On a skiing holiday I took a day to go geocaching. This was my second find. Shopkeeper was looking strangely at me through the window so I pretended to be interested in the sculpture and took photos until he stopped watching. Cache was in third place I looked.
On a skiing holiday I took a day to go geocaching. This was my third find. Wonderful location, although I came (on foot) from the top and down rather than the bottom and up. Lovely location, FP awarded.
On a skiing holiday I took a day to go geocaching. This was my first (and easiest) find. Log very wet, unable to sign, but photo attached of me and cache (taken some way away from GZ) as proof of find.
On a skiing holiday I took a day to go geocaching. Even with the hint, unable to find this cache: suspect it must be buried under ice and snow? If that’s possible, perhaps worth adding to the cache description or else removing the “winter” attribute? (Or maybe I just gave up too easily!)
I spent last week in the French Alps with JTA, Ruth, Annabel, and some hangers-on. It was great to get out onto the snow again for some skiing as well as some ski-based geocaching, but perhaps the most remarkable events of the trip happened not on the pistes but on an “afternoon off” that I decided to take after a rather jarring 42km/h (26mph) faceplant earlier in the day.
Not to be deprived of the opportunity for some outdoors, though, I decided to spend the afternoon hiking out to villaflou, a geocache only about a kilometre and a half away from our chalet. Well: a kilometre and a half as the crow flies: it was also some distance down the steep-sided Doron de Bozel valley, through a wooded area. But there was, in theory at least, a hiking trail winding its way down the valley. The trail was clearly designed for summer use, but it was a trail nonetheless, so I ate a hearty lunch with Ruth and then set out from La Tania to explore.
It quickly became apparent that I was underequipped for the journey ahead. With the freshly-fallen soft snow routinely knee-deep and sometimes deeper still, I would have done well to have taken at the very least snow shoes (and, I’d later conclude, perhaps also poles and rope). I was, however, properly dressed with thermal layers, salopettes, multiple pairs of gloves, hat, etc., and – unlike Rory when he got caught out by snow the other year – was at least equipped with two fully-charged GPS devices (and spare batteries), tightly-fitted boots, a first aid kit and emergency supplies. And as the only hiker foolish enough to cut my way through this freshly-fallen snow, my tracks would be easy to follow back, should I need to.
Nonetheless, it’s quite an isolating feeling to be stranded from civilization… even if only by half a kilometre… surrounded by snowy mountains and silent woodland. If you’re approaching the hike in a safe and sane way – and you should be – then it makes you especially careful about even the simplest of obstacles. Crossing a small stream whose bridge is completely concealed beneath the snow becomes a careful operation involving probing the snow and testing the support it provides before even beginning to ford it: a turned ankle could lead to at the very least an incredibly painful hike back!
Needless to say, my caution around snow and mountains has been expanded by not only Rory’s scary experience, linked above, but also of course by my dad’s death almost three years ago, who slipped on snow and fell off a cliff. And he was hiking in Britain!
The village of La Nouvaz, half-way as the crow flies between my accommodation and the geocache (and over half-way by my planned route), was beautiful to behold: a sign of civilization after about an hour of hard wading through snow. Even when you’ve used satellites to know your location accurate to a metre, it’s nice to be reassured that your expedition really is panning out as you’d planned.
I also now had a metric to translate the journey time estimates that I’d seen on the signs: it was taking me about three times as long as they said, presumably because they’d been written for summer hikers. The segment that had been advertised as 20 minute walk was taking me an hour: that was useful information – I sat with a friendly dog while I recalculated my travel time with this new data. There was a blizzard blowing across the mountaintops (which had been partially-responsible for my faceplant in the morning!) and I’d heard that it was expected to descend into the valley in the early evening, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t out in the open when that happened! But everything was okay, and I had time to complete my expedition with two hours to spare (which I reasoned could be used hunting for the geocache, as well as a emergency reserve), so I pressed on.
