Sunday, 14 August 2011


Finally, at long last, we went to do the Dent Parachee today.  But I’m ashamed to say we didn’t make it to the summit due to an attack of nerves on my behalf (which I’m kicking myself for now!)  The title above shouldn’t really be mountain of doom, but mind of doom as I just got to the point again where I really couldn’t be doing with exposure on top of loose and chossy rock.

We weren’t able to get booked into the Dent Parachee refuge which was just as well, as when we went path reccy’ing later that day, the hut looked really full and boisterous.  Instead, we stayed at the La Fournache refuge which was really nice.  Privately owned and smaller than the dent rufuge, but just nicer.  We were in a small room, just 5 of us and I actually slept quite well.  Food was okay, delicious soup for starter, boeuf bourguignon  and polenta for main dish (discovered that plain polenta is the most boring dish EVER!  Then cheese and bread *and* some sort of weird blancmange thing (which was disgusting – I gave mine to D)  Breakfast consisted of white bread and jam and honey, the best cup of tea in the whole wide world and a glass of fresh orange (which gave me indigestion from the word go, knew I shouldn’t have drunk the damn stuff!)

We were off by 4.50am, walking up past the Dent hut and onto the path into the corrie.  The guide description mentioned an ever moving ‘punishing’ scree slope, followed by a 35degree angled scree couloir exposed to rockfall (helmets necessary, and it took a bit of persuasion to get D to wear a helmet)  Basically I told him I didn’t want to have to clean his brains up off the ground and we didn’t have the insurance to cover it anyway!  (who says romance isn’t dead)

I’ve been told that there used to be a snow slope leading to the Col where the ridge starts (and it may be that we were too late in the season.)  Hodges book mentions a permanent snow field at the bottom but there was no snow to speak of anywhere.  All the snowlines and glaciers are receding in the Alps I am led to believe.  So the climb up to the col was punishing indeed!  It started off by each foot step sliding down before stabilising and this became hard work.  In the middle it was better, with bigger stones and rocks so felt more secure.  But the top couloir was hideous!  All the scree had pretty much vanished and all that was left was shattered bits of rock and mud.  I had to go on all fours at several points and it became like climbing a slab of mud and rock, not nice!  And I put my helmet on before this point as it did feel quite exposed to possible rock fall.

Past the horrible bit, the angle eased a little and it looked easier going but was still quite steep and muddy.  But higher still and the mud had frozen slightly so it was more stable.  We finally reached the col and the view of the Vanoise Glacier opened up and looked brilliant!  I hadn’t been nervous about the climb up to the summit at all, thinking it would be similar to what we’d done previously in the Alps, like the NW ridge of the Balfrin via the Gross Biggerhorn or the WSW ridge of the Lagginhorn, ie wee scrambly bits of nice rock with easier bits inbetween.  Well, it was sort of like that but the scrambly bits were more like scrabling about on shite rock, where as the other ridges I’d done last  year were mint in comparison as regards the standard of the climbing (and the Lagginhorn has a reputation for loose rock, but it was solid as anything in comparison!)

So when I looked up from the col at all these crumbling spikes and bastions of rock, my heart rate rose more than it was already from slithering my way up that scree slope!  The first pinnacle was bypassed on the left along a narrow ledge of shale and rubble which got narrower and narrower and more and more rubbly and exposed and scary.  Until we came to a bypass and realised we’d gone too far.  We backtracked, my nerves doubled by this point by the chossyness and found some crampon scratches going up a short rubbly groove.  There were plenty of good holds underneath all the crap, but some felt dubious to trust and much gentleness was called for.  This took us to the crest and a narrow path above which felt fine, just a little rubbly.  Then we came to the bottom of a gully and Hodges guide suggested climbing the gully itself by a zigzagging path (don’t do this!)  We crossed to the bottom of the gully easily enough but the ‘path’ up the gully was scrabbling on mud and dubious rock, taking some time to search for more solid and reassuring areas.  

The top of this gully met at a narrow point ledge of rock with a steep gully dropping down the other side and a steep and horrible muddy slope above.  All our guides (Hodges, the French one and an old one from the 1980’s) mentioned a slip from this point having fatal consequences.  As I tentatively inched my way up the mud, searching for solid little nubbins of rock to place my feet on and to balance on gently I was ever aware of this drop below and the guide descriptions and I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I was hating it and crapping myself!  I made it to the top with my palms sweating and my heart racing though.

