Chamonix downhill and touring

Mary, myself and Sarah drove out to France in early March with a bit of trepidation about whether it was sensible in what was clearly turning into a global pandemic. But as no-one was saying we couldn’t do so, we were unlikely to get any money back from insurers if we wimped. Since Mary hasn’t toured for a long time, and Sarah very little at all, and my skills are also probably as old as my kit, Sarah had insisted we have a guide for a bit of instruction to get us up to speed. We’d all got new kit, Sarah because she had none, Mary because she had always intended to replace her kit if she started touring again, and myself because the Emery bindings I’d expect to keep repairing for a few more years yet really had died as the various spares proved inadequate. So I’d now got some Fritschi bindings that would take my old boots, and some new (-ish) boots that would fit the pin bindings (but a size bigger than the unpleasantly tight ones from Val d’Isère). I’d also concluded that my skins had not been reglued for so many years that they were a lost cause as well as being a right faff to adjust to fit the new skis. So an expensive bit of reprovisioning. Chamonix, however, is always the best place to buy a load of kit, so Mary and Sarah had decided to do a bit of hire first, buy later, apart from the essentials of new transceivers and other accessories.

We had three good days of instruction, and some good downhill days on our own, but hadn’t managed our ambition of getting up to the Vallée Blanche (we’d set out once, but the uplift was delayed opening by the wind and we reckoned we would be too late in the day). Our guide was fully booked for the rest of the time we were out, so it looked as if we’d missed it for this year. However, coronavirus would have it otherwise, and it became aparent that people leaving the UK later than us were having second thoughts, and some ski resorts were closing, so suddenly, we looked like being the only available paying customers left, for a season that would clearly become a financial disaster for guies. So we were off !

Visibility at the exit on the Midi was rather poor, and there was still enough wind to be a bit on the chilly side as we sidled down the zig-zag path in crampons, but it did give the benefit of much reduced exposure. We soon found ourselves enough flat space to shift into skis and as we skied down, we started to drop out of the cloud. Mary and I had been this way before of course, on foot on the way to the Pyramide de Tacul and the Dent du Géant, but that was a long time ago. We didn’t need to be roped up this early in the season (well, not for downhill) and fairly soon we were out in the middle with rapidly improving visibility. It was meant to be a touring trip, not just an off-piste run, so we roped up and set off to cross a crevassy area to reach less-tracked snow than the downhill-only skiers had access to.


Passing a crevasse on our way to the Italian side of the Vallée Blanche.

I’m not great at acclimatisation, and even after a week skiing, this was close to my ceiling, so we didn’t climb to any great height before stopping for a rest and setting off for the long, mostly powder run down, overlooked by the Géant, now coming clear of cloud.


Skiing below the Géant, a tick dunnit from 1991 (in the summer)

We had got an early enough start this time that we were not time pressured, so skied down in short stretches, trying to find untracked powder. Mary had managed to pick up a bit of a knee injury in poor visibility and lumpy terrain earlier in the week, so was being quite careful, but with now excellent visibilty and high contrast lighting, there were few, if any, hidden haggis traps. We were well away from crevasses by now, so weren’t roped up, but were skiing one at a time, so everyone was being watched by the whole group the whole way. You wouldn’t want it to be all over in a flash anyway !


Now well out into the main valley – and it is by no means as flat as it looks in photographs, so keeping speed up in the powder was not too hard.

Passing the Requins Hut there is a steep ice fall, with the ski route down its left hand side, before a long and rather flatter run out down the Mer de Glace. No powder down here, but a bit of care required not to lose speed and have to skate or pole. The glacier snout is now much farther back (and depressingly much lower) than a few decades ago so there is a long, long climb up steps to reach the lift back to the Montenvers railway. A bit of queuing, but then rapidly down to Chamonix. Talking to the ski shop later in the evening, they were condfident there were no cases in the Chamonix valley and expected skiing to continue for at least the next week, but by 8 p.m. the French had announced that all ski resorts were to be closed from next day (a real bummer for a load of Brits who had flown out that very day to find no ski holiday and no food service in their hotels on arrival). In the morning, we hastily packed up, cleaned the apartment and started driving home. We’ve been caught out before by ferries not running at night in the winter, so stopped off at a very socially distanced cheap hotel en route, and were surprised to find no surcharge to get on an eerily empty ferry next morning. That’s looking like the end of trips to the alps, at least for this year.

