milk the cows provide) - very refreshing. But then we had the second col of the day (Pas de la Bosse) in the heat of the day - a bit more like hard work, though it was fairly short. Then a long descent to Chapelle - with views of the Abondance valley - and our gite (Le Feto). There was noticeably less enthusiasm for raclette (basically potatoes, cheese and ham) after we had eaten the same sort of 'regional specialty' the previous evening!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Prologue - St Gingolph to Novel

I flew from Nice to Geneva this morning and in doing so was able to preview most of our hike - it looks relatively flat from the air! But just over an hour's flying will translate into about a month's hiking! I landed in Geneva and met up with the other three hikers - Rahul (an ex-colleague), Rohan (son of Rahul) and Jill (daughter of another ex-colleague). Onto the train for a scenic ride round Lake Geneva and to the start of the hike at St Gingolph, just on the French / Swiss border.   

The Tour de France normally starts with the prologue - a very short stage to get things going, and we had decided on a similar approach. The 'obvious' first day would have been a long one and that seemed a daunting way to start the hike. We decided to walk a couple of hours in the cool of the evening to shorten that first day. So after the obligatory photograph of intrepid hikers, we strolled uphill to the Gite le Clozet in Novel. We checked in and had a nice meal and then settled down to our first night on the hike.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

La Grande Traversee des Alpes

The Lac Vert, in Switzerland
I've been on a long distance hike from Lake Geneva down to the Med for the last 30 days or so. It followed the French alps (following mainly the GR5 and finishing with the GR52) and - of course - involved plenty of climbing and descending. 

If you are interested you can see the hike as a pictorial account here.  Or you can follow the hike as a set of daily posts. There are also some posts covering planning (the gear carried and the route followed).

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Le Parcours

No pics on the flight, but our glider is 4th in line!
Today was a very nice sailplane XC day. I had a new instructor for the day, Guillaume, and he was very laid back and let me do almost all the flying. We towed up to 1300 m (about 500 m above the ground, some 200 m higher that usual - I like to stack the odds in my favor...) and released into a thermal that took us straight up to 3200 m. In a sailplane that sort of altitude opens up a lot of terrain and we headed to the Pic de Morgon, just N of the Dormillouse, topping up in a couple of thermals on the way.

At that point Guillaume asked if I'd done 'le Parcours'. I didn't even know what it was so he explained that it's a classic sailplane flight, running S along ridges from the Lac de Serre Poncon to the Lac de Sainte-Croix (the start follows the PG route from the Dormillouse to St Andre). I didn't hesitate, so off we went... 

At Guillaume's suggestion, I turned the vario sound off to help develop a better feel for the aircraft. We headed south, starting at about 2500 m and dolphin flying in ridge lift and some thermals, pretty much maintaining altitude. As we got into the bigger mountains, we effectively fell below ridge height; I suggested turning in a thermal but Guillaume said it wasn't necessary. Further south, the mountains got lower but there were enough promising clouds to almost compensate for the lack of ridge lift. At the end of le Parcours, after 80 km without turning, I was down to near 2000 m and built a bit more altitude in a thermal (with the vario sound back on) before the leg back to St Auban.

A very nice triangle of about 170 km and easily my most satisfying sailplane flight yet! Even better, different instructors teach you new and different things - so Guillaume gave me a bunch of new insights and things to work on.