Walks & GPX

Could this be a Geocachers new obsession?

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I’ve just got home after my usual Saturday morning run with the dog. Nothing remarkable in that, admittedly. Unlike many regular runners though I’ve resisted the temptation to record my speed, metres climbed, course records, kudos points etc. Until today. 
My new found way of recording running achievements is slightly different to the norm though. It’s Pokémon Go. It actually added 20mins to my normal run but the dog didn’t seem to mind. Those extra 20mins enabled me to find all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures.

I just love the way it puts the beasts on the right background. 

So on my first run out I managed to achieve level 3, which I didn’t think was bad for a non gamer. But I lost loads of balls on this batty thing. Clearly a trick to doing him!

I don’t think I’ll be playing every time I run, but it certainly appeals to the part of me that enjoyed Geocaching. Running around new places to find little surprises.

This of course works nicely in the Chamonix valley with all its foot paths. I’m not sure if it’s in France yet but I know the US ski resorts have had playing it. So I’ll keep my eye open.


An introduction to trail running in the Chamonix Valley

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With continued success of one of the worlds toughest Ultra Trails (UTMB), its only a matter of time that some smart cooky made more of the local terrain beyond that one week of the year and mapped routes of varying degrees of difficulty for those who want to give trail running ago.  Ok, it’s not necessary to follow a specific route just to go for a run in the hills but for those new to the area it can be reassuring to check out the amount of potential positive elevation involved, or whether a transport back to the beginning will be needed at the end (i.e. its not a circular trail) should you not be able to finish at a location that links to the free transport system in the valley.

So the Vallee du Trail was born the year before last year.  It has a range of paths graded for difficulty with GPX files, PDFs of the map and key point and links to more topographical views for the details.  Start points range form Servoz in the south of the valley to Argentiere towards the top.

Here is a flavour of some of the views you might experience.

However, as we have a dog it’s not possible to run through the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve, located between Argentiere and Vallorcine, so here is our take on 10 mile circular trail run.

And if you really get the bug, here are the kind of organized running events that go on in the valley over the year, with the the TAR being 27th Sept this year.

Up La Jonction: family walks

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Not always do you want to be walking for the whole day, but a short jaunt out to stretch your legs is appreciated. Sometimes the walk might only be to exercise the dog.  On this particular occasion we fancied a dog walk close to the flat but trying somewhere other than our usual round trip to Cascade du Dard.

So Chalet du Glacier du Boossons it was. Les Bossons village itself is a few KM down the valley from Chamonix town.

Sign at the parking spot at the bottom on the Bosson chair lift
Tremplin de Mont

As you can see, from the car park at the base of the Bossons lift (in the hamlet Le Mont) the walk is only around an hour. The cafe is just a 5 mins walk from the top of the chair lift too, but that would only be cheating of course …

As with most walks in the valley the path is well marked and generally steep.  Great for wearing the dog out if members of the party walk at different paces. Lots of rosy cheeks created by the 1,400m ascent.

The cafe, nestled at the side of the world’s longest altitude drop glacier, (basically it starts at the top of Mont Blanc and stops around 200 metres above Chamonix), has the usual pleasant mountain snacks and drinks and spectacular views.  It also has one other interesting addition: an outdoor museum of Air India memorabilia.

An Air India aircraft crashed down on November 3 1950, close to the summit of Mont Blanc. The crash killed all 48 people on board. As a result, every so often the glacier releases part of the plane or belongings of it’s passengers.  Photographs of these and details related to the event are displayed on boards along the walk between the chalet and the best view of the glacier at that height.

Chalet du glaciers des bossons

Our walk was the easiest, but there are also more challenging walks as you continue up the mountain. The chalet is the starting point for hiking to the cottage of the Pyramids, this hike is suited to intermediate hikers giving you a view of the entire glacier, the crevasses and ice pyramids. That part of the walk takes approximately 2h30mins, for which you can again be rewarded with refreshments.

From there, is the start of the famous hike to the famous Jonction, for more experienced hikers, which leads you to the gates of the mountain, to 2,589m. The hike to the Jonction from the restaurant The Chalet du Glacier takes approximately 4hrs

The Jonction is the last rocky outcrop before the kingdom of ice, allowing magnificent views of the glaciers of Bossons and Taconnaz. This route was taken by Dr. Paccard J.Balmat and during the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. – our guys did the Goûter route though, so it doesn’t feature much in their write up.  I think I’ll have to leave that walk for another time.

If you’d like more ideas for short family walks, have a look at this, or even this in Servoz.

Or if you fancy something a little longer, check out the Goldhawk project.


The Goldhawk project’s answer to happiness = walks in Chamonix

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The Goldhawk project’s answer to happiness = walks in Chamonix

Although this might seem like a bit of a cheat, I’d like to share with you some of the experiences some of our guests had while staying in our apartment during the early summer.

