Boarding & Banter in Chamonix: Video Log

Children of winter never grow old.

(Warren Miller Entertainment)

Advertisements

Weekend stroll through Munich and the zoo

‘Great minds discuss ideas, average people discuss events, small minds discuss people’ (chalk board in Francesco’s kitchen)

It is now the second year that we stop over for a weekend in Munich at my sisters place after our family ski trip. Partly this is related to flights into Munich being more affordable around half-term school holidays (than say Salzburg or Innsbruck), but part is also that it’s actually a nice place to spend some time especially if you have as lovely a sister living there as I do.

We arrived around midday on Saturday having managed to avoid overly bad  traffic out of Austria (our parents weren’t quite as lucky). Steve helped us carry up the luggage and, to my positive surprise, this time the elevator in my sister’s house was actually functioning. Steve then left to drop off the rental at the airport and we loosely aimed to meet up for dinner at the Hofbräuhaus (tourist trap, but fun).

Toy museum, Viktualienmarkt & Hofbräuhaus

After a little rest and some dress-up action of Alex & aunty Frances we set out to visit the ‘Deutsches Museum’ (German museum, bit like science museum in London). However, we then figured 3pm was a little late in the day given the museum closes 5pm and so we headed for the toy museum instead.

As we left the subway at ‘Sendlinger Tor’  we headed over to Marienplatz where an anti NATO / war demonstration was in full swing and plenty of police about. The demonstration was aimed at the security conference that takes place annually here at the Bayerischer Hof hotel (I hope they have refurbished the place by now!). We glanced at some of the banners, but then swiftly left the noisy pack behind us and dived into toy history instead.

The museum is situated in a tower-like building with a circular staircase leading you up (no prams allowed though, which does question how family friendly the place really is). Exhibited are historical toys on the 2nd, 3rd and 5th floor. You find items like trains (e.g. the old Merklin brand), loads of Barbie’s, regular dolls, doll houses, robots, ships, regional German toys such from the Erzgebirge (known for their craftsmanship manufacturing Christmas decoration of all sorts) etc. After an hour or so we were done, but didn’t leave before buying two old-fashioned children books for Alex: ‘Max & Moritz’ and the ‘Der Struwelpeter’ (he loved the first one immediately when we read it to him later).

After the museum we continued our stroll through the city center across the famous Viktualienmarkt. Essentially something like Borough market with a lot of local and European food such as veggies, fruit, sausages, cheese, oil, truffles etc. It’s always nice to hang out there. In the end we headed to ‘Eataly’ … as the name suggests an Italian dedicated lifestyle shopping spot. Alex got a Nutella crepe  to satisfy his cravings while we enjoyed some nice Italian wine and chatted about life. Alex even rediscovered his love for books when I read the stories of ‘Max & Moritz’ to him. He could literally not get enough (well, there is only 7 stories …).

In the evening we met Steve and Robert (they are uni friends from their time in Dresden). Originally from the northern island of Rügen, Robert now lives in Munich. Some good times ensued as we all feasted traditional Bavarian food amidst  good beer, live music and a hyperactive Alex (well, Robert took it easy as he was still digesting the previous night out and had some commitments Sunday a.m.). In the end, I decided to stay with the boys for a night out and so Frances and Alex went home alone.

A boys night out …

The night kicked off fairly civilised at the flat of an Italian mate of Robert called Francesco. We spent a good hour discussing the European project and touched on each others backgrounds a bit before we left for a pretty posh bar (called ‘Brenner’) close to Munich’s famous Maximilianstrasse. The prices seemed reasonable though with cocktails going for EUR9ish. Once at the bar, we met two female Italian friends of Francesco who both work in Munich (logistics or so). We didn’t talk too much, but it transpired that the girls were actively looking for a husband here. I guess they look for someone with money. Apparently  two guys had already fit the criteria of one of the girls, but I didn’t get much detail as to what their requirements are (‘he must be cool’).

Not really a place we felt was right for us and so we went to an Irish pub instead  and got the party going. Kilkenny beers and the occasional Jaegermeister were sufficient that by 2am we had to retreat (after the mandatory stop at McD). It turned out to be a noisy finale as we all rediscovered our singing voices and football chants! Apologies if anyone woke up to that sound ;o) Anyway, some good vibes with the boys and well deserved rest on my sisters sofa.