After La Nouvaz, the path became even harder to navigate, and in the thinner tree cover huge drifts formed where underneath there were presumably walls and fences. At one point, I slipped through snow that came up to my waist, and had to dig my way out. At another, I’d deviated from the path and was only able to get back on course by sliding down a snowbank on my bum. And honestly, I can’t think of a more fun way than that to spend a Narnian hiking trip.
My GPS coordinates took me directly to the pump and trough in the square at Villaflou, and I spent some time (in my thinner pair of gloves) feeling around its metal edges in an effort to find the small magnétique geocache that was allegedly there. But that’s not where it was at all, and honestly, if I hadn’t just spent two hours hiking through deep snow I might now have had the drive to search for as long as I did! As I hunted, I thought back to my GCSE in French and tried to work out how I’d explain what I was doing to anybody who came by, but I never saw another soul. Eventually, my efforts paid off, as I discovered a small metal plate in a cunning hiding place, disguised to make it look like it belonged to the thing it was attached to… and behind it, a log with just four names. And now: mine was fifth!
I texted my revised travel times to Ruth, and then set off back. Following my footsteps made the journey less-arduous, but this was compensated for in equal measure by the fact that I was now heading uphill instead of down.
As I passed through La Nouvaz, I noticed two strange things –
Firstly: looking back up at the route I’d come down, from La Tania, I saw that there was a signpost that indicated that the recommended route back wasn’t the route that I’d come to begin with. The recommended route was the other way, to the left, and would only take me about 30 minutes (or, based on my recalculation, about an hour and a half).
And secondly: looking along this proposed new route, I observed that somebody had taken it since I passed this way last. There had been no tracks on that route before, but now there were, and looking up the mountainside I could make out the heads of two hikers bobbing away over a rise.
I followed in the footsteps of the other hikers: it’s a great deal easier to follow than to lead, in deep snow, and I was glad to be able to save the energy. I treated myself to a swig from my hip flask as congratulations on finding the geocache and my good fortune in being able to tail some other hikers heading my way. But my celebration was perhaps premature! About twenty minutes later, I caught up with the two women ahead, and they clearly weren’t doing very well.
They’d come up to La Tania from Paris, accompanied by some friends, for a long weekend. Their friends had gone off skiing, but they hadn’t been able to join them because they were both pregnant (four months and six months), and no doctor on Earth would recommend skiing after the first trimester, so instead they’d decided to go out for a walk. There was a circular walk on a map that they’d seen, which looked like it’d take about an hour, so they’d set out (wearing little more snow protection than wellington boots, and one of them without even a hat), following what looked to be a well-trodden footpath: in fact, it was probably the first part of my outbound journey, from La Tania to La Nouvaz, that they’d followed, “overtaking” me when I left the route to head on to Villaflou and the geocache.
On the ascent back up they’d gotten lost – there are no good waypoints, the path is unclear, and the encroaching blizzard hampering the ability to pick out distance landmarks. They’d wandered – it turned out – several hundred metres off where the path should have gone, and I’d made the mistake of assuming that they knew what they were doing and followed them the same way. Worse yet, this ‘alternative’ path back to La Tania didn’t feature on any of my digital maps, and these two severely-underequipped mothers-to-be were struggling with inadequate grip on the slippy ground beneath the snow. When I first encountered them, one of them had slid into and was trapped in a snowdrift, and the other called me over to help her pull her friend free.
Between them, they had a paper map designed for casual summer use, and they’d realised their predicament. Were I not there, they confessed (once we’d established a dialogue somewhere between their shaky English and my very shaky French), they were about to start trying to find sufficient landmarks that they could summon rescue. Instead, now, they’d put themselves into my care. “We do not want to die,” said the one I later learned was called Vicki, after a few seconds consideration of the translation.
