Friday, November 13, 2015

Charmant Som Multipitch with the kids. (East face slabs)

For Jakub's birthday, we usually try do do some type of outdoor family thing.  This year the weather is still incredible in mid November (dry, sunny and around 20C) so we headed out to conquer the Charmant Som from the climber's point of view.  Well actually the climbing was rather simple so maybe I should not say conquer ;).  It was very enjoyable though because the limestone here is grippy and the features are super cool - lots of neat cracks, a nice view of the Belledonne and Mt. Blanc as well.  What more could one wish for!!  The kids had no probs doing it (no surprise it's 3c).  Tommy seemed to walk up 90% of the slabs without using his hands at all.  I think our kids need something harder next time!!

Getting psyched for the climb!  Look at that sky (on Nov 11th)

Tommy and Anna were not too motivated at home, but we finally convinced them to come out.

The Belledonne in the distance.  You can see the miniature pic de Belledonne which we conquered with Jakub this summer.

Anna in the grooove :D

Jakub running out of rope already.

Hazy view of the Vercors.  The flat peak on the right Mt. Aiguille (another peak already conquered with Jakub :)

Friction climbing.

The very last cliff.

Hands free.

Our fam, Happy B-day Jakub!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Hiking in the Écrins national park. Dormillouse - Lac Palluel - Lac Faravel.

The most recent activity I've done was a pretty spectacular hike in the Écrins national park with my friend Lahari.  We were actually planning to go hiking the whole summer and hoped to camp up in the mountains over night, but finally, the only weekend that we managed to choose to go, it turned out the most unpredictable weather-wise.  The forecast was mainly for rain, but we still decided to go ahead and enjoy the great outdoors. 

For the first day, I planned a shorter hike near the city of Embrun.  It was 700m elevation to the lac l'Hivernet and back.  It was a bit of an adventure just to reach the starting point of the hike, as my GPS had a mind of it's own (and I am completely useless with directions).  We ended up on a road that kept getting narrower and narrower, steeper and windier, when finally it stopped at a dead end in the middle of nowhere.  The only thing that was in front of us was perhaps a trace of a road, which maybe existed decades ago, overgrown with large trees and grass.  (to make it more fun, we were in thick fog you could cut with a knife).  Thank god we somehow managed to turn the car around, because backing down kilometers on this ridiculously steep narrow road would be the end of me.  We drove back to the city and redirected the navigation up a different path which turned out to be good this time.  We had to conquer chaos in the city (it was the ironman race), we passed through more fog, and finally got to the start.

The hike had a very Halloween/spooky feel to it.  We were in a foggy forest, with tree shadows looming over us.  It started raining persistently.  I did not take my camera so the only worthwhile photo I took with Lahari's camera was the cobweb covered with drops on it.  We tested out our new ponchos which ended up being more wet on the inside than outside...condensation??? :)  And once out of the forest, the hike got steeper up into the alpine.  I was hoping for some miracle that we would pass the fog and get above the clouds and sure enough, we had about a 100m of fogless hiking just before reaching the lake. 

The lake was tiny and cute, if you can use that expression for a lake.  We saw some dramatic views of mountains and clouds and then the sun came out for a millisecond.   Our hands were frozen and we felt the cold wind up there.  We had a very rapid snack and put on all the warmest clothes we owned, wishing for some nice gloves (next time!).  Then came the sound of bells from the fogland, followed by sheep.  The map showed there should be a hut by the lake but we did not see anything.  We even hiked up higher to find it with no luck.  This made me think we might not be at the right lake!! :))  Who knows, it was pretty anyways. 

On the way back, the rain had stopped and clouds were clearing out.  The evening plan was to drive to our next hiking spot but we had no idea what kind of a challenge it will be.  It turned out the ironman race had still been going on, so we had to take a few detours, a few u-turns and so on and so get the idea.  Then the GPS wanted me to take another mountain road which to our luck was blocked.  The bottom line is, that we found our hiking start point after much longer than expected.  After dinner, we huddled in our Van and fell asleep...