Visit at Munich zoo and a first taste of spring

Sunday weather was as pleasant as forecast and looked very much like an early day in spring. We had decided to visit the zoo and were joined by Frances’ mate Peter (or Pidi). He is a die-heart FC Cologne supporter, works in sport sponsoring for a living and lives a single life just like my sister. Alex dressed in a Cologne fan scarf made for a flying start (he remains committed to Chelsea though). Alex found some further excitement in the Polaroid camera my sister has got (so now both dad and son were busy taking pics with their toys).

Our trip was then slightly delayed by a lengthy hunt for a parking spot. Clearly we weren’t the only folks that wanted to make use of such fine weather. Once in, I reckon we made it almost all the way round the zoo. But I let the pictures speak. Nice Sunday out anyway.

Then it was already time to say good-bye from Frances and Steve (back to Copenhagen) and for me time to think ahead for the upcoming trip to Marrakesh (at 6am!) where climbing training will resume in the Atlas mountains.

It was a fun finale after our ski trip. Danke Schwesterchen!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photography basics in Dalston ft. Quintina Valero

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” (A. Siskind)

My history with Tina stretches back a decade when we were neighbors and part of the houseboat community in Butlers Wharf (not far from Tower Bridge) in 2005/06. I lived on the Dutch barge ‘Ijsbrandt’ and she lived next door in a flat-bottomed steel beast called ‘de lachende moor’. The later is still owned by the dad of my now godson, Paul, but his stories are for another day. I do remember helping to put up the basic structure of what would become Tina’s bedroom in the boat (Paul suffered from chronical lack of urgency when it came to these things). I also remember a god night out in Shoreditch afterwards to honour this achievement.

Tina made her move out of finance in Spain and into photojournalism already back then, studied photojournalism in London and is now one of the top newcomers in the photography world. Most of all she is one of the nicest people you can imagine. Do have a look at her amazing work (link). She has documented migration issues in Europe and Africa, life after Chernobyl (its been 30 years jn 2016!) and other important issues such as prostitution and human trafficking as featured in the Guardian here and the Sunday times (picture below).

Recent Sunday Times article ft. Tina

So when I needed some help to get started in photography … Tina was my first port of call and she didn’t let me down. We arranged to meet on a Monday in  her place in Dalston, East London (frankly an area I wouldn’t have visited 10y ago when I lived in nearby Shoreditch, but things have changed).

Since my new camera hadn’t arrived yet, we used her Canon and a 24/105mm lens with minimum aperture of 4.0. For basic stuff it doesn’t really depend on the model/make of the camera. Personally I use a Sony alpha 7r II with a 24/240mm (3.5 aperture) superzoom Sony lens and most likely a 35mm (1.4) fixed lens.

Intro to catching the right light

Topic for the day was how to use the camera in manual mode and make sure that there is sufficient light.

  • Aperture: In essence the aperture stands for the focus / sharpness of a lens (the pupil of the camera). Large aperture lets you capture many objects in a frame while a low aperture will focus on one object (say a face) while the rest around it will look blurry/fizzy. A low aperture reading (say 1.4) lets in more light. Low aperture is expensive and thus a 35mm lens with f1.4 can quickly set you back GBP1,000+. For fixed lenses the minimum aperture is a constant more or less, while for zoom lenses you will most often find a rising aperture as you increase the zoom.

2000px-Aperture_diagram.svg_.png

img_0130-1

Swing sharp

img_0129-1

Foreground sharp

  • Timer: The timer settings allow you to control how long you want to let light come ‘through the door’. It’s measures in fractions of a second (e.g. 1/250), but since only the denominator is quoted a smaller number improves light and vice versa.

img_0128-1

img_0127-1

  • ISO: Higher number caches more light. In normal light ISO100/200 will do just fine. Some may remember this from the standard  Kodak film rolls back in the days. Modern day cameras let you take this up to much higher levels though you should use a tripod some stage (my Sony offers above ISO100,000).
  • Flash: Flash can be of good help when natural light is rare. Dark rooms being one example, but more importantly also when a picture involves competing lights e.g. bright sky vs. darker foreground. Since all camera adjustment apply to both natural light sources, then flash can give you the edge to increase light in the closer vicinity.

Now it has to be said that these settings interact. For example higher aperture reduces light, so you have to ‘open the door longer’ to collect more light or increase ISO (or both). But that will come with experience. At least I know the levers now.

Tina in action … picture of snake teeth ;o)

By the time we had gone through the four points, taken a few snaps and laughed our socks off on several occasions (Tina was still recovering from a 5 day seminar in the countryside, which was at least say unusual ;o) our feet started to get cold and it was time for some food.