I plotted us a new course, cross-country up an aggressive slope towards the nearest road and thus, I hoped, towards civilization. I lead the way, tamping down the snow ahead as best I could into steps, and bemoaned my lack of a rope. I texted updates to Ruth, advising her of the situation and in each one establishing when I’d next be in contact, and as the women began to tire, prepared for the possibility that I might need to eventually relay coordinates to a rescue team: I practised my French numbers, under my breath, as we weaved our way up the steep mountainside.
A hundred metres from the road the gradient became worse and we were unable to climb any higher, so we turned towards La Tania and tacked alongside it. There, about an hour and a half after I first met them, we found a signpost that indicated that we were back on the footpath: the footpath that they’d originally hoped to follow but found themselves unable to spot, and which – by following in their footsteps – I too had failed to spot.
Following that, we got back to the road to La Tania and to safety.
I find myself wondering many things. For one: who, at six months pregnant, thinks it’s a wise idea to trek through deep snow, underequipped, from a bad map, over an Alp? But I also wonder what might have happened if I’d have taken the same route back as I’d taken out to my geocache (and thus never bumped into them)? Or even if I’d not have faceplanted earlier in the day and thus decided to take the afternoon off from skiing at all? They weren’t ever far from safety, of course, and while the weather was rapidly becoming hostile to helicopters, they’d have probably been rescued so long as they’d been able to describe their position adequately (and so long as they didn’t keep wandering in the direction they’d been wandering when I met them, which would ultimately have taken them to a sheer cliff), but still…
So yeah: on my holidays, I rescued two lost pregnant hikers from an Alpine blizzard, while returning from a geocaching expedition. I think I win today’s “badass point”.
Je parle un peu le français. Je me excuse pour la rédaction du présent en anglais.
I have been staying in La Tania on a ski holiday with friends and family. This morning, I fell and her my neck, so I thought I’d take a break from skiing and do some geocaching instead. The hike down the valley was hard in the fresh dump of snow, and I wished that I’d brought snowshoes! Or poles! Our even a rope! I routinely found myself wading through knee-high snow, and I’d ocassionally have to traverse drifts that came up to my thigh. I was very glad to reach the convenient break point of La Nouva, where I stopped to chat to a small yappy dog before pressing on.
Villaflou itself is beautiful: I especially love the cute little chapel at its heart. I spent some time investigating the wrong thing, looking for the cache, before eventually working out where it might be. Only the 5th person to find it!
On the way back to La Tania (an even more arduous hike by a different route that I thought would be easier but truly wasn’t) I was distracted by two French ladies calling me over. They were lost, having taken a wrong turn, and – perhaps as a result of them being 4 and 6 months pregnant, respectively – were finding it very hard to push themselves up the mountainside against what was now ocassionally waist-deep snow. Naturally I came to their rescue, using my GPSr to lead them up to the path they sought: a further arduous journey of pushing, pulling, digging, and crawling until we finally reached the outskirts of La Tania and they were assured of their safety.
Four hours of hiking in snow, sometimes up to my waist and rescuing two lost hikers makes this perhaps the hardest I’ve ever worked for a geocache. And I loved it.
On the way out to the French Alps for a week of skiing, and we had enough air miles to upgrade to business class on the way out, so I’m sat in the lounge enjoying complimentary gin & tonic and croissants. 10 in the morning, and I’m already buzzed: after a long and hectic few months, I’m really glad to be off on holiday!
Aaaand…. right before I left I put in an application for my boss’s job, which she vacated a few months ago. Should hear by the time I get back whether I’m being invited to interview, so that’s exciting too!
Anyway: just wanted to share my excitement with my favourite MegaMasons. If I’m not online much this week, you’ll know why! Have a great week, folks: love you all!
There were good and bad aspects of this kind of travel. Bad parts included having to be at a park and ride bus terminus well before the sun rose, in order to begin a mammoth journey that would take most of the day, and frantic dashes across the labyrinthine Paris metro. But on the upside, we didn’t at any point have to take off our shoes and get herded through backscatter machines, plus the fact that nothing makes you feel cosmopolitan quite like standing in the bar car of a TGV, rocketing through the French countryside, while you sip on a glass of pinot and watch the world fly by.
