A short edit of some of the things we got up to during our final summer in Cham.
Two years in a van…
It’s been two years that we’ve lived in that van. That small two metre squared house on wheels. A bed, a cooker, an oven, a fridge, lights, shelves for our clothes and boxes for our climbing, alpinism, cycling and camping gear. A solar panel allows us to charge our phones and to run the heater in winter. The height of luxury, we’ve got a library full of mountaineering guidebooks and maps from here to eternity. We repurpose three five litre containers that we fill up once a week with water. The membership at the climbing gym gives us the possibility of a shower during opening times. We need only walk two minutes to reach the public toilet. We try always to park where no one will be disturbed. Discretion, cleanliness, respect and politeness are our watchwords.
Why? Freedom, low environmental impact, off-grid independence, daily contact with nature. A simple existence reduced to the essential.
How? Working. The money we save in rent, we spend on our passions. Skis, crampons, bikes, always saving for our Long Journey.
Are we dangerous? We are conscious that if everyone lived like us, it would be complicated to manage. The fact remains however that few would sign up for this way of life. Getting dressed before work at -15°C, renouncing your coffee because the water is frozen? Bending over backwards to find your jacket under the bed?
We aren’t harmful to anyone. So why are we pointed out? Despised? Denounced as vulgar thugs? It’s been two years that we live in a van together. Two years we don’t understand. This morning, whilst cycling to work, I nearly got run over by a bus. I called the police. Nothing they can do for this dangerous driving. This afternoon, the police came to see me.
Are you the one parked here?
It’s time to move on, we have had a call from some disturbed neighbours.
Is that really the role of the police? Ensuring that everyone fits the mould? Instead of making the roads safer, they tell me to leave for choosing to live differently. We rest within the law, nothing we do is illegal. Is it that hard to understand that our lifestyle is a choice? That it hurts nothing but conformity. One’s freedom stops where another’s starts. We don’t impose upon nor take away your freedom. We ask only for respect in kind.
… In Chamonix
A valley of contrast. Between luxurious chalets for millionaires in transit and random vans wherein dwell passionate climbers. Between crowded paved streets and indomitable mountains. Between touristy cable car summits and wide open wild spaces.
A small town looking like a big one. Russian and British, Portuguese and Irish, Japanese and Spanish, Parisian and Marseillais. They come by choice to these streets. Accents are mixed-up, languages become combined. The baguette is King but the speaking of French remains but an accessory.
Nose in the air, feet on the ground. Profit at any price is devastating, the pollution news-breaking. Seasonnaires, sometimes exploited, struggle to enjoy a defiled paradise. Glaciers are melting while asthma is spreading. The climate emergency is palpable and measures are slow to be taken. Cyclists remain unloved, buses reserved for tourists, land being sold mercilessly. But the resistance is here as well. Discrete but active. Organised or natural. Some locals share their gardens. Some alpinists guide with passion. Some shop owners give priority to human contact over contactless payment.
Towards a new adventure.
The moment we’ve awaited and feared in equal measure is upon us. Departure, goodbyes. Two bikes, two harnesses, one rope. Ready to discover the world, climb crags big and small, to live an adventure. Our permanent contract with Adventure is signed. Adieu the house on wheels, bonjour the life on two wheels. What’s in store? Open working hours that are paid in happiness and a nomadic lifestyle with unknowns at every turn.
What drives us? The desire for a simple daily life, a vital need of freedom, the foolish dream of leaving only a trace in the memory of our visit. Pedalling. Eating. Climbing. Sleeping. Being amazed. And repeat.
Weather forecasts see us over heating our tanks, bursting our banks. The newspaper spins us depression, war and closing borders. The planet still goes round and our lives still run on the clock. Clocking out, we have no deadline, chasing and being chased by time is tiring and frustrating. From the UK, we’ll cycle, due East. Get a boat to America, North to South. Cross to Africa to come full circle.
A short video of our mini-tour around Mont Blanc. We’d forgotten about the pain that only alpine cols can provide when we challenged ourselves to the classic 330km, 9000m of ascent route.
Adam writes a couple of stories and the lessons learned from our bike tour to the Dolomites in Spring 2015.
LESSONS LEARNED/WHEN NOTHING GOES RIGHT
Being my first bike tour it was always going to be full of lessons.
