With December on the horizon and the feel of this crisp Autumn air, my thoughts drift to the mountains and my brain whirrs with the lure of winter adventures.
I’ve lived in London all my life, but a few years ago I decided to quit my job and move to Chamonix, in the heart of the French Alps. A place that had truly captured my heart and adventurous soul over previous years.
Whilst living in Cham, with the mountains on my doorstep, I had the opportunity to learn new sports and today I want to share with you my favourite winter adventures.
As an endurance athlete, I love pushing my limits, especially when there’s a reward in sight. Ski touring had been on my bucket list for a long time. It was the concept of skiing up mountains at the crack of dawn, expelling a huge physical effort, and then enjoying the exhilaration of skiing down them that pulled me towards giving it a go.
On my first ski tour, I fell in love with the sport. I couldn’t believe you could strap skins onto your skis and effectively hike up a snow-covered mountain to explore the backcountry.
I wrote an article for SideTracked mag which you might like if you are interested in ski-touring.
Mont Blanc is a mecca for climbing and draws climbers and adventure seekers from all over the world. Strapping crampons to my feet, holding a pair of ice axes and feeling the snow crunching under my feet, is one of my favourite feelings.
With some practise, I develop confidence and know what it feels like to get a solid axe placement. I pull hard on the axe and propel myself up the wall of ice to gain height. It feels heroic, to climb a wall of frozen ice. To be roped up to my climbing partner and find a way to communicate effectively through wind, falling ice and metres between us. I find a solid piece of ice to insert the screws that secure us as we climb, and remember to keep wiggling my fingers and toes. At the top, we abseil off and make tracks for the best hot chocolate in town!
It’s 5pm and we’re catching the last lift up the mountain. The lift attendants notice some of us don’t have skis and question our plans. In broken French we explain that we have not come up here to ski, but to spend the night. It’s mid January and they give us a quizzical look that makes me sure that they think we are insane. I don’t care. I’m excited about a night in the mountains with my friends. Armed with sleeping bags, a tent, a camping stove, food, whiskey and head torches, we get to work setting up camp before sunset.
Once we are all set up, we snuggle into our sleeping bags and hang out in what we’ve named ‘The Executive Bivvy’. We find deck chairs by the lift station that are useful to keep our bums off the cold snow. We share whiskey and stories as we watch the sun go down over Chamonix valley. It’s utterly divine. The air, this night, everything, it’s so still and pure. None of the guys I’m with has done this before, despite living here and it being on our doorstep.
In the night I wake every hour because I am so cold. Finally I feel light creeping over my tent and I get out to watch the sunrise. It’s the dawn of a new day and I feel so lucky to be alive. Adventure doesn’t need to involve big plans, a lot of time or money, it can involve doing the simplest of things in a way that invites us to try something new and explore nature.