We arrived, and met with the rest of our team: Ruth’s brother Owen, his girlfriend Cat and his friend Danny, JTA’s sister Harriet (who’d come over on the train from Lyon, where she’s studying right now), and my sisters Sarah and Becky. We also met our chalet host Dan, who – over the course of the week – put up with a great deal from us (not least our dinnertime conversations about duck rape, racial stereotypes, sex toys, self-defecation, and worse) and still stood there with a smile as he served us the most spectacular meals imaginable.
And that’s without even mentioning “Double Bubble”, a game that Owen and Cat invented which seems to involve pinning people and tickling them. They claim that it’s the cause of the jumping, yelping, and screaming sounds coming from their bedroom on an evening, but I’m not convinced.
My first impression of the slopes of the Les Gets-Morzine area were that they were a little heavily geared towards intermediate skiiers, with lots of blue and red runs criss-crossing the mountains around the bowl-shaped valley, but before long I’d found my way out to some of the aggressively-mogul-ridden and steeper black and red runs that found out towards the edges of the resort.
It was particular fun to get out skiing with Sarah again, for the first time in years, and to finally prove to myself something that I’ve suspected for a while: that while my skiing ability is close to peaking, Sarah’s still continuing to improve and is by now a better skiier than I am. As we hammered our way down some of the roughest, fastest runs we could find on the final day before she and Becky returned to the UK, she’d pull ahead and it would be everything I could muster to keep up and keep control.
I also enjoyed finally getting to ski with Ruth, something that we’d wanted to do together for almost five years (during which we’d both skied, just – for one reason or another – never together). She’s one of those weird skiers who genuinely prefers to ski without poles, which I’d often quiz her about during our periodic high-altitude beer breaks.
In the video below (or watch on YouTube), she falls over at about 1m 19s, in case you want to skip to that bit.
Our new snowsportspeople – Cat and Harriet on skis for the second and first times in their lives, and Danny on snowboard for the first time in his – took to their sports like fish to water. Or, at their worst, like fish to waterfalls. But by the end of the week, every single one of them had made far better progress than I could have possibly imagined.
We worked ourselves hard, and by the time we were back in our hot tub on an evening, with glasses of gin in our hands, we really felt like we’d earned them.
Watch this space: a full gallery of all of the photos taken on the trip will be made available soon. Sorry about the delay.
MORE SKIING: Aced The Wall in the end, and damn it’s a good run – long and fast and challenging, even when you think you know it. Coming back up on the chairlift I met a couple of Irish blokes (the Irish seemed to be the most-represented nationality on the ski slopes; not sure why), who – as the fog of the final day began to white-out the mountain top – pointed down at The Wall and said that you’d have to be a nutcase to go down it right now. So I pointed out that I’d just come off it, and was on my way back to it again.
SKIDOOS: Damn, these things are fun. Imagine a motorcycle but on skis, ripping along hard-packed ice in the middle of the night at 70km/h, guided only by a drunk Bulgarian. On or off road, Skidoos are brilliant. When the next ice age comes, I’m getting one to do my shopping in.
KARAOKE: On our final night, we went out and (alongside some Irish blokes we met) made complete idiots of ourselves at the local karaoke night.
Fresh from the slopes, over GPRS (at charging rates starting at “two limbs”), comes this report from the Bulgarian Holiday Team (Claire and I, along with my dad and my sisters).
JOURNEY: Uneventful, but tedious – three and a bit hours on a plane followed by a five hour bus journey is pretty mind-numbing, although we did get a break at a Bulgarian McDonalds (complete with hilarious Cyrillic lettering on the sign – picture to follow [I don’t have enough arms and legs to pay to upload it]).