Moving on to pin bindings

An issue that has becoming increasingly apparent in the last few years is that skiing with bindings that have not been manufactured for over two decades is asking a bit much. The metal components seem to be fine, but the plastic seems to be getting beyond its design lifetime and is becoming brittle. I have enough spares to keep my trusty Eméry touring bindings going for many years yet, but had already had enough minor breakages to be sure I would want to invest in new and modern kit before going on anything like a serious tour. So after two hours skiing in Val d’Isère today the inevitable happened – a fairly minor impact broke the plastic part of the toe piece of the bindings, and a skistrap broke. This left me with kit that still worked (I had no difficulty and no falls skiing back from Tignes to La Daille) but that was marginal on safety, both for myself and other slope users. Time to bite the bullet !


The broken toepiece

So a quick bit of internet to tell my bank that I was in France and about to use my card and off for some major retail therapy (as in, adding 150% to the cost of the holiday!). Chamonix is the favourite Christmas shopping venue, but Val d’Isère certainly proved up to the challenge, and the shop associated with the bureau des guides had both the equipment to sell and the advice to go with it. So I will be skiing the rest of the week in modern pin bindings and for almost the first time in boots which are not Dynafit. We’ll see how it goes… Well, one answer was “very well” – the Scarpa boots whilst no heavier than the Dynafit, do seem to be stiffer and with more of the feel of a downhill boot. However, sizing seems to be an issue – and even with thin silk socks, and a bit of padding to allow for the shorter left leg (from breaking my heel in 1981) the boots seem to be very narrow fit round the heel and were cutting off blood flow over the course of a few hours skiing, so that I would really not want to use these on a long tour. Pity, really. I don’t think a size bigger would help – it really is the tightness of fit round the heel, and not length for my toes which seems to be the problem. So now I’m in the market for some newer Dynafit Tourlites – ones which will fit the pin bindings. A pair off ebay for £8.99 (would you believe) are a perfect fit and in no worse nick that my old ones, but tragically didn’t actually have the fittings shown in the photo to work with pin bindings. But since I was also able to repair the Eméry bindings in about fifteen minutes at home, I’ll certainly be using these if any touring opportunities pop up in Scotland (although it’s been T-shirt and shorts weather as I write this in North Wales in February, so ski touring seems a little unlikely this season).

Back on the Soča

I’ve not finished editing the video from last year’s trip yet, and here we are, generating more footage. The weather is blisteringly hot, the Rainex is fresh and I’m getting better quality on a lot of stretches, especially the Bunker section (which we’ve run twice) where the critical bit at the entry to Canyon 3 last year was spoilt by a big drop of water on the GoPro. This year I have clear 4k footage from both runs (and good lines both times).


Dropping into Canyon 3 on the second run. 0.13m on the gauge.

The penalty for the hot weather and a low snow pack is, inevitably, low levels. The Koritnica ran at the start of the week, but is looking pretty empty now. The Bunker section is probably now out unless the thunderstorms we saw over the Austrian side last night return and drop some water a bit closer. The classic sections lower down are still fine, of course, and we’ve been having plenty of fun around Srpenica. Not sure if we have the group to do the slalom section, but there is talk of doing the Otona on Friday which is the only section (apart from Siphon Canyon which no-one sane runs anyway) I’ve not done.


James Lock in Canyon 3

More photos to come !

