Avalanche Accident 28/02/2015

It’s been over a month since I was caught in an avalanche, which has given me plenty of time to think about what happened, it has been a long process of working out what happened that day, but it has helped by actually getting out there again and skiing off piste again. I don’t think there has been a day since the accident that I haven’t thought about it, every day I go skiing or drive up to Tignes or Val d’isere I can see the face and the couloir that I got swept down, so there isn’t really any getting away from it. I am glad I have waited until now to write up my account of the accident, it has given me a chance to really analyse what happened that day and for me to work out what went wrong and what, if any, mistakes that I made.

I posted a video of the accident on my Vimeo page which has been shared on social media websites and has now had over 25,000 views on my page alone, I have taken many of these comments with a pinch of salt but not ignored them either, it gives me more to think about, and each comment I have seen I have thought even more about the accident.

So.

The day started like any day would, a bit of work in the morning and then mid morning it was time to go skiing. The previous day had been snowy, with about 15cm of fresh falling, after checking the avalanche report for the day, despite the fresh snow it reported the Avalanche risk was 2/5, with no aspects being highlighted for increased risk. What the forecast did highlight was that there had been no wind when the snow fell, meaning there was little risk that the snow could have been blown around and accumulated into the loading of slopes and the possibility of a 30-40cm wind slab being formed.

We had skied the Tuf de la Toviere 2 days earlier, and thought a fresh covering would have covered up our tracks from before, so that’s where we headed, to look at the skiers right, where the face had an orientation of North to Northeast facing.

Standing at the top of the face before the first run

Standing at the top of the face before the first run

After the short 10 minute hike along the ridge line we were at the top of the face, we opted for the line furthest skiers right, the same line we had skied 2 days previously. At the top looking down the couloir it looked nicely freshened up and the soft snow from before had been topped up with 10/15cm, I skied the line first, the snow was good, we regrouped half way down the face beneath a cliff face, before skiing the lower section out.

The snow was good, no evidence of wind with the fresh snow and no sluff following us down. It was so enjoyable, we decided to get the lift back up and go and look again at the face, I mentioned that there was another couloir a bit further skiers left that the last one, it was narrower and steeper that the one we had just skied, but it might be worth a look.

10 minutes later we were back at the top of the face, we stood on top of the second couloir, it is a line that I had skied previously and knew the blind rollover got to a narrow section where you had to point your skis and go in the fall line for a while before it opened up again where you could go back to doing some bigger turns.

Looking down the couloir

Looking down the couloir

I explained to Becky and Alex how the line goes and, from the top, the snow looked good, my only concern was that as it steepens there may not be much snow covering the rocks and that we may need to hop over the rocks, but I explained that when I got to the bottom I would radio to let them know what the snow was like.

I turned to look down the line one last time, and dropped in.

Dropping into the couloir

Dropping into the couloir

I knew I had to ski it fast as I didn’t want my sluff to catch up with me and I certainly wanted to stay ahead of it when I got to the narrowing, the first 4 turns were great, as I got over the rollover I could see the rest of the line opening up, I did one last turn to the right to kick a bit of speed and line up to point it through the couloir. I hit rocks, it set me off balance and I started to cut across the couloir. Moments later, I was off my feet. At first I wasn’t sure what had happened, I thought sluff had just knocked me down, but as I tried to stand up, all the snow from above suddenly hit me.

As the snow fractures around me

As the snow fractures around me

That was it, it felt like I had been put in a washing machine, as I started to get rag-dolled down the mountian, I knew there was no way I was getting out of this, I reached for my ABS and pulled the trigger.

My airbag inflated, which pulled me to the top of the slide, but by now my goggles had come off so I couldn’t see a thing, and my mouth was so full of snow I was struggling to breathe. As I came to the top of the slide, it meant I could cough out some of the snow for a split second before I went over some cliffs and then started tumbling again.