Hike to Lac L'Hivernet "Start" is where we also finished.  Ascent and descent was 900m.  (I left my GPS on for the drive down :))

When hiking in the rain, you can find some pearls on a string.

When we woke up the second day we were quite excited because we saw blue skies and sunshine.  Even though we planned to get up at 6AM, we were glad to start moving at around 7:00 and finally set out on the hike at 8 or later.  This hike started with the ancient village of Dormillouse, continuing on to two lakes (Palluel and Faravel) and completing the loop at 16km and 1000m elevation.  The village itself has some really interesting history.  One thing that really stuck in mind for me, is that this is the only village in France where people live all year round but don't have any road access.   Other than two refuges, a church, and the local houses, a few ancient ruins remain around the village.

 After we left the village it was all pure nature and very few people.  We saw tonnes of Marmots, green velvet mountains, wild forest raspberries, fresh mountain streams, baby fish, picture perfect lakes, waterfalls, and impressive views.  So we enjoyed the sights, the sounds and the bliss of being out there.  I hope you enjoy the photos and get an idea of what we experienced.

Dormillouse ruins.

Marmot in the middle, Genepi plant on the right.

My hiking buddy.

Looking back down into the valley we came from.

After the rain...

Almost at the first lake!

Perfect reflection at lac Palluel.

Lunch, mmmmm...


Perfect body posture.

Cairns, millions of them!

And more yet again.

Lahari in the midst of Cairnland

Lac Faravel.

A valley where you can fit a million and one tents.

At lac Faravel.

A bit more rain.

Exploring the lake surroundings.

More reflections...

Time to head back.

One day we'll go to Mt Everest... ;)

The little white dots on the left is Dormillouse village.

After all that hiking, nothing feels better than dipping your sore feet in ice cold water!


But only for a few seconds because it's way too coooooold!!!

Glad we ended up going!  Thanks Lahari xox.

The summary.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spring Break roadtrip to southern France.

This year we were playing with the idea of going to Morocco or Portugal for the spring break, but at the end, we had a time issue and thought there is still so much to explore in France, that we decided to just head down south in the end.

Our first stop was at the artificial lake "Lac de Saint Croix" where the Verdon canyon ends and the river enters the lake.   Since it was late in the day, we found a perfect little wilderness camping spot and settled in.  I made dinner, we set up the tents, and then we made a campfire.  We roasted marshmallows, bringing back some nostalgic memories of our North American home...  The stars were bright and amazing that night, so I attempted to capture some star trails over the lake.

Getting our shelter ready with style.

Dinner Time

The resevoir at dusk.

Wild thyme.

Agent Smith?

Marshmallows over the campfire.

Deep in thought...

Star trails in the Orion constellation.

Sunset over Lac Saint Croix.

Our home.

Since Jakub brought Tommy's kayak along, this was a great opportunity to take Tommy on flat water and practice paddling a bit.  As the boys entered into the spectacular limestone canyon with its turquoise waters, I got a little jealous that I also didn't have a watercraft to float on and explore the surroundings.  To our luck however, we noticed there was a paddle boat rental place just across on the opposite beach, so we went to inquire about the price and availability.  It turned out that a boat would be available soon, so the girl team (me, Anna, and Sarka - Jakub's mom) ended up following the boys into the canyon.  It was a good leg work out to turn the paddle wheel against the river current, and the sites were just amazing.  See for yourself on the photos below...

Quite comfy on the paddle boat as we enter the canyon.

Boys on their way back.

Tommy dusting off his kayak.

Some pretty awesome waterfalls.

Getting chilly.

Giving the bats a scare.

Later that day we went to do a little bit of easy climbing with Anna at "Le Galetas" limestone cliffs, while Tommy and grandma were chilling by the lake.  Finally, after this eventful and sportive day, we headed to our next destination: Touet sur Var where we camped for two nights.

View of Lac Saint Croix from Le Galetas craggs.