We’d chosen a route from the French Alps, roughly crossing the Swiss and Italian Alps and then arriving in the Dolomites in North Western Italy. I knew it would be a touch hilly, crossing many alpine cols that are apparently famous in the road cycling world, albeit this time with all our gear and not a centimetre of lycra in sight. Perhaps foolishly I wasn’t concerned about the cycling, more the cars on the road. I figured I was fit and always keen for adventure – enthusiasm is what I normally rely on to see these things through. I also knew at the end we’d climb in the Dolomites, somewhere I’d been wanting to go for a while. Despite being limestone (a rock I say I don’t like because I’m not very good at climbing it) it’s an area famous in the climbing world for huge walls, some of the biggest in Europe.
The first lesson came quickly. 5km quickly. We’d been following googlemaps with an experimental ‘bike mode’ which seemingly took us on a route avoiding a major road. We’d just completed the first climb of the day, of my life, with full paniers. It was much slower than I’d imagined but less painful, tiring nonetheless. We arrived at a dead end. “Straight on here” I shouted confidently to inform Noémie of what the oracle (googlemaps) was telling us to do. I looked up. A wall of nettles blocked the way. We dismounted. Skirting around the undergrowth we found that the paved road on googlemaps was, indeed, a freshly ploughed field. Return to go. Googlemaps went in the bag and out came the map. Lesson learned.
Later on that first day we were cycling slowly but surely up a steep gradient. Persistently winding and narrow we were concerned with the traffic. You certainly feel less stable with a 40kg bike when you’re only going 5-6km/h up a hill and cars, buses and trucks are passing too close for comfort. We spied an offshoot further up, we stopped for a rethink. We found a single track lane that from the map was clearly the old road. Narrower and steeper, perhaps, but with fewer large vehicles and arriving at our destination – easy decision. An hour of steep cycling later we came across police tape barring the road, the bridge was closed.
Looking across it seemed impassable for motor vehicles, but with bikes it looked fine. We had the option of crossing or returning the way we came and dealing with the main road. After crossing the bridge we cycled on a suspiciously thin road with a lot of debris around before arriving at an obvious landslide. Unloading all of our gear and passing the landslide by foot, we took the bags one by one, once again remounting them on the other side of the pile of rock, mud and broken wood. 100m further on we found yet another slide, we pressed on, this time crossing a shallow stream that had formed making the traverse even more time consuming. On the other side of the debris we re-found the tarmac and made comparatively quick progress towards the local church which would be our campsite for the night. With a little adventurous spirit, will and patience you can go nearly anywhere on a bike, lesson learned.
Soon after, we’d just finished Simplon Pass, a stunning col that took us all day to climb – not helped by roadworks and an efficient Swiss traffic light system that gave us nowhere near enough time to pass between the check points, resulting in a game of chicken with huge trucks and coaches of tourists. You certainly notice when you cross the border from Switzerland to Italy. The potholes suddenly appear and the traffic lights are replaced by a smoking Italian with a red/green sign. After spending the day climbing the col we descended quickly, the speed dizzying after the days exertions. We found a river and searched out an appropriate campsite to wash, eat and sleep. The cold water was refreshing and well needed, we hadn’t seen a shower in a time and we felt renewed. It hadn’t rained for days and it certainly didn’t look like it was going to. We’d been in the mountains and the hot sticky atmosphere of the wide, low valley convinced us to put up the tent without the rainfly. We left our clothes out to dry, deciding we were tired and would tidy them in the morning.
0330 we awake to the sound of rain on our inner tent. The drops are bullying their way through the mesh. It’s raining. Hard. With a start we sit up at the same time, remember we have left everything outside. We jump clear of the sleeping bags and find the head torches. Naked, we run backwards and forwards collecting our equipment and working together to put the rain fly on the tent. It’s not long before we realise that the perfect campsite we found is, in fact, the overflow for the river. We find sandals 10m away, trapped in rocks, taken by the new torrent. We move the tent to a seemingly safe island between the two rivers and spend a restless night hoping the overflow and river don’t become a whole. Be careful around rivers, lesson learned.
SKI PISTE DESCENT
Busy roads quickly gave into narrow mountain switchbacks as we climbed slowly through the Beaufort valley early on the trip. The air felt heavy, the bags heavier as we passed the bewildered stare of a farmer working his fields.
We’d planned to cross col du Joly and descend to St Gervais, from here we could access the Chamonix valley and cross into Switzerland. Most told us there was no way through to St Gervais without retracing our steps and taking another col, but we were already half way up this one. One man told us there were some ski pistes that led down to the other side after the col du Joly but certainly no roads. A fire was lit in our minds.
