Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nervous anticipation!

Have been invited ski touring tomorrow, ridiculously high up on a glacier, somewhere in Switzerland. Bit scared! but very excited too. Have been told that it is flat (?!) and not scary at all. Need to go to sleep soon, am on the 7am bread run again after a few days off - shall go to bed, go directly to bed without passing Go or collecting £200. Chalet bosses arrived safely in time for lunch, sans guests, so just the three of us here tonight. They are both recovering from operations and want a really easy day out, they think it will be easy enough for me to come too! Will be mortified if I am still left behind. Leaving here at 8am with a picnic, will report back later. First experience of 'skinning' coming up.
Oh, just looked at what Wiki says about ski touring - it  'requires cardiovascular fitness, mental toughness, and a firm understanding of mountain craft' . Oh (again).

Second egg

for the happy couple at Loch Garten! it's very sweet to watch them, they seem a bit dim but I suppose they only have small brains despite being big birds. I logged on just after the first egg was laid and saw Odin (dad) come in to land. Mum EJ stood up to let Odin peer underneath her. He straightened up quickly with a puzzled expression, then bent down again for another good look to check that he really had seen what he thought he saw. Perhaps he's never had one before and isn't quite sure what is going on. He keeps trying to be helpful with the housework, bless him, shifting bits of moss back and forth in a clueless manner. Brought in a huge branch which he dumped on top of his missus and wondered why she was a bit narked. But he does seem to be pretty good at getting dinner ont table, which is what really matters after all. 

And I have just seen a crested tit on the seed feeder while clearing away lunch! First time. Is that what is known as a lifer? And after all those Rothiemurchus walks with a cricked neck scanning the lofty pines for the pretty little things.

Now I just need to see a crossbill.

Oh dear, not much mention of skiing .... haven't been out for a few days. Been getting the chalet in tip top condition (I hope!) for the return of the owners for the last week of the season.  There is really a lot, and I mean a lot of stuff to dust. And what with the advent of spring and insects I am finding that every time I look up there are new festoons of cobwebs, as if there wasn't enough else to do ....

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Glorious sunny day ....

 .... in Aviemore! I got distracted the other day by a text from Alan and Tess who were cycling to Boat of Garten on their Easter hols - and it reminded me of the Loch Garten ospreys and the visit we made a couple of years ago. Pleased to say that there is a pair in residence, same female (EJ) with a different male of unknown origin. Every time I have had a look at the video cam it has been sunny which is pretty remarkable and it's been nice to see the Scots pines of that wonderful piece of old Caledonian forest too.

Since I'm on a wildlife theme - I opened my curtains the other morning to find a red squirrel in the tree outside. One of the bigger, dark chocolate-brown variants that you get on the continent, with enormous ear tufts. The linked piccy is from a Czech website and gives you the idea! Oh and then, on my way back from a lovely ski today, as I was struggling back up the steps from town, in my boots - ow ow! - carrying my skis - oof! there was an unknown (to me) butterfly sunning itself. And it was one of these - a Camberwell Beauty. Well, presumably they are called something French here, but don't ask me what. Gorgeous rich purplish-reddish velvet wings.
It's getting so warm now I am still hopeful of seeing/hearing a marmot before I leave! Saw three swallows today as well, so summer must really be here in the Alps. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Eeeeeeaster!

Seems I only post when the weather is bad! perhaps that is because when it is good I am out. It has been hot hot hot! for weeks and weeks. Ever since Bill left. I am hiding my sunburnt arms today by staying in having a pottering kind of afternoon. Still lots of skiing here, though some of the lower runs getting very slushy even by mid-morning and of course I don't normally get out till midday when I have finished scrubbing. Slushy is quite fun though, the pistes get really bumpy and you can almost pretend it's powdery bumps. It must be good for my skiing too coz it is much more difficult - good for the leg muscles as well. Am planning to return home with thighs of steel ready for immediate transfer to bicycle!

So here are some sunny, snowy photos to prove it!

Coffee and cake time, got to feed those growing muscles

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Retract previous post ..

Bill came to stay, with his shorts and his sunnies, and ... um ... the temperature took a bit of a nosedive. Winter is back! But on the plus side, half a metre more snow! hooray! It wasn't looking like some of the pistes would make it to April.  I might have not been able to ski back to the chalet for much longer, imagine how awful! And I've only just learnt how to do it without falling over. So whew, heave a sigh of relief, sorry for the primroses, but, oh well. C'est la vie, as they say somewhere.
We had three days skiing and one day snow-shoeing, the last ski day, yesterday, was the worst weather I had been out in. But by god we were tough! A little bit worrying tho when you go up the only lift that is open due to the vent fort - and you are the only people going up there - to the highest piste in the region - hmmm. And then Bill gets vaguely claustrophobic because we can't see beyond arms length - to him it's the same feeling as being stuck in a lift or otherwise enclosed in a small space even though there is huge space all around in reality. Lots of fun! Reminded me of some good days out on the Cairngorm plateau. 

Was slightly worried about getting frostbite on that exposed inch of flesh between hat and neck gaiter. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring is sprung!

First flower of the year - a teeny primrose under the beech hedge spotted on my way to the boulangerie.
The birdlife is also perking up, becoming pretty lively and vocal. I was a bit disorientated the other morning - still not getting much better at these early starts! - and was pottering down the road enjoying listening to the kookaburras while I was still asleep enough not to really know which country I was in. It did eventually dawn on me that I was in France and that green woodpeckers laugh too. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

100m or less in hill fog patches

I was dreaming that I was having a lie in this morning, til my alarm went off at quarter to seven. Then I remembered that I haven't had a morning off for nearly 3 weeks! soon, soon ..... should get two days off this coming week to make up! 
Grim weather at the beginning of last week, still decided to go on a little outing, and for some mad reason got on the chairlift that I have always avoided due to the off putting signage! 'Piste difficile' only for 'Bons Skieurs' - not me shurely. Wondered why there was no one else on it -then got off at a bleak spot on a ridge in a howling gale 

Where is everyone else?

