Snowshoes

International Mountain Leader

Assessor Helen Barnard and my fellow candidates. 

Assessor Helen Barnard and my fellow candidates. 

Lucy: The exciting news here for us in the French Alps is that I have passed my International Mountain Leader Award!  Its been a time consuming and often challenging process, that has taken me just under two years to complete, with two 5 day training courses and two assessments as well as a speed navigation test and months of personal consolidation.  Preparation for my final assessment was one of the ulterior motives in our relocation to France this winter. 

A break in the clouds on Mont Chery. 

A break in the clouds on Mont Chery. 

My last assessment began in Morzine a week ago, and I joined 15 other candidates and four super professional Plas Y Brenin assessors for five days of navigation, digging in the snow, avalanche transceiver searches and nature appreciation. The assessors kept us busy, scrutinised our skills, and gave us plentiful opportunities to demonstrate our knowledge. Thank you PYB instructing staff: Helen Barnard, Mark Tennent, Helen Teasdale and Rob Spencer. 

Whilst much of the IML award involves taking the skills that I've developed as a working mountain leader and applying them in an international setting, I've also learned absolutely loads. Emergency summer rope-work at this level can be more complex, and there is an expectation that IMLs will be slick and safe in dynamic situations. My understanding of the alpine snowpack and avalanche avoidance has increased exponentially (this is a subject where there is always room for more learning), and I've deepened my understanding of the flora and fauna of Europe. The best thing is that I've also had some awesome adventures on the way. The key for me I think was having a supportive community of fellow candidates to train and practice with over the last year or so, and ample preparation time to build up my experience whilst out here in France. Huge thanks to everyone who has joined me on the journey.  

Sub optimal conditions above the Col d'Encrenaz. 

Sub optimal conditions above the Col d'Encrenaz. 

Looking ahead, I'm excited to be going home to Scotland next week and returning to the mountains that I love the most on Arran. Nature is best for me when it's on my own patch, with birds, mammals and plants that feel like old friends.  However, I'm also blessed that this new qualification is going to bring me lots of thrilling work in Europe and the next few months are looking busy. I'm raring to go! 

Extreme Weather

Great views from the Montagne de Gresse on Saturday. 

Great views from the Montagne de Gresse on Saturday. 

Happy New Year! 2018 has been a bumpy ride out here in South East France with lots of extreme weather, heavy snow fall and Storm Eleanor, who brought avalanches, rock fall, landslides and flooding to the region, including all of the above to our valley. Being from Arran, we are used to wild conditions, but recent days have surprised everyone, including the locals. The avalanche hazard in the high mountains is still at Level 3 in the valley, and it is even higher further east. Sometimes a cafe or admin day is the best option. 

Nevertheless, we've enjoyed some excellent adventures in between the storms, and when Eleanor was at her peak, we headed south and west to Provence for a couple of days respite, cycling in the sun. I was also grateful to grab a solo day sunshine on Saturday, snowshoeing near Gresse en Vercors. 

This week my friend and colleague Cat from Reach the Peak has joined me as a partner in snowshoeing crime.  Today we were in the Vercors massif, enjoying firm snow, and watching rain fall on all the peaks around us apart from our own- St Michel, which seemed to resist the rain until we were well on our way back to Bourg. The Vercors has been a brilliant place to retreat to while the higher areas have such difficult conditions, but the snow pack is melting there, and becoming increasingly patchy.  If only we could coax some of the snow falling in the east a bit further down hill? 

Ascending Pic Sant Michel via the Col de l'Arc. 

Ascending Pic Sant Michel via the Col de l'Arc. 

A White Christmas!

Lucy: We've heard a rumour that has travelled all the way from Scotland to le Bourg d'Oisans... Apprently there has been a White Christmas in some parts of the country... We hope that many of you have been able to get out and enjoy the snow, as we have over here. Today sadly,  it is mild and raining so we are hiding at home.  Above the house they are blasting loose rock to clear a road that was blocked in the last big storm. Tomorrow another epic snowfall is forecast.

Sornin.png

I've been absolutely blessed with a fantastic welcome and a great new snowshoing companion. Kirsten and I made the most of the interim good weather over the weekend in the run up to Christmas. On Saturday I was a guest of the Grenoble-Oisans sector of the Club Alpin FranΓ§ais on one of their regular saturday meets.  This active club enjoy a lot of Snowshoeing and Kirsten is a regular particpant. On this occasion we met on the outkirts of Grenoble and headed in convoy up to Engins, in the Vercors Massif, for a snow shoe hike up to the plateau above Sornin.

As we set off the mist hung thick in the valley and it was a dark and depressive atmosphere in the forest.  It's quite a pull up to Sornin but once above the hamlet the mist began to disperse above us, and it wasn't long before we popped out of a cloud inversion in to brilliant blue skies. We paused at a chalet to "casse le croute" and also for some transceiver/probe/shovel practice, with the wise Francis patiently coaching us all on our technique. After lunch we continued in a circuit through the woodland on the plateau before eventually descending in to the mist once more. For me, this was an excellent experience- once more I was made to feel very welcome, and I enjoyed practicing my dodgy french on the group. It was also very interesting to see "how the locals do it", and I am grateful to Francis for sharing his knowledge and experience.