Every so often I had been looking back down the way we had come up and thinking to myself, ‘holy shit!  How the feck are we gonna get back down all that steep rubble and mud?’  The higher up this mountain we got, the more nervous I became about all the objective dangers and how hard and awful it was going to be to descend!  I think once at the top of the slope above the gully this is where my nerves about going back down got the better of me.
The next section was okay, just more walking along on a narrow ledge of rubble, the drop down the North Face, all though not as sheer as the cliffs of the South face, were steep enough that the thought of slipping on the way down was compounding to my already nervous state.  Another little section of scrambling upwards brought us out onto the crest again and into the full sun.  The sun was glaring and blinding and squinting upwards all I could see was this steep narrow section, with ribbons of hard snow in places, not enough to need crampons on, but enough to warrant great care to avoid!

That was me, too much!  I just kept thinking the icy patches were going to make things worse, I was tired of the constant need for utter concentration, the sun blinding me (and the fact that I can’t seem to see very well with sunglasses on and feel almost suffocated when I wear them ) and these thoughts that I might find the descent too difficult and dangerous was enough to make me stop and sit perch myself on the crest of the ridge.  Bad mistake!  Once I sat down, I got a little gripped and just didn’t want to carry on, I just wanted to get down and get off this awful, rubbly hill!  I think if I’d just swallowed my fears as I normally do and hadn’t stopped and just kept going then we would have gotten to the top.

As it was, I told D I wanted to bail.  I said that I would sit here and wait for him to go up to the summit and come back down but bless him, he didn’t want to leave me to get cold while I waited (it was pretty windy and cold up there, just before 10am by this point)  So down we went and apart from one little bit above that steep gully, the descent was a total doddle!  I was utterly kicking myself!  When I had been looking back down on the way up, the path that we had taken seemed to be really hidden and all I could see were these steep, rubbly slopes of doom but in reality, the easy way down became obvious as you approached it.  In fact, we could see where we had gone wrong on the way up!  The slope above the steep, dangerous gully had more solid rock to the left on the way down, with just a very exposed and loose step right at the top of the gully.  And the gully that we had climbed up, we climbed down on its left wall also, which was LOADS more solid and much easier!  By the time we’d gotten to the bottom of the gully, I was regretting my decision to turn back and by the time we got to the col I was utterly kicking myself for being such a wimp and letting my nerves get the better of me!

Neither of us fancied going back up though, too far now!  To go back up would have taken another hour and half to get to the summit I think, then an hour back down, and there was still the scree slope of hell to contend with, then the slog over the moraine and back to the hut, then shove all our stuff into sacks and back down to the van, and still the scary drive back down to Aussois!  No, that was it, I felt quite ashamed!  In the same way that backing off a route due to loss of bottle has me kicking myself for day afterwards!
And I’m still kicking myself for it today, but you live and learn!  I now know, that I’m perfectly capable of downclimbing steep, loose rock and that looking at things from directly above or below make them seem steeper and scarier than they actually are in comparison to viewing them in profile.   A friend mentioned to me yesterday (you know who you are…….) that it took him a couple of Alpine seasons to get into the swing of things and discover what he was capable of etc.  This was good for me, and I think I have realised that as much as I love being in the Alps, I’m not so keen on soloing rubbly and terribly loose PD routes.  I don’t mind typical alpine looseness like we found on the Balfrin and Lagginhorn, but when it’s just sheer rubble, then I’m not keen.  I prefer snow slopes and atleast rocky ridges that feel stable and reassuring, but there’s definitely got to be snow involved!  The whole experience left me deflated and really wishing that the whole holiday had gone to plan and that were in Gressoney and tackling the glaciers around Monte Rosa and Liskam area, my eyes specifically on Castor and Pollox.