Soča-bility

Six days skills development (rather than pure tourist kayaking) in Slovenia inevitably means mostly paddling the Soča – only one tributary is usually an option. It is, however, a fantastic river with lots of short sections of varying difficulty. One constant on all the sections is the clear blue water combined with idyllic scenery.


As a warm-up, we started on the section from the Koritnica confluence down to Čezsoča (where we had lunch while Jake rearranged the shuttle) and on down to the Srpenica 1 access point. These are both shortish sections which could be run at grade two avoiding all the difficulties, which made it an ideal run for deliberately looking for harder lines and moves off the many boulders and eddy lines. One little challenge, in particular, had me rolling up four times in the 8.1 Mamba I started off paddling.

For the second day, we stepped up a bit, to the Srpenica 1 section, with me still in the Mamba. This section is a little steeper, with a lot more spots to play and make lines. There is a wide flat bit at the end where we had a bit of flat-water coaching, and Jake persuaded me I should try a bigger boat. The Zet Toro which he’d been paddling felt very over-forgiving and slow to accelerate at first, but I soon found that it seemed to be very quick in ferry glides and lost less ground. After a quick bit of boat swapping over lunch, I ended up paddling the Toro for the rest of the week. So, for the afternoon, we repeated Srpenica 1, which did give me a good basis for comparison. The high cross to a tiny eddy that I’d failed on four times in the Mamba (managing to capsize on a cushion wave every time) proved to be trivially easy at the first attempt in the Toro, so it certainly inspired confidence to try things I might have been nervous of in the smaller boat. I did, however, find it quite a lot harder to predict the boat’s line in response to my paddle strokes – a bigger boat with harder edges, at least aft, made for a boat which carved turns when edged, but wasn’t deflected as much by currents from the side. I missed quite a lot of tops-of-eddies and bumped a fair few rocks. The trouble with the first Srpenica section is that there is a horrid climb from the take-out to the road, and although the Toro is actually no heavier than the Mamba, I did struggle up here – having been finding the boat required more powerful arm-tiring strokes to drive on the river.

For our third day we returned to the Sprenica 1 put-in and made our way down a little quicker, avoiding the Srpenica 2 egress climb by continuing down the next section to the Trnovo 1 access point, where parking is much nearer the river, just above the footbridge at the start of the “Slalom section”. The second Srpenica section has a lot more to it, with definite lines to make and manoeuvring across the current. The signboards give this section III-IV. Maybe we’d just settled in and were paddling well, but I can’t say it ever felt more than grade III. However, at one point, Mary was a little off-line and was rewarded with the gratification of showing that she could roll the Veloc she was paddling, in real white water. After lunch we went back to the Koritnica confluence to do a bit more intensive skills practice in unthreatening water, down to Čezsoča.

By now we were getting the hang of the river, and went right upstream to put on at the top of the “Bunker” section, on down through “Canyon 3”, passing the Koritnica confluence and taking out at Čezsoča once again. That was quite a long shuttle for Jake, so we had a leisurely lunch. Mary didn’t want a lot more paddling, so decided to sit out the afternoon. We nipped down to the Srpenica 1 access, where the river police checked our river passes before we headed on down. We took a variety of different lines on the second Srpenica section today, and found a couple of places to do neat circuits between eddies and boulders. By this time I’d got the hang of keeping the Toro moving forward all the time by paddling with mostly forward strokes, so I was wasting less energy bringing it back up to speed. This does give less thinking time, so I managed to get one line wrong and have a swift roll. That is one thing to be said for the bigger boat – it floats much higher in the water, even when upside down, so getting the paddle right to the surface was remarkably easy. Since we were going well, we continued under the footbridge and onto the Slalom section. This is noticeably steeper with the flow often more channelled and quite a lot more moving about the river. The signboards give it grade IV-V, but at the water level we had (a bit bigger than on SOC’s trip a few years ago) it was no more than grade IV, and not high in the grade. We took out river right, and Jake went to get a bike from the Gene17 house, to go back for the van, Mary, and bike he’d left at the Srpenica section egress. Since he was expecting this to take up to an hour, I took the opportunity to drop back down to the river and walk up the right bank, taking a few photos and clips of video.