ACCOMODATION: Remarkably nice hotel: infinitely superior to our usual stay at Aviemore Youth Hostel for Cairngorm skiing, but with a predictably scary price tag to go with it.
FOOD: Every meal seems to contain egg and/or pork. Are these the national foodstuffs? Scrambled egg with bacon in is an obvious breakfast combination. Eggy bread laced with ham was less expected, and quite a suprise to bite into. Stuffed peppers very nice. Cured sausages not bad either.
SKIING: Generally good conditions – some partially broken runs (by Bulgarian standards – in Scotland we’d call them “perfectly usable”) this morning because the weather report predicted snow for two days so they haven’t turned on the snow-blowers, but no snow’s been forthcoming. Here in Pamporovo there’s a lot for beginners (one entirely green run is almost 4km long!) and some nice challenges for advanced skiers (I’m particularly enjoying some of the red and black runs on the West face of the mountain), but fewer options for intermediate-level skiers. Not as large a resort as Mt. Tremblant in Canada, where I was a few years ago, but still far more than Cairngorm or The Lecht offer us on our traditional trips to Scotland. Of particular note is The Wall, a black run that’s so-called because it’s quite steep. Here’s an example for those of you at home: stand up – pretend you’re on a ski slope that stretches down to your right and up to your left (so you’re “sideways” on it). Now stretch out your left arm to your side. If you were on The Wall, your hand would be touching snow. Well, a wall of ice, really. It’s a beast, and I love it.
ACCIDENTS: This is what you were really reading for, isn’t it – to find out who’s had a horrible accident so far. Well, here’s some of the best:
1. On my first attempt at The Wall, I took a turn a little sharply and flipped over. And began to slide. On my belly. Head first. Now I’ve been in this position before – it’s a natural state for a skier who’s just pushed themselves a little too far. So a started working on stopping myself all the ways I knew how, but after about 10 seconds of accelerating I came to the realisation that there was genuinely nothing I could do to stop this slide, and instead positioned myself in the best way possible to minimise the risk of damage. Eventually I ran onto the next ski run (still belly-sliding at about 40mph) and was able to regain my balance and right myself. No injuries except my pride and some friction burns, but this hundred-metre ride – well, FALL – is easily the most fun I’ve had here so far.
2. A few seconds later, I was hit by a runaway ski. My sister, Sarah, had a similar slip but had been able to keep her balance at the sacrifice of half her equipment, and had to sledge the remainder of The Wall on her other ski.
3. Claire panics when she sees a cliff some 10 feet away and swerves into a tree, with no serious injuries. Photos to follow. Everybody starts making jokes about Claire loving trees, which become even funnier when…
4. Owing to out-of-date maps and a bit of bad guesswork on my part, Claire found herself on a short run somewhat above her capabilities. And, realising that snowploughing wasn’t enough to bring her to a halt, sped up (because THAT’s a sensible alternative)… right into a tree. She caused herself a mild concussion (earning herself a day in bed) and a series of nasty-looking cuts and grazes across her neck.
BOOZE: It’s been hard to find drinking establishments that don’t charge excessive touristy rates, but now we’ve found a few I’ve been trying out the local beers. Zagorka is great, and Kamenitza is pretty good too. Vodka’s cheap, and a “small” vodka is 50ml (what we in the UK would call a “double”). It makes me wonder what a medium or even a large is – a quadruple or sextuple, presumably. It’s also hard to persuade bar staff to provide mixers – the pervading attitude seems to be that vodka should be drunk neat.
RINGOS: While Claire was bed-bound, the rest of us went ringo-ing. We’d done it before in Canada – sitting in a rubber ring and sliding down a ski slope – but it’s still good fun and a fabulous violation of health and safety law. By the end, my sisters and I were strapping our ringos together and spinning our way into the walls that marked the edge of the slope.
COMING SOON: Later this week – Skidoos? Snowboarding? Pub crawl around Pamporovo? As usual, you’ll read it here first (if I can be bothered).