We opted for a Japanese place (Tonkotsu East) based in converted railway arches not far from Haggerston overground station (same area as a restaurant that I had previously visited with Chanel). The food was good and even included a special ‘Spanish’ ramen from a very god Spanish friend of Tina – I remember well the long queues at Borough Market as folks patiently waited for their  chorizo sandwich. He went on to launch his own restaurants (link). Only downside of the place was the chilly temperature in the room (hold on tight to your ramen soup!).

Overall an amazing and unusual way to spend a day in London on a Monday morning. Thanks Mrs. Valero! Will definitely consider your workshop idea once I got my head around the new toy.

Cairngorms winter mountaineering ft. Di Gilbert

Every man dies, not every man really lives. 

(William Wallace, Braveheart)

Training in Scotland had been highly recommended by my Lhotse guide Tim. Scottish winter is known for its harsh conditions (cold, wet, windy …) that will help you learn how to operate your gear and manoeuvre in such environment. Off to Scotland then! My guide for the three-day tour was Di Gilbert – quite some name in the Scottish mountaineering world and beyond having completed the seven summits, all 284 Munros (all Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet or 914m) and for her relentless positive attitude and perma-smile as I would find out.

Leaving London on Aussi-day, then 12h bus ride to Aviemore

Before I set off it was time for a catch up with my good friends David, Isaac and Arndt in Pimlico. Much to discuss as most of us had met at the AC/DC concert last time – ages ago. And not to forget there was also Australian National Day (26 January). Cheers then!

Team Australia for the evening

There are many options to get to Aviemore (540 miles north of London), the main city in the Cairngorms, all of which were shorter than the 12 hour coach ride I picked. However, it was overnight (I actually got six hours sleep), it was a direct connection from Victoria station (the other one being the sleeper train from St Pancras @ 11hours) and why not – it’s not that I am short of time.

I woke up just before we arrived in Glasgow. It was still pretty dark and would initially not get much better as the bus continued further north. Fog and frost all over. In fact, my Suunto watch went off several times with storm alarm (it would be right eventually). However, from 9am the sun came out and revealed a magnificent landscape. Amazing.

At 11am and completely on time we arrived in Aviemore. Across the road was all the mountain shops one could need, but my desire was for a solid Scottish breakfast at ‘The Coffee Corner’ near the bus stop. Bacon & egg roll and a tea … and I hscreen-shot-2017-01-27-at-08-25-07ad finally arrived. Now off to the accommodation at the ‘Old Bridge Inn’ and fingers crossed my gear from Keswick arrives on time. I’ll need every bit of it.

Beautiful bike ride to Loch Morlich  & Glenmore … bring on the colours

A box full of gear was waiting for me right at check-in. X-mas had come early! I was also alone in my bunk bed room (well, until Adam joined me later at night) and enjoyed unwrapping the ‘presents’ (Scarpa Phantom boots & two Petzl Quarks being my favorites). By 2pm I was done and it was time to get active.

I hired a mountain bike nearby (GBp15 for the afternoon) and set off to Glenmore (route planned with Suunto – love this device!). What an amazing 20km there and back culminating in Loch Morlich in Glenmore Forest Park (pictures speak a thousand words). The trip wasn’t very long at just about two hours as night falls early up here and by 5pm its dark. Time to rest and get some food at the Old Bridge Inn pub. Relaxed atmosphere, good service and tasty food (be it a bit pricey for what it is). Had a good chat with four lads that came together to honour the life of the one’s deceased dad. Anyway, I didn’t last very long and after a bit of reading it was time to call it a day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 1: The basics, hiking up Cairn Gorm and … it felt much more like winter

We had agreed to meet up 8am and so by 7am I was up. Last check of the gear and a chat with Adam, who arrived after my bedtime last night. He is a Scot and guides two girls up here. Di arrived on time with her trademark big smile just as I had my make-do breakfast (can of tuna, avocado & banana). Quick chat trough required gear for the day (we would return home … so no need for sleeping bag) and the broad plan for the day. Cairn Gorm (1,245m) was the target alongside a general skill check – orientation (map & compass), using crampons & axe and loads of helpful little things as I would find out later.

Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 22.18.02.png

Hike to Cairn Gorm (way back not fully captured … forgot to switch watch back on ;o)

We set out from Cairn Gorm ski station at 9.15am. Initially we followed a path uphill before crossing over to a ridge. Crampon training was on the menu. First rookie mistake – my crampons weren’t adjusted to my new boots and the cord too long (to be fair, they were also too long for my old boots). Then Di explained the basic technique where by you aim to point your foot downhill so that all the whole crampon has good grip, how you turn and how you use your axe in different ways. The hike was steep, but short and crampons came off quickly.

