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!