I even checked the weather forecast, thinking that we could get the van fixed today (Friday) then zoom across to Italy on Saturday, up to the hut on Sunday and climb on Monday, rest on Tues before heading home.  But not to be as all the forecasts I could find said rain, rain, rain for Italy on Monday, gutted!  Nothing was inspiring me here anymore.  Even the thought of going up Rochemellon which I had been keen to do, wasn’t enough to motivate me, more shitty crap I reckoned!  I’d been keen to head up to the Vanoise hut to try and do the normal route on the Grand Casse but I’d heard bad things about the conditions come mid August and the forecast wasn’t looking promising anyway, with high winds and cloud again.
That’s it, enough!  As much as the Vanoise area that we had seen so far, was stunning to look at, as far as the climbing was concerned, it’s not for me, not in August anyway!  I can image just how much better things would be with more snow, and that it’s really a destination that’s much better for climbing when there is more snow and it would be great for ski touring and for the folk that like doing walks from hut to hut. 
Still gutted about my attack of nerves though!  The view from near the top of Pointe Fournache where we bailed was stunning, you could see Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, and the Barre du Ecrin to the South.  D is keen to get a guidebook to this area and go here next summer.  I’ll have a look into it, but I want to go back to Italy and the Monte Rosa seen as we didn’t make it this time.  And I’ve only got 2 long summers as a student left before I qualify as a Radiographer and hopefully start working.

Anyway, we decided this morning, rather impulsively that we’d had enough of crumbly mountains and after the van was fixed we would start heading home, visiting a few places on the way.  Unfortunately there was a mix up at the garage and they didn’t order our new DPF.  So we’re having to drive all the way home with a knackered DPF.  One person has said that there is a danger of the engine going on fire (eeeeek!) but according to most people, the engine will go into ‘safe mode’ whereby you can only drive it at 60mph.  This we don’t mind, quite happy to sit at 60 on the way back!

So I’m sitting typing this from a campsite in Troyes and we’re going to explore this ancient town tomorrow.  We’re also going to spend a couple/few days in Paris doing touristy stuff like climb the Eiffel Tower and visit the Louvre.  Not usually my cup of tea, but I’m quite looking forward to it, though I’m sure all the hustle and bustle of Paris will be stressful in its own way.  And I’m very curious to see the hotel which only charges 50 euros a night for a double room in the centre of town, it’s gotta be a seedy shithole!  Can’t wait!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

RIDGE OF DOOM - 11th August

Up earlier than usual (but still no need for Alpine starts!) to do the Point Signal du Mont Cenis (3162m) by its North ridge via the Col des Randouillards and the Pointe de Cugne.  This route goes at PD- but in this case the PD stands for POO Difficile rather than Peu Difficile!  Okay, it wasn’t quite as minging as the traverse of the Lessieres the other day, but the other day was just minging, but not particularly scary.  Today was scary!  

We were following the guide book written by Andy Hodges and this boy really needs to get a grip with his imagination!  He described Lessiere like the Aonach Eagach which was a load of bollocks and he describes today’s ridge like a torridian ridge, again bollocks!

The day started off cold and the only time it was warm was on the ascent up to the Col des Randouillards which is a slog and a half.  There is a direct route up to the col up a grassy gully and I don’t know why the path doesn’t go that way as it would be a lot shorter!  Instead, the path zigzags backwards forwards, backwards forwards forever and ever and ever and up to the windy col (gusting 20 today supposedly, though I’m  not sure it felt that strong.)

The route from the col up to Pointe de Cugne is pretty gross, but just normal alpine ridge affair I think and we met another couple up there who only went that far.  It was pretty bloody cold up there and there was rime forming on the rocks and little icicles and patches of verglas here and there where drips had soaked the rock (thankfully avoidable unless you’re a dimwit like me and stand on a bit and have your foot go skiting, giving me an absolute shitter!)

I think the ridge between the two peaks actually isn’t that bad, and I was just in a pretty negative frame of mind, because as I sit here typing this, I can’t actually think of why I found it so scary.   There were a couple of exposed steps and my balance over these wee narrow points isn’t great.  I found a lot of the downclimbing sections quite awkward with massive step downs and not much to trust your feet on.  Thankfully the schist is pretty grippy (who would have thought!)  My hands can testify to the grippyness of mountain schist, being a bit on the shredded side!  As can my favourite red softshell trousers!

So we get to the section of the ridge that I actually thought looked like the easier bit as the rock was cleaner.  Well it was cleaner but it was all fecking slab!  D scampered up the slab like a scampery scampering scamper, I didn’t trust my boots, too slippy for my liking!  So I went up a chossy groove to the side of the slab only to find I would have to climb a steeper wall above with no holds, uh uh, back down I go!  I found a little chimney midway along and decided I’d try and go up that way.  Thugtastic!  Grunts and knees all round thankyou!

