Via Ferrata De Curalla, Passy, not for the faint hearted

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Having watched YouTube videos the night before it seemed like a good idea.

Also the single photo I saw of it from the lad’s trip earlier in the year looked spectacular. And the enthusiasm of a teenage daughter made it seem accessible.

The guidebook states that it is Europe’s best and most beautiful one. Supposedly it is the only via ferrata opposite Mont-Blanc. Total length is 400 meters, difficulty AD+ and you can make it in 1 1/2 hours. It also happens to be the closest to Chamonix town, bar the Mer Des Glace, and a few ladders dotted around the valley. 

The viaferrata was graded as AD+ which means just two grades harder then the easiest viaferrata in the grading system. It took me about 20mins longer than the estimated 90mins though, as I had an attack of the nerves a good few times. So I’m not convinced how accurate the grading system is. Saying that we were over taken once by those more competent than I. So maybe I’m not completely cut out for this kind of thing ( it’s the look of deep concentration on my face that gives it away!)?

It’s definitely a popular spot with plenty of parking and the opportunity to buy a drink and hire equipment or a guide if necessary. The walk up to the start is around 15mins and the descent from the end about 25mins.  It’s on the Plateau d’Assy, about a 20 mins drive down the valley.

Although I might be putting myself in the faint hearted category, my daughter went back and did it again later in the week. 


Via ferratas in spring: scarey views

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You have to look hard, but you can see a few small people climbing up the metal ladders. Great views in the mountains today!

Ice climbing action in Argentiere

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Up in good time for ice action.   A quick walk (20 minutes) from the Argentiere skiing car park is the cremerie ice. Go past the heli pad and carry straight on and you’ll see the ice on your right. There are 3-4 ice patches with grades from WI 2-5   and the first one that you come to is the easiest. Ideally you need twin 50m ropes but can be done with shorter or a 60m single (as some of the belays are 30m). There are good belays either by bolts (already fixed) or trees.  Climb up it and enjoy, you can even do it at night to avoid the crowds!  I recommend it as the local guides use it.   It’s good and reliable if it’s been at least minus 10 oC for a week.

You can even come down for dinner and ski the Grande Montets in the afternoon…

Thank you James Miller for the guest blog 🙂

GPX file of Mont Blanc mountaineering, you saw it here first

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Given that everyone seems to have gadgets these days, and particularly people with a disposition for extreme sports, there aren’t many electronic bread crumbs left up the big mountain.

Duncan is an avid CV tracker and regularly times his cycle route to work etc., so of course had to record progress up Mont Blanc. It’s quite amusing reading for someone so fit. – It took 11.34 hours to go 8.61KM, with an average moving speed of 4.3km. It almost reads as ‘don’t give up the day job boys’, but when you spot that 2,217m were climbed up and down in that period you can understand why perhaps.

Look, they started off well, but the terrain obviously started taking it’s toll.

As you can see, heart rate increased as the gradient rose.  The pace got so slow at times that the garmin didn’t even register movement, hence the short recorded time and long elapse time, as I’m sure it wasn’t a great place to sit down and have a long picnic really.

Looking at the contours it say it all really.

They conquered the first part of the journey more quickly, bagging  7.53 km in 2.37 hrs gaining 1,786 metres. Check out the garmin link for the other stats.

So out of the 10 Mont Blanc GPX files available on the Garmin Connect site, 2 are from this very own Wilmington Possy.  Not bad out of the millions of GPX files on the site. Well done boys!

Interpid mountaineers thanks for reading this, …….

The pen that mounted Mont Blanc

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They made it! Whe, hey. And so did a pen they found in the back of Duncan’s ruck sac. Ok, so maybe it doesn’t have the exclusive brand name of Montblanc, but neither does it have a price tag of hundreds. However, unlike its name sake, it’s actually been there (8.40am French time,Tuesday 8th June 2010) so surely it warrants being a mont blanc pen of sorts?

Watch out for the wind noise.

That’s not what Mr ebay thought when it was put up for a charity auction though:-(

It had managed to raise another £26 for the Prostate Charity and ebay pulled it, the miserable gits. Now we’ve got to start all over again!

The boys are up to £517.19 so far and it would be great to reach the £1,000. So lets hope the pen can generate some interest again!

Drugs and performance pants in preperation for THE mountain

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Well it’s been quite a week, plenty of bloke type planning and they are well underway on their adventure.  This trip is a bit like planning for Christmas – the date is predictable, but the shopping still goes on till late into Christmas Eve.

Having seen the kits list it seemed to spur on a flurry of ebay bidding and all sorts of packages (or missed delivery letters at least) popped through our door.  Not one to slum it my husband, silk sleeping bag liners came in one package, carabiners in another, 30metre ropes in a third. Talk about women enjoying shopping, none of that lot was on the list, but nevermind.