I finally started to slow down and eventually the slide came to a stand-still, I was on top of the avalanche which had continued around 50 meters past where I had stopped. After coughing and gagging to try and get the snow out of my throat I finally managed to breathe normally again, after what had felt like an eternity.

Looking back up the face after the avalanche

Looking back up the face after the avalanche

I got the radio out of my pocket to contact Becky and Alex, who were still stood at the top of the line, I was still short of breath, but I explained what had happened and that I was ok. The last thing I wanted was them to come blasting down the face to try and find me and cause any more problems, there was no immediate rush, I was safe, I was moving and I was alive!

We quickly got off the face and back to the ski slopes, I went to the Pisteurs hut at the top of Toviere to explain what had happened and that I was ok, for all I knew someone could have seen it and called the rescue. They seemed glad I come out unscathed, one of them joked and said I should have been buried so his dog could have found me, its good to see some people manage to keep their humour when accidents like this happen. For my first avalanche accident I was hardly in the most jokey mood, I wondered how many avalanches or rescues he had been involved in? Quite a few I thought, bearing in mind he could laugh about it. I left on a good note and their last parting words were ‘Be careful’.

So what have I learnt?

The reality of avalanches is a frightening one, many people die in them and lots come away with serious injuries. I was lucky, I came away with a few scrapes and bruises and had a very stiff back for a few days, but a week later, I was pretty much back to normal. Since the accident lots of people have asked me if I thought I was going to die. The answer is simple, no, not at any point did it even cross my mind, but I knew that I was going to have to fight to get out of it and every time I tumbled I was waiting for a part of my body to be in sudden pain.

In the GoPro footage, it is so obvious when the snow fractures around me, but unbelievably, I didn’t see it, I was too focused on the other aspect, which was skiing the line smoothly, it turns out I didn’t even manage that! It doesn’t matter how much or little skiing you have done, if your not careful out there, you can easily get caught out and it doesnt matter how comfortable you are with the snow, you can never forget about it, until you’re are in that situation, you never realise how quickly it can go wrong.

I hasn’t stopped me skiing off piste or going ski touring, its what I love, but every time I am moving through the mountains or standing on the top of a line ready to drop in, I will never forget that feeling and the thought of what could happen if I got it wrong.

Click the image to watch the movie

Click the image to watch the movie

I made a short edit of the accident, just using the raw footage. Click on the image above to watch the movie.

The Perfect Day

Day off was around the corner and the forecast was good, this meant that we were hopefully in for a good day. I had previously looked at the Couloir des Nettes on the south face of the Grande Motte, a few days before, it is just slightly skiers left of Couloir 3500, a line we had skied the week before, since then we had a small amount of fresh snow and it was looking in good condition.

Green showing the ski line with the abseil in red

Couloir des Nettes, the green showing the ski line, with the abseil in red

After speaking to Paul, we thought we would look at the couloir in the morning, before it got too warm and then head and look at the Pramecou north face, knowing that this hadn’t yet been skied this season we were keen to open it.

Paul and I were joined for the day by Koen Bakkers, a dutch freerider, who had travelled from La Plagne for the day and was keen for an adventure.

The weather was perfect and heading up towards the Grande Motte the timing seemed to be great with it not yet too warm, we got to the top of the Vanoise chair lift and the next stop was the Telepherique, but what we encountered, was probably, the longest queue I have ever seen, knowing that if we waited in the queue we would have to wait for about 5/6 cable cars and therefore miss our window and it would be too hot by the time we got to the top of the couloir, so we quickly decided we would sneak into the ski school queue, straight away we were sandwiched between 2 ESF instructors, hoping we wouldn’t be questioned by them we kept our heads down, next thing we knew we were through the gates and on the cable car, saving ourselves about an hour wait, result!

Paul getting ready to abseil in

Paul getting ready to abseil in

Koen half way down the abseil

Koen half way down the abseil

To access the couloir it requires an abseil before you even start the skiing, having spent 30 minutes the other day searching for the anchor point, we got straight there and I got the rope out and set up ready for the 3 of us to abseil in.