This couple’s goal in life is to find good and beautiful things, share them and spread the happiness. They are real people and they have some great advice and observations on walking in the valley, as not everyone is a super elite athlete. Rather helpfully their post also contains distances and estimated times, ranging between 2 to 7 hours. Pretty picture too 🙂

The walks they covered were:

  • – Plan Lachat
  • – Petite Balcon Sud
  • – Les Praz to Lac Blanc
  • – La Flegere to La Floria
  • – Chamonix to Glacier des Bossons

A pretty busy week by all accounts!

Thanks Gregor and Ruth!

And here are a couple more ideas for short family walks and and outside museum incorporated into a short walk.

In search of cafes; short family hikes

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Not always do our kids share our enthusiasm for walking, so incentives ‘to get there’ are often required.  In most cases this takes the form of food or drink. Given that Chamonix is a glacial valley its sides are steep so a cafe or buvette at a key view point can be a welcome break.  Here are some of our favourites. We’ve not been specific on directions as the paths are pretty well sign posted (as you might be able to see on the photo below) with estimates of length in minutes which seem to be family pace.

Cascade du Dard (1,233m).

This is probably one of the easiest short walks that can handily be combined with a walk up to Chalet du Cerro .

Cascade du Dard has views of the 20m high waterfall and Aiguilles Rouges.  It takes about 20 mins to get there if you park in the car park at the last bend on the road to Mont Blanc, or 40 mins if you walk directly from Barrats A.

Chalet du Cerro (1,358m)

This is a further 40 mins on from Cascade du Dard.  Just behind it is the viewing platform for the Bossons Glacier, the longest in the valley, if not in Europe I think.  Alternately you can park next to the Mont Blanc tunnel and ascend for 20 mins or walk from 45mins from Songenaz in Les Bossons.

La Floria (1,137m)

This is worth the effort if only to appreciate the beautiful flowers.  These frame the fantastic views of Mont Blanc on the opposite side of the valley. This is also situated on a public foot path, a little above the Petite Balcon Sud so you can picnic providing you purchase a drink.

The walk takes about an hour from Barrats A or about 45 mins from the Brevent, Les Nants (next to the Tennis courts) or Paradiz des Praz car parks.

Chalet du Chapeau (1,576m)

This is placed within the l’Arveyron canyon, offering a view of the Drus and the Chamonix valley.  It also has a view point 15mins higher up which gives great views of the foot of the Mer de Glace.  The walk takes about 50 mins from La Lavancher or 1hr 15 mins from the village of Les Bois. We cycled from Chamonix via the Bois du Bochet cycle route just to add another dimension to things and locked the bikes up near Les Bois.

Cascade du Berard (1,456m).

This is within the area of Vallorcine at the top of the Chamonix valley. It’s at the beginning of the much longer Col du Buet walk, but a great introduction to this part of the valley.

It’s a gentle 25 mins stroll from the car park in the Buet hamlet.

Short family hikes have the advantage of leaving you half the day free to do things that might be higher on the kids list like, swimming or visiting the lake.  Or alternatively taking advantage of a break in the weather when the skies decide to demonstrate why the local flora & fauna is so lush and green.

And if they don’t fancy walking, here are some other ideas when the weather is good.

(and we’ve added a few more dry ideas and another and this one even has an outside museum)

and when the weather isn’t so good….

Our first cache has been found!

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So excited.  We’re the proud owners of a plastic jar containing christmas cracker tat, hidden half way up a hill in France.  Not only that, but it’s been found within a week of hiding it and then again the week after! Yipee.

The kids were itching to hide their own stash (can’t remember whether I encouraged it or not ;-)) so we thought we’d find a holiday location that meant something to us and led finders to spectacular views.  It didn’t take long to agree that Parc de Merlet in Les Houches would be ideal.  We’ve located it on the Petit Balcon Sud, close to the park, about an hours walk from Chamonix centre.

As you may have seen from our pervious post, this game Geocahing is refife in Chamonix.  It also seems to be growing quickly, particularly with our help 😛  We hope others enjoy finding this cache too.

Tha cache is a Eurohike round grey container of medium size and was placed containing all sorts of wonders such as
note-book, purple gel pen, bubbles, stampers and a bead set.  Should be interesting to see how the contents have changed when we next visit it.  We’ve already been swapped ‘Lingettes rafraîchissantes’ for our ‘Tampons Encreurs’. Hum.

The coordiantes are N 45° 54.588 E 006° 49.333 and you can find more details at the Geocahing site.

Unfortunately it was rather damp when we stashed it so I don’t have photos of the exact view, but the photo below from inside the park itself gives you an idea of what it’s like. There are lovely views of both the Bossons and Toconnaz glaciers and Les Houches in the valley below.