Some other interesting things arrived too.  Drugs. Lots of them.  Enough for everyone apparently. Aha.  So internet doctors don’t only prescribe viagra, but also altitude sickness pills.  After much uming and ahhing it was decided to get enough for everyone, just incase they managed to get that far and the height beat them.  Fitness has little to do with how your body reacts to being up in the skies.

And a packet of pants.  Performance pants apparently.  It’s best that your crown jewels rest at an optium temperature it seems.  No good being too hot or too chilly, who knows what that would lead to.  I’m not sure what articles he’s been reading, but it’s obviously the details that count.  They’re called Dry Flo by Lowe Alpine. Nice.


And here they are in the flesh, so as to speak.



So as one package still languishes in Charlton’s Parcel Force depot I hear that the rest of the packages are currently being put to good use and no doubt keeping the crown jewels comfy.

Refuges. Home from home, or just about beats camping?

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As part of both the training and The ascent itself the boys will be staying in huts half way up a mountain. A nice comfy flat in the town to stay in, but no a hut is prefered.  Something about being more in touch with nature and a long way to get back up again in the morning.

In October last year they had a jaunt up to Le Requin Refuge, 2516m up over looking the Mer de Glace. At that time of year it was unmanned so they weren’t treated to the little luxuries of electricity or heating. But they kept themselves occupied by playing cards under the the light of their head torches and drinking a box of red wine.  Nice.  Mind you, they possibly didn’t miss out on much as it seems the hosts of 12 years have recently left the establishment under controversial circumstances.

It didn’t seem to dampen their spirits though, as the views were great at breakfast time apparently.

This time they’ll be do their altitude training at Les Cosmiques, 3,613m up, not too far from Aiguille du Midi.  From what I gather that activity is just a mater of hanging about high up a mountain, playing football, chewing gum, etc. to see if you get sick with the altitude.  I’m sure if they have wifi up there they might even be able to count it as a working day. They are in luck though as Les Cosmiques has gone gastro.  Mickey Bourdillat the head chef at Le Bistrot, the Chamonix Michelin stared restaurant has been giving cooking classes up there recently. Yum!

And if you look very carefully you might be able to see the Cosmiques hut on this photo of the Arrete des Cosmiques.

Assuming they can cope with the altitude, back down they come and the proper walk begins.  Their next refuge will be at a similar height, 3,167m, Tete-Rousee, which is popular on this trail.  Only around another 1,700m ascent from there. Easy, yes???

So what else might you expect of a refuge? They say some great stuff about them which makes them sound oh so delightful, just the sort of thing you look for on holiday….

Gîtes d’étape, gîtes d’étape et de séjour (stopover or short-stay lodgings)
This type of accommodation is found in lowland and middle-range mountain areas. They offer small dormitories and rooms, blankets provided, which are improving all the time. Previously, these stopover places provided a small kitchen area which nowadays is often lacking. Absence of cooking facilities is mentioned. When no restriction is specified, you can cater for yourself. With or without self-catering, half-board is often possible on request (sign repas).

The lads were in two minds as to whether or not to take sleeping bag liners .  After reading that I think I’d take one, just to be on the safe side as you just don’t know how much things have ‘improved‘:-)

The Mont-Blanc kit list, no South Butt stuff included

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Not a South Butt in sight.  Definitely all bona-fide North Face type chaps, these Wilmington Mountaineers.

With fitness preparations well underway, time to start thinking about the kind of things they’ll need to take with them.  I’m not sure who’s got what so far, but fortunately there are shopping lists available.  So this is what they need, some bits more obvious than others, so I hope you don’t mind my interpretation.

