Tour du Mont Blanc with a tent. Yes.

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Waking up to admire the Grandes Jorasses, anyone??

Hiking amid glorious mountain landscapes, contemplating the immense vertical walls of one of the world’s most famous – perhaps too famous – mountains: Mont Blanc. What’s not to like about this venture? Walking along easy, marked paths, facing gentle elevation gains and smiles galore. Well, in truth, the Tour du Mont Blanc is long. Very long. Especially if you carry a 10-kg backpack. Still, we were up for the challenge and set up everything at the drop of a hat.

Organising the Tour is relatively easy, there is a well-established circuit – its website is here  – where you have access to updated information and precious pieces of advice. You then grab a map, sketch out a rough plan and Bob’s your uncle. The average amount of time needed is eight days with 6-8 hours walking per day.

You can choose to stay in huts – some are more expensive than others – or opt for a tent. I don’t always enjoy the noisy atmosphere of huts, where your neighbour is invariably busy with his or her snorathon, so sleeping in a tent was just sublime – when it wasn’t raining, hailing or we had a thunderstorm over our heads, that is!

France is very well organised, in that you can place your tent pretty much everywhere, offering regulated free camping areas with fresh water close by, while camping is only allowed above 2,500 metres in Italy and altogether forbidden in Switzerland outside designated areas.

Wherever we went, we were greeted with encouraging faces, magnificent vistas and silence. Silence is so precious these days that we all take it for granted. Do we still know its meaning? Do we comprehend how vital it is? Maybe not, since we’re all always too busy with social media or interacting with a computer these days.

Complaining about this trend is somewhat pointless, after all that’s the direction society is going, however I invite everyone to experience the beauty of wild camping. Whether in the shade of Mont Blanc or elsewhere, as the saying goes, the world is your oyster, and you know you cannot simply stand aside and let it go past.

Be adventurous. Be Bold.

 

All pictures © Lucia Prosino

 

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New crag in Lillaz, Cogne… great rock and rad views galore

 

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Climbing equals freedom, balance, dedication, strength and the love of nature.

The Aosta Valley offers countless opportunities for climbers of all grades and tastes, with crags set amid stunning scenery.

One such case is the new Marcello Gerard crag set up by the Cogne guide Alberto Silvestri together with Marco della Noce in Lillaz, Cogne. It offers grades starting at F5a up to F7b; you will find engaging routes requiring delicate moves, making for an exciting venture.

Bathed in the sun all year round, this is the ideal place if you want to hone your skills at the marvellous game of climbing.

Proudly supported by the Guide di Cogne and Peakshunter.

All pictures © Sibilla Leonida, except where otherwise stated.

 

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LIllaz Cristina Borgesia

Picture © Cristina Borgesio

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The opening party…  Picture © Debora Bionaz

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Gran Paradiso, a tour in Heaven with Peakshunter.

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Going up Gran Paradiso

Snowy peaks, endless ski descents, engaging routes and a taste for adventure Does this sound like Heaven? Well, it is. This is a world famous ski tour set amid Italy’s first national park, the Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso. Focusing around the only 4,000-metre peak entirely on the Italian soil, the Gran Paradiso (4,061 m), this is a jewel tour that any ski touring enthusiast should have under his or her belt.

Starting in Valnontey and ending in Lillaz both close to Cogne, the tour touches ridges, cols, peaks and superb descents, intertwined with cozy, welcoming mountain huts, the Vittorio Sella, Federico Chabod, Vittorio Emanuele and Pontese, in the Aosta Valley and Piedmont’s Valle dell’Orco. The days are long and the stages can be technical, involving rappels, ridge crossing, the use of crampons and an ice axe, and you’ll have to carry a heavy rucksack. All the efforts and the energies deployed will pay off in the end, however, as the scenery you’ll encounter is among the most dramatic and exquisite in the Alps.

If you are after big crowds and noise, look elsewhere. This is a remote, often wild corner of the Alps, where the cold snaps and the wind often blows mercilessly. It is the perfect playground if you want to test your skills and endurance.