Abseiling to access Couloir des Nettes

Abseiling to access Couloir des Nettes

You have to ski an open field before you reach the start of the couloir, it was great spring snow and reaching the main entrance to the couloir the snow looked equally as good in there. After skiing down halfway, I pulled up and waited for Paul and Koen.

Paul heading down the top section

Paul heading down the top section

In the couloir

In the couloir

Paul and Koen skied it out and Paul radioed back saying there was another narrower couloir to the skiers right, and that after some rock hopping at the top, he thought was skiable, I had a look over, it was much more shaded/ protected and the snow looked even better in there. After a bit of scrabbling around on my skis I was in and skied amazing snow until it finally opened out to the valley floor.

Scrabbling around to access another couloir

Scrabbling around to access another couloir

We managed to traverse along way before having to put our skins on for the last 15 minutes, it was a great line and its always nice to ski something you haven’t done before.

Back to the lift area, the next stop was the Pramecou. After crossing the bottom of the glacier, scrambling up the rock band, skins were back on, half an hour later we were on top of the Pramecou.

Skinning to the Pramecou with the Grande Casse in the background

Skinning to the Pramecou with the Grande Casse in the background

We first looked into the main face, which had been completely destroyed by the wind, I thought it was borderline unskiable, we then traversed across the ridge to the first rope in couloir, which we know is more protected than the main face and we were hoping that it was in better condition.

We go the the abseil point and looked in, the face looked in perfect condition, not affected by the wind at all.

Paul abseiling in

Paul abseiling in

Halfway down the abseil

Halfway down the abseil, looking down the face

We got ready to abseil again, Paul went in first and stayed on the rope while he checked the snow, it seemed good, he unclipped and Koen followed in. I went in last and had the joyous task of pulling the rope through and putting it back in my bag, a job I never really enjoy when your standing on a 45 degree slope.

We were all packed away, all that we had to do was ski it out, in traversing across to a safe spot, Paul had set off quiet a slough and we knew that during the ski we were going to have slough on our tails, the last thing you want it to do it to catch up with you, if it does your off your feet before you know whats going on.

First turns on the Pramecou

First turns on the Pramecou

I was lucky enough to go first, after putting in my first turn the slough was right behind me, so I knew I had to go a little bit faster. The snow was incredible, different to the snow in the previous couloir, it was cold dry powder, not deep, but that didn’t matter. The whole way down the face I could just see the slough pouring over rocks out of the corner of my eye, the next thing I was out the bottom with the biggest smile on my face. Paul and Koen followed down, the cheers as we all ended our run showed how good the run really was.

Looking back at our tracks on the face

Looking back at our tracks on the face

After a short boot pack we were heading back towards the ski area, it was the biggest day so far this season, timings seemed to be perfect and we didn’t think we could have picked any better faces to ski, the first 3 tracks of the season down the Pramecou belonged to us. Thanks to Paul and Koen for a great day, thats it, winter is back on!

 

Couloir 3500

After finishing skiing P4 we decided to check out the Couloir 3500 on the south face of the Grande Motte. We were too late for that day as it was incredibly warm, but it looked good enough to come back the day after and as it was day off the next day we could get there a bit earlier before it got too warm.

This time, Becky and Alex came along, Becky had done some touring but for Alex this was going to be his first tour, and for sure one that he would remember! The top was rocky and very firm snow, I took along a rope and set up an anchor so Becky could be lowered in the top section as a fall here would have resulted in a long slide, which no-one wanted.

Becky getting ready to abseil in

Becky getting ready to be lowered in

Becky being lowered in

Becky being lowered in

After we had all got down the steep top section, we regrouped in a safe spot beneath a big rock face, after this we skied one at a time from safe spot to safe spot, as it was the first time for both Becky and Alex, we weren’t going to ski the face in one, its a big face and the conditions certainly didn’t mean you could charge it.