Oh, it was also snowing really hard, and visibility was poor to nonexistent. Would that be 100m or less then? (perhaps it is only me who remembers Met-Man Mooney). Pottered around for a while, looking at my map and trying to decide which way to go. It's such a crazy thing to be doing, I mean it was seriously cold up there, gale force winds, if you were on a mountain in Scotland you'd have spare clothes, food, survival bag etc etc and of course a trusty flask, Bill! but to be up there alone with no emergency supplies seems mad. You can tell I still haven't quite 'got' this skiing thing. And everyone else apart from me is wearing fashion clothing, where the fur trim and how good you look seem to be the most important factors (better go shopping methinks .... praps that's where I am going wrong).
This seemed like the best way down - I quite like it when you can't see how steep the slope is... it helps me over my little vertigo problem.

Ended up having quite an exhilarating time, found a whole new area, a lovely snowy bowl, with just no people at all, wonder why Chatel is not such a popular resort. Spose it just could have been the weather. It's pretty wintry still.

Looking back down to Chatel, on the last piste leading back down to the chalet. I have to drop off the edge of it at just the right place to traverse across back to the chalet, if I am not brave enough and go too low it is a real slog across the field. Too high and it is too steep and deep and I keep trying to turn and chickening out til I run out of slope altogether...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snow like wet cement

And the other thing about the first of March is that the avalanche warning siren will go off at midday, as does on the first of every month. I always forget and it always makes me jump. And then I always wonder what you are supposed to do when it goes off for real. Where would you run to and how would you know which direction it was coming from? I'm looking forward already to wondering that again on the first of April, unless I have been better informed about avalanche procedure in the meantime.
Avalanche risk 2 here these days - it was up to category 4 in January at times (max is 5). Apparently things get rather exciting at level 5, roads are closed, villages evacuated. We have had a few really warm days recently, the last two days it has been raining and I haven't been out of the house at all apart from the dawn trip to the boulangerie. Today was dry so thought I ought to have a little ski again to keep my hand in. Also thought it would be a good experience for me to find out what it was like skiing in really wet old snow! Well, it's very hard! and hurts alot when you fall over. I fell three times, silly falls, just catching edges, the ridges of snow so dense and unforgiving. Also very poor contrast so totally unable to see where the lumps and bumps of carved up piste were. It's great being able to ski over to the piste from the chalet, but not so easy coming back because the last section of piste that you come down is a steep (well I think so!) narrow run, that has been carved out into a kind of half pipe by everybody turning. And today it was carnage! bodies all over the place, heaps of snow and people everywhere, it took me such a frustratingly long time to get down the last short section because I didn't dare turn that I came off the piste a bit higher up than usual, and then found I couldn't turn at all in the deep snow off piste. So I sat down a few times (unintentionally), skis came off a few times, and then I gave up and walked down the last 100m - sinking in up to mid-thigh at every step. Wish I felt I was getting a bit better at this lark, but it still feels nearly as difficult and scary as it did a month ago. That's not true of course, I am getting better, but not nearly fast enough. 
Oh well, quick shower, back to work now. Just remembered that the crew at Port Lockroy are leaving today! locking up, end of another season. I think none of them are particularly looking forward to coming home. They have been much more diligent than we were about updating the official UKAHT blog - there is a link on the right here. Sounds like they have had a lot of fun - and with an extra member of staff and fewer visitors they must have had a bit more leisure too!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Leeks and daffodils

Was trying hard to remember what the 1st of March signified ..... of course, it's St David's Day. Shame Wales got trounced by France in the 6 Nations on Friday - no, not really, it's about time they were beaten. And Scotland won, hoorah! I haven't really just been a couch potato watching sport, honest. But you have to lie on the sofa with a cup of tea some of the time.
Yesterday was just the most glorious weather, we have had some wonderful spring-like sunshine this week, and I had myself organised to finish work early and go for a ski. Was v brave and decided to go back to do a run that I had cried in terror all the way down the last time I did it. Slightly nervous, and it took me a while to get down, but I got there in the end! Well, once you have started there really isn't a lot of choice - though there was one bail out option of a button lift that would take me back to the top and the telecabine back down to safety (which is what I did last time). I have discovered what it is that makes some runs terrifying for me - it's not even necessarily the steepness, it's the view! If I can't see the run bottoming out, if it is a convex slope and you are looking straight down to the valley floor a looooong way down, then I go to pieces and have to start taking deep breaths and closing my eyes! 

This is scary!

And this.

This is not.

It's all in the head. And partly in the legs. Have discovered that now I can ski a bit it is really hard work, a couple of hours, even minutes sometimes, and my thighs are jelly! It has been a good year or so since I have done much sustained exercise, so am pretty wibbly and weak.

A new group are arriving today and tomorrow, am just about to commence lengthy session in the kitchen  - planning to make creme caramels for the first time (prob a mistake not to have practised, will end up eating them all myself), meringues, lasagne, maybe a sticky toffee pudding, have already done a couple of cakes...... it gives me an excuse not to go skiing again! 

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Just checked the score before setting off to catch the second half and
the game is over! Of course it was _in_ France so no need to add an
hour on to the kick-off time. Durrr.
Oh well, back to the ironing then.