We arrived at the top of the col seeing a mountain we normally see daily, this time from a perspective we’ve never seen. We rest and drink water. There are other people here, motorcyclists group around in their clique, a family jump out of an SUV quickly to take photos, it feels like a dead end. Time to leave. Helmets on, we start down a gravel path in the vague direction of Mont Blanc. So far so good. The path descends gently and lulls us into thinking this is going to be straightforward. We start to see St Gervais far below in the valley. Fifteen minutes later we’re bouncing around the woods on a red piste, dodging rocks and skidding in the mud, we have to stop to let our rims cool down we’re braking so much. We pass a couple of groups of startled hikers but other than that we see few people until we reach the main road to St Gervais.
We’d been camped under the Vajolet Towers for 4 days, eaten all our food and so needed to descend to the valley that night. We came to climb the three towers that make up this formation that rises in typical dolomitic fashion – these limestone towers, an impressive sight, were made famous by the documentary film “Cliffhanger”. Over the past three days we’d had persistent trouble with the weather, never more than half a day of stable conditions. We’d spent our time doing a few shorter climbing routes in the vicinity and a via ferrata covered in snow and blanketed in fog.
This day seemed different. When the sun rose over the surrounding circle of peaks it revealed clear skies and shone done onto our camp with baking heat.
All hands on deck to complete our daily ritual. Break down the tent, roll the mats, stuff the sleeping bags, pack up the paniers, coffee, breakfast, ready to leave. Lock the bikes together and hide them in a sizeable bush away from any prying eyes. We take our climbing gear and set off to gain the approach path for the towers. Before long we’re sweating, drinking water and losing layers. We start the steep final approach to the towers, it couldn’t be hotter and it’s a relief that we’re going to have a full day in the mountains at last. Following a series of iron ladders and steel cables through scrambling terrain we pick our way up the loose rock to the base of the route.
Looking up at these eruptions of limestone with striking aretes overlooking an alpine lake I get excited, at the foot of the first tower I quickly rack the gear onto my harness and tie in. The air is thick with excitement and tension, as always before starting a climb. The air was thick for a reason. Above us a cloud rolls over the top of the peak and signals it’s presence with a thunder clap. It’s black, menacing and looks all too familiar from the storms of the last week. Flowing over from the blind side of the mountain we didn’t see it coming and we are soon engulfed in a tidal wave of hail, thunder, lightning and thick fog. Needless to say we turned tail and ran, quite literally to get off the exposed plateau and back to the bikes. That night we began our cycle to Trento, leaving the range, drowning our weather woes with a pizza the size of a bike wheel.
A short video from Adam and Ed’s climb of the Nose in Yosemite back in 2014, with warmer weather coming to Chamonix valley we’re excited to go rock climbing after a winter of hard work (and the occasional ski…!)
Two days of cycling along the Rhône with family. 100km between Pont de Beauvoisin and Belley. Some hills, beautiful landscapes, nice wild camp, summery weather, successful bike tour for all.
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This text is an extract of Noémie’s tale of her trip between Vancouver and Cancun in 2014. 70 A4 pages have been written to tell the story of 102 days spent on the road. The final read through is in process with the aim of sharing or publishing. It’s hard work so any comments or advice would be welcome. Link below:
Cassis to Bourgoin Jallieu, the return from our bike tour to climb in the Calanques. After climbing some disconcerting pudding stone and some great limestone we forge a path to the Rhone. Here we found our inner Knights, a new number plate, Christmas lights and a large number of chickens.
We’ve had this montain on our minds for a while. We took advantage of some time off to take a look. The adventure lives up to our expectations. We chose the voie normale. Easy, interesting and fit with the forecasted weather in a grand setting. Just before summiting the weather took a turn for the worse, starting to snow. It quickly became clear that the descent was going to be more complicated than foreseen. In normal conditions, you follow steps of easy scrambling with some scree-strewn narrow couloirs between them. When you have a couloir, you have an area typically sheltered from the sun and snow hangs around longer. I’ll let you imagine. A steep slope, covered in 2 to 3 metres of hard snow/ice that we have to descend, in trainers, no gloves and improvising protection. Instead of 30mins, we took 3 hours to get to the open scree at the foot of the mountain.
A short video of our journey to the Calanques. We found beautiful climbing in Buoux, a journey to the centre of the earth in the Gorge de la Nesque and a bivouac facing the ever enthralling sunset over the Mediterranean.