Tip: Don’t use a leash for your mountaineering axe as it creates a massive trip hazard when you use crampons (bad idea at altitude in particular) and makes switching sides (as you zig zag up the mountain) cumbersome.

We then moved into more technical terrain that required a bit of climbing. Very slippery so axe, advanced ‘knee technique’ and at times rope were required to be on the save side. Conditions, mainly just foggy in the beginning, got a little harsher as we moved uphill when light snowfall kicked in and temperatures went below freezing (-3 degrees at Cairn Gorms weather station 1,245m). Visibility was poor throughout, but Di insisted that there are usually great views (the next day would indeed prove her right). After the summit and my navigation training (you guessed it, I failed my first test) we headed for the Ptarmigan restaurant (named after the prevailing snow chicken bird) for a well deserved hot chocolate before making our way down (Chelsea were winning 2:0 in the FA cup while we descended). Altogether some 9-10km. Great day.

img_0011

Map Cairn Gorm (1:50,000)

For dinner I followed Di’s advice and headed over to Cairngorms Hotel. Quite busy and indeed good value as suggested. I was quite satisfied after my chick’n’dip starter and required strong will to finish off the salmon afterwards. Could fall asleep right here …

Basic navigation: map & compass

Di had advised me to get a Ortlieb map pocket and a Silva 4 compass. She brought a 1:50,000 & 1:25,000 scale map of the Cairn Gorm along. All set. Using the map & compass was explained as we hiked (makes it all a bit more real). Starting point was a given (I am not yet that advanced and my army knowledge all but faded). From here follow the steps as I show below to determine your bearing. Most important though … think. What rough heading should you expect, are you heading up or downhill, are there any fixed features or large contours to look for etc.

1 – connect start and destination with your compass / ruler (A to B so to say, in this case from number 1,245 to 1,151 as example)

img_0009

2 – spin the compass wheel so that its lines are aligned with the map (north facing)

img_0010

3 – read your bearing (40 in this case) from the yellow highlighted are on the wheel

4 – keep the red in the bed (north facing needle to point at N on compass) and walk

Knowing where you are headed is good and can be well supported by your watch (love Suunto), but you also want to know how far to go. For that you measure the distance using the ruler and pace your steps. On flat terrain I do about 60 double steps for each 100m (again, watch helpful especially  in more rugged terrain). More important than getting your steps right is te accuracy of you distance measure on the map. Ten wrong steps put you ca 7m offside, while one millimeter on the map adds/reduces your estimated distance by 50m (1:25,000 scale). In bad conditions that can quickly become a problem (and naturally I would have missed my target on my measure ;o)? Pacing is also a great technique to create you own data / reference points in case you get lost.

Day 2 – Off to our bothy adventure, Ben Macdui and the promised (stunning) views

I woke up 7.30am to prepare food for our 36hour bothy trip. Adam also made it back from his night out with the girls he guided (4am) and looked reasonably fresh. Gear was much unchanged from yesterday other than sleeping bag & ridgerest and technical climbing tools.

Our starting point was once more the Cairn Gorm ski station at 10am (its Sunday after all). We hiked for about 3km, today with great visibility and still not much wind, until we reached a steeper wall. Time for some snow/ice/rock climbing!

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-16-31-20

The gully Di had picked proved a little tricky in the beginning with lots of unsettled snow (‘swimming’ as she described it) and further up too much rock for her liking. On the other hand, we did get to climb a smaller ice fall (with some extra exercise added as my go pro fell off my helmet and forced me to climb back down the ice fall) and had more solid, frozen snow further up. Loved every moment of it.

