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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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)

 

Colin Haley. A Patagonian Love Affair

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Sunrise on the South East ridge of Cerro Torre as Colin Haley leads the rappel down after a long day of traversing the range together with Alex Honnold – Photo Colin Haley, Alex Honnold

“I’m an old-school crusty alpinist”. Seattle-born Colin Haley greets us with a smile and the devil-may-care attitude, seasoned with sincere modesty, typical of most adventurers. In Chamonix at the Epic Tv shop, Colin illustrated his pivotal, impressive, brave ascents in Patagonia to an enthusiastic crowd. Thirteen seasons in this typically inhospitable territory mean your skin is bound to get thicker and thicker, and Colin’s motivation clearly grew stronger as his objectives came into focus.

Chief among them, the Torre Traverse in a day with Alex Honnold (31 January 2016) and his first solo ascent of Torre Egger (January 19). The latter, first climbed by Americans Jim Donini, John Bragg and Jay Wilson in 1976, is considered the most difficult and seldom-climbed peak of the Patagonian Torre Group.

What motivated him? What drove him to such a challenging exploit? “Finding the balance between motivation and keeping concentration levels high was sometimes tasking”, he admits. Apart from the technical difficulties of the climb itself, the mental aspect is not to be overlooked at all; one silly mistake, such as dropping your rucksack or, God forbid, one rope, and you certainly shuffle off this mortal coil.

Colin is not new to climbing solo: he made the first solo ascent of Cerro Standhardt in 2010 and in 2012 he accomplished the first solo ascent of the north buttress of Mount Hunter in Alaska. Recently, he soloed the California Route on Fitz Roy… and the list could go on and on.

Together with Alex Honnold, the Torre Traverse in a day is most probably one of the most interesting exploits of the season: enchaining Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre in 32 hours “door to door” was an outstanding feature. The first Torre Traverse had been carried out by Colin together with Rolando Garibotti over 4 days in 2008, though this coveted project had been aspired to already twenty years ago by the Italians Ermanno Salvaterra, Andrea Sarchi, Maurizio Giarolli and Ezio Orlandi.

Efficiency, competence and a thorough knowledge of the terrain, Colin comfortable on mixed and iced terrain, and Alex excelling on rock, provided the perfect combination for a successful enterprise.

Colin’s interest in his Patagonian Dreams is still very much alive and kicking, though his other big passion, skiing, takes him to other corners of the world. Chamonix in primis. May the steepest alpine faces be next in line to the throne of Colin?

Stay tuned…

A full report in on Colin’s detailed blog

Colin Haley is sponsored by Patagonia, Petzl and La Sportiva

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Getting ready for the talk… – Photo L. Prosino

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Rope soloing the first pitch of Spigolo dei Bimbi – Photo Colin Haley

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On top of Torre Egger, solo! – Photo Colin Haley

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Alex Honnold leading the North Face of Cerro Torre – Photo Colin Haley/Alex Honnold

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The sequence outlining Colin reaching the top of Torre Egger along the Huber-Schnarf route – Photo Korra Pesce

In the company of women. Connect, experience, share. Explore & Be.

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The cheerful group ! – Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

An outing with 36 women. Wouldn’t that be a daunting prospect?   Perhaps. Not in modern society, however. Women want to explore, share their experience, learn, meet new people, have fun and just be themselves. This is the credo behind Explore & Be, the new venture set up by mountain guide Isabelle Santoire, supported by Arc’teryx.

What is she planning to do? She is organising events, from ice-climbing to ski-touring, climbing and mountaineering, which bring together people sharing a passion for the mountains and who love sharing their enthusiasm.

The latest project was a two-day ski-touring outing in Switzerland, at the cozy Cabane Brunet, above Lourtier. Girls of all ages and competences met to explore new territories and have fun. Longer and shorter tours were organised, with the help of five guides: Heike Schmitt, Ulrika Asp, Julia Virat and Cecile Thomas, in addition to Isabelle. No competitive frenzy, no desire to prove who’s best, just smiles and good times, under the watchful eyes of ever smiling, highly competent guides.

Blessed by glorious weather and stunning scenery, in addition to some skinning up and skiing down, transceiver camps were organised, as well as a stretching session and an informal discussion on women in the mountains.

During these two days, all I could hear were laughs and words of encouragement. And rightly so. Explore & Be is not about setting records: it’s about creating a spark of enthusiasm among passionate folks, bonding with other like-minded people, learning and sharing.

You will see Isabelle and some of the other guides in the Arc’teryx Academy, held in Chamonix from 16 to 19 June. More info here

Explore & Be is planning to hold more events in the future, of various kinds. Watch this space!    And remember: whatever you do, love life.

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Ryoko Amano and Yvette Evers happy on top of Mont Rogneux – Photo Y. Evers

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Getting instructions from Cecile Thomas – Photo L. Prosino

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A room with a view at the Cabane Brunet – Photo L. Prosino

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Happy under the surveillance of Heike Schmitt – photo L. Prosino

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Shadows…  – Photo L. Prosino

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Catching up with the others – Photo L. Prosino

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Marvellous surroundings – Photo I. Santoire

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Marching up… – Photo Y. Evers

 

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Going up… – Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

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Cecile Thomas leading the happy group – Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

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Cop. Hugo Vincent Photography

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The happy winners of two Arc’teryx Jackets!! –  Hugo Vincent Photography

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Skiing down – Hugo Vincent Photography

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Smooth. – Hugo Vincent Photography

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Cecile Thomas – Hugo Vincent Photography

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Heike Schmitt and Julia Virat on the way up – Hugo Vincent Photography