Fortunately it looks as though our first finder was happy and this is what they said:

Premier FTF ! Faut dire qu’on a eu du bol de le chercher seulement une semaine apres qu’il a été posté. L’endroit est super sympa, avec une tres belle vue et on peut ensuite visite le parc animalier, tres agreable en fin d’apres-midi l’été.

We look forward to reading your logs too.

Our new addiction, Geocaching

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Fortunately a GPS device isn’t just for tracking how quick or able you are, it also enters you into a great big treasure hunt game: Geocaching.

It seems it was a concept only developed 10 years ago when the US government ‘removed selective availability’ so you can now swap GPS coordinates of what ever you want.  With sat navs such as Garmins, coordinates of little plastic containers can be downloaded and we can now swap Christmas cracker tat with complete strangers to our hearts content, after a good old forage in the countryside.

More than 4 million people geocache in nearly every country on Earth. Geocachers are families with children, retired individuals and grandparents, hikers, explorers, and outdoors-people.  As we seem to fit into most of the ‘younger’ categories we thought we’d give it ago.

Having registered on the official Geocaching site we thought we’d try locally before hitting it full force on holiday.  We were amazed with how many there were in Kent and bagged 6 on out first day. Registering and joining is free and it has the added benefit of encouraging kids to walk for miles.

Coming to Chamonix we’ve identified 16 within 2 miles of the flat. The hunting has already kept us busy for parts of our first few days, but we’ve learnt lots:

  • Check out the finding clues for each cache before you set out, photos and hints can be invaluable.  In the UK you can google them on a smartphone of course, but this gets rather expensive when overseas…
  • Have a GPX foot path map of the local area if possible, not just road maps, as something that looks close when flying as a crow can be surprisingly far/dangerous if not on proper paths.
  • Don’t get fooled by ‘earthcaches’ unless you are prepared to do all the forfeits and answer daft questions.  We down loaded the coordinates for everything local and wasted quite some time on the way to the Bossons Glacier looking for an earthcache which wasn’t a box in situ but instead expected you to answer questions, take photos and email photos before you could ‘claim it’.  Of course we only realised this when we got home…
  • Don’t forget to take a pen and write a little note in the box just to say thanks.
  • Go armed with plenty of small swappable items like badges, key rings, go go crazy bones, small figurines etc..  We’ve seen/picked up necklaces, packs of playing cards, packs of felt tip pens, marbles etc.
  • Avoid leaving food items that animals might eat the box for.
  • Look out for the trackable geocoins.  This is a proper old fashioned chain letter type of thing and you can see which countries it has travelled and decide where to take it to next.
  • Don’t feel that your pleasant walk/hike has failed because you haven’t found every Tupperware box indicated on the GPX!! 🙂

We’ve had great fun so far and done many a scramble to find a little plastic box which contributes to the little bits at the bottom of the kids ‘toy box.  The views have also been rather spectacular.

Here is a picture of our first French find in Les Gaillands, La belle et la bete.

We’re team name Barratscham so please say hi when you pass us.

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 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 🙂

In preperation for the Mont-Blanc ascent; a walk in Kent

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We’re at the stage when life is supposed to begin, we’ve had a swath of 40th birthday celebrations over recent months.  Duncan wasn’t content to just boogy away though.  He wanted to walk the Yorkshire Three Peaks.  Some kind of family tradition it seems.

Having planned it for months and bought our necessary water proofs and thermals, just after new year, the day came to our window dressed in snow, as Joad put it.  Yes, it looked beautiful, but oh how it prevented our babysitters getting to us.

Kent in the snow

So with various sets of grandparents stranded around the country we were faced with doing something a little more local.  His desire to do a long distance walk was not diminished by the snow however, so the Garmin came out and routeswere planned and up loaded.  They settled on devising a walk near Pembury in Kent and left the women at home.

Having specifically sought hills though, the effect snow would have on the paths and subsequently leg muscles was not really anticipated.  The quick 18 miles took a little longer than anticipated, 5 hours in all.  Maybe it was the fact that the birthday boy was in fancy dress that slowed things down a bit?

Birthday boy walking Pembury in the snow

They made it back in the light though, but at the expense of forgoing a welcome rest in the inviting looking hostelries.   Better planning next time, perhaps?  Fortunately they didn’t need to use his birthday present of a crevasse rescue kit, but the 4×4 came in handy getting to the start.

Petzl Crevasse Rescue Kit

And so the planning continues.  Only 6 months until the Mont-Blanc ascent.   More long distance walks to fit in and even some fell running perhaps.  And don’t forget the shopping – plenty more gadgets and gizmos needed.

So who’d have thought that Pembury in January could act as a suitable substitute for proper mountains, but it did.

Just for those who like the detail, the 18 mile walk took them from Pembury, to Hawkenbury, Frant, Eridge Geen, Groombridge ad the edge of Tunbridge Wells.