After a short break for refreshments and to remove our technical gear, we made our way to the Hutchinson bothy. Some 7-8km hike across Scotland’s second highest mountain (Ben Macdui @ 1,309m) and frozen Lock Etchachan that took us until 5.30pm (so just after sunset). To our pleasant surprise the bothy’s stove was in full swing thanks to Simon. He is a tree surgeon from Surrey and here to add some more Monroe’s to his list (52 so far, aim is 100 by April). He also had his fatbike with him that is apparently great to ride in snow – I have to try it some day. Evenings in such huts or bothy’s aren’t very long usually. Eat, drink and sleep (after a 7,5h hiking day also fully deserved!). Well, we did chat a little bit …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


New additions to my kit list after this trip 

  • Rope knife (could come handy … and you won’t have time to find not to mention open your Swiss army knife when you need it)
  • Few small carabiners (for compass etc)
  • New lightweight harness (mind will never ever fit over my downsuit!)
  • Smaller dry bags (one large one is just not handy to move gear in & out your backpack … especially not if you do that on a steep wall 8,000m high with wind)
  • Glove retainers for my new ice climbing gloves (best gloves are of no use if blown away)
  • Tenacious tape (to fix rips in your clothes etc … crampons aren’t exactly extending the lifetime of your trousers) & aquasure for permanent fix to garment
  • New hiking poles (those you can take apart for better drying)
  • Robinson’s squashed for drinks (for when you get sick of tea or to prevent that)
  • New lightweight thermarest on top of ridgerest
  • Pick & axe protectors
  • Small anchor / wire to secure go pro (mine fell off when my helmet hit ice)

Day 3 – No storm warning from my Suunto … storm it was nonetheless

The night in the bothy was alright be it that I did wake up a few times from either hard floor or a companion falling off the bench they slept on. The sky, which was 100% clear in the evening and even early morning, was now clouded. Di had already mentioned yesterday that the weather would get worse especially in the afternoon (good call!). We left 8am and climbed up past Loch Etchachan to Loch Avon (has something of a fjord). From there we hiked up gully to get us back up on the plateau. I used the time to get friendly with my go pro’s voice control … with mixed success although I am sure that Di is now proficient in all basic commands.

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-16-32-01

Distance slightly overstated … switched off only after Di hit the gas pedal ;o)

Once out of the gully the wind picked up markedly (Di estimated 30m/ph) and goggles were in order. I have to say that the experience was pretty spectacular and I felt good about having Di around. You get lost in such conditions all too easily (15m visibility?). Also happy with all the gear. No cold feet, hands or anything (well, the cheeks a little). After 4.5h we were back at the car and headed for a soup in the valley before I checked out of the bunk house and waited for my bus home. Sadly (but will be back in mid-March)!


Thanks to my guide Di Gilbert for the wonderful three days, the fun and the skills!



Kicking about in London

Alex and myself woke up to a chilly yet beautiful Sunday morning. We greeted it with a choco croissant, finished off the homework quickly (never great to come home after a Sunday out to do spelling and math) and had a quick chat with Flora & Georgia – our two airbnb guests from Greece. They are both students and moved in yesterday. I think their plan was the British Museum. Great choice.

Kiddykicks football, for which I signed him up only yesterday, had been cancelled as the ground was frozen. Good call, but a pity as we skipped church to head for regents park. Anyway, Alex did want to try out his new kit (the mouth guard being the unexpected favorite!) and so we headed over to Paddington Rec for a bit of kicking about. Alex, like me in my days, has an interest in goal keeping. Training ensued (and yes, jumping on hard ground hurts … stop whingeing boy!) though at times interrupted by a dog chasing our ball.

Lunchtime we headed over to Covent Garden for my ice climbing session at Vertical Chill (located in the Ellis Brigham store) and for me to try some additional high altitude kit that had arrived Friday (the Scarpa phantom techs – single layered boot for most alpine and Scottish mountaineering). The session went mostly well. Twice I managed the easiest route (right up the middle) and twice the small overhang (towards the left of the well). My instructor gave me a few good tips here too. After that my arms felt already bit tired, but the overhang killed me off (again). Twice I tried, twice I had to give up. No juice left in the arms. Well, next time! Maybe I should start there. Alex entertained himself in the shop meanwhile. Loads of interesting equipment around (… those shiny ice axes ;o)

Time to refuel! We were both starving and headed to Wagamama’s opposite the shop. I always like to come here. Great food, fresh juices and outstanding service. While I enjoyed my usual chilli chicken ramen, Alex went for rice and chicken from the childs menu. The children chopsticks, which can be cleverly combined with ordinary sticks to form the shape of a plane, were fun to play  with yet left a tiny splinter in Alex finger. A flood of tears followed until the staff removed it helped by pineapple as anaesthetics. Alex deserved a present for all his bravery and didn’t take long to dig out a Lego like set at the shop of the transport museum. Time to go home and relax – I could fall asleep on the spot for some reason. Alex wants ice cream. Hurry!

 

img_4294

Fresh orange & apple juice was a hit!

Four amazon parcels were waiting at home … including the memory stick for my new gopro camera … I figured it out eventually.