Half way down the face

Half way down the face

Paul heading down

Paul heading down

The conditions were firm at the top and got softer as we descended into the valley, towards the bottom, the last 300m vertical was soft spring snow which was lovely to ski. When we got to the valley floor, we admired our tracks beneath the majestic south face of the Grande Motte and then it was time to put the skins on and get ready for the tour out, it is such a sun trap in the valley and it felt as though it was 20c.

Alex about to head down the last half of the face

Alex about to head down the last half of the face

Getting ready for the tour out

Getting ready for the tour out

The views in the valley are breathtaking, you can see the summit of the Grande Casse with its hanging seracs, so off we went on the skin back to the ski area, a skin that usually takes around 1 hour 15 minutes.

It was Becky and Alex’s first bigger ski line and ski tour of that length, so I was expecting it to take a little longer, but after 2 hours we finally made it, but to be fair Alex did have the heaviest setup for touring, which weighed in around 3 times heavier than mine and Pauls lightweight dynafit rigs, and with boots with no walk mode he did well, a hard but, hopefully, enjoyable intro to ski touring!

Starting the ski tour out

Starting the ski tour out

Grande Casse in the background

Grande Casse in the background

We finally made it back to the bottom of the lift, which meant we were nearly home, a good intro for Becky and Alex and another fun line for the season!

P4

This is a line that Paul and I had looked at 2 seasons ago, but just missed out on safe conditions before the heatwave started and everything decided to slide. After that we both were injured so we never got back to it.

Ski line shown in green, abseil shown in red

Ski line shown in green, abseil shown in red

It is an interesting couloir and because it involves an abseil it very rarely gets skied. The top part is a short ski, this instance we made our way down careful avoiding most of it as it had been sitting in the sun, I got to the abseil point, which sits right above the 25m cliff, and was going to take off my skis and strap to my bag, as it would be much easier to abseil in boots, but in the precarious position I was in, I thought it would be much easier to leave skis on feet. After getting the rope organised and ready to abseil, Paul came down to join me, he clipped in and was safe so I started the abseil, it wasn’t too bad with skis on, admittedly it would be easier in boots but certainly wasn’t the end of the world.

Throwing the rope, getting ready to abseil

Throwing the rope, getting ready to abseil

Half way down the abseil

Half way down the abseil

I was incredibly relieved that we used a 50 meter rope, as it was only just long enough to get over the last few rocks, we thought that this is as long as the abseil will ever be, in normal seasons there will be a lot more snow and therefore the couloir will be filled up a bit more. After the abseil, I pulled into a safer position and waited for Paul to come down, the first few turns were steep and narrow in the couloir, it then slowly opened up a bit more, after Paul had abseiled, he pulled the rope through and I stashed it back in my bag.

Just off the rope at the top of the couloir

Just off the rope at the top of the couloir

All that was left to do then was ski, we found a mixture of snow, powder, crust and then spring corn towards the bottom. The conditions didn’t really matter, it was fantastic to tick this off the list, of course would have been better in perfect powder but would also increase the risk significantly, as I wouldn’t want too much snow sloughing or following me down the top part of the couloir.

Nice spring snow out the bottom

Nice spring snow out the bottom

I made a short edit of the day, it wasn’t all about the skiing, the enjoyment was the whole day, from the abseil to the skiing and the adventure in the mountains, it was also nice to tick off another line.

Click the image to watch the movie

Click the image to watch the movie

 

Ice Climbing in les Brevieres

With there not being too much snow, we decided to go and check out the ice condition in the valley beneath the dam. We found some good ice and after 2 days of ice climbing, made this short edit of the fun.

We are looking forward to going back when it cools down again and try some of the different routes that are there and maybe even give it a go leading one of the routes.

Click the image to load the movie.

Click to watch the movie.

Click to watch the movie.

