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When I saw the Guardian Newspaper, image of Austrian daredevil, 24 year old, Mich Kemeter balancing precariously high above the Verdon Gorge I felt quite ill. Having peered from the top of these magnificient jagged cliffs into the depths I know just how stomach churning the experience can be, so what possessed Mich to tight-rope walk across the chasm without safety ropes defies belief.

I spent last Spring guiding a walking trip to, and through, the Verdon Gorge, which is know as the Grand Canyon of Europe. It is truly an amazing place - I had been prepared to be impressed and I was ! The Gorge is about 25 kilometres long and in places it is 700 metres deep. The turquoise-green waters gave the river its name, the Verdon, and aside from the jaw dropping depths of the Gorge itself, it's the colour of the water for which it is also famed.

The most impressive stretch of the Gorges du Verdon lies between the beautiful towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie which are themselves well worth a visit. Without doubt the spring is the best time to walk in the area, the countryside feels fresh and clean, and the scorching heat of the summer is still to arrive. The wild flowers emerging in the Provencal landscape bring a burst of colour to the scene and can only add to the experience.

I am hoping to be heading back there this spring to guide our trip which is based in the area, and takes in the Gorge itself. I could never get too much of the stunning, wild, jagged beauty that is the Grand Canyon of Europe.This wonder of nature is a spectacular sight to behold.

http://www.tracks-and-trails.com/index.php/eng/Walking/Scheduled-Departures/Verdon-Gorge-Grand-Canyon-of-Europe

Lindsay

Scott Icerunners and the ion-mask!

Just when you think Spring is in the air this week the Alps were covered in another metre or more of snow and that's just at valley level. What a season - this winter just keeps on giving! But for many runners this can be a tricky time to get the miles and speed sessions in due to the challenging conditions underfoot. From fresh snow, slush, hard packed snow or ice – you can see how it can be tempting to skip a training session or two! In previous years I've worn spikes over my shoes (see previous blog) to keep me running but this year I've been delighted to try the new Scott Icerunners. A big plus for Icerunners too is that they feel like a normal trainer/sneaker on the different surfaces, where as when you wear spikes as you change surfaces you can often feel them underfoot. The Icerunners certainly offer an excellent compromise for an 'all terrain winter shoe' however on long steep sections of technical ice I would still recommend more of a crampon – such as the Kahtoola Microspikes over the top. That said, whilst trying out new equipment like this don't commit yourself and run into tricky terrain where turning back becomes awkward.

The Scott Icerunners are not only stylish to look at but have been really well designed, offering a trainer which provides excellent traction in pretty much all conditions and can truly promote itself as an "all terrain" running shoe. I've taken it on snow, mud, ice, road, gritty trails and rock and so far I'm really impressed with them. I had a half size larger than normal to enable me to wear warmer/thicker socks which allows for a little warm air to circulate – important for those sub 10 runs.

Their science:

  • Water repellent/breathable 'ionmask' treated upper
  • Contain the eRide midsole
  • Icetrek traction Vibram outsole
  • Weighing in at 250gm

They have a sleek design in attractive colours (good for the bar as well as the trail!), a neat minimal lacing system with a simple waterproof cuff/gaiter to prevent the snow from getting inside. A waterproof feel to the upper and a stiff rubber sole with little rubber studs for traction.

So what is the Ionmask?

A protective layer, invisible to wearers, and is said to be over one thousand times thinner than a human hair! The technology is molecularly bonded across the surface of the shoe making it extremely durable, waterproof & breathable without affecting the look or feel of the product. Scott state that the ion-mask™ lasts as long as the material itself and is not compromised by everyday wear. By resisting the absorption of water and dirt, ion-mask™ should guard against stains, making products look newer for longer.

The Scott eRide component adds a biomechanically efficient and stable midsole. Vibram have added the latest Icetrek rubber outsole giving a secure winterised fit, good surface traction and cushioning on pretty much all surfaces. As the Icetrek sole is designed for a variety of surfaces and is therefore quite stiff, my only thoughts are that you wouldn't want to run for too long a period on normal tarmac....but you're unlikely to find too much of that in the Alps for a while yet!

Over all Scott have certainly created a superb quality shoe which combines; good winter traction, breathability & water repellency, style and comfort, therefore creating a versatile, high performance all-round multi-terrain winter trail shoe.

Next on the Scott shoe list when Spring does finally appear are the T2 KINABALU.

Julia

Last month the record for running the winter Ramsay round was well and truly broken.

The 'Ramsay's Round' is a 24-hour hill circuit of 60 miles taking in 24 summits of Scottish Munros including; Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, Grey Corries, the Loch Trieg group and the Mamores with a total climb of around 28,500 feet / 8686m. First run by Charlie Ramsay in 1978, this is one of the world's toughest mountain running challenges and taken on and completed by very few.

Friend and fellow fell runner Jon Gay ran the 24 Munros solo over 23rd/24th February 2013 in 23 hours 18 minutes. That's a whole four hours quicker than the previous record set in 2012. It's difficult to imagine - but it's a bit like ascending Everest from sea level, mostly at night, on your own. Only four people are known to have done it in winter in the 34 years since the summer round was first completed. Anyone into winter 'munroing' will know that just one or two Scottish mountains can prove to be tricky, even in the summer.

