The View From The Top

Well folks, I seem to be back and home from my 6 week sojourn in France. Time for some kind of reflective blog.

My regular blog reader and my handful of Twitter followers will know that I had an abrupt end to my racing this summer courtesy of persistent problems in my left foot. This didn’t really cause me grief, because I’d planned, in any event, to up sticks and go and live in Chamonix, in the French Alps, for a decent period of time. There was a time, before I returned to running seriously again, that I frequently did quite long stays in the Alps. However, this was always working for the holiday company who entrusted me with a regular supply of new clients to take out in the mountains each week. I’d been musing over that piece of my past a few months ago, and realised how long it was since I’d spent a really significant chunk of “me time” in the mountains.

I also felt I had unfinished business with Chamonix. I was there at what became the end of my big trip away to the European Masters Games, Venice and the Dolomites etc, last September and October. I arrived last year just as almost literally everything was closing for pre-ski season break. Having to eat in McDonalds in the evening because nowhere else was open didn’t seem the right way to enjoy the place. So I left.

To pick up again from there, after a fashion, turned out to be easy. At first go, a few months previously, I’d found a really good apartment that was available to me for the whole of my stay, at a very reasonable price indeed. Save for a bit of accommodation on the journey out, and the machinations of packing, the trip probably involved less pre-planning than any I have ever made. I had a good, quite leisurely journey out, arrived, moved in, sat down, and said to myself “What the hell do you do next?”

Those who know my habits will know I travelled out on my trusty BMW motorcycle, and that I took a whole bundle of camera gear with me. Add in mountain clothing, boots, at least one change of socks, maps, etc, and I was really rather heavily laden. I was glad not to be fitting in any running to this year’s trip like I had last year, so needed to carry none of that stuff.

Chamonix is quite a big place. When I arrived, the tourist season was in full swing. Within days, however, I could see the pace slowing down, the crowds (such as they were) visibly thinning out, the end of season sale signs going up in the shops, and the autumn colours beginning to appear on the trees.

I became a bit of a man on a mission. I really only had a fortnight from arriving until the major cable cars and other lift systems closed for autumn pre-skiing refurbishment. The lifts were key to many places I wanted to visit, and the first part of my stay was quite frenetic. My other half came out to join me for a fortnight over this period, and I guess we ticked most of the boxes in terms of seeing the best sights before getting out in the mountains generally came to require more effort and cunning.

However fit I’d got for the summer’s track season (in truth, not very, and eroded by time off with injury) was definitely not “mountain fit”. There was a time when the gaps between my trips to the Alps were small enough that I never really lost that ‘diesel engine” that would propel me up hill and down dale for weeks at a time. This time, I had to rediscover it after several years as a sprinter. That hurt. As did my poorly foot. However, both improved gradually, though I suspect I had some days that did the foot no favours.

By the time I left for home, I’d taken 6,500 frames on my digital camera, and shot 21 rolls of medium format film in my delicious (but deliciously heavy) Bronica GS camera – another 210 frames. I tried to stay on top of what I was shooting, too, by sorting and editing almost every evening, and on the few wet days that I had while there. A sample of the best of what I shot went straight on to my gallery at 500px. These plus a lot more will be going on a gallery on my web site before very long.

Being self-contained, I always had the option of doing very little when it rained. I think in the whole trip I had five separate but continuously wet days (as opposed to nights). I never once in the trip needed to put on wet weather gear out in the mountains, barring one day when the sudden onset of the Fohn wind necessitated wearing goretex jacket and over-trousers as a lifesaver against that violent and invisible foe! I imagine that’s not a bad record for a long stay in Chamonix in the autumn, either.

A panorama of the Chamonix Aiguilles and the Grades Jorasses from early one morning

I always find leaving places hard. Same this time. I ditched plans to have a week travelling home, and was glad in the end I did it with just two stops. Right now, my head is full of a swirl of recollections, images, sounds, tastes etc. These will fall into some kind of order when I sit down and start editing the photos, I’m sure….

Oh, and the Bear had a good time too, thanks for asking.

(and in case you wondered, the title is another song track. Cat Stevens circa 1968.)


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