Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Road Trip 2008

Well I'm back from my second whirlwind tour of Western Europe this year. This time, however, I was driving instead of flying; although fortunately I had Stephen Fry's reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to keep me company. Highly recommended, the audiobook-while-driving option. Makes the hours fly by.

So anyway there I was last week, in my van, driving through the south of France. The first destination was the Swiss Valais alps, where I met up with Lau, Claire Symes and Matt Freear. We camped in quite a big site just outside the town of Randa, which is near the big mountain/ski-resort of Zermatt, which is under the shadow of the Matterhorn. Unfortunately Matt was suffering from a very nastily infected blister on his heel, so the remaining three of us decided to bag a couple of non-technical peaks, rather than go rockclimbing and requiring to faff around with three on a rope. This suited me as, while I am pretty good shape in general, my climbing fitness has plummeted since the International Meet a few months ago. So the day after I arrived, Claire, Lau and myself walked up to stay at the Bordier hut, a relatively small mountain hut situated just below 3000m.

The walk in wasn't too bad but that night I really felt the altitude. Every time I drifted off to sleep my breathing would slow down and then I would wake up with a massive intake of breath. It surprised me really - I knew that most people begin to suffer the effects of altitude at about 2400m, but I wasn't expecting not being able to sleep. What made matters worse was that we had a 3am alarm call - there was a glacier right outside the hut that needed crossing on the way to (and, more importantly, from) the nearest peaks, and it's always better to cross glaciers before the sun gets on them and starts melting those crevasses! Anyway I managed an hour's sleep before we got up and started walking. I was tired but the glacier at dawn made it all worthwhile.

So we pushed on through to climb a few peaks and the next day we did something similar. The highest we reached was 3925m which is not to be sniffed at. Shame we couldn't reach 4000m but the mountains will be there a while longer yet. You can see more of my photos from Switzerland here:

Once back at the campsite in the valley the weather broke and Lau and I hightailed it north for Fontainebleau. As I said I'm not in top climbing shape but figured that, since I was only there for a day I might as well go all out. So I pretty much climbed myself into destruction, and was rewarded by a tick of the very famous problem Marie Rose, which was the first ever 6A-graded boulder problem in the forest. My payment was four trashed fingertips and set of muscles that ached for the next three days. Ah well.

Then after an exceptionally long day in the car, Lau and I arrived in North Wales for my stag do. It was held in the Scout's hut in Bethesda, which holds special significance for me as it was the place where I first laid eyes upon the beautiful girl who is shortly to become my wife. Just under 20 people showed up this weekend. Saturday day the weather was a bit dodgy so we all went for a poke around the Llanberis slate quarries:

It is a fascinating place, with loads of old buildings containing rusting machinery, and some that even still have miners' jackets hanging up on hooks, and old shoes rotting away on shelves. We found a tunnel from one quarry to the other, which was partially submerged in about a foot of water. Being boys we had to get through it so we managed to create a chain of people passing rocks towards the front, til we had a series of stepping stones to get across! Great fun.

Anyway so Saturday night was the usual shennagins of drinking games and noise, though I was fortunate and pleased to not have anything nasty done to me. Phew! Then there was the long drive back to Barcelona, made with stops in Swansea in London to see my parents and parents-in-law-to-be.

So, a great trip all in all. But, as always, it's nice to be back.

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