Posted by: Bruce Duncan | April 19, 2010

Mountains and Volcanoes

Well, what a week.

A brilliant week of skiing in glorious sunshine in Chamonix with great friends, then having an impromptu road trip to get home following the Icelandic volcano eruption cancelling our flights.

We had a great time in Chamonix, even this late in the season, the snow was pretty good, a little icy in the morning, and slushy on the final run to the car in the evening, but high up on the mountains it was brilliant.  Skiing in late April was a first for me, but  it was fantastic.  There was hardly anyone on the mountain, so no queues, non of the feeling like you were skiing in a huge crowd on the slopes, and plenty of fresh lines in the off piste sections to play in too.

We were all staying in a fantastic chalet just 10mins walk from the centre of the town, it was perfect for us, fully catered, hot tub, transfers to the slopes in the mornings, and a great relaxing lounge complete with a brilliant bar! I’d highly recommend it to anyone thinking of a trip to Chamonix, in winter or summer. Mountain Highs Chalet

Our group consisted of a mix of abilities, but with some coaching given we were able to head off up the higher red and black runs to have some fun, or just flying down the blues getting some great carving in.  We skied at Grand Montets the first few days with some great weather, and some cloudy conditions which made the light very flat and hard work, but stunning views were available most of the time.  We then had a few days at Le Tour, a great area, very crusiey blue and red runs with some lovely off piste areas.  We didn’t have much fresh snow, but still managed to find some great powder high up.  The beginners loved the wider, less steep blues and really came on, and the rest of us loved the challenge of going fast in big carving turns, and playing on the ski cross course, although i do get a tad scared about flying over a jump way too fast!

After a great week of fun, both during the day and in the evenings in the hot tub/bars/restaurants etc.. it dawned on us that the volcanic ash cloud was going to cause us a whole heap of issues.  I myself wasn’t too fussed what with no job to come back to, but the rest of the group were teachers!  So they really needed to get back to school.  I was also skiing with Mark Beaumont, who restarts his lecture tour on tuesday, so he had to get back for that.

We looked at all the options, train, car, ferry, possibility of a flight, and worked out the only way to get back was by vehicle, as the French train drivers were on strike once again!  Booking a ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth was the first step, then we managed to persude our chalet owner to drive us there.  We shared the driving on the way out, but Ross would have to return on his own.

Once on the ferry we got some rest, well a few of us did, the girls did some lesson planning, as Laura had a few interviews coming up!  Primary maths and geography classes were planned, it was the perfect conversation for me to fall asleep too!  The ferry was about 4 hours and very smooth, and before we knew it we were in Portsmouth, back in the UK.  We still had to get back home though, and that wasn’t going to be easy at 11.30pm!

Mark had got his mum on the case, and we were booked on the National Express coach to Heathrow, where we arrived at 3am!  Heathrow was eerily quiet, but that didn’t mean our car hire was working any quicker though.  We had hired 2 vehicles, one to go to Manchester, and the other to Edinburgh.  So we said our goodbyes, and we got into a very nice VW Passat estate, which got us very quickly up to Preston and back to Manchester on super quiet roads.

After dropping the car off at Manchester airport in an atmosphere like that out of ’28 Days Later’  my girlfriend and I headed to her brothers for a well earned sleep.  Just after lunch time we both set off in our cars back north, and i stopped in Levens for a run with Ant, it was much needed, but the 100mins we ended up doing was hard work, with very little sleep and food over the past 24hrs!

So finally i got home to Keswick some 36hrs after leaving Chamonix, a long journey, but it had gone very smoothly, and looking at the news we had been very lucky to get home so easily.

The sun is now shining and i am enjoying relaxing after a great week away with a wee expedition thrown in at the end! I am going to have an easyish week i think, with some recceing of routes for my adventure race in the summer, and going to see Mark’s talk on Wednesday night in Barrow, i’m looking forward to it after spending a week with him and hearing some of the behind the scenes stories.

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