Tracks and Trails / Booking & Info / Blog and Chat

As a guide there is nothing better than having clients that are up for adventures, want to reach high points and bag peaks all in the sunshine! What more could you ask for? That way my office 'window' has a fantastic new view every day. Lindsay and I have just finished a fabulous week in the very snowy alps with Scott and Carole. This was just a few days ago up at Chalet Loriaz, above Vallorcine at 2020m, where we enjoyed wonderful views over lunch.

Some folk have to worry about their commute to work with leaves on the train-line or dicing with the M25 - but this is what holds us up in the morning! This was taken an hour ago in our Swiss village, Finhaut, which is just along the road from Chamonix. The clearing process makes a great warm-up to start the day, but not advisable in high-heels! We’ve had a huge amount of snow fall in the past 48 hours and it continues as I write…more forecast throughout the week!

We have just finished a fabulous two days with a group of UK journalists who write for various publications. We have found that it's a good way to gain publicity for what we do and its always a treat to introduce people to activities they have never tried before. I took the group snowshoeing in the morning in the beautiful Berrard Valley while Julia spent the afternoon teaching them cross country skiing, before rounding off the day at a new spa in Chamonix. Always great to soak up the sauna after a day of activity! One of the great things about our valley is that there is so much on offer even if you are not a downhill skier.

Today I have been learning to telemark ski in less than ideal conditions - a bit 'Scottish' I would say with a blizzard raging. However, it hasn't snowed since New Year and we were due some more of the white stuff. My friend Kimberly is a great telemarker and she provided some top tips in white out conditions. Having some very bad habits engrained over the years in my alpine downhill skiing, it was good to start a new discpline with someone who knows what they are doing. I had intended just trying to learn as I went along, but there is no doubt it's best to get expert help right at the start. Anyway, by tomorrow we should have about 25 cm of fresh powder and my day in the office may need to include a couple of hours on the slopes as well.

What a day - 2009 dawned to blue skies, and 30 cm of fresh powder! Julia and I headed off to Vicheres, a tiny resort of just three lifts in Switzerland, to celebrate our joint birthdays. Neither of our mothers would have had a particularly great Hogmanay the years we were born as I arrived on the 1st and Julia on the 4th, though I am sure Julia would point out there are quite a few years between those two events! One of the reasons we set up Tracks and Trails is because we are both so nosy - always wanting to see what's over the next mountain and round the next corner, though maybe 'inquisitive' sounds better.

Anyway, its one of the reasons we are always seeking out new routes in places such as Vicheres where hearing an English voice is a rarity, and lift queues are virtually unheard of. The overnight powder had created a good layer on the hard packed snow underneath, enough to have us squealing with delight as we bounced our way down the mountain. After a few runs we put on our 'skins' and went off touring over to the Bec Rond area - a small and inviting summit - where there were absolutely no tracks. The views from this ridge are absolutely stunning - Mont Dolent, Mont Velan, the Grand Combin and many more. The ridge from Plan Monnay is a popular snowshoe walk, quite understandable given the viewpoint it provides - 360 degree panorama! We finished off our day by an off piste descent in untracked perfect powder until we reached the tree line at which point we found a steep descent down a forest clearing. Much fun was had coping with the deepest fluff of the day and attempts not to wipe out a spruce tree created much hilarity! Hopefully, you might join us for snowshoeing at Vicheres one of these days?

Meantime, from Julia and myself - very best wishes for 2009, we hope it's a good one for you.

It's just a few days before Julia heads back to the UK for Christmas and leaves behind the snowy alpine landscape, so off we set for a girls ski tour along with friend Cathy O'Dowd. We piled into the car with a selection of maps and a general plan to get some fresh air and exercise. Heading down into the Rhone Valley from our wee mountain village we swung right and in the direction of Bourg St Piere in the Swiss Valais region with the intention of heading up to the world famous Grand St Bernard Monastery. This is where the St Bernard dog has its roots and where the breed was first associated with mountain rescue. The monks at the monastery, which is on a high col at over 2,400m, were fundamental to the establishment of the St Bernard as a rescue dog. It all began with Barry who seemed to be very good at sniffing out bodies buried in the snow by avalanches, and sort of grew from there....if you want the full story you need to join us for a night at the monastery!! We can snowshoe up via a col or summit and then spend the night in this historic hospice and snowshoe back the next morning.

Anyway, I digress! Today we were not so lucky with the weather as on the way up the conditions were decidedly 'Scottish' though not enough to put the three of us off. After a couple of hours the welcome sight of the monastery came into view. For over a thousand years the monks here on the pass have welcomed weary travellers and today was no exception! In winter the only way to reach the monastery is on ski touring skis or snowshoes which gives it a wonderfully isolated feel. I must say that the cold was soon banished with a bowl of soup prepared by the 'Brothers'. We were then greeted with blue skies and sunshine as a small weather miracle seemed to have occurred while we were enjoying the soup! We finished our day with a ski down to the car, enjoying wonderful views and a very atmospheric afternoon with mist still drifting around the tops.