On Thursday, we paddled both Srpenica sections once again, making a few new lines and having fun at a few playspots on the steep second section. Whilst Jake was shuttling, I took a lot of photos of the top of the slalom section, as we’d noticed that there had been some major changes since the SOC trip of four years earlier. One boulder on the left in the entry rapid has split, and another huge boulder that was on the bank has vanished, leaving a large obstacle in the middle of what had been a flat pool on the earlier trip.

There were now only two bits of paddling we hadn’t tackled (well, also Syphon canyon, but that’s not really sensible to run at this sort of level, if ever). The Otona section is longish and perhaps a bit more committing than Mary was up for, so we headed past Bovec to the top of the Koritnica. The put-in is down a steep path (which would be hard work if you were coming up), leading to a short section which was a bit of a scrape as it was rather braided, over a cobbled bed (good weather meant that levels had been dropping all week). From an eddy on river left, we now headed into the “gorge”, which is a narrow section between rock walls, which weren’t high enough to stop it continuing sunny. This is easier than it looks, and only slightly steeper just at the entry before becoming boily but straightforward. A big sunny eddy towards the end really showed up the clarity of the water. It is then an alternation of wooded canyons and wider bouldery rapids for some distance until, under the road bridge which we’d crossed earlier on the way to the Bunker section, it got a bit more lively right down to the confluence with the Soča. Rather than the steep walk up to the parking here, we continued down the by now very familiar section to Čezsoča.

By the last day, we were perhaps starting to burn out a little – I was definitely not concentrating as hard as I would have liked and whilst I didn’t miss any lines on the now familiar Srpenica sections, I didn’t feel that continuing onto the Slalom section would have been as successful as the first time. Over lunch we came to the conclusion that perhaps we should call it a week – saving the Otona section to give an excuse to come here again.

We headed back to the chalet at Camp Koren above Kobarid and decided to have a walk in the woods looking for flowers. We started river right, looking at the lower part of the Otona to Napoleon bridge section of the Soča, which by this point is fairly pool-drop with some long flattish sections. The harder part is just below Syphon canyon and we really didn’t have time to walk that far up. Consequently, when we came across a sign towards a footbridge and indicating a scenic waterfall, we took this route, dropping steeply down to cross the Soča and ascend a pleasant path for twenty minutes on the other side. This intercepted a canyonny stream with a small waterfall, and a small path dropped off the main path just above and led us into a deep cleft with a couple of footbridges crossing the stream and back. Steps now led to an elevated walkway stuck to the canyon wall, but at the start of this, Mary suddenly gave a squawk and jumped back. “Monster ?” I asked. “Yes!” came the reply, and indeed there was. Guarding the bottom step was a Dinosaur. Well, OK, maybe not a giant Mesozoic warm-blooded reptilian, but a rather sluggish amphibian secreting potent neurotoxins from its skin – a Fire Salamander.


Stepping carefully past the salamander, we ascended to the walkway, which clung to the wall and rounded the corner to reveal Slap Kozjak, a rather fine 15m waterfall into a deep blue pool. Apparently this is the biggest of six canyonning pitches. As our eyes grew accustomed to the light, Mary spotted the abseil tat above it.


And that was essentially it for the week – our half days in Venice on the way out and back are covered in another post.

One thing I do feel obliged to mention – not really kayaking-related – is rural broadband. Here we were, in a small campsite, a decent walk away from a very small town, Kobarid. Perhaps a bit bigger than Boldron, but way smaller than Barnard Castle. Our accomodation came with free broadband (cabled ethernet or wireless, to taste) out of which I consistently got 20 Mb/s (despite it being shared with all the other campsite residents). That is a bit over thirty times faster than we get at the best times at home. So it looks as though a small, formerly-behind-the-iron-curtain country only recently free of violent politics, can manage a vastly better rural broadband infrastructure than the UK. So, well done Tory government ! Now stop spouting bullshit and actually get some decent bandwidth out in the sticks !!!