Searching For Snow

After an even worse start to this season than we had last year. We have managed to get out for some bits of fun skiing and making the most of what we have. Conditions are slowly getting there but the snowpack hasn’t been that reliable, with a lot of avalanche accidents so far.

Here is a short movie of a fun day blasting round the resort and finding what we could.

Click to watch the movie!

Click to watch the movie.

Click to watch the movie.

Italian Road Trip

We were both lucky enough to have a week of holiday before the winter season really kicks off. As I had come straight from a long summer season and started for the winter, it was a nice feeling of having a free week to do what we wanted!

A few ideas were thrown around, climbing/ skiing somewhere else, but as we know we have plenty of that coming this winter, we opted for something completely different, a city break of some description.

I had never been to Italy before and liked the idea of heading there for a break, fortunately we had access to a van from work, so we thought a few short stops to see some of the main attractions wasn’t a bad idea, who doesn’t like the idea of a road trip! The bonus of having a van is that it acted as our transport, accommodation and cooking facilities, its not the luxury that some would want but in terms of keeping costs low and practicality it couldn’t be beaten.

I’m not normally one for doing the touristy things like city tours, but the idea of seeing places like Venice, Florence, Lake Garda seemed really interesting and an opportunity that was too good to miss. We had a very rough idea of a plan, we were going to do Lake Garda, Venice, Florence for certain and other ideas we Milan, Turin and Lake Como, there were no set times, we were completely flexible as to when we arrived and left and certain stop-off, one thing that we were trying to work around was the weather and with a mixed forecast we packed for all eventualities and set off.

 

Day 1

We set off around 2pm on Sunday, the plan was to take the Col du Petit Saint Benard over into La Thuile Italy and work our way across to Lake Garda where we would spend the night. Unfortunately as we left so late we knew there was no chance we would get to Lake Garda before nightfall, so we were planning o spend a bit of time there the following morning before heading off.

View from the Col du Petit St Benard looking back over Bourg

View from the Col du Petit St Benard looking back over Bourg

Driving over the col into Italy for the first time was amazing, the views were incredible and we got to see great views of the south faces of Mont Blanc and the Grande Jorasses, it felt so close we could almost touch them.

From there we headed down the Aosta valley, it was our first time in this valley and it certainly wont be the last, the scenery is mindblowing, I knew it was going to be nice but it certainly surpassed my expectations.

Looking up towards Mont Blanc from the Aosta Valley

Looking up towards Mont Blanc from the Aosta Valley

We eventually hit the motorway (Autostrade) and drove into sunset as we headed towards Milan, of course we seemed to reach Milan during the evening rush hour, the traffic became heavy and the motorway miles became boring as it was dark and we were obviously passing through industrial area of the city, it wasn’t too interesting but we managed to keep ourselves occupied by playing guess the song, its fair to say I know nothing about music.

We managed to get past Milan without too much of a delay, and as we were nearing Lake Garda, we realized we had no idea where about we were going to head for, we wanted to stay relatively close so we had a easy drive the following morning to Venice, but not knowing anything about the area, we took a stab in the dark and went for a small town on the west side of the lake, a small place called Salo.

We arrived in Salo at around 9.30pm and after circling the town a few times we finally found a spot to park up and use as our campsite for the night, a small cobbled street about 20 meters from the shores of the lake, not a bad place to park our mobile hotel.

 

Day 2

We woke to the sound of street cleaners and sheepishly hid in the van until we thought the coast was clear and we could safely emerge from the van, as I’m sure your not usually allowed to just park up and camp in the streets.

Slowly opening the van door and peering down the road, we were met with clear but hazy skies and the surface of the lake shimmering just 50 meters down the road.

We wandered down to the shores of the lake, the morning sun warming us after our first night in the van. It turns out that Salo is a beautiful town, its sits right on the shores of Lake Garda and this morning seemed to be the perfect time to be wandering around.

