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Daring Deeds - real stories, expeditions, road trips and adventure

Alpine Adventure

By Ashleigh Naysmith | 05, Feb, 2009

Ashleigh making tentative moves out of the cave and onto the icicle.

The adventure in the Alps with Alpkit was an amazing experience. I got the chance to try many new things in a relatively small period of time. Thus making the trip to the Ice Festival in l’Argentiere de la Bessee one of the most action packed few days of my life so far. However, there were a few hours in the early morning of our departure to the Alps where I had the major concern that I may not be able to go. This was because I had managed to misplace my passport and had left packing it till the last minute. Big mistake.
Luckily, my wonderful mother managed to find it at around 2a.m. after 3 hours of manic searching.

Despite being up till some silly hour turning my house upside down I was still up in good time for when Dan arrived – he gave Alex and I a lift to Alpkit HQ. When we got to Alpkit HQ the van that half of us were travelling down in was almost packed. The amount of gear in that van could have probably lasted twenty people a few months in the Alps.

It wasn’t long until we were on our way to the Alps! Now, although I was very excited about this whole trip, I was quite tired and have a tendency to fall asleep on long journeys and this trip was no exception as I managed to sleep for roughly 16 hours of the 20 hour journey- so I’m afraid I cannot tell of all the excitement of the van journey. However, there were some important bits that I didn’t miss: Pierre (the Alpkit mannequin) being sent through the x ray machine at British customs, people shoving cameras in my face at random points, campus and table climbing tournament on the ferry, the incredible amount of snow on the French /Italian borders and surrounds, fun with the snow chains, being pushed over/ falling over in the snow numerous times – something which I developed a penchant for over my time there.

On arrival, our first task was to set up stall at the ICE festival. Following this we were introduced to our guide for the following day; Murray Hamilton – a Scottish guide who had moved to l’Argentiere about 20 years ago.

We went to the gite to unpack and sort gear for tomorrow – it was then that I found out that we were going to have to get up at 6.30 the next morning. This came as a bit of a shock to me – anyone who knows me probably knows that I am not a huge fan of mornings. All the same, I knew it was going to be worth it. We were going ice climbing! I had never done ice climbing before and did not know what to expect from it. I was not sure whether it was going to be just generally really difficult, or maybe the beginner stuff would actually be very easy, or whether it was going to be technically easy but extremely pumpy or vice versa. I had no idea.

After the early start, we went to meet the guide where we proceeded to follow him up to the ice falls- we got to observe the benefits of winter tires over snow chains as he sped off into the distance and round corners at every opportunity! It was a relatively short walk in from the car park to the ice falls and was the perfect warm up.

I had been extremely concerned before going that I was going to be exceptionally cold throughout the trip but was relieved to find that was actually manageable. The situation of ice falls was phenomenal- mountainous surroundings with pristine snow shimmering under the sun’s rays.

The ice falls themselves were equally impressive. Huge structures of random formation- nothing like anything I had ever climbed before. I couldn’t wait to try climbing it, but I still had slight concerns: it was ice- I found it hard to believe that this could support my weight and my whacking it with axes. My concerns were accentuated by the water I could see running behind the ice. On the other hand, I had just watched Murray climb up these amazing falls with ease and speed so figured that it was probably quite safe.

My first climb was so much fun! The muscles that I used to ice climb blatantly differed from those I use whilst climbing- I found that my calve muscles and the muscle at the base of my thumbs were most affected and just burnt! I also got to experience my first hot aches- not so fun.

Murray had put a top rope on a route with a vertical section. I had a go at this route but when it came to coming round the corner to the vertical section I totally freaked out because I couldn’t see where my axes were going so well, there was water dripping on my face and I was trying to climb on stalactite type ice which I did not particularly trust to hold my weight. So after sitting on the rope and then trying again and then a bit more panicking I came down without finishing the route. I didn’t mind too much though, next time I go ice climbing I will get a vertical section completed. At the time I was more interested in trying to lead a smaller ice climb myself. So that’s what I did – but the ice screws had already been placed. Most of us were rather tired by about 3p.m. – ice climbing is tiring! On the way back Murray showed us some crags which were right by the road and were warm in the sun even at this time of year. The area has everything! I can see why Murray moved there.

Day Three we went snow shoeing. Now this was something that I was not wholly convinced by as I tend to prefer activities that are faster paced than walking, and I presumed that snow shoeing would be similar to walking. However, I was nicely surprised and really enjoyed the snow shoeing. It had elements which were a little like skiing (not that I have ever skied), it was easier to walk in the snow because you didn’t sink with every step, and reminded me of being a young child again – running around in the snow making snowmen and snow angels.

That night was the night of the bivvy- some crazy and daring idea where you sleep outside at sub zero temperatures. This was something that concerned me as I get cold quite easily. Nevertheless, it was an awesome night. There was hot food and vin chaud, dancing and fire play, large campfires, music, an igloo and Jim’s snow hole. Plus the surrounding were absolutely beautiful- the moon was so bright you could see quite clearly without a head torch, the snow was shimmering and you could clearly see the mountains all around us. It was stupendous. I would definitely do it again. Yet, although I did not freeze- it was still pretty cold, so I wouldn’t want to do it every night! I was not cold in my sleeping bag and Hunka bivi cover though, even at -16.

The fourth day we were up early to get back down the valley for breakfast and then off snowboarding (and skiing)! I had only tried a little bit of snowboarding before but really enjoyed it so was very much looking forward to getting to have a proper go on a real mountain! It turned out that I couldn’t remember anything that I had learnt and spent the first hour on the ground. I did start to get the hang of it and it was so much fun. I cannot wait to do it again. However, since I started to get the hang of it I began to pick up speed. This meant more painful falls. I slid down the slopes on my face with my board over my head a few times. Still, awesome fun. Everybody should try it. That night we said our farewells to those of the Alpkit team who were catching the plane back and set off on our journey home in the yellow van.

The fifth and final day we stopped for a short boulder in font. I personally felt pretty broken for the nose dives I had taken in the snow the previous day – I think the others probably felt pretty broken too. We all had a few hours bouldering before the continuation of our journey. We got home around 1a.m. the following morning, all totally shattered and sadly meant the end of an absolutely amazing trip. I suppose there’s always next year though, right? Subzero bivi anyone?!!!

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