We were given sound advice by our guide, Alberto “Silver” Silvestri, both before and during our tour: vital information, often small pieces of advice which enhance your experience and make it an enjoyable one, whether it’s setting the correct pace or telling you what to wear. Alberto is part of Peakshunter, a team of young, motivated and strong mountain guides who love their jobs and want to share their passion. They organise adventures pretty much everywhere in the Alps and beyond.

If you wear a smile on your face, everything will be easier in life; this is especially true when talking about these guides, who will lead you onto hip and groovy adventures, whatever you’ll choose to do.

All pictures © Lucia Prosino and Amin Raouf.

Sponsored by Dynafit, Pomoca, Grivel, Julbo, Tascapan, Distillerie Saint Roch, Farmacia Dott. Nicola

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Snow, what art thou? Arc’teryx Chamonix Momentum at the Bonatti Hut.

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What happens when you put several skiers and snowboarders together, shuffle in three cool guides, one skilled photographer, a breath-taking setting, marvellous views of Mont Blanc and a cosy hut? Well, ask the latest participants to Isabelle Santoire’s recent venture, two days of Snow Awareness at the Bonatti Hut in outstanding Val Ferret in Italy.

The recipe is a tried-and-tested one: fun-loving folks plus good snow and sunny weather equal big smiles and a cheerful atmosphere. Still, we were not merely there to have fun. People joined the event because Isa is a lively lady, for sure, but we also wanted to learn about snow. Snow, what art thou? Well we all know it’s candid, fun to play with, but can also be treacherous and unforgiving. The core of the event was understanding snow: How do you set a track? What is the best way to reach your goal? Should you simply aim to go from A to B opting for the steepest option? Or follow your feet and your sense of direction? In the Aosta Valley, more than elsewhere, tracks tend to be steep and encourage speed, but you’ll need a strong stamina or love races to fully enjoy it.

Rick Marchant, snow expert and Chamonix-based mountain guide, revealed some tips and skills to make your outing smoother and more interesting. You need to be able to READ snow to make the most of it. What does this mean? Do you have to stop and make in-depth analysis, stratigraphy and all that jazz? Well, that is necessary sometimes, especially when the terrain looks and feels unsafe and there is an avalanche risk. Other times, however, a glance is all it takes to know that that particular patch of snow skies well. Aren’t we after a good time?

Quite clearly, however, the emphasis is set on safety on any such outing, so practice at searching beacons and using probes and shovels was also undertaken under the watchful eyes of Isa and Sam Beaugey, the other guide taking part in the event.

The most interesting evening talk was the AAA discussion, led by Rick: the three big As of snow awareness are Aspect – Angle – Altitude. Bear these three elements in mind and Bob’s your uncle. Consider, for instance, how high the sun is and what angle it will hit the slope you’re about to reach, think about the altitude and the snow level at a particular time of the year; consider the intensity of the wind and what direction it blows, if wind slabs have been recorded and what degree of humidity snow will possess; assess how many skiers are in your party and what weight you will bring on a particular slope. Well, these are only a few of the points you’ll have to consider when setting out on a ski touring walk, trying to make the most of your day and enjoying the run!

See you at the next event!

 

More info on Chamonix Momentum here 

All pictures by Hugo Vincent Photography, except where stated otherwise.

The event was sponsored by Arc’teryx

 

 

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Approaching Col Malatra – Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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On top of the Tete entre deux Sauts.

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Cogne Ice Opening 2016 – Emotions within nature

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Photo Hugo Vincent

 

Ice climbing. The magic of hitting an ephemeral frozen waterfall, defying the elements and living for the moment. Expert ice climbers will tell you that there is so much more to ice climbing than the mere ascent of a line. It’s all about the experience, living here and now, creating strong bonds within your rope party, accepting challenges and facing them head-on.

While the progress in technology, both in terms of gear and clothing, allows you to test your limits, the mountains can always strike back, the power of nature being beyond human control.

