Saturday, 19 September 2009

Mont Blanc, Mountaneering Epic!

This is by far the most extreme terrifying thing I have ever done. I met Andy Brown in Verbier, he is a GP in the Marines and has done some seriously cool expeditions including making it to the South Pole and getting most of the way up Everest. One night following a few bottles of wine he talked me into doing a mountaneering trip in Chamonix. To set the scene heights terrify me, I cant deal with exposure and the small bit of climbing I have done before hand scared the shit out of me. This was set to be one hell of a weekend.

After hiring the gear and getting the Aiguille de Midi lift up to 3800m it was about mid day. Crampons were put on in an ice cave joining on to the station. To get onto the mountain a metal barrier had to be climbed over this was covered in warnings, danger signs and made it very clear we were on our own after this point. Over the barrier was a ridge just wide enough to put both feet on, one side it dropped straight down to Chamonix and on the other it dropped away to a load of Crevasses. This was a serious initiation into mountaneering. My tactic as happened a lot was to fixate only on the snow a couple of feet in front and not stop moving.

The route we did was called the Cosmic Arrette it took us through the Vallee Blanche and then up the rock face back to the midi station. The rock section was nutty. The 3 of us were roped together however the length of the route meant we could only use gear on the most serious sections. There were some really quite committed moves that had to be made, there was also a hell of a lot of massively exposed bits of rock. The scenery was absolutely incredible but I admit I didnt spend much time looking at it unless I had a very solid grasp of a rock. The climb took us well into night, the top section was tackled with a head torch. Mine however was knocked off by the rope and I watched it fall away down a cliff face riccocheting off rocks as it went. This meant the rest of the climb had to be tackled by moonlight. Luckily we had a full moon and it was a beautifully clear night. The relief of making it back to the lift station was amazing. I was absolutely buzzing, the exhileration from pure fear the whole way up.

We bivvyed up in the station and got a good dose of army rations. The next day started at 4am, we were back out in the vallee blanche walking by moonlight. It was such a peaceful and stunning environment. A little trail of headtorches could be seen dotting all the way along the path up towards Mont Blanc. We were heading for Mont Blanc de Tacul. The climb up was nice, just steady plodding. There was far more chance to take in the scenery and it was trully spectacular. This is the heart of the Alpes and in every direction there was this incredible jagged skyline. We more or less made the summit of 4248m however the winds were hauling and the windchill was really bad. It was a matter of getting there getting the photo and then turning straight back to find more sheltered parts of the hillside.

As an experience this was absolutely fantastic and I thank Andy for inviting me as it really is something very few people get to try. It is however something I am glad to have done but wouldnt rush back to do it again. For me the dangers are too high and I was so far out of my comfort zone the whole time. Once in a while this is good but I dont think I could deal with that level of fear regularly.

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Slacking About in the Alpes

Slacklines are so much fun. I had a few really cool sessions in Verbier. The instructors had a go, it was so funny seeing these guys totally out of their comfort zone. Slacking is not quite as easy as it looks and peoples first tries are always very entertaining. Jerome was determined to make one step whilst holding on to my shoulder, about 10 minutes of heavy breathing and nervous talking later he tried a step and ended up jumping into my arms instead. The ironic thing was Nat, the chalet chef, is far more athletic than pretty much all the paragliding instructors put together and is apparently a bit of a dab hand on a line, awesome!

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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Verbier Summits

The blog hasnt had as much attention as planned recently as can be seen from the pics and video far too much fun was being had! Now my epic adventure is over I can actually sit down and post my thoughts on the experience.

I have had far too many amazing expereinces over the last few months to document everything. I have seen some totally stunning things and met some amazing, inspiring people. At the end of the day it is the people that these sports bring together that really transforms these experiences into something amazing, thanks to everyone involved for making it such a fantastic trip.

Over the 6 weeks I have more or less earnt my full pilots licence and am really just short of a few hours in the sky to getting this signed off. In all 20 hrs of flying were clocked up and just shy of 80 flights made. From what I hear gaining this kind of flight expereince in the UK takes years!! Paragliding is such a beutiful feeling. There really isnt much else that gives you this ammount of freedom in the sky. It is silent graceful and serene way to view the environment.