Claire and I are off to Scotland for a spot of skiing while there might still be some snow left. We’re leaving tonight and we’re back at the weekend (probably on Sunday). In the meantime, we’re leaving The Cottage, Mario, and Luigi in the capable hands of Matt (Hat variety). We’ll be in Preston Wednesday and Saturday daytime, and I’ll generally have my mobile with me the rest of the time if anybody wants me. Oh, and Troma Night will be hosted by Paul this Saturday.
Claire and I are undergoing a grand tour of the United Kingdom this coming week, as follows:
This afternoon, we’re driving (in Claire’s car) to Cardiff. Coincidentally, Gareth, who was visiting us this weekend to help me with a programming project we’ve been working on quite a lot this month, is also travelling from Aberystwyth to Cardiff today. In Cardiff, Claire and I will be meeting up with my mum, her boyfriend, and my sisters, to see the War Of The Worlds Musical. My mum and I have had tickets for this every year since Red Planet Productions – who were trying to get it started back then – announced it, but this is the first year that they’ve actually performed it. It could be good, or it could be disasterous. We’ll see.
After the show, we’ll either be (a) retiring to Gareth’s parents’ house for a few hours sleep; or (b) driving straight on to Preston: this mostly depends on how tired Claire, who has to do the driving, is. My personal preference would be to drive right on up to Preston – the night-time traffic will be far better than the morning’s traffic (even on a bank-holiday weekend), and there’s a bed, rather than a couch, waiting for us at my dad’s house. In either case, we’ll be in Preston either very early in the morning or very early in the afternoon.
Next stop: Scotland – in Preston, we transfer into my dad’s car, and we’re joined by his colleague and family, by my sisters (who are staying overnight in Cardiff and travelling North in the morning), and burn our way up the country to Aviemore. For those not familiar with Scotland, this is a Long Way North… so; yeah… more travelling.
Tuesday morning – snow permitting, we’re skiing in the Cairngorm mountains, near Aviemore. Wednesday, more of the same. Claire’s never been skiing before, and people have been, in a curiously counterproductive way, trying to reassure her that it is both safe and fun by recounting their horrific skiing injuries to her. Yeah; thanks guys.
On Wednesday night we’re driving South to Stirling, and, at this point, Claire and I will make our way three miles East to visit Kit and Fi. It seems silly to travel the first 600 miles of the journey to their house up there and not the last three.
On Thursday and Friday(?) we’re going to Nae Limits, an adventure sports activity centre thing. Zorbing is off, so we’ve cast votes on the activities to take part in, and I’m not yet sure what won. Claire and I voted for river bugging (in which participants are strapped into what are basically inflatable armchairs and pushed over waterfalls) and canyoning (in which we’ll probably be climbing back up those same waterfalls). Having watched The Descent last night at a special Troma Night at Adam‘s house, canyoning doesn’t feel like such a good idea any more! They don’t have subterranean flesh-eating monsters in Scotland, right?
Immediately after this, on Friday afternoon, we’re travelling back to Preston… via Gateshead. My dad’s got his new business to run over there, and has set himself up a flat in which to live the weeks he’s working on that side of the country. Guess who needs his ADSL set up?
And then, finally, on Saturday, we’re travelling back down to Aberystwyth… just in time for Troma Night!
Additional missions we’re on include:
In accordance with tradition, if we visit anywhere with a Tesco, we’ll bring back cookies and doughnuts, although we anticipate you’ll all be full of chocolate this week anyway.
Paul‘s asked if we can get him some shortbread while we’re up in Scotland. I’m sure we can manage that.
Any other missions you’d like to assign to us while we’re out? No, Matt, you can’t have a cornetto. You’ve got perhaps a few minutes to tell us before we go.
I’ll be trying to keep online with e-mail access and perhaps even a blogpost or two while I’m away, but I can’t promise anything about my connectivity. Phone signal should be okay if I’m needed in an emergency, though.