What are we to learn from an event such as the Cogne Ice Opening, having now reached its fifth edition? First of all, the human facet is always the most important one: as with any field of life, some people may be more committed than others, but one thing is common to all, i.e. respect for the mountains and those around you.   In Lillaz, where the air is cold and the wind unforgiving, a spellbinding buzz will enthuse and you will find yourself sharing a rope with new and old friends, smiling despite the not so comfortable conditions, hearing motivating stories, and having a good time.

As was the case for the past editions, several renowned and truly respectable mountaineers walked the stage of the All about the Ice movie night this year. From François Damilano to Mathieu Maynadier and Rudolf Hauser, plus Matthias Scherer , the mind behind the Ice Opening. He is usually on stage to present other athletes, while he was asked a few questions by none other than Monsieur Damilano this time, primarily concerning decisions. Matthias showed his spellbinding Anathema film, on ice climbing in Norway, together with his wife Tanja and her twin sister Heike, a mountain guide. When circumstances are harsh and the climbing so committing, the power of the rope party becomes stronger than ever. “I have climbed with Tanja and Heike for so long, that a glance is enough to read their minds and decide what move is next.” Conditions can be tasking in Norway – brittle ice along mammoth lines – so team spirit needs to be high. François Damilano, an endless list of first ascents on ice, including the iconic Repentance, under his belt, recalled his first encounter with Cogne, upon invitation by Giancarlo Grassi, and showed a video which marked the evolution of ice climbing from the beginning of the new century, to the somewhat new dry tooling activities. Extreme alpinist Rudolf Hauser explored the media influence into crafting ice climbing videos, and also illustrated his solo project, climbing two lines in the Hochkogel region in Austria (1000 and 1.400 metres) and linking them with a 20 km run, all in just over 11 hours, in 2014. Mathieu Maynadier, who completed astounding first ascents and expeditions in the Karakoram, Alaska, Nepal, Peru, and many other places, enthralled the public with the first video from the Maewan project. The brainchild of Erwan Le Lann, Maewan is a small boat which will go around the world in search of beguiling projects for four years. This first part involved sailing from north Iceland to Greenland pursuing cool lines to ski, thus having a sailor, a freerider and an alpinist on board.

The world is your oyster, it would seem, for the possibilities are endless in the mountains, if you put your mind to it. The Ice Opening has, once again, brought smiles and adventure, fun and commitment. Could the ice climbing season have started in a better way? I strongly doubt so.  Venture out and explore, listen to your emotions and follow your instinct. The mountains are waiting.

 

The event was kindly sponsored by La Sportiva, Arc’teryx, Petzl, Black Diamond, Sterling Rope, Suunto and Glorify.

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Photo Nicolas Magnin

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John Bracey belaying Nicolas Magnin (Photo N. Magnin)

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Go girls!

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Many people are eager to hit the ice.

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Matthias Scherer interviewed by Francois Damilano

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Photo Hugo Vincent

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Photo Hugo Vincent

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Photo Hugo Vincent

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Jeff Mercier at the dry tooling crag.

 

Life in a tent. Big fun. Or is it?

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I was in Guillestre, close to Briançon, when I slept under the stars for the very first time. A mattress, a sleeping bag and Bob’s your uncle. Watching the moon and the stars and falling asleep listening to grasshoppers in the distance… what’s not to like? Although most people will sneer at my enthusiasm for such a mundane past time, this first experience proved vital for me. It encouraged me, in fact, to try and do more.

I often meet top-rank mountaineer who think that sleeping in a rusty hut at 3800 metres is luxury – read Marko Prezelj’s account on this here and so my latest adventure around Monte Rosa may look insignificant to them, but let’s not forget that, in life, we progress through little steps.

I will not offer you quotes from Whitman or Thoreau about life in the woods and finding your own path. This is not about rediscovering yourself, being in touch with nature or rejecting consumerism. This is about accepting new challenges head on. Sleeping in a tent on a glacier, anyone? Sure, that’s better than sleeping on a glacier WITHOUT a tent – a common, often compulsory option for most mountaineers – but it still needs some preparation, stamina and good will.