How Rivers change

As described in the next post, we’ve had a week in Slovenia paddling mainly the Soča. I paddled the slalom section on the 20th and found the water level a bit higher than when SOC had paddled in June, four years ago. There’s a photo on the SOC website, taken by a German lad the group met up with, from the footbridge at the start of the Slalom Section and I noticed on my own photo from a similar spot that things had changed quite a lot. So I went back a couple of days later and took a load of shots, trying to get close to the same position where Andy had stood to take his photo. Below you’ll see my closest match – the water level had dropped from my run, and is now only a little higher than in the 2012 view, and it was overcast rather than the late afternoon sunshine of the earlier photo.



The boulder on the left at the entry of the rapid at “A” has split. The upstream bit is still shown as “A” on the 2016 shot, but a larger part has fallen downstream to “A'”. The big boulder marked “B” in both photos has been washed down and round a bit. But the huge (5m on a side) boulder at “C” has simply vanished ! Boulders immediately behind it (as seen from the river, left in the photo) seem not to have moved much, but something must have washed out from under it and allowed it to collapse into the river. Where Pete Ball is calmly paddling across flat water in 2012, there is now a large piece of the boulder, at “E”, with quite a few new boulders also visible under the water upstream and river left of it, pushing a lot of water into the narrower right hand channel. This has had the effect of raising the water level in the short reach between boulders “A” and “E” which is one reason why it is quite hard to judge the relative water levels in the two photos. I suspect the boulder “D” in 2016 is the one which was lying between “B” and “C” in 2012, but it is hard to be sure.

Walking French Alps 2015

With the low water levels, I did a bit more walking on the alps trip this year, though the heat did make for rather hazy views. We started off at the top of the Onde Valley, above Vallouise, with a walk up to the Réfuge des Bans. This is past the end of the road, and well beyond any part of the Onde which is paddled, even at grade5+. There are canyons to be run up here, though unfortunately, none which we could see into from our walk, whose main objective was, of course, to justify a cold beer at the Réfuge.


Wild scenery just before climbing steeply up to the hut

The edge of the Ecrins National Park is just at the parking place, so this is a protected area with plenty of wild flowers (probably better earlier in the season this year when there was more snowmelt in the streams) and wildlife.


Lots of butterflies on the alpine flora

The next venture was on a day when I really didn’t want to mess about at the St. Clément slalom site or take part in a mass trip down the Sunshine Run. The Three Lakes Walk last year had made the idea of driving deep into the mountains on steep forest tracks seem rather fun, and I found my way to a considerable height (2380m) above St. Clément, although not without some difficulty, as a couple of the tarmac roads around Réotier were closed for roadworks and the diversion signs weren’t really designed for someone with my destination in mind. Once I’d managed to reach the end of the surfaced road, it all got easier. The road ended at a couple of small buildings very much in the middle of nowhere, so I was surprised to find my phone telling me that there was free WiFi here !


Looking to the Ecrins, and peaks I’d climbed in 1984

The path climbed fairly gently to the west, offering improving views, but nothing very spectacular until a col on the SE ridge of my objective, the Tête de Vautisse. Here a view opened over the Couleau valley, bounded on the far side by some fairly impressive crags. Unfortunately, the route to the peak now involved a descent, as the ridge is not quite continuous. This proved not to be as much of a height loss as the map seemed to indicate and I was soon at the foot of the final ridge. This was steep and somewhat loose, with quite a bit of exposure over the southern side above Le Couleau, so I was quite surprised to find two Mountain Bikers heading downhill towards me from the summit. They did dismount for one or two particularly awkward bits, but mostly hurtled down in apparent control…

I had chosen this peak as the highest in the group of hills west of the Durance valley with almost no higher peaks between it and the main Ecrins Massif to the NW. The only thing distracting me from the very extensive view was a glider (from the airfield at St. Crépin) using the uplift on the south side of my ridge by repeatedly flying past very close to the cliffs. He started out well below me, but after a few passes gained enough height to be well clear of the summits. The summit was soon reached, at 3156m, the first 3000m peak I’d climbed for almost twenty years.


