Adventures in the French Alps

This is a very long post, if you make it to the end I'll be surprised. Expect the posts to get shorter as time goes on.

The first stop on our travels was the French Alps for a week of outdoor activities and camping with TrekCo. It was a busy week with us trying a variety of outdoor activities…

Friday 21st July

"Today our adventure begins" were my first words to Nikki when we woke on Friday morning, though it sounded a lot less cheesy at the time. We left at around 10am to board a 12am train from Folkestone and despite taking a rather circuitous route we arrived early and ended up boarding an earlier train along with Micha's camper van, Hettie.

Our stop for the night was in Troyes, which we had a few hours drive to reach. Sheena left quite large gaps when pulling up to the péage (tolls) which made getting tickets from and paying money into them quite a stretch for Erica – she had to open her door more than once to reach properly.

We arrived in Troyes and found our Airbnb apartment just in time to have dinner in a nearby restaurant. Walking through Troyes it was hard to tell if the buildings were truly old or made to look so, but either way it looked pretty. It struck me as we were walking through town that this would be mine and Nikki's new 'every day'.

A poor photo of a pretty town

Saturday 22nd July

We were on track to leave early but had an issue with the boot on Sheena's car; it wouldn't open! After everyone had had a go at opening it we admitted defeat and I tried stuffing Sheena's suitcase over the rear seats, which left much less space than before.

We set off, but were stopped after only a few yards with a warning light on the dash saying the rear window was open. Sheena then happily revealed that the window on the boot also opens! Voila, we were able to put all the luggage back where it was supposed to be.

We arrived at Ailefroide in the French Alps in the early evening after another somewhat scenic route down through France.

Sunday 23rd July

Steve (the main man) offered us two choices for our first day of activities; a long slog up to a nearby glacier or a cable car and nice ridge walk near Serre Chevalier. No prizes for guessing what we chose…

After a long slog uphill the cable car dropped us off at the top of the mountain and we were greeted with amazing views in every direction. I found there was just too much to look at, so I ended up not really taking it in for the first twenty minutes.

I could have stayed here all day, with amazing views in every direction

We walked for most of the day and saw many different amazing views including lots of marmots, a plethora of butterflies and cows with typically alpine cow bells.

We finished the day with pizza from the on site pizza van and it was so good. I stayed up late and took a few photos of the stars.

Not bad for right outside our front door

Monday 24th July

I woke up to see Nikki curled up at the end of my roll mat, looking some what like a cat. Apparently her own mat had decided to leak air throughout the night and was now less comfortable than risking being kicked in the face by me.

The day got better from there though, with the activities starting in earnest; abseiling was first on the list for today, followed by white water rafting.

I volunteered to go first on the abseiling, hoping not to have flash backs to a traumatic Centre Parcs experience (nine year old me freaked out at the top of the abseiling wall) and leant backwards out over the cliff hoping Ross had done all the knots correctly.

There was a short walk down, feeding the rope through little by little. Then after about thirty feet you were left hanging in empty space, dangling on the rope and spinning around. I made it to the ground without any hiccups and everyone else followed with varying degrees of confidence.

Once we were all back down we made our way to the Durance for some white water rafting. As it turned out we rafted the exact same stretch of the Durance that I kayaked a few years ago with Inspiring Adventure, which evidently I mentioned too many times as the group started to tease me about it.

We pulled into the car park, got kitted up and met our guide, Boris, who made Nikki sit next to him so he could look after her as she's not too confident on moving water.

Jesse tried to teach Boris some Australian phrases like "G'day mate" and "Put another shrimp on the barbie", which kind of worked but unsurprisingly Boris was a little bemused. His second attempt at the latter was quite convincing though.

The stretch of the Durance we paddled was mostly grade two, with maybe one or two grade 3 features. In a raft this meant that for the most part it was fun and games the whole way down, with Boris intentionally steering us into rocks and people getting pushed out of the raft. One of the those people was me, pushed in by Ajit; after being pulled back into the raft I looked down to find my GoPro no longer on its chest mount! Luckily I spotted it floating in the corner of the boat, having been pulled off as I was hauled up.

A very relieved Ajit after I found my detached GoPro

One particular rock that Boris steered us into caused the boat to almost tip over and sent Micha tumbling into the water and almost under the boat before I could even reach out to grab her. Luckily someone grabbed her and stopped her going under the boat – phew! Her paddle wasn't so lucky though and got caught in a eddy for the next group to find.

We followed the rush of the white water with the stillness of 'Le Lac' and did a spot of sunbathing and ice cream eating. Then it was back to the campsite where Micha cooked dinner for nine in her camper van designed for two!

Not a bad place to spend a couple of hours …or to do some yoga

Tuesday 25th July

Tuesday began with an activity that I'd never done before; via ferrata. This was the first and easier of two via ferrata routes planned for the week. I had no idea what to expect as we stood in the car park getting harnessed up and roped together.

Hoping Tully paid attention in his knot tying lessons

We started the via ferrata and almost immediately were greeted by a single cable traversing a gap with two more to hold onto. I stood above it watching Nikki's group step carefully over it thinking "what are we doing", I later found that it got much worse or better depending on how you look at it.