On the shores of Lake Garda

On the shores of Lake Garda

After a quick walk around and a few photos, we packed up and had decided to make another stop at a town called Sirmoine, it sits on a peninsula that sticks out into the lake over 1km, we parked outside the town, which is actually more like an island and linked to the mainland by a bridge. It has a beautiful old castle and a walled entrance to the town, with narrow cobbled streets and stunning old buildings, it was lovely to be there so early with no people around and all the shops and cafes opening up.

Cobbled streets of Sirmoine

Cobbled streets of Sirmoine

We decided to stop fo a drink at a café in one of the main squares, with my sweet tooth, I opted for a hot chocolate (or chocolato as we were in Italy) and, well, I couldn’t have asked for anything more, it was basically a mug of hot melted chocolate, what more could you want in the morning!

After enjoying our drinks and working out a plan for the rest of the day, we picked up a take away pizza for the journey and headed off to our next destination, Venice.

After two hours we arrived in thick mist, driving out to Venice across the water we were expecting amazing views of the old city emerging, instead it was fog lights on and trying to avoid the car infront.

Eery Venice in the mist

Eery Venice in the mist

We hadn’t really planned what were going to get up to and had no idea what we were going to do, in terms of sleeping etc. We pulled into a multistory carpark right next to the big bus depot, the guy gave us a ticket, asked how long we would be here, we said about 24 hours, he took our keys and said he would park our van. That was that, we were effectively homeless in Venice and had no choice but to find a hotel.

After a 10 minutes walk around, we found a hotel, just a few hundred meters from where we had parked, but still sitting on the side of a canal, which seemed perfect, we got our room, dropped our bags and headed out.

After buying a map, we were planning to make our way to St Marcs square, it was incredible walking through the streets of Venice for the first time, I had heard all about it and knew what to expect, but it was still incredible, what took a bit of time to get used to was reading the map and working out which routes were foot paths and which were canals, also working out which bridges to cross and when so not to miss the next street.

Grande Canal

Grande Canal

After a few wrong turns and circles (thankfully I wasn’t map reader) we finally arrived in St Marcs square. At first I thought I had arrived in Hong Kong, not Italy, it was incredibly busy and incredibly touristy, I thought November would have been a quieter time to visit, I would hate to have been here in peak summer, im sure it would have been unbarable and if I had another person offering me a Vencie tshirt or ‘selfie’ pole I was about to loose the plot, little did I know this was going to be the story of our trip, but I guess what do you expect when youre following the tourist trail.

St Marcs Square

St Marcs Square

One thing that struck me was the architecture, all the buildings were so ornate and decorative, the churches being the most fancy out of all of them. After wandering around a bit more and admiring some more of the city we made our way back to the hotel, a quick change and went out for dinner, we went to restaurant on the side of the canal, well I guess its hard to find a restaurant that isn’t on the side of a canal when in Venice. We had a quick brainstorm about the next day and that was that, done for the day.

Venice by night

Venice by night

 

Day 3

After hearing the water lapping against the walls of the canals throughout the night, we woke to a misty start, then it started to rain, not ideal, but it had been forecast so we couldn’t complain too much.

We headed down for breakfast and feasted like kings, there was everything you could want, I ate so many pain au chocolat’s im surprised I didn’t turn into one!

We were out the door before 9am and as it happened, it appeared luck was on our side, the rain stopped and the skies started to clear, it looked like it was going to be a great day!

Classic Venice view

Classic Venice view

We followed the Grande Canal and headed back towards St Marc’s square, it was amazing how busy it was, delivery boats were everywhere and the canals looked like any British city during rush our. There didn’t appear to be any obvious way that the boats moved around the canals and its surprising that we didn’t see any accidents!

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Ice creams in St Marcs Square

 

We had decided that, although not the cheapest, we were going to do a gondola ride, its one of those things that I will probably not do again and how could you visit Venice and not go on a boat ride around the canals! We went on a 40minutes tour of some of the canals, it was incredible how quiet and peaceful it was once you got out the tourist centre, it was very relaxing cruising aroud the back canals, before heading back to the chaos of the main square.