There were a few other sections of scampering up easier slabs and short awkward downclimbs but they are pretty nondescript as I can’t remember much about them.  Save to say that Hodges guide says you can go round most difficulties, but going round didn’t look like a fun or safe option to me!
Eventually, after an easier section of steep walking on rock and mud, came what looked like the last ‘pinnacled’ section.  Easy enough going up, a bit on the chossy side but how to get down?  I didn’t actually peer over the edge as by this point I wasn’t really enjoying myself and was eager to be at the summit and at the end of chossville and scaryville so I just took D’s word that it didn’t look great.  I remember there was a section on Lessiere that he didn’t like the look of to downclimb and I went to have a look, going first and finding it commiting but easier than it looked.  I did wonder if this was the case today as well, but D said right at the top of the pinnacle was a sheer drop.  If you went more left there was a lesser drop with holds that he could see but there were overhanging so that you would be pushed out as you downclimbed.  This section was only around 3 metres high but took you down to a very exposed col, whereby if any hold snapped off when you were downclimbing and you weren’t lucky enough to land on your arse on the narrow col then it would be lights out time as you fell off the steep sided mountain.

None of this sounded very appealing to me at all, in my negative frame of mind.  In fact, even had I been feeling more bold, I’m not sure that section would have appealed.  I don’t mind soloing when things feel do-able but as soon as things feel risky, then it’s not for me.  And things can be risky but still feel do-able, it’s when you’re not sure of the outcome that I wouldn’t trust soloing.  Unfortunately, soloing we were and had no rope, otherwise we could have just ab’d down this section (if we could find something trustworthy to ab’ from of course!)

As it was, we tried to find a way around this pinnacle as suggested in guide.  There was a series of seriously steep and chossy mud ledges on the right hand side but that looked like death!  And the left side was too steep and cliff like.  In the end, we just decided to bail, first mountain I’ve ever bailed from and I feel a bit shamed that it was only PD, but better that that one of us slip and I was sick of all the choss and tired of having to concentrate by this point, just wishing the whole thing done with.

We had to back track and getting back down the previous pinnacle was interesting to say the least!  I went D’s slabby way rather than my chimney which I didn’t fancy reversing (and not sure I could have found it from the top anyway.)  So I slithered down the slab until I came to the bottom which involved a wee overhanging corner.  D was able to slither right to the edge of this, use foot holds on the side wall and just lower himself down, but I couldn’t reach anything useful!  In the end, we had to get D bracing himself at the bottom of the corner and use combined tactics to get me down.  Basically, I used his shoulder as a hand hold to enable me to reach my feet down far enough to manage the drop.  Job done!

Another few easier slabby downclimbs saw us reach a section where it looked possible to escape from the ridge, down a horrendously steep scree and rocky slope and down to a path below.  We took the escape option!  As tedious as steep scree and rock could be it was far preferable to continuing back along to Pointe de Cugne and facing an unknown descent down its west ridge which might have been ming.  The scree was good enough in places to dig in with heels and glissade but only for short steps.  Just too steep!  Then you’d hit a bigger boulder section anyway and slip on your arse, sliding down on a sea of moving rocks for a while.  I was trying to zigzag my way down, finding less steep bits and more secure (ish) bits when I slithered down a large rock on my bum and my trousers got caught.  There was the rip to my arse!  Rats!  

The slope wasn’t too bad going, just that 350 metres of it was getting tedious and tiring.  But before long we hit less steep ground, then more grassy ground, then the path.  I’ve never felt so happy to be on secure ground!  Then it was a boring, 2.5hr plod along a track, then a forest vehicle track back to the van.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


SATURDAY 6TH AUGUST  -   We were grounded over Thursday and Friday due to more problems with the van.  After driving down the road on Wednesday, after the paragliding, the warning light for the Diesel particulate filter came on, followed by a flashing warning for the glow plugs.  Doing some research, we think it was due to our drive down from the Col du l’liseran the other day.  The DPF is supposed to keep your emissions clean by burning off soot from the diesel (or something like that) but to work properly it needs the engine to burn at a certain heat for a certain amount of time.  Folk who make short journeys around town often have problems with it.  Or, in our case, people who’s van engine runs from cold, from 2700 metres all the way down to 1000 metres without the engine heating up at all because the road is so steep that no acceleration is needed!  This, compounded with our drive on Wednesday which was very stop and starty, trying to find take off places to paraglide, which weren’t in the cloud.