Tête de Vautisse, looking towards the Ecrins

No other path appeared on my map, but it was clear that a way had been reasonably well used off the NE ridge, which split into NNE and ENE ridges a short way down. Although the ENE ridge was bounded by steep rocks, I could see enough to deduce that the path came off that and back down to the valley from which I had ascended, so I varied my route by descending this side. Rather to my surprise, it proved less steep and loose than the main route I’d followed on the way up, though a bit harder to follow. Coming down this way avoided almost all the reascent to reach the col, and I was soon back on the main footpath. The grassy areas had plenty of Marmots to scold me on my way back to the car.

A couple of days later, Mary and I had a shorter walk onto the ridge separating the Guisane from the Clarée, north of Briançon. This time, a surfaced road got us most of the height, leaving only a short way along a rather rough track to our starting point. Since this was, again, at about 2400m, the total climb to the Croix de la Cime, at 2613m, was fairly minimal.


Many well-defined paths and prayer flags on the cross suggest this is a much more visited summit

We continued southwards along the ridge, taking in a couple of smaller peaks, before retracing our steps and then dropping off the western side above St. Chaffrey. This led to a well-defined path traversing below the ridge, but still offering fine views into the Ecrins, where the weather looked a little more threatening.


Cloud boiling over the higher peaks of the Ecrins

There was but a short reascent to the car (still the only one which had made it up to this particular parking spot, though we’d met plenty of people on the ridge).

Whitewater French Alps 2015

As is becoming almost routine, we started our alpine paddling this year in the Durance valley, camping at Argentière la Bessée. The West, Adams, Waddington and Graystone families, and various individuals: Bill, Niki, Penny, Lisa and Richard, paddled over a two week or so period in late July which started with temperatures up to 40°C and didn’t get much cooler except during brief storms.

Snow had been in short supply last winter, so water levels were on the low side, though those odd localised thunderstorms did keep one or two rivers topped up from time to time. Consequently, we spent quite a bit of time on the Argentière and St. Clément slalom sites.

Playboating is all about getting wet - Alastair on the top wave at St. Clément. Photo: Andy Waddington
Playboating is all about getting wet – Alastair on the top wave at St. Clément is certainly doing that…

Glacier melt in the extreme heat seemed to be providing a bit more water than we’ve had for the last couple of years on the Upper Guisane, which should have made the S-bends easier, but we still managed to have a couple of upsets – there are still enough boulders that it doesn’t pay to get sideways! Alastair’s boat navigated itself very neatly to the eddy where Andy was waiting to grab it, whilst Penny’s made a bid for freedom incurring a bit of a chase. All reunited, we continued without incident down to St. Chaffrey.

Dave probably got the best line on S-bends. Photo: Andy Waddington
Dave probably got the best line on S-bends.

We paddled several sections of the Durance, got just enough water one day to paddle the Gyronde, and following a visit to the (rather low) Upper Guil in two groups, Dave, Alastair, Johnny and Michael paddled the Chateau Queyras gorge.

Triumphant exit from Chateau Q. Photo: Andy Waddington
A triumphant exit from Chateau Queyras gorge with everyone upright (now).

Michael and Alastair went on to paddle the Middle Guil from below Triple Step, right to the end, joined for the first few kilometres by Mary.

Mary finding the Middle Guil slightly pushy
Mary coping with a pourover on the Middle Guil

After Mary took off, the boys continued, as we followed their progress as much as possible from the road, with various photo stops on the way.