Ridge soaring forces you to fly low searching for lift whilst skimming along the contours of the ground. Thermalling brings a different interaction with the landscape and forces an understanding of what will create and trigger thermals, this search for lift is the challenge and unfortunately requires masses of experience to master. The feeling of the wing being thrusted upwards is both terrifying and exhilerating. Going up is rarely a smooth ride, the finesse and control of birds in turbulent air is just outstanding and something I dont think a paraglider will never be able to trully match. One of the most amazing expereinces I have had flying was thermalling with two falcons. I was flying only 5-10m above them as they circled through the thermal, they didnt seem at all bothered by my presence. Seeing their motion up close was stunning.

The other game is acro and although I havent anywhere near the experience to start playing this one properly I did enough to glimpse what it may be like. Acro pilots turn paragliding into a flat out roller coaster. It is possible to get the glider to pull upto 6 G's, as much as a fighter pilot can expereince. I was playing with gentle spirals and some baby wingovers. The acceleration is such an addictive thing. This for me is where the real buzz of paragliding is. Learning to throw the paraglider arround whilst in full control and whilst the glider is trying to rip you through the harness.

Verbier Summits itself is incredibly well run. The twins, Stu and Mike who run the school are so enthusiastic, full of energy and loads of fun to be arround. They have such amazing knowledge of Verbier and its local weather and really use this to ensure we got the maximum possible time in the air but more importantly that the conditions were always suitable for the ability of the people flying. On average we were getting 4 flights a day with generally only one day getting shut down due to weather each week. The tuition was great and really thourough going well beyond the BHPA syllabus in places.

Its a strange thing for me to come on holiday to have lectures and exams. The lectures themselves were brilliant, again the Twins enthusiasm made it impossible not to want to get stuck in and learn what makes a paraglider fly, what produces the weather and how it develops. We had some really interesting discussions and I learnt a lot that will benefit all my outdoor persuits.

For me the real appeal of paragliding is the possibility of mental adventures hiking up mountains and trying to fly to the next peak. There are some incredibly inspiring stories of people travelling through some remote parts of the world like this, for me this is the ultimate goal. For now I want to fly Rhossilli on the Gower, this beach is spectacular and I have some beautiful memories of kiting and surfing this bay. The hills and prevailing winds make it one of the best ridge soaring sites in the UK. Unfortunately for now paragliding is on the back burner but it is one thing I am certain I will come back to in the future, once my body is finally too beaten up to continue with the bikes!!

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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Verbier Summits Alpine Adventure: The Video

Verbier Summer

Simple fun in Verbier from Rob Rickman on Vimeo.

The Dimplespeed was built up with the aim of creating a toy that was nimble, lively and most of all tons of fun for all those situations where the BFe is a tad overkill. The simple shares the same solid reassuring geometry as the rest of the Cotic range. With 120mm adjusted rigid forks it takes mountainbiking back to basics and is incredibly agile. The geometry gives shed loads of confidence allowing the bike to be piloted down terrain where a fully rigid bike traditionally really should not venture.

Modern bikes have masses of features that aid both performance and comfort so why strip them away? Going Singlespeed gives such beautiful drive and confidence when stamping hard on the pedals and forces real commitment in the climbs. The bars look so clean, the controls are simple, no distractions leaving a very pure connection with the bike. Best of all with the Dimplespeed setup the bike becomes 2 bikes in one. The light trials gear gives snappy performance and allows the steepest alpine climbs to be taken on. A quick flick of the chain allows the second gear ratio to be selected that is perfect for charging round the local woods or ragging about through town.

Rigid forks are so much fun, they create a new outlook on riding. To go fast an incredibly active, accurate and supple style is required. Incorrect line choice will either totally kill the bikes momentum or have you picking yourself out of the undergrowth. This makes even mellow terrain technical and challenging. The satisfaction when getting it right is so rewarding as is the bewildered look of fellow riders on their nice cushy rides when they struggle to pull away.

The Simple is so much fun, the stripped back look is so sexy and without any of the extras it is light and screams to be chucked around and played with. Having so little on it to go wrong or gadgets to get distracted by it brings biking back to the fundamentals of just getting out and having a good time.

Verbier has provided an amazing testing ground for the Dimplespeed. I have had an amazing time exploring what is possible on this bike. It has been pedaled up the same climb used in the tour de france, along amazing singletrack, pointed down the DH track, hopped over rocks and walls around town. All the time it has put a massive grin on my face and opened up a totally fresh set of challenges to test my skills as a rider.

Most of all it was brilliant fun going out with Simon Vacher exploring, searching and building new lines. I think we found some absolutely stunning shots that gives a bit of a peek of the amazing scenery that Verbier has to offer. All credit to him for putting together an awesome video.


This report was emailed in by Rob from Verbier and

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