Relaxing in a Gondola

Relaxing in a Gondola

We were cutting it fine to collect the van before we fell into the next 24hours segment and had to pay even more, we ran back most of the way, collected the bag from the hotel and just made it in time.

What an amazing 24 hours in Venice, such a beautiful city and mind blowing when you think how it must have all been built, would suggest a visit to anyone that asks, but to live there must be a bit strange!

Sunset across the waterfront in Venice

Sunset across the waterfront in Venice

That was that, we had left Venice, next stop Florence, it was a few hours down to Florence, we stopped half way to organize the van after a chaotic and rushed departure from Venice.

We made it to Florence after getting lost and fortunately found a camp site, it seemed smart and was close to town. We booked in, parked up, made dinner, planned for Florence tour for the next day and went to bed.

 

Day 4

Throughout the night the wind whistled and rocked the van, sleeping in a tin can isn’t the quietest night when it is like that outside, it sounded like metal ball bearings bouncing off the roof all night. After waking a few times during the night, we were praying it would stop for the morning. We woke up and the rain continued but fortunately there was a brief pause, which allowed us to sort out breakfast and prepare for the day’s adventure.

We were out of the campsite by 9am and had to get the bus into the town, we found the bus stop easily enough, but as for when we had to get off was a bit/ completely guess work, somehow we judged it quiet well and we managed to get off at the correct stop.

The rain came and went all morning, when it decided to get very heavy we managed to find a conveniently located coffee shops, enjoy a pastry and a hot drink, dry our jackets and then continue when it knocked off. It meant that we did seem to spend a lot of time in cafes, but its hardly the end of the world, we managed to find a great value cafe for some lunhc, however we didn’t seem to find many great value hot chocolates and at €8 each we made sure it lasted.

Incredible Italian architecture

Incredible Italian architecture

The afternoon weather was much better and it slowly started to brighten up, we finally found the main cathedral, and again, the same as Venice, it was mind-blowing! How they built these structures so long ago, painted the ceiling of the church and carved the statues is beyond me! After seeing everywhere we wanted to and somehow managed to squeeze it in in good time, after a bit of guess work (again) we worked out where to get the bus from and headed back to the campsite.

Having not known anything about Florence, it was such a pleasant surprise and would recommend it to anyone, I was shocked at how beautiful it was even during such a wet and grey day. Just as we had finished sorting our kit and got back in the van, the rain started. Perfect timing. Thoughts slowly turned to tomorrow with packing up and leaving Florence to head to Pisa. Famous for only one thing.

 

Day 5

After waking up it emerged we had shared our accommodation with some others, the mozies had arrived last night and we appeared to be their midnight feast, it wasn’t the most comforting feeling in the morning! Unfortunately the rain continued throughout the morning. We packed up, breakfasted slowly and mid morning set off for Pisa. Travelling there took just over an hour and luckily, after rain all morning, it stopped just as we pulled into Pisa.

Pisa is a funny place, is very small and I guess you could even say a bit run down, if it wasn’t for the leaning tower it would have nothing there…… At all.

The tower and its grounds were impressive. I was surprised at how much it leant over, they must have spend a fortune supporting the structure over the years I was so surprised it hasn’t collapsed. After an hour or so of wandering around the grounds and posing for the obvious silly photos, we called time and started to head to Milan, within 10 mins of leaving Pisa the rain started, again!

Leaning Tower

The Leaning Tower

During the drive up we slightly changed our plans, we would drive past Milan up to lake como where we would spend the night and drive down to Milan mid morning. The drive up and past Milan was mostly taken up with rain, it was relentless and continued on until early evening. We arrived at como in the dark and didn’t have any idea where to go, after driving around for a bit and after checking out a few options we went for a spot next to some parkland that sat right on the shores of the lake, with a crystal clear sky we were looking forward to what would welcome us when morning broke.