Yes, we did push ups on the bridges

If you've never done via ferrata before you might not appreciate that while you do have the metal cable to hold onto and clip onto, you still feel quite exposed. As we traversed the rock face above raging water we encountered more bridges and as Tully, one of our guides, described it many "50 pence, 5 pence moments".

We followed the via ferrata with a trip to a local crag for some climbing. Ross and Tully set up a few ropes for us to climb at a crag called Chambon.

Ross shouted something in French and the rope spilled down, making an impressive whipping noise

We all took turns climbing and belaying on the easier routes before they moved the ropes for those wanting to try harder routes. This was the first time we realised that Erica was a bit of a ninja, climbing the routes with relative ease.

Nikki tackling one of the routes

The climbing ended with a route graded 5a, which Erica, Jesse, Ajit and I all attempted. Erica got caught out near the very top with a tricky outcrop that had no visible handholds. Jesse attempted the route next and with Tully spotting him from the top he was able to find a nice big hold on top of the outcrop, which meant he was able to finish the route. Ajit followed in similar style with quite the show of upper body strength.

By the time it was my turn I wasn't really feeling it but the group encouraged me to try and so I put my shoes back on and looked at the wall blankly, I didn't know where to start. I had a fair few oo-er moments on the route, it seemed there were two cruxes; one near the bottom and one (the outcrop) near the top. Neither had easy handholds and both required some confidence to reach the next hold. Somehow I made it to the top and felt quite proud of myself, I can't remember how climbing routes are graded and where 5a ranks but for me it was pretty tough and I was glad to have reached the top.

It wasn't easy to see where to go from here

TrekCo provided a BBQ for dinner that night and it was very good, with plenty of meat and veggie options, homemade coleslaw and potato salad. I had seconds.


Wednesday 26th July

There was a quiet unease around the campsite on Wednesday morning ahead of the planned 'big' via ferrata. Both by those who'd done it before and those who hadn't. Despite having done the small via ferrata I had no idea what to expect from the big one, all I knew was that it would be higher. It turned out to be higher, longer, tougher and with many many more oo-er moments.

The first of which was stepping out onto a metal platform and back again, which having watched the GoPro footage back doesn't look so bad but trust me it felt it and I have almost no issue with heights.

You can just about see some of group in blue

What followed was a series of solid rock, staples, metal plates and a ladder. Yes, a full metal ladder.

Who carried that up here?!

I grew to love staples, they provided a solid and reassuring foot/handhold and were greeted by "hello staples my old friend" – I was pretty tired at this point.

A welcome sight

We reached the top after over two hours of not being on solid ground and then had an hour walk back to the bottom, discussing the various difficulties and scary moments from the ascent.

Dinner was cooked in Micha's camper van, despite being designed for two she managed to cook a filling meal for nine.

Thursday 27th July

Our last day of activities started with canyoning, which is essentially walking along a river bed jumping off rocks into pools and swimming under rocks. It was fun but next time I'd want a thicker wetsuit or more layers underneath, as I spent most of the time quite cold and resorted to dancing to keep warm along with Rosie and Micha.

On our way back down the river Beachy, another instructor, was explaining that we'd rope down a slippery section and as he was saying this Ross nearly fell down the rock and was saved by the rope! Point proven.

Our next activity had even Erica nervous. Rafting, but this time on grade five water. I was also not sure what to expect as I'm roughly aware of the river gradings from a kayaking point of view and grade five is some serious water – the scale only goes up to six. Six essentially means "You're crazy and if you swim you die".

The journey to the put in for rafting was enough to get me and Erica worried; with us being put in the second bus because the other was full, a last second change of drivers to one who was eating a Cornetto and our previous driver sitting in the back hanging his legs out the open side door. That was put to a stop when the Cornetto eating driver slammed the brakes for a speed bump and sent the side door smashing closed, luckily missing the legs hanging out of it. Getting out was also an issue as the side door handle had seen better days having been snapped in half and needing a loop of string tying through the remaining plastic to provide a handle.

So by the time we'd made it to our starting point we were both already a little on edge as we lowered the boat down to the water. Jesse and Sheena joined us and we stood near the edge waiting for the first boat to leave.

We set off into relatively calm water waiting for the big rapids to come and come they did. Our two guides would shout instructions to each side of the boat to steer us away from the worst hazards but inevitably it got rough. A shout of "Securité!" made us all sink into the boat and made us wait out whatever our guides had spotted before returning to our paddling positions and paddling some more. This happened several times as we bucked over and hit rocks and waves and span round in the torrent. After only about twenty minutes we made it to the end and were ready to do it again!

A relatively calm rapid in between some corkers

The second run was a little more eventful for me as I swapped with Jesse to sit on the front of the raft and on one particularly rough section was almost tipped out of the raft but was caught by our guide Manu, phew.

When the second run was over we loaded the rafts back onto the trailer and were told to jump in the raft to ride back to the shop, I'm not sure they've heard of health and safety.

I may have been putting this face on but shortly after I realised the rafts weren't even tied down!

Friday 28th July

Our last day in the French Alps and what we both think of as the start of our time travelling. As planned we made it to the airport in plenty of time and waved goodbye to Sheena and Erica and settled for a few hours of waiting around in another airport with tickets to Greece.


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