Your every day stuff…
  • Rucksack
(to carry the huge number of things you need to take with you)
  • Waterproof Jacket
(because ice originally started off as water)
  • Waterproof Trousers
(because it would be a shame to have a wet bum)
  • Gloves: 1 thick pair, 1 thin pair
(no point in getting frost bite)
  • Extra Mid Weight Layer
  • Thin Thermal Top
  • Trekking Trousers
(presumably not of the pony trekking variety)
  • Thermal Leggings
(who said the recent fashion trend passed blokes by?:-))
  • Socks: 3 pairs liner socks, 3 pairs mid weight trekking socks
(personally I can’t believe they’ll be bothered to change their socks while away from home, so1 pair is enough surely?)
  • Sun Hat
(got to hedge your bets with both types I suppose)
  • Gaiters
(the calf protection sort, not reptilian)
  • Sun Glasses
  • Water Bottle
The bits that remind you it’s going to be cold, as the temperature loses 1c every 100m ascended
  • Neck Warmer/Balaclava
  • Fleece
  • Ski Goggles
  • Warm Hat
(well, yes)
The specialist stuff
  • Ice Axe
(boys and their toys, hey)
  • Helmet
(in case the chap above you dislodges some scree)
  • Mountaineering Boots
(stiff soled boots, many of the older versions being in comfortable plastic in some super garish colours)
  • Crampons
(to fix onto your plastic boots to act as spikes to dig you into the ice.  Apparently you need to walk like a robot when you are wearing them.)
  • Harness
(for attaching the rope between you and your companions)
  • Head Torch
(for some illuminating early morning ascents)
  • Walking Poles
(not just for the old and infirm)
And the niceties not to forget ….
  • Sun cream
(to make you feel as though you’re on holiday)
  • Lipsalve
(well there’s no point coming back too weather beaten)
  • First Aid/Blisters Compeed, tape
(for the nasty things)
  • Painkillers
  • Sleeping Bag Liner
(oh, so they do get some rest then)
  • Duvet aka body warmer
(now this one did stand out as rather odd, because duvets aren’t known for their ability to pack up small.  It turns out they are referring to puffer body warmers.  Aha)
  • Ear Plugs
(is that to block out the snoring of friends or the howling winds?)
  • MP3 Player
(well if the ear plugs don’t cover the snoring you’ve always got your tunes)
  • Camera
(I know it won’t be taken by my husband but hopefully one of the others will remember it)
  • Change of Clothing
(ah, so that’s why North Face sells these fancy ‘base camp’ bags
  • Insurance
(Ok, I was fine up until the point I read this bit.  Daren’t ask exactly what might need to be covered, but a sensible thing to take out nevertheless!)

Thank you Mt Blanc Guides for this useful insight and I’m sure they’ll enjoy their shopping.

The link between Mont Blanc and Prostate Cancer

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It all started as a beery conversation in the pub Christmas 2008.  “Lets do the three peaks in 24 hours.”

Having been there, conquered that, a new challenge needed to be devised. “Well Mont Blanc can’t be that difficult can it?  It may be the tallest mountain in Europe, but with a little training we can manage it.” And so they were off.

With a team substitution of Alex for Jose, the training began. Many a weekend has since been spent running in the mud or walking in the snow, as you saw in January.

Now with just over a month to go, it seems awfully real.  In true unorganised bloke style they’ve suddenly realised that ferries need to be booked and exact dates agreed.  Any excuse for another trip to the pub for ‘a meeting’ I think 🙂

Thankfully the guide Seb Montez of Chamonix Guiding has been reserved, and one of charities decided on, Prostrate Cancer.

Seb was chosen because the training trip in Chamonix went really well last June.  There was plenty of crevasse rescue training, walking on the Mer de Glace etc.

While prostate cancer was chosen for equally instinctive reasons, as its an illness close to home.  Duncan’s Dad was diagnosed with it early in 2009, but thankfully after two sets of treatment he’s got the all clear now.  One of the team members also had a close scare, but the less said about cough and drop the better. (I’ll spare you the photos on that :-)).

Anyway, Duncan’s Just Giving page is linked to the picture below. Please consider contributing to make this little jaunt of more benefit than just a lads week away.  It would also be great to see that 0% disappear, thanks!

Oh yes, so being near Mont Blanc doesn’t actually cause prostate cancer, the link is that the ascent will be raising money for research into curing it 🙂

“Honey, I’ve learnt how to build a snow grave.” Should I be worried?

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Maybe it was because he’d just come back from donating blood that made him consider his mortality, but building a snow grave, what’s that all about?

Googling ‘build a snow grave’ is not necessarily the most helpful either.  There seems to be snow falling over the desecrated grave of some chap who’s ‘lived by the knife and died by the knife’, snow grave novels, making snow angels in a grave yard, Grave digger videos and so on.  None of them particularly reassuring, particularly given their associations with death.

Thankfully, the BBC came the rescue with their h2g2 web page.  Fortunately ‘snow shelters’, as they are more affectionately known, are just a mear substitute for a night on the piste without your tent. Or are they?As you read on they go onto say ‘the snow grave is strictly for emergency only.’ Ah, so back to the death association then.

I then found his ‘Winter Skills, Essential Walking and Climbing Techniques’ book by Andy Cunningham and Allen Fyffe.  Page 223 was creased.  I must admit I briefly scanned it and wondered why you’d want to put yourself in that situation, but at the end of the day it’s better to know that stuff, than not, if being an aspiring mountaineer is your thing.

So I’m glad he’s learnt about it, but I’m hoping he’s not going to come back with photos of one too soon.