Anyway, D seemed to think that because it was only emissions that the van was fine to drive.  But researching online we discovered this wasn’t the case and we needed to find a stretch of road where we could get engine speed up to 60mph or revs over 2, and maintain this for atleast 30 miles.  But if the DPF is over a certain level of saturation then  it needs to be sorted by a garage.
So Thursday was spent finding our nearest VW garage (in St Jean Maurienne, around 60km down the road thankfully!)  We then drove there to try and burn off this soot, unsuccessfully.  The usual communication problems ensued but they did plug in the diagnostic doodah into the engine and said that something needed to be updated after the work that was done previously (which was to repair some sensor.)  We were told it was okay to drive the van and to bring it back tomorrow as they didn’t have time to fit us in today.  Rats!  That was 2 days of scorchio weather wasted on van troubles.

Friday we drove back to the garage, left the van with them and went for a shop in town, returning an hour later to be told that they had updated something or other and we now had to try and drive the van to burn off the soot.  If this did not sort the problem then we would have to bring the van back a week later to replace the DPF (big job so will take all day supposedly!)  So it turns out that booting the van for 30miles didn’t work and we now have to fork out a grand to get the van sorted!

Gutted!  We were both very tempted to say, ‘feck it!’ and just start driving back home.  This holiday has been jinxed by so many things so far that we’re not both sure that if we get up into the mountains then we’ll both fall in a crevasse and die or something!  Although, I did say that maybe we should stay because fate might have us drive home and we’d end up in a horrific car crash or something!  Yes we were both feeling rather pessimistic.  In the end we decided to stay and I felt much more optimistic after finding a Alpinism guide in a local shop that has loads of interesting peaks to climb in the area.  It is written in French but it’s 100x better than the guide we bought from Needlesports for this area, which is in English but is absolutely ancient!

We spent last night getting pissed on a local Chardonnay and today we went for a short walk up to the de l’Arpont refuge which is a base for doing one of the local mountains above 3500m.  It wasn’t very exciting (at all!) but it was still good to get out and stretch our legs after a couple of days of being  cooped up doing nothing.  We’d decided to walk there as the weather forecast was for showers but we could have done something more exciting in the end as there were only 2 very light showers during the whole of the day!

The walk up starts of steeply, through woodland, winding up and up and up and up for over 1000 metres.  Like doing a munro, but starting at munro height!  The scenery was pretty though once out of the woods and we caught snitches of the glacier above when the cloud cleared enough.  At one point we came across a herd of sheep (there was hundreds of them!) with their 2 shepherds and dogs.  The dogs are known as Pastou and they are big white, fluffy beasts which guard the flocks of sheep from harm.  If you encounter them, they are supposed to be very interested in your presence and want to check you out to make sure you are not of any threat.  Well the doggy we encountered was a gentle giant who came over to say hello and to be petted.  Though I suspect he was possible an older doggy as there was another dog below with the sheep who was a bit more threatening.

 It wasn’t long after this point that we reached the hut, around another hour.  It’s a quaint wee hut though I suspect it is privately run.  I tried to ask about the peak above with a few folk but all that I spoke to had only been to a lake an hour and half above.  I suspect that this hut is used more by walkers going along the GR5 from hut to hut in the Vannoise, as opposed to those climbing any peaks.  We hung around for a while though (me eating cake of course!) feeding the free range hens that were pecking about and watching the marmots who were tamer than usual.  Then it took us a couple of hours of slogging downhill to get back to the village shop and to the campsite.

Weather is for heavy rain and thunderstorms tomorrow morning so we’re heading to Modane to look around the shops.  Then on Monday the weather looks a bit iffy too but Tuesday might be okayish so we may go up a peak called Rochermelon which is one of the easier 3500m peaks in the area, though a very long day.  Indications are that Thursday may be okay, if so we’ll head up to the Dent Parachee hut on Wednesday and get up our first big hill on Thursday.  Then the van has to go back to the garage on Friday.  This has screwed up all our plans to go to Italy and the Monte Rosa but we’ll just making do with what is around here instead.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


