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Lindsay and I have enjoyed a great winter here in the Alps, meeting new faces and catching up with the regular ones too. We've visited some of favorite locations and have been exploring new areas too. And next season will have a few more regions to visit either on snowshoes or skis.

The Alps are blossoming as we speak, there's still snow high on the mountains, but the valleys & middle mountains are enjoying the sun and warm temperatures taking shape ready for summer. Everything looks lush & green ready for walking, biking, hiking and relaxing!

So it's our 'inter-season' at the moment. Time to play & enjoy a little bit of Tracks and Trails staff training be it on our bikes, running you name it! Lindsay's just back from a rock climbing trip to Provence and is desperate for a new road bike. I on the otherhand enjoyed a weeks ski mountaineering last week, exploring and getting height to acclimitise for a challenge i've had in mind for sometime. To ski Mont Blanc!

I spent 5 days skinning to high places and enjoying, the spring snow ski touring in preperation for a 2 day hit on Mt. B. I've always been weary of the ski descent due to it's threat of serac falls and large crevasses. We had however heard that the conditions were good and what with a great forecast and good snow covering it was time to give it a go! So last week I went up to the Grand Mulet refuge with my husband Olly which is at 3,000m for the night. It's situation above the glacier is amazing, the views/sunset alone are worth it! We woke for a 1.30 breakfast and by 2am were back on our skis skinning in zig zags gaining height. The skies were clear and all you could see were the lights of headtorches of others on the same mission. Our summit of 4810m seemed along way off at this point! After a couple of hours we switched to crampons and axes and strapped our skis to our backs to ascend the ice pitch the 'Arête Royale'. This section is a little bit of front pointing & walking but steeply rises along a knife edge (probably a good thing it was still dark!). But the track was good and the ice very 'grippy'! This section is a good 700m or more of the climb and as it's pretty much vertical you gain altitude very quickly.

This finally eased to enable us to switch back to our skis and skin the flatter section to the Col du Dôme. Here we were back on crampons passing the Vallot Hut which sits 4362m for the final climb to the summit. The sun was now up and the views of the 3 Monts and panorama around us was opening up to view many great peaks like the Gran Paradiso, Grand Combin, Matterhorn - you name it. The ridge to the summit was cold to say the least! We took our pictures and felt the warmth immediately as we left the top to return to our skis and sarnies. Now for the ski down - the Glacier des Bossons, from the Col at 4280m back to the Plan d'Aiguille at 2310m. I've skied many glaciers but this one is huge. I've looked at this glacier so many times and wondered what it's like up there. But I felt so small in this massive ice field. What with creeking noises as the ice shifts, the serac debris to slalom ski around, ice pillars to ski under, crevasse holes to negotiate & jump over(!) you almost feel the glacier is moving whilst your on it! But the snow was good, some cold & soft and then spring snow towards the end. The ski was fun but felt very commiting, a great memory to share with your other half. It reminded me of how the mountains are still on the move and we are there to both enjoy but respect them!

I just can't wait for my next adventure. Julia

Read Harriet Gordon's article on the walks every American should try. Well rather than keeping it just for our friends in the US take a look at Harriet's article for some worldwide hiking ideas this year.

Whether you are looking for have an adventurous weekend or cross something off of your bucket list, nature is, and probably should be, involved. One of the best ways to get back to it is to go on a hike. With literally thousands of trails taking anywhere from hours to months to complete, it can all be somewhat to very confusing. With little money and less time at stake for most hikers, what is the best way to get the biggest bang for your buck/minute?

The Hiking Trails Every American Must Try

Well, it's been an interesting few weeks tackling Mont Blanc from all sides! First, there was my epic (well, epic for me) road bike ride around Mont Blanc taking in many of the Cols made famous by the Tour de France. Three and a half days solo with over ten hours in the saddle each day due to my lack of preparation - most fit folk seem to do around a maximum of 7 hrs on the stages! But it was certainly an experience and apart from a very sore rear I finished in good form. In fact it really got me into road biking and I am now planning my next epic!

There then followed a hiking Tour du Mont Blanc with a great bunch of clients. To be honest my clients are always 'nice' - I wont have it any other way..... ! We were lucky with the weather and had a week of stunning views and a whole lot of laughs. I really enjoy the trip even though I have now done it many times. Each trip is different depending on the group dynamics and the weather which means there is always something new to consider/enjoy. In fact the last two TMB's have provided the most diverse and interesting conversations from literature, film, poetry, to medical ethics, and the philosophy of law - you name it and my 'gang' seem to have covered it.

Finally, Mont Blanc was tackled full on by myself and my great friend Kathy Grindrod when we did the classic traverse over the summit itself from the Aiguille du Midi station to the Gouter Refuge. 5 hrs to the summit on a stunning morning with the descent to the Gouter. After 15 years of looking at the big white one I decided it was time to climb it. It was great to be a team of two girls amidst the groups of guided parties and feel like we were doing it under our own steam. Some exciting moments were had on the ice pitch on Mont Maudit, and crossing the infamous Gouter Couloir but we lived to tell the tale. An absolutely amazing experience! Lindsay

Just back from a ten day Tour de Mont Blanc with a great bunch of guys. Interesting for a female guide to deal with an all male team, but they were no trouble! According to Russ he was in no doubt who was in charge! We had great weather for the trip with glorious sunshine and some stunning views of the glaciers and peaks. We were a Scottish guide, two Canadians, two English and an Irishman. I have to say we had great laughs and sent young Cody up a few extra peaks. It's always tricky when one of the team is younger and more energetic than the majority but as a 22 year old Cody coped extremely well with his more mature team mates and totally repaid the trust I placed in him which allowed him to always be a hop, skip and a jump ahead of the rest of the group. He waited at every junction and never once did I feel that he would abuse the 'slack' which allowed him to be a wee bit ahead. If you read this Dad, you should be proud of him. Despite trying to load him down with group kit he still had so much energy. Kevin, the Irishman, was a shining example of someone who had put in so much effort to get fit for the trip, and credit to him for his efforts which more than paid off. Russ and Richard were experts on beer and their sense of humour provided many humours interludes. Anyway, guys - I had a great trip and thanks to you all for your company!

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?

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