I love Monte Rosa, that’s where I am from, where my roots lie, so clearly that felt like home – we were above the Mantova Hut, at about 3500 m, but a hard, snowy ground will put some strain on your back even if you are as happy as a clam. Who feels like going up a 4,000-metre peak the day after? Well, we did and we struggled, but we loved it.  The Capanna Margherita, the highest hut in Europe at 4554 m is simply stunning.

It’s easy mountaineering, that’s for sure, but my happiness was not in the least diminished after reaching it.

The mountains are your oysters.  I encourage you to try and accept new challenges, be they big or small.   You will feel rewarded and will ask for more.

 

All pictures © Lucia Prosino

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Digging up base camp

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A room with a view…

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Marvellous sunset.

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Going up…

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A feather in the sky.

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Oh the joys of getting up…

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Good night!

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Perfect beauty.

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Happy.

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Nature is a work of art.

 

 

 

Triple bill in Darfo: Mick Fowler, Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson.

Mick Fowler high on Gave Ding

Mick Fowler high on Gave Ding (Photo M. Fowler archive)

 

An apparently run-of-the-mill village where you pass by on your way to the spa, the local climbing crag and the many mountains. Or so it would seem… Montagne al Cinema has been running in Darfo Boario Terme for fifteen years and its list of guests is a who’s who in the world of mountaineering: from Patrick Edlinger to Manolo, the Favresse brothers to Christophe Dumarest, Catherine Destivelle to Leo Houlding. Many names, all encompassing exciting, compelling, fascinating stories.

The first two dates in this year’s edition, where I was the translator, presented two different worlds: Himalayan mountaineering with Mick Fowler and “Once upon a climb”, that is the climbing dream lived by Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson. – check their website here

It would be far too easy to think that Mick, a taxman in “real life”, and Caroline and James, a former competition champion and a highly accomplished trad climber, all pursue their adventures simply to follow their passion. You’ll need far more that mere fervour to achieve their results. Determination, curiosity, organisation, the willingness to “open your eyes” and embrace other cultures, different habits, unusual customs are all part and parcel of their success.

Although, clearly, success is not what they’re after. “Success” to them is, for instance, raising money for Caroline’s and James’s charity, Spot or opening new lines in Nepal for Mick (Mick’s latest achievement, together with Paul Ramsden, was reaching the summit of Gave Ding (6400 m) on 22 October 2015).

What are we to make of all this? How can we be inspired by them? Surely, setting up a Himalayan expedition, opening a new line on Reunion Island or repeating famously difficult routes in the south of France or risky ones in the UK aren’t for everybody, but this is not the point. The point is that, ultimately, grades do not matter: sharing a passion is, in fact, enough to unite people, and their stories set an example of how dreams can indeed come true, if you put your mind to it.

Caroline’s next project is the repetition of the Voie Petit on the Grand Capucin, opened by Arnaud Petit and Stephanie Bodet in 1997 and freed by Alexander Huber in 2005. Born and bred on the tropical Reunion Island, she will have to come to terms with the cold, ice, climbing at high altitude, using crampons and sleeping in a tent on a glacier. Leaving your comfort zone to find adventure often means tackling unfamiliar terrain, and this is a case in point.

Mick is turning 60 this year, but will not give up his yearly expedition. “I would be a very unhappy person, were I to do so…”, so stay tuned for more exploits.

If you are short of places to stay in the area around Darfo, do not miss this little gem. The B&B La Teiera  is cozy, to say the least. Step back in time and enjoy the marvellous hospitality of the owners, who have recently renovated this house perched on a small river, with all state of the art comforts.

See you all at Darfo for Montagne al Cinema 2017!

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Mick Fowler in Darfo

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Chatting with Mick during his talk.

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The magic couple. (Photo The North Face)

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James Pearson on Daddy Cool (E8 6b) on the sandstone cliff of Carreg-y-Barcud in North Pembroke. He flashed the route and made a more direct ascent in the process. (Photo The North Face)

 

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Caroline on Mezzogiorno di Fuoco, Sardinia (Photo Riky Felderer)

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Mick Fowler during his Gave Ding Expedition. (Photo Fowler archive)