MONDAY 1st AUGUST -  We did the Lessieres Traverse today which goes at PD and in my book, in this case, the PD stands for pile of dogpoo!  Andy Hodges guide book to the area likens the ridge to the Aonach Eagach, what a load of bollocks!  If you’re expecting the AE then you’ll be sorely disappointed.  In fact, there was only one section really that had anything reminiscent of the Aonach Eagach and that was the descent from L’Ouillete which was quite exciting in a couple of places!  The ridge starts from the highest col in Europe, the Col d’leseran at 2770m.  D had been worried about the van driving up that high but I was more worried about the guide book description of the awkward descent from the first peak, Point des Lessieres.  The ridge itself is only 8km from car to car but it felt like a really long day to me, traversing over four 3000 metre peaks, Point Des Lessieres, L’Ouillete, Pointe De L’Arselle and Pelaou Blanc, the highest at 3135m.  

We started off pretty late in the day, around middayish after the van drive up which wasn’t *too* bad.  D was amazing and drove the van really slowly for me, though probably just as much to stop me from squealing and gasping in his ear!  The Col de L’iseran is a very touristy spot and was full of bikers (getting their photo taken at the top) and motorbikers (one of which was a complete and utter nutter, taking a bend fast enough that his knee was nearly scraping along the ground!) and general tourists and walkers like ourselves.
Because the col is so high, there is only 300m of ascent to be made to the top of the first peak.  It started off pretty chossy, with one clean section of rock which had been ruined by an iron wire as a handrail, which was pretty loose anyway!  I thought the rock might get nicer nearer the top but it was pretty minging all the way up.  But just typical chossyness by alpine standards really. 

I was slow going up, getting some serious calf burn as I had my stiff boots on.  I really need to get my calf muscles seen to as they are a literal pain!  I had the excuse to slow down however when I got stuck behind a family of grandparents, parents and children heading up, the children being carried, lucky buggers!  It wasn’t too long before we were at the top however but we didn’t hang about for too long.  Couldn’t really get any pics from the top as the family were kinda in the way (it was a small summit!)

So, to the awkward descent…………………
It wasn’t so much awkward as utterly disgusting!  Now I know that alpine ridges can be chossy and loose but this was taking the piss!  I’m used to ledges covered in loose stone and rubble, but this was just mud covered in loose stone and rubble!  Not once of that descent was there any clean rock and nice holds, regardless of what the guide mentioned about nice incut holds, aye right!

The second peak however was much nicer.  There were nice holds and cleaner rock here, though still loose and rubbly, but just typical alpine stuff.  The descent from the 2nd peak also had a couple of tricky steps, though they just tended to look intimidating but were easy enough in reality.  Apart from the one section, the rest of the ridge was either boring or disgusting.  The ascent of the 3rd peak was the worst section on the hole ridge!  To be fair to the guide book author, he does mention that the schist is slippery in the wet, and there was a section going up to the 3rd peak that was wet due to the melting snow.  D had gone ahead of me after I’d stopped for a pee and after climbing a small section reckoned that the better way was around this big block.  So I set off around it, easily at first, but the going underfoot got looser and steeper until I was faced by a traverse around a corner into a groove of 45 degree wet schist with muddy, ballbearing choss lying on top!  Fecking great!  I told D not to bother coming my way, that even though his way hadn’t looked great and had to be better than my way!  And just as well as every step I took upwards was knocking loose blocks and dirt, tumbling off down the mountain.  My heart was going like the clappers as I trusted each foot step to the choss and I exhaled with relief when I finally got back on to the crest  and more solid ground.

Quick stop for a bite to eat on the 3rd peak and it was just a walk down to the next col and up to the last peak.  I think the only saving grace of the whole ridge was the 2nd peak but also the views.  We’re not entirely sure what we were seeing but we could definitely see where we were yesterday and the Dent Parachee and Grand Casse, but we could also see what we thought was the Bar du Ecrin and possibly Mont Blanc in the distance.  We thought we saw Gran Paradiso poking through the cloud at one point too.

Yet again, towards the end of the day I started to get a headache.  It’s definitely related to the heat!  I really don’t know how to get round  it as I lather myself in suncream, I have a sunhat on and sunglasses but it just exhausts me being under the glare of  it all day long!  I took a painkiller at the top of the 3rd peak but it helped a little but I could still feel it lingering in the background and by the time we were coming off down the last peak it was really grating at me and making me feel like my head was in a fuzzy bubble.