Miss climbing girl.

Pink dot on the cliff, so girly.

Getting some beta.

On the way to Touet we made a few stops to admire the depth and greatness of the Verdon Canyon.  We also made a few stops so that Jakub could do push ups.  To explain a little more - Jakub received a work out program which would apparently train you to achieve certain number of push ups by the end of it.  The program consisted of doing a certain number of push ups at a specific frequency per day.  Sometimes it was 5 push ups every 30 mins, sometimes 15 every 15 mins.  Then it got crazy because Jakub's timer was beeping so often and every time we stopped, Jakub got down and was working out :)))

Verdon Gorge.

Verdon Gorge.

Push Up O'Clock.

On the bridge.

Sun set...

In Touet, we found a campsite called Domaine de l'Amitie, owned by an older couple in the midst of a horse farm on the banks of the Var river.  The couple was quite nice to us and since we were there out of season, it was very quiet and peaceful there.

Our plan for this particular region was to do two Via Ferratas, one each day.  The first day we did a Via Ferrata called the Balma Negra which is located near a picturesque village of Roubion.

As we made our way through the village, we were stopped by some local residents who are likely in charge of the ferrata.  They saw Anna and probably thought she was too small to do it so they discouraged us from going there.  We told them we would try it out and see for our selves.  I must say Anna did awesome, she was not scared nor did she whine about any part of it.  I think the fact that we take her climbing and/or ferratas regularly really helps.  I must also mention that Tommy is a pro at these ferratas and does them with great speed.  He's always ahead of us and has no fear at all.

Roubion with its narrow alleyways.

Local church.

Window of imagination.

The Via Ferrata above.

Tommy in the lead as usual.

Enjoying herself.

The crew behind me.

Up up we go.

The wire traverse, Tommy swinging.

Anna going at it.

After this super nice warm up, the next day we did a much longer via ferrata "des Canyons de Lantosque".  As the name indicates, this ferrata was located inside two beautiful river canyons for about 95% of the time.  The canyons were very green, lush and shady.  The route started along the river Riou and then finished up along the river Vesubie.  The end of the ferrata was completed by climbing a super long ladder and then walking across a huge and airy suspension bridge!

Hands free!

Traverse above the waterfall.

No fear.

Wedgie ;)

The girlzzz

Tommy going up there.

The rest of the team below.

The ferrata was strategically located for Jakub to go kayaking on the Vesubie river.  So while he was going for a run, we hung out on the beach to greet him with chilled beer.  But when we finally made it to the beach (most likely trespassing on private property), a helicopter flew by and hovered right above us.  We were unsure whether they are there to tell us to get out because the dam was getting released or because it was private property.  But then they flew off again and came back.  We realized that they probably don't care about us, but are either doing a real search and rescue or are doing a practice one.  At the end it seems like it was a practice indeed but it did make our stay at the beach anything but peaceful.

Beach butterflies.

Daddy's back.

Anyone for a swim?

Search and rescue.

Having a good laugh.



That night we camped in the wild, in a beech grove, but we noticed some wild boar had dug up the ground around the trees.  Jakub actually set up his mom's tent right by one of these areas so she was wondering if she'll get a surprise visit during the night.  We had a bad phone signal there so at night I walked up the road a bit and heard some loud noises in the forest wondering if those are our furry friends.  In the morning Jakub was imitating pig noises so well that he tricked his mom a bit into thinking a boar was near her tent.  We all had a good laugh.  That day we had planned a hike down to the river valley and back.  The depart was from the village of Gilette and the destination was the l'Esteron river.  The hike was easy going but I found that people in this part of the world were a bit careless and messy.  We saw garbage in a few areas of the forest and people properties were rather unkempt.  Other than that we still had awesome weather and were thankful for that.

On the way back up to Gilette after reaching the valley.

l'Esteron river.

Admiring tulips in someone's garden.

Up there somewhere is our car.

Spring in full bloom and beauty.

