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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!

Tracks and Trails has been involved in the latest instructional DVD to be produced by the Briitsh Mountaineering Council. It's the third time I have been asked to provide the commentary for this excellent series of films and it's great to be involved in producing educational and inspirational material for outdoor enthusiasts. So far in the 'Essentials' series there has been Winter Essentials, and Alpine Essentials and now soon to appear in the shops is Hill Walking Essentials. Each DVD has a main film usually in the form of a 'day out' where we look at the basic techniques required, but they also have many 'chapters' covering each subject in more detail. You can get the DVD from the British Mountaineering Council or the Mountaineering Council of Scotland However, you may of course have heard enough of me if you have been on a trip with Tracks and Trails!!

It's only early October and the snow has arrived! I headed off to Swiss Val Ferret today for a very wintery walk. We were heading for Le Chantonet which is a wee summit near the Petit Col Ferret. It was very atmospheric as we headed up the first part of the climb with larch trees coated in fresh powder - really beautiful. I think my friend Barry and I got a bit of a shock when we realised how much snow had fallen overnight as we were up to our knees in places. The compass was out for the first time in ages with visibility down to about 20m. We successfully made our way up around 600m of the ascent before deciding that not being able to see anything was a bit of a lost cause. It was, however, a lovely day and after deciding to turn back and return to lower altitude we were rewarded with blue skies and sunshine! It certainly put us into winter mode and I can't wait for more snow to arrive and to get those snowshoes out!

Well, I spent months training for them and now I've completed them! I decided to set myself a couple of goals for 2008 and entered the Mont Blanc Marathon where I came in 13th lady and the North Face CCC (Ultra Trail) where I was 7th lady.

During my first summer in Chamonix I saw the CCC finish and decided then that I wanted to give it a go! The run takes in half of the classic Tour du Mont Blanc trail and gets it's name by passing Courmayeur in Italy, Champex in Switzerland and ends in Chamonix, France and covers 98km with 5,600m of ascent - plus you have to complete it in under 25 hours! In other words alot of up (and therefore down!) and 62 miles.....where does one start?????

So to 'get round' I knew that I would need a pretty substantial amount of training and a couple of training events to get me racing! But even so....the furthest i'd ever run was 26 miles - 5 years ago! Luckily with my job I am able to benefit from plenty of 'time on my feet' which is the key to these ultra distance events. So after winter '08, and plenty of cross country ski training, I dusted off the trainers and began running and building up the miles both in the Peak District and the Alps. My first goal was to compete in early June in the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon in Scotland, a 2 day orienteering event where you carry all your over night equipment and food where I was partnered with training partner, Rachel Nolan. A fantastic event, it's always set in an amazing location, fab route....just a shame about the midges!

In late June it was back to Chamonix for the Mont Blanc Marathon where the sun was shining....perhaps a little too much as it was a really hot weekend. Over the weekend they hold a 10km, 1/2 marathon and full marathon. My mum, aka Sue Smith came 1st in the her category for the 10km - back from injury, well done Mum! And I came in 13th lady for the Marathon (10th in my category) over the 42km course that has 2,445m height gain - basically 3 big hills finishing on about 1000m of up. So that got me up to 26 miles again and then I just continued run training over the summer months after/coupled with long walks until my D-Day arrived!

The CCC was at the end of August and was on yet another hot day....but unlike the June marathon I was now acclimatised to the elevation, time on my feet and supposedly the climate! Kick off was at 11am in Courmayeur town centre, the atmosphere was incredible! Our course headed straight up the exposed Mont de la Saxe ridge behind the Bertone refuge, normally a place of rest and nice coffee! It was really hot...a complete killer! The phrase, 'mad dogs and English men' come into mind! I battled with my head for a couple hours and told myself NOT to give up. "Remember your goal - TO FINISH/GET ROUND".

By 4pm the temperature did start to drop and I began to pick up. Again, you are required to carry all your own survival kit and food etc but the event is really well organised with good feeding stations every 2-3hours. Although we had begun in the most incredible heat is was fantastic weather without a cloud in the sky. As day turned to night all the runners put on their head torches and you can see the runners dotted along the dark mountainside which is wonderful site. When I got a chance to glance up from the trail ahead the sky was clear and stary, perfect running conditions. I ran for 9 hours in the dark, entering the feed stationes at night is really surreal. At about 3.30am I was at the top of my last climb and could finally see the lights of Chamonix below (still 1000m below!!!!) but at least my goal was in sight! The only thing left to do was to go down...with my knees beginning to feel it now and just wanting it be over I pushed on and managed to surprise myself and completed it in 18hours 6mins, coming in as 7th lady! A big surprise seeing as at 1pm I had thought of quitting! But even more impressive was Al Powell finishing in 3rd.

Lindsay was a star as the following day as she not only lent me her bath to soak in but also by acting as my personal masseuse to sort out my sore and exhausted legs because 2 days later I headed off to guide the complete Tour du Mont Blanc for us! I guess ski racing will be next then?

I am just in tonight from a two stunning days doing a recce of the Tour de Matterhorn. The autumn weather, blue skies, no wind, crispy mornings, and a dusting of early snow made the trip memorable. The fact we only met two other people made it even more special. I really think mid to late September is a brilliant time to walk in the Alps - so few people around! This morning the valleys were echoing to the sound of the red deer stags roaring in the rut. We saw a beautiful stag high in the corries, probably resting from fighting the other 'guys'. Another special moment was a very close encounter with a massive male ibex. It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly graceful these mountain animals are. They make crossing potential treacherous terrain look like a stroll in the park! Basically, I spent two days doing the section from the Col Collon on the Swiss Italian border, over the Col Valcournera down to Breuil-Cervinia. These are often regarded as two of the toughest on the trip and whereas, yes, they are over rough terrain they are also absolutely wonderful. A real mountaineering adventure! We aim to be able to offer the Tour de Matterhorn in 2009 for those of you with a true sense of adventure!

Whoever said that we often take our own backyard forgranted was wrong! I have just returned from a walk in the mountains behind our village of Finhaut in Switzerland and was blown away by the beauty of this crisp autumn day. I set off from the Lac d'Emosson and climbed up through the Gorge de Veudale surrounded by the golds, and reds of the trees and grasses. A stiff hike saw me to the summit of the Cheval Blanc at 2830m. Its a wonderful austere rocky mountain surrounded by the most amazing rock - you can see the layers and folds where the rock has been shaped and formed by volcanic activity. One of the great things about this part of the Alps - perhaps any part of the Alps - is that there is so much to do. Every day offers the opportunity to explore yet another trail, yet another mountain and I really think it will keep me going a lifetime! I had the summit to myself and crunched across the first snows of winter before descending and coming across a herd of ibex - a real treat. I was watching the ibex grazing - mother and this years young - and then noticed a marmot also watching the ibex! The mountains are such wonderful therapy and although I have so enjoyed walking with our guests this summer, but it really is great to have some R&R and have the chance to walk alone for a change - I am sure we all feel this sometimes!

I woke up this morning to a mist filled valley, but with the promise of plenty of sunshine to come once it all burns off. At this time of year its almost as though Chamonix Valley heaves a sigh of relief as the busy summer season passes and autumn sets in. To be honest this is one of the best months to enjoy walking in the mountains - the leaves are just turning gold, yellow and red, and the slopes a kind of burnt gold. The myrtille bushes (that's blaeberry or bilberry to most of us) are also on thier way to becoming a deep scarlet. Anyway, I'm going to have a long coffee and wait until the crag above our village dries out then indulge in a day of swinging around on ropes and scaring myself silly!

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