The descent involves crossing old glacier morain which seemed to go on forever and ever and ever.  I wondered if the moon was like this, then I wondered if one day in the future, like long, long into the future, if space travel were ever to be possible, how cool it would be to go on mountaineering trips to other planets (yes, the heat was getting to me!)  The moraine takes you down to the road and the path continued for around 3-4km back to the Col and the carpark.  However, this walk back felt more like 10miles it seemed to drag forever on and upwards, the heat and sun beating down and totally zapping me, my head thumping and starting to go that ever so slightly delirious way when I’m drained and exhausted by the sun.  I was glad to finally be back at the carpark but gutted that the café was closed, I had been so looking forward to ice cream!  A semi chilled bottle of coke from the tourist shop had to suffice.

D was great on the way back down, making an effort not to drive too fast, though I still squealed and gasped on a couple of occasions.  We stopped off at Lanslebourg on the way back to the campsite, for something to eat and D even forewent his vegetarianism for the evening!  Well, he didn’t have much choice really, the French just don’t do vegetarian food in these wee places.  In fact, I don’t have a clue why folk go on about French cuisine cos it’s crap as far as I’m concerned.  It’s all meat and one veg (not even meat and two veg!) and the meaty dishes are too meaty and too salty.  We ended up with Duck leg and cabbage with bacon (there was no need for the bacon which just served to make the cabbage salty/smoked tasting!)  In saying that though, D did have a goat’s cheese salad for a started which was actually really nice.  I had Gazpacho, which wasn’t anything as nice as the Spannish.  D had apple crumble for dessert and I had a lemon tart which made me cheeks sook in it was so sour!

TUESDAY 2ND AUGUST  -  Well today has been a bit of a non starter.  We had planned to go up another 3000 metre peak by it’s North Ridge down by the Col De Mount Cenis area but the whole day has been a bit of a fuck up.  Firstly, I forgot to set the alarm and D presumed that I was just meaning to have a lie in.  I slept badly again, up between 3 and 4, too damn hot!  And it was the back of nine before we woke up.  We ate breakfast and then rushed off into town to find out about a paragliding session for Wednesday if possible, and to buy a loaf of bread from the shop (they have normal bread, none of this white baguette nonsense!)  By the time we’d got ourselves organised it was nearly midday and we set off for the Col.  Missing our turn off, we stopped at Lanslevard to turn back and it was then that I noticed pools of water on the van floor.  I went to investigate and discovered that my bladder in my rucksack had emptied all of its 2 litres of water into my sack and onto the floor.  Fecking great!  We gave up on the idea of heading up the mountains today and decided to drive down to Modane instead for a spot of noseying around the shops.  D and I then had a tiff which left me in tears and I didn’t feel like doing much of anything after that.  I hate crying, it drains me even more than the sun does!  And just at that point in time, I wished we’d never gone on holiday and I wished I was free of the humdrum that relationships can bring at times.  But like all superficial emotions, the moment is fleeting and all it takes is one look at D’s eyes and I burst out laughing.  My man.  Ours isn’t the easiest of relationships, but I wouldn’t change anything for the world and I love him so much in all his idiosyncrasies.  And I’m glad he puts up with mine.

Crisis over, I dry my eyes, take a deep breath and then life is back to normal.  We’re sat at the campsite now, climbing rope being used as a drying line for the load of washing I’ve just done and yes, yes, I know that ropes shouldn’t be out in the bright sun, but they’d be out in the bright sun if I was climbing with it and it’s only a short, old rope to be used for glacier crossings (if we ever get there)
Had a phone call from a man in the village earlier too and it looks like my paragliding session is all booked for tomorrow.  Got to meet him outside the tourist office at 8.20am tomorrow.  OH MY GOD!  I AM GOING PARAGLIDING!  OH MY GOD!  I’m so excited and I just know that come tomorrow morning I’m going to be utterly crapping myself, eeeeeeeeeeek!  I’ve had an inkling to try paragliding for years but never got round to it.  Dunno how I’m going to find it, if I find fairground rides and driving in cars around tight bends sickening.  But it’s going to be fun, oh yes!

3rd AUGUST  -   So I went paragliding and it was AMAZING!  Usually I inwardly cringe when people use the word awesome to describe something really good as it’s just so American, but this *was* truly FECKING AWESOME!  The only thing that I didn’t like about it was that we were only in the air for around 15 mins, just not long enough!