Pregentil.png

The following day Kirsten and I were a little tired! However, we managed to muster up some energy and Kirsten skillfully drove us up the steep snowy road to Villard Reymond from where we could easily access the small but steep little summit of Le Pregentil, that looms above the valley where we live. It was late afternoon, the sun was beaming at us from across the mountains, and we lingered for a long time on the summit taking it all in.

Yesterday of course was the big day, and we decided to spend the daylight hours outside, knowing that it would be the last good day for a while. Wally and Lee joined us for an ascent of La Quarlie, a 2322m summit above the village of Besse with incredible views of Le Meije. The sun beamed down on us and at times it was so hot we felt we were snowshoeing in the Caribbean not the Alps in December. The Quarlie itself is a big rounded lump, dare I say it a slog, nevertheless dwarfed by everything else around it. Again, we lingered on the summit, and the sun was setting as we raced back down to Besse so as not to miss our Christmas Dinner.

La Quarlie.png

The coming week looks a bit mixed for us out here, with bands of rain and snow coming through and topping up the mountains with their winter garb. We hope that all our friends and clients have had an enjoyable Christmas, with lots of time to spend with family, including some time outside having fun. In the closing days of 2017 we are reflecting on a busy year for us, and to looking ahead to perhaps our busiest yet to come. We would like to thank our customers for choosing to book their outdoor adventures with us and to wish them all the very best in this festive season.

Hitting the Ground Snowshoeing...

Wally and Mikaela amongst the snow ghosts on Le Moucherotte.

Wally and Mikaela amongst the snow ghosts on Le Moucherotte.

Lucy: Its exactly a week since I joined Wally in Le Bourg d'Oisans, where we are spending the winter season. Life is a bit different here to the one I'm used to back home on Arran. It's bitterly cold outside, (rather than damp), and everything is covered in snow. Everything! Great early season conditions here in the Alps mean that the mountains are in excellent condition for snowshoeing, yet at the same time, the avalanche hazard is considerable or higher.

My job this winter is to build up my experience and fill my logbook as I work my way along the IML qualification pathway. I've hit the ground snowshoeing, literally, and already enjoyed some quality days in the mountains. Here are a few pics from the week which I hope you enjoy.

Mikaela in the forest at Chamrousse.

Mikaela in the forest at Chamrousse.

On Monday, Wally and I met with Mikaela Toczek, who is based near Grenoble and on a similar mission to me. We headed in to the Vercors Massif, with snow falling all around us, and bagged Le Moucherotte, a small summit overlooking Grenoble. Conditions felt distinctly Scottish, with a cold breeze and rime ice all over everything.

Roosting "igloo", probably for Black Grouse.

Roosting "igloo", probably for Black Grouse.

On Wednesday, the avalanche hazard went through the roof, with a cold northerly wind shifting the powdery snow around, so Mikaela and I headed to the forest behind the ski area at Chamrousse. There were lots of signs of nature around for us to enjoy without sticking our necks out to much. We enjoyed discovering fox tracks, mountain hare, and the roosting burrows of black grouse amongst the trees. 

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, a time that back home on Arran,  is invariably dark and damp. My normal response is to enjoy cups of tea and cake by the fire, but yesterday I joined my new snowshoe buddy Kirsten for an exploration of the plateau and ridges above Les Signaruax. We were treated to a magical display of winter light as we emerged through a cloud inversion and in to the sunshine.  I can safely say that this is the first time that I have been sunburned on the winter soltice!

Kirsten on the plateau above Les Signaraux.

Kirsten on the plateau above Les Signaraux.

Sunblock and Snowshoes!

Storm Doris brought snow, and Storm Ewan washed it away again. Happily, on Ewan's departure a colder airflow was sucked across the UK and we woke up to snow at valley level once more. What's more, the sun was shining.  With no work in the diary, and a good forecast, it was time to take a personal day on the hill. We decided to play local, left the car behind, and jumped on our mountain bikes to head up through the Loy Woods towards Stob A'Ghriainain, a Corbett with a ringside view of Ben Nevis.

Once on the ridge, the snow was deep and fluffy. Lucy got her snowshoes out and the vibe was distincly Alpine.

Snowshoes in Scotland

Lucy writes: Jen and I headed up in to the Monadhliath yesterday for a day of navigation and running around in the snow. It was meant to be an easy day, but Geal Charn is a fair slog up, and with the bad vis and full on micro nav it felt like a proper Scottish day out.  I was delighted that there was enough good snow for me to spend most of the day in snowshoes. Poor Jen had to wade bare booted for much for the day. Nails!

IML Winter Training

Snowpack analysis

Lucy writes: I'm just back from a magical week in the French Alps on an International Mountain Leader award winter training course based in Le Grand Bornand with Plas Y Brenin. During the week we encountered varied snow conditions, from hard old snow to epic amounts of fresh that fell towards the end of the week. We covered all aspects of safe travel, including avalanche and snowpack awareness, terrain, weather and route choice. There was lots of learning anf fun adventures on Snowshoes around our base at Le Grand Bornand. After the course finished I spent a couple of days with some of the others from the course exploring on snowshoes and putting our new skills in to practice.

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Montjolyfromleprarion