"I was pleased to complete a Ramsay's in summer 2010 along with Pete Duggan. I am an average runner especially on the flat, but ok at ascending or general hill bashing. Completion for me in winter seemed a long shot."

The required winter skills, physical fitness and understanding of the 'round' is an achievement in itself taking years to develop. Tackling any of these mountains in winter, at night and alone at this speed is definitely noteworthy. The Round.

"Ascending the Ben the cloud was down and there was fine snow falling. Here we go again I thought, whilst struggling with my crampons/ reviving my fingers. But emerging down Carn Mor Dearg Arete (runnable due to snow cover) I entered an Alpine wonderland with rime on the rocks and full 'styrofoam' neve (hard snow) underfoot.

Shortly after I started feeling sick, weak and dizzy- completely debilitating. I gave in a number of times and had to lie briefly in the snow, before becoming cold. It was a thorough effort of will to move. If there had been any weather threat or higher wind chill I would have force marched myself immediately down, I guess, to the bothy. But it appeared to be temporary low blood sugar or the body generally protesting
as it does on these long routes. Glucose gradually brought me back to life.

Jon added: "Besides the mountains being so 'runnable' and the weather perfect, the near full moon topped everything. The solid snow may have made it faster or marginally less exhausting than summer. I have been extremely lucky. I am obviously delighted to complete but feel humbled to have got a decent time in winter when many runners could have gone faster in such wonderful conditions."

What an impressive achievement and example of dedication - an amazing achievement, Jon: this will be a touch record to beat!

Julia

Factbox 

Jon lost 6 kgs and just carried 1.4 kgs of food!

Jon's Kit Notes:

Thin Lowe Alpine Balaclava - Less likely to get lost than a hat.

Led Lenser H7 headtorch - Light weight, very bright with a penetrating/focussing beam, helped navigation. AAA batteries faded after about 8 hours on full beam. Took 2 spare sets of 3.

Smartwool tee shirt - Warm when damp from sweat.

Omm 'Smitten' long sleeve top - Thumb loops to help keep hands warm.

Montane 'Event' jacket

Inov 8 Roc lite 318 fell shoes - A size and a half too big to fit socks. They have a rand at the front which seems to help keep toes warm-ish. Roclites can be bought via the online shop Facewest.

Karrimor 'Xlite' 15 litre running sack - £15 incredibly light, sculpted and comfortable.

Camp XL20 200 gram ski touring axe - Carried between back and rucsack strap for immediate access, string leash clipped to chest strap.

Kahtoola 10 point flexible walking crampons - Great on fell shoes. When you need them you really need them? Wore them on Ben, Aonachs, Easains and most of night in Mamores. Avoid Kahtoola micro spike copies from ebay or you will be tying them together on the move. Postman's rubber crampons- never again. Instep crampons made from the back of a climbing crampon - painful.

Cut down Silva compass tied to sac belt.

Harvey Ramsey Map - Includes East Loch Treig area.

Ortleib waterproof bag - Bag tied to rucsac.

Schedule and pencil. Idiot card with pacing/ timing etc. For when the brain cells die!

Tesco bag to keep 'downstairs' warm. Essential and better than using a hat. Try 2!!

Download Jon's full report, split times and full kit list here.

To run barefoot, or not?

Barefoot running is getting a lot of attention these days. Should you retire those well-worn shoes and go 'au naturel'?

Seems like more and more runners, including a fair few trail runners, are making the switch to barefoot running. Most aren't exactly running completely 'au naturel', but instead are choosing the latest foot attire from well-known manufacturers such as Vibram, VIVOBAREFOOT, Nike and Merrell. Indeed, there's quite a difference between the different models, and some you'd hardly call 'barefoot models' - Nike in fact talk of 'barefoot-like running' and still seem to place quite an emphasis on putting a bit more rubber (and cushioning) between your feet and the trail. Vibram (at least styling-wise) appear to have bought in most to the concept: the look of the fivefingers models are not for everyone!

Vibram also seem to have cottoned on to the fact that some runners experience a little discomfort when adapting to the new shoes. They've produced a handy FAQ section on their site, which you'll find here. That said, there are some genuine concerns as to whether the switch to minimalist shoes is the right step - or leap - for everyone. You'll read on the websites of the manufacturers that the new models all help you run 'more naturally', with 'a closer connection to the ground'... but we should remain conscious that, after all, they're also trying to shift new shoes in an already crowded market. The move to minimalism represents a great opportunity for Nike et al to encourage everyone go out and buy yet another new piece of kit. This is where science steps in and raises a few questions...

A new report published in February adds to the ongoing debate. This latest research, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, suggested that some runners are ill-suited to adapting to the barefoot-style shoes and develop new aches and injuries. Conversely, others found that the more minimalist shoes didn't hamper their running technique and had no impact on raising their exposure to running-related injuries.

These results represent just the very start of the ongoing research into barefoot running equipment and running techniques associated with the new shoes. The researcher, Dr. Sarah Ridge, is now reviewing additional data about the volunteers in the programme and analysing information about each runner’s mileage, running form, body weight, etc. She noted that the results don’t necessarily mean everyone switching to minimal footwear will court foot injuries, just that in making the transition you'd do best to do so slowly. Be cautious and listen to your body (as always!!!).

Julia

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