Met up with Philippe of By Air at 8.20am in the morning outside the Tourist Info building in Termignon then we followed his van to Lanslivard where we picked up another instructor.  I don’t know this guy’s name but he was a clichéd surfer/snowboarder/midlengthed haired/goateed beared/dude type which tickled me.  We then drove further up the road and picked up more clients and more instructors and then waited about for 10 minutes whilst the guys decided where the best place to go was.  The forecast was good for the morning but with the weather turning later in the day and there was cloud building in the sky and low mist forming which could make things too dangerous to fly.

Philipe had some info that the lake at Mount du Col Cenis might be clearer so we drove over the pass and towards the Italian border.  Well, D drove and we followed the van with the instructors in it and the car with the  other clients.  The lake was a no-go however and Phillipe was most apologetic but I shrugged it off, they don’t control the weather, much like a climbing guide wouldn’t control the rain on a cragging day!  So we drove back to the main road and headed further up the valley to Bonival which is around half way between Termignon and the high col where we were the other day.
Thankfully the air was clear of low cloud here and it was safe to fly, hurrah!  Starting to get nervous  now………………  

D waited at the landing area for photos and I’m kicking myself for not taking my camera up with me as there was loads of opportunity for photos!  We drove up towards the Col de l’Iseran and then took a dirt track off up into the hills.  Philippe asked why we had driven so slowly and I had to explain that there little, windy roads made me feel sick!  Paragliding instructor ‘dude’ offered me his hat to throw up in and they all had a good laugh.  I reassured him that I would not be sick in his van and I was hoping that they wouldn’t think that I needed kid glove treatment either.

Before long we reached the end of the track and the top of a bluff where I think they take off from regularly as there was a wind sock in place.  Philippe explained to me that we were going to run off down the slope towards a drop.   Eeeeek!  He said that it wasn’t a big cliff or anything and that we would probably have taken off before we actually hit the edge.  He also said that I shouldn’t sit down until we were off the ground as it ‘makes things complicated.’  I guess if the instructor is trying to run forward and the client is pulling back then it aborts the take off if the client tries to  park their bum down.  There were 4 of us flying and Philippe let a couple of the others go first so I could see how they took off and everyone else sat down and had to start again!  I was the only one who managed to take off properly.

As he mentioned, we hadn’t even reached the edge of the slope where it dropped off steeply before we took off.  There was no lurching involved and it was really easy and non intimidating, piece of cake really! And wow, what a feeling!  You’re sat there in this comfy wee canvas bucket seat with your legs dangling into the void below and you just cruise around and glide so smoothly and gracefully through the air.  On a few occasions we hit an upwards stream of air (I assume) and are lifted up higher and again, it’s really a really smooth pull up, not lurching at all, so I don’t get that lurching, sick feeling in my belly at all, just a wee surge of excitement, woop woop!
We fly past a gully with a river flowing down and he explains that you can often see animals stopping to drink there, but not today, then we pull in low to the hillside and I see a marmot running along the ground with it’s big, black bushy tail behind him.  We lean into the direction where we want to turn and Phillipe doesn’t have to tell me when to stop leaning as it just feels natural to me and I know when to lean and when to stop. 
We glide down the  hillside, back and forth and follow the high road for a short while.  I thought it would be cool to pass above a car but none came.  We then approached Bonival and I could see the van below.  Rats, don’t want it to end!  But Philippe turned the chute round and we flew over the village itself doing a couple of rounds.  The village looked so cool from above,  not quite as small as a toy village as we weren’t that high by this point.  Then it had to end unfortunately!  I saw one of the other gliders landing before us and the client skidded along on their bum.  I asked if it was not more normal to land on your feet and it was explained to me, that just like taking off, clients always seem to want to sit and that there was an air bag under the seat to make it less bumpy.  He just told me to stick my legs out and I would land on my bum.  That was fun!  The ground comes hairing up at you and you go sliding along your bum on the grass, I gave out another woop woop!

This is something I just *have* to do again!  I’d quite like to look into how you can go about learning how to paraglide as it’s just the most amazing thing ever, so peaceful and relaxing.  I can remember there is quite a lot to it though, like learning about reading air currents and what’s safe and what’s dodgy.  Definitely gotta do some more of this!