 

Day 6

The hope of waking up in sun was quickly dashed when I awoke to the sound of ball bearings on the roof again, but this time it was torrential, we popped out of the van for a very quick photo, Lake Como looked great, with the mountains surrounding the shores in nearly every direction, but with it being very grey and wet, we made a quick getaway.

Miserable morning on the shores of Lake Como

Miserable morning on the shores of Lake Como

Heading south to Milan the weather changed for the better and sun appeared again. On arriving in Milan the sun was out and after not getting too lost we parked up and wandered into the centre. The architecture was amazing, as we had found in every city so far. We made our way to the cathedral piazza, there seems to be a trend here, it was incredible! Such a huge building and nothing like the buildings that surrounded it.

One of the impressive monuments Milan has to offer

One of the impressive monuments Milan has to offer

We wandered around the centre for a short time but as it was mainly shopping we decided to make a move towards Turin, which was our next stop. After a short detour after missing the exit on the motorway we parked up, sorted the van, made dinner and thought about the next day, we were looking forward to Turin in the morning and seeing the mountains again later on, the thundering of lorries made it feel like we were sleeping on the hard shoulder not in a carpark!

Milans Cathedral

Milans Cathedral

 

Day 7

After a comfortable but disturbed sleep with lorries trundling past throughout the night, it was the coldest morning we had, at 7am was just 6c outside, however a new down sleeping bag worked a treat! It was a clear blue morning and in the distance we had views of snow capped mountains, we had a cup of teal and bowel of cereal, then it was time to get going towards Turin.

Turin was much smaller than Milan, which meant it was also much quieter and not half as touristy. We had a gentle wander around the centre and the surrounding streets and parks and after stopping for a classic Italian hot chocolate, it felt more relaxing than the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities. We slowly worked our way back to the van and were planning to head home that night, with further stops in Aosta and Courmayeur, we wanted to make a move so we got to see everywhere in the daylight.

Wandering the streets of Turin, with the snow capped mountains in the distance

Wandering the streets of Turin, with the snow capped mountains in the distance

The drive up towards Aosta was incredible, the mountains got closer and closer, the temperatures dropped and dropped, and before we knew it we arrived in Aosta, in comparison, a tiny alpine village, certainly compared to what where we had been for the last 6/7 days. There wasn’t really much to see in the town itself, it was beautiful scenery surrounding the village and after a week out of the mountains it was a great feeling to be back. After a wander around the cobbled streets and a few stops in some incredible chocolatier shops, we made our way towards Courmayeur, conscious of the fact we wanted to see it in the daylight.

In the main square in Aosta

In the main square in Aosta

Driving up to Courmayeur, the mountains got bigger and bigger and we got amazing views of the Italian side of Mont Blanc, the same side we see from Tignes but we couldn’t get any closer than this, with the glaciers cascading down the mountain towards the village.

Courmayeur was strange as ski resorts go, well it didn’t really feel like a ski resort, more like a high street in London with lots of designer fashion outlets, sandwiched between mountaineering kit shops, what seemed a strange combination, but Courmayeur does have the reputation for being an up market ski resort.

Sunset over Mont Blanc as we drive to Courmayeur

Sunset over Mont Blanc as we drive to Courmayeur

It was getting much colder and almost dark, having just found out that the Petit St Benard pass was closed, we realised that our journey would be nearly 3 hours longer than planned, so we were keen to get away as we had work the next day. After paying nearly €50 to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel we were back in France.

We were contemplating stopping for dinner in Chamonix, but knowing we would be back at some point during the winter we decided to abandon that idea and hit the road and get a McDonalds en-route.

All in all, it was an amazing trip, we were both happy with what we had seen and didn’t feel like we had missed out on anything in any of the cities/towns we visited, we seemed to spend just the right amount of time in each place.

To watch a short edit of the trip, click on the link below.

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Click to watch the movie!