We can't quite believe it, but the snow has arrived well ahead of schedule and the conditions for snowshoeing and cross country skiing are fantastic. Julia and I have been out on the cross country ski tracks over the last two days and have been having great fun perfecting technique. We spent a great day today introducing Kimberly and Thomas, two American friends, to the world of cross country. We spent a day on the tracks at Argentiere in the Chamonix Valley and had a real giggle trying out technique and sliding around. Julia has some tricks up her sleeve to make it all fun and we even had the equivalent of a three-legged race on skis. Julia and I managed to win and I have to admit there was an element of 'competition' to the race. We were in reality recording a webcast for you to listen to so that you can get an idea of what it's like to join Julia for a day on the tracks. I am hoping that within the next few days I will have edited the material and have it loaded onto the site for you to enjoy. We really want to make our site interactive so that even before you come on holiday with us you can experience in a 'virtual' world what it's like to join us for a cross country ski day out.

Well winter has definately arrived here in Chamonix. Over last night and this morning we have had at least 2 feet of snow fall at our front door here in Finhaut, at 1340m! This added to an already good base. Today I woke to a very quiet, magical, snow drenched village. Each year it's hard to not be impressed with this amount of the white stuff. I will be getting out in a while to enjoy the snow falling on my snowshoes! This week i've already i've been out on my cross country skis in Argentiere, France and Val Ferret, Italy where the tracks were in great condition, freshly pressed and barely a soul about. But you definately get the feeling that Christmas and the winter season is just around the corner as the shops make their final winter scenes and The Hotel Belvedere in Val Ferret (where we base our Italian ski weekends) yesterday were opening their doors for the first time this winter - cappucino and cake all round.

Just in from a day spent cleaning up the bothy in Glenfeshie. Bothies are such a wonderful part of our mountain culture, a place of shelter for many years for those walking and working in the hills, but sadly they are not always well treated. So, off I set with two mates - Heather Morning, who works with the Cairngorm Ranger Service and Di Gilbert, Climbing Instructor - to do our bit for our mountain heritage. To be honest is was a wet day when the tops held little appeal and a walk with a mission seemed a good idea. The bothy looked fairly good, but even so once you start trying to tidy up you realise that folk have still managed to leave enough rubbish to fill a number of bags. There was even an attempt by one group to bury a plastic bag filled with non-perishable goods, as if plastic and tin were going to disintegrate in a short time! They had tried to bury it, which was a start, but it was only 15 metres from the bothy and the plastic was left sticking out of the ground - not a great idea! After a brew we eventually set off home with various bags of rubbish and Di with a broken chair strapped to her rucksack. We probably made a rather unusual site but at least Di had a chair in case she needed to rest her legs, thought the legs were at an interesting angle to the rest of the chair! Please if you are out in the hills this winter DO NOT leave rubbish lying around. Both Julia and myself are keen to impress upon our clients that the mountains are to be respected and cherished for future generations and are not a dumping ground. Ok, I will get off my soap box and just say 'take your rubbish home' even if you think it's not bad to leave a little it all adds up! Enjoy the hills.

PS the photo shows Heather and Di and helper Milly who is a Search and Rescue Dog. If you meet Milly in the hills be nice to her as you never know when you might need her!

Europe’s Grand Canyon - the famous Verdon Gorge – soon will feature as a NEW walking trip for 2009. Having just returned from a rock climbing holiday in the south of France I came back buzzing with tales of the Verdon Gorge. I was climbing and walking there and getting all the logistics together for a new multi-day journey for T&T's next year. I truly think this walk goes through some of the most dramatic and natural scenery in France! The Verdon Gorge is 25km long making it the largest canyon in Europe. The rock cliffs are so impressive and from the top the river below seems so tiny. But from the bottom in the gorge the sky seems like a dot! Whilst walking you can witness griffin vultures swooping around and rock climbers plastered to the rock faces. The trails I went on were very varied from fantastic mountain/rocky scenery to historic mountain villages. The villages are all set in high panoramic venues and have a great selection of restaurants, bars and plenty of museums for local history. The end of my walk took me to the lake at Moustiers where you can have a sunbathe or hire a pedalo for a closer look at the gorge itself. The itineraries in this area are endless what with the famous GR4 and GR5 also meeting in this area and the lovely lavender fields to explore.

Well, it's only 1st November and today on Cairngorm it was a winter wonderland. I honestly have never seen so many ski tourers out ever! Winter routes were also attracting plenty of climbers. I saw teams on Savage Slit and ran into Mountain Guide John Lyall who had just done Deep Throat with John Jones. Apparently, the climbing was in great 'nick' and providing excellent fun. I went round the Northern Corries on my skis and the base was excellent - in fact as good as I have seen it. The photo is taken at the top of Ewan's Butress and as you can see there is a good covering. So let's hope the snow stays for while, and certainly with the current cold temperatures it could be here for a while. At present you can ski from and to your car. Off ski touring again tomorrow in the hope of more beautiful snow. It only takes a day out in these conditions for me to be fired up for winter and a season in the Alps. Fingers crossed that more is to come!

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