Michael and Alastair boulder dodging their way down
Michael taking the alternative approach of avoiding a pourover on the Middle Guil

Staircase proved a little difficult in the low water, with one step in the middle having no feasible line, so a short portage ensued. Tunnel proved easier than it looked, but the supposedly straightforward run down from there to the end held one or two surprises.

Michael holding his line on Tunnel - Middle Guil. Photo: Andy Waddington
Michael holding his line on Tunnel – Middle Guil.

We knew from Sarah and the Leeds Uni paddlers that the Ubaye racecourse had, in June, been at the sort of level we normally expect at the end of July, but we had been assured that it still had enough water to run, so Andy, Mary, Michael, Bill, Niki, Iggy, Dave, Alastair and Johnny split into two groups. Only one brief inspection proved necessary (and only for the first group to arrive) and the run was pleasantly uncrowded and almost entirely successful, despite one or two people constantly expecting hard rapids to appear around the next bend. At this level, they never did.

Dropping in to the final gorge on the Ubaye Racecourse. Photo: Andy Waddington
Dropping in to the final gorge on the Ubaye Racecourse

Alpine light

Our annual ski trip for 2015 was at New Year, and we returned to Mayrhofen. There were days of heavy snowfall, which was great, and one of arctic wind, which wasn’t. Poor weather often means good snow, but combined with piste skiing is often poor for photography, so not much inspiring produced from the days out. However, one day was notable for a power outage over a big chunk of the mountain. Links being what they are, this produced a very large number of skiers at the end of the day at the bottom of slopes which would normally be uncrowded. The resort responded with a lot of extra buses, but with the crowds overflowing onto the roads, getting these turned round was an issue, and being at the very top of the valley, narrow roads were also slowing things down. This would no doubt all have been fine with a bit of marshalling and crowd cooperation, but people were clearly tired, irritable and bored. The number of people behaving in a completely counterproductive and frankly inconsiderate manner eventually got to me, and I just set off to walk, carrying skis, in ski boots, seven miles down the road. Since I use ski touring boots which are designed for a certain amount of walking and climbing, this was not quite as epic as it might sound, though it did take a bit longer than I’d hoped, and the traffic was a bit of a problem with no provision made for pedestrians on most of the road. The light faded, and one good result of all this was a bit of sunset photography. Here’s my favourite:


Piz Daint 2968m

Today’s sports programme was really about driving the Stelvio, which at 2757m I think is the highest of the alpine passes I had not previously driven, and conveniently nearby. So I headed off up the Inntal and hacked left over Reschenpass and into Italy. The Stelvio proved a fun drive (if a little busier than one would like) but the weather turned pretty foul, with sleet at the top.


The east side of the Stelvio Pass, a fun drive despite the rain and traffic. Looks mean for those cyclists…

I dropped over onto the easier western side, then took the first right, dropping into Switzerland, then heading up valley towards the Pass dal Fuorn, a mere 2149m, which would take me back to the Inn Valley. The weather quickly brightened up on this side of the crest, and by the time I arrived at the pass, looked like a nice day for a walk. Unfortunately, the only accessible 3000m peak was back at the border in the clag, and Piz Daint was the obvious choice if I wanted the sunshine. The distance was not that great at 4 km, but it is well over 800m of ascent to its 2968m summit.


Minor path heading left and up onto the rockier ground of Piz Daint

Starting fairly gently on a good path, a shoulder is crossed and a bit of downhill ensues before a lesser path heads off left and soon reaches rockier terrain. A long section of zigzags was eased by the sight of a couple ahead on whom I was gaining ground – these ascents always go faster with a bit of competitive spirit.