Don't forget those push ups!

After all this exercise we decided to add in a bit of culture.  We drove towards Grasse and stayed at a campsite on the way.  In Grasse we went to visit the famous perfume museum which is worth visiting.

The rooftops of Grasse.

Our next and favourite destination was Cassis and Calanques.  The kids always love to visit the mediterranean (whereas Jakub does not) and we wanted to combine that with some easy climbing in the oh so famous cliffs of Calanques.  Here we anchored our tents in the Cassis camping site for 3 nights.  As we arrived in the evening, we had a bit of time to go check out the beach in Cassis and have a view of the castle.  I would really recommend to anyone I know to visit this area as Cassis has a character;  it's very picturesque and relatively small sized.  Apparently a law was passed that prohibits the building of any high rises/hotels which is probably why this little gem is so appealing and looks the same as it did 50 yrs ago.

Cassis by dusk.  Kids could not resist the waves.

Cassis harbour.

On our second day, we hiked to the Calanques d'en Vau, which is one of the closest approachable Calanque inlets.  I am always amazed how turquoise the waters are and how white the cliffs are.  I was surprised how many people were hiking around and when we reached the beach, it was actually packed - at the end of April (off tourist season!) go figure.  Some people were courageous enough to swim.  After a bit of lunch and siesta, Jakub convinced me to do a very easy multi pitch climb on the cliff adjacent to the beach (called La Saphir).  It was actually very fun and each section had different features.  On top of that, the limestone was not too polished as it commonly is.

Calanque de port Miou.

On our way to the beach.

Calanque d'en Vau

La Saphir multipitch climb.

Calanque d'en Vau as viewed during our climbing expedition.

At the top looking at the mediterranean.

One more time.

The last day in Cassis was spent regenerating.  I went to the beach with Šárka and the kids, while Jakub was catching up on his sleep in the tent and healing his knee (too much running) and elbow (too many push ups??).

This photo was cleverly taken, but the beach was full.  Later on there were some rowing races as well.

Ahh, that fickle sibling love.

The next portion of our trip was a small interlude of wine tasting in the Rhone valley, or the Cote du Rhone region, which is the closest popular wine region to Grenoble.  We visited three areas in total: Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Chateauneuf du Pape.  At this point the weather became a bit soggy so this worked out perfectly for the wine tour.  I must also not forget to mention that we own a comic book about the Rhone wine region and even though it was initially a present for Jakub, Tommy managed to read it several times and memorized all the different wines, and other such details.  By the time we reached the wineries, Tommy was able to consult us on what wine to get, how it will taste and which food it will go well with.  We were all in shock as he was educating us each evening.  He also never wanted to miss out going to the grocery store with us because he felt responsible for choosing wines for us.  Gotta love that kid!!

We went to visit a really cool wine museum at Chateauneuf du Pape and learned quite a few interesting things we didn't know.  For example, I had no idea you could make white wine from red grapes or that the yeast for the fermentation comes from the grapes themselves.



Budding grapes of the future vintage 2015 to come.

Castle ruin, at Chateauneuf du Pape.

I guess people drink considerable amounts of wine here :)

Some pretty flowers on the way....

Only this wall still stands.

Our very last trip destination was Ardeche/Massif Central where we planned to do some hiking.  We did one small hike that Anna chose in our guide book and then we did a very long 15km hike in the national park Les Cevennes.  We also managed to have one last camping night in in the wilderness, where we roasted some trout and shrimp on the grill and drank some of those nice wines we picked out.


Gotta love camping in France. :)

Grilling time!

Sandwiched grandma.

Another clear night.

The last, looooong, monotonous hike of the trip...

After leaving the Alps these "little" hills are so boooooring.  :D

Vegetation still dry and dead up in the mountains.

And this sums up our spring road trip.  It was really fun and we lucked out with the weather this time as it was at the end of April.  It wasn't Morocco or Portugal, but I think our sport/adventure needs were satisfied.  :))))  France always has so much to offer.