Tag Archives: Travel

Summer in Chamonix

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France is beautiful in the summer. This is especially true in Chamonix, where John and I just spent a few days searching for the perfect chalet to rent for a few weeks next winter. Chamonix Mont-Blanc contains more quaintness and charm in this deep “commune” of the Haute-Savoie than all the ski towns in North America. No joke.

A Mont-Blanc Unlimited season’s pass with access to the entire Chamonix Valley, Courmayeur, Italy plus 6 days in Verbier, Switzerland costs € 780 (about $1100) pre-season. That’s 139 lifts, and over 500 km of skiing. Compare that to Whistler/Blackcomb’s pre-season price of $1,199 with 37 lifts and 3,307 hectares (or less than 1 kilometer). Do the math. That’s more skiing for less money than anywhere on this side of the pond. In spite of the great deal, locals complain about the price. Go figure.

With spectacular mountains and unparalleled access, it’s a wonder more people don’t live here. Perhaps it’s the crowds, which whittle away one’s personal space until it’s a sharp little nub of jaded localism. At the height of summer, a.k.a. last week when John and I were there, the line for the Aiguille du Midi tram can be hours long. The walking-only streets of the town are jammed with strollers stopping at every souvenir shop brimming with postcards depicting glaciers that poke their icy fingers into the center of the deep valley. It’s jaw dropping. But, it’s crowded.

We can see ourselves spending our winters there someday; perhaps not in the busy tourist-soaked center of town, but perhaps up-valley in Les Praz or Argentiere, where the pace is slower.

Still, traveling makes me appreciate Crystal, with our terrain and lift system and reasonable crowds. I love the familiar peaks and the knowable backcountry. I enjoy the familiar unpredictability, the secret places where I can escape the crowds, the little open gash between the trees that stays fresh days after a storm, the distant couloirs that with a little effort and a little local knowledge offer a smooth respite even on the busiest days.

I’ve had my summer fix now—my summer vacation. I’m ready for winter to start again. I long for that first healing layer of snow that covers over all the rough places with its uniform whiteness. Bring it on.

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Last Chance to Win an Advanced Copy of The Next 15 Minutes

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Okay folks. Just five more days to win an advanced copy of my forthcoming memoir, The Next 15 Minutes. If you haven’t already, head on over to The Next 15 Minutes: Strength from the top of the Mountain Facebook Fanpage and tell me your story. Psst, if you’re shy about posting your story, you can always leave it here in the comments under “guest” and email me with your information so I know who to send the ARC to (see the page Contact above for my email addy).

So here’s the contest: remember a time you had to use a similar strategy. Tell us about how you got through. Only comments made over on my FB fan page will be considered. Bonus if you post a photo to go along with your story. If could be about the time you ran out of gear on a 5.10 climb, or when you got maytaged in a hole while kayaking the White Salmon River, or found yourself lost and alone in the wilderness. It might be when the doctor told you it was cancer, or the vet had to put your dog down, or you woke up for the fourteenth day with a dread so thick you didn’t know how you’d ever crawl out. Tell us about a time when you didn’t think you’d make it through, but you did. Tell us how you did it. Already my ARC has seen quite a bit of the world in her few weeks on this earth. If you come up with the best story, told through prose, photos, haiku, cartoon, video, whatever, I will sign her and send her to you.

Contest ends Friday July 22nd.

Also, I invite you to follow this blog. Just click on one of the buttons in the upper right hand corner to follow via your favorite social media site, or subscribe via email. You’ll be glad you did!

Trekking Bhutan

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Last year, John and I trekked through Bhutan.  I recently received an email from Phuentsho, the principal of the school in Laya (the second highest village in Bhutan at 12, 680 ft).  We had spent a rest day there, and Phuentsho gave us a tour of the school. 

Bhutanese children learn both Dzongkha, the native language, and English.  As we walked through the school, the children practiced their English on us, “Good Evening, Madam,” “Good Morning, Sir.”  “Would you like to play football?”

Laya is a remote village in the Himalayas.  Water comes from a stream, piped above ground to a few spigots spaced along the terraces, and heat comes from wood fires.  Layaps are considered wealthy since they are the only people allowed to forage for the rare mushrooms found only in their region.  However, the children do not have enough books.  The few dog-eared English books come from India, with stilted language and outdated diction. 

I asked Phuentsho if it was possible for me to send books to the children.  He smiled and said, “No problem.” 

“How would they get here?” I asked.

“By yak.”

When winter comes, most of the villagers hike the two or three day trek to Gasa, spending the coldest part of the year in the lower elevations.  Students take three months off school for “winter break”.   Phuentsho gave me his address in Gasa, and told me to send the books there, where he could arrange for the yak travel when he returned to Laya for the new school year in the spring. 

When I stood at the post office with my box of books many weeks later, the employee behind the counter squinted at the address.  It was simply, the Principal’s name, the town and the country.  Nothing else.  “What’s the last name?” She asked.

“That’s it,” I said.  “He only has one name.”

She shrugged.  “Suit yourself.”

I asked her to put a few extra wraps of packing tape across the top.  “It has to finish its journey on a yak.”

She raised her eyebrows, strapped several strips of tape across the box and handed me my receipt.

I wasn’t sure if the box would make it.  But Phuentsho recently emailed me to tell me it had.  The children loved the books and the pictures I sent.  Many of them have only seen their photographs on the camera’s digital displays of the tourists taking them.  Most Layaps do not have mirrors. 

Bhutan is the world’s youngest democracy.   A few years ago, the beloved King, Jigme Wangchuck, abdicated his throne, transferring power to his cabinet ministers in preparation of the first election in 2008.  Now is the time to see this amazing country as it opens and changes. 

You must have a local guide service.  We used International Mountain Guides www.mountainguides.com, and they were fabulous.  I also met Tshering Tobgay, a government minister and wonderful host (he sent a box of wine, cheese and chocolate to our trekking group on the trail, it arrived by yak).  His wife has started a guide company, Tergo Travels, www.tergotravels.com/.

Sometimes the Magic Doesn’t Work

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In preparation for the big, snowy winter approaching, John and I decided to sneak away to Maui for the weekend. We found a screaming deal on Hawaiian Air and spent a relaxing, warm few days in the sun and surf.

As we stood on the beach with our beginner surfboards, John figured that, as skiers, surfing should be easy. And when he caught his first wave, riding it all the way into the beach, pumping a triumphant fist into the air, I thought I’d have the same success. I mean, after all, I’m an athlete. I can balance. And John did make it look so easy.

Well.

As you can see here, I struggled a bit. The board kept diving into the trough of the wave, sending me on some spectacular, feet-up falls into the surf. It must have been fun to watch from shore. And afterwards, my nasal passages were certainly clear. But I won’t be joining the pro circuit anytime soon. In the end, I rode a few waves to shore, stepping off onto the sand and grabbing my board just before the backwash took hold of it and used it as a club on my head. I was getting the hang of it.

But the tables really turned when we tried stand-up paddle boarding, which, according to one waitress, is the fastest growing sport in the country. Who knew? I mean, I’d seen lone surfers, serenely paddling along the lake, but the fastest growing sport? What was the appeal? For one thing, it’s not easy. Unless you look straight ahead, your legs becoming part of the board, your hips absorbing the wavy chop, you will fall. But after a few wobbly moments, I got the hang of it. I even rode the behemoth into the shore, weaving through the big waves and stepping off, almost, on the dry sand.

Just like anything else, smooth water and a few pointers make the going a little easier.