On the shoulder before the steep – the orange section is like badly run-out scree and a little unpleasant

The route reached a bit of a col where a path continued down the other side, but my way was left, on up the ridge, and this soon reached a levelling where the view ahead showed me exactly what I had in store to reach the top. Unfortunately, another group who I was hoping to overtake on this stretch decided to stop for a break, giving me no competitive incentive on the final steep ascent. This proved to be quite exposed, with very steep sides and loose stones underfoot. Not really that hard going up, and I was soon at the top, just outside two hours, but well under the time signposted at the start of the walk.


Looking south over the shoulder of Piz Dora (2951m) to Piz Murtaröl, 3180m

The summit view was really very extensive, with no higher peaks in the foreground, so although the quality of the walking was nothing to write home about, and it’s always annoying to be so close to the 3k mark without hitting it, this was rather reminiscent of climbing a Corbett back home – never as high as a Munro, but almost always a better viewpoint. The view can only distract for so long, however, and soon I started the descent, which, as expected, proved a lot more delicate than the way up, with the exposure very much more apparent looking ahead and down.


The steep and rather loose path down from Piz Daint – the steepest (orange stained in view above) bit is over the immediate horizon middle-left

All went well, and from the shoulder, progress became very quick indeed, getting back to the car in under an hour and a half. The drive down into Inntal showed a river, the Spöl, that was not in the guidebook, but looked paddleable but a little inaccessible at the bottom of a steep V-shaped valley. Looking at the map, however, it seems that a dam steals the water and directs it to the S-Chanf hydro, so maybe it never gets enough water to run. Once back at Zernez in the Inn valley, the route was familiar from having paddled various sections of the river and didn’t take long back to the campsite at Prutz.

The Three Lakes Walk

Sarah and I drove up what proved to be a very entertaining single-track road from the back of Roche de Rame, unsurfaced from soon after leaving the village. There seemed to be a highish population of kids and dogs at the bottom end of the Plan de la Loubiere where we planned to start the walk, so drove a bit further to find a parking spot out of the way, then headed back to cross the bridge and onto a forestry track. This was pleasant enough, though steep, and mostly shaded by the trees. As we gained height, the track curved round and started to traverse into a valley. Suddenly, and rather unexpectedly (I hadn’t studied the map quite closely enough) it dropped rather steeply into the next valley to cross the stream. Hmm, that’s quite a bit of extra reascent, then…

We now plodded steadily up valley across a south-facing slope, still mostly shaded, but quite steep. This eventually broke out into pasture and rock scenery opposite a nice waterfall, traversed round past a rock face and up some more into a wider valley where the ascent was a bit more gentle, but we were in the sun. Grassy pasture with lots of flowers alternated with patches of bare limestone and the path wasn’t always distinct. Thus we missed the way to the largest of the lakes (which was hidden by the slope above us) and headed round more easterly towards the two smaller lakes. With no path now visible at all, it was very pretty, and we headed towards the outlet valley from the smallest lake, aiming to avoid too much up and down.


Sarah walking through flowery pasture below the three lakes cirque

We were now finding that the walk was proving a bit longer than we’d hoped and, seeing the steep ascent yet to come, curved round right, missing out the lakes and heading over more stretches of bare rock towards the col. Although this last bit was a little loose and rocky in places, it proved less strenuous than perhaps we had feared and we were soon rewarded by the view from the col.


The south side of the col was a little steeper with a lot less vegetation, and bits were loose enough to require a bit of care, but soon we were down onto a more gentle area (with Marmots) in a bowl draining into the valley where we had parked. However, the stream dropped into a deep V-shaped gully with much loose stuff and clearly wasn’t the way down. The path was very vague around the top of this, but once we’d skirted west, it became quite well-defined again and took us right back to our upward track where we turned sharp left and headed down. By now, the lowering skies had given rise to rumbles of thunder. Crossing the bridge, we upped the pace a little along the now-level track, and reached the car just as the first quite big spots of rain started to fall. Excellent timing ! The walk proved to be about 13.5km with 800m of ascent. We drove down fairly carefully, as the track was a little slick in one or two places over polished stones.