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Chamonix, 'the Great Escape'

Updated: Aug 9, 2020

The majestic Drus from the start of the Balcon Nord at Montenvers

2020 has certainly not been the year that anyone could have seen coming with the fallout of and the ongoing situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 'Wuhan flu' has caused widespread disaster in terms of tragic loss of life and it's devastating effect on livelihoods and economies. In particular, it has had a huge impact on the outdoor adventure travel and tourism industry. So as the restrictions ended and the doors opened, it was time to decide whether it would be safe to take a break from Boris's Britain. With face masks on, we packed the car and headed over to France on the ferry. Initially a little apprehensive about whether or not it was the right or wrong thing to do, it was quickly apparent that people where very happy to have tourists returning and that things where being taken a bit more seriously there with mandatory face masks and other precautions being taken. France was definitely on holiday with many people out enjoying the summer weather. We wound our way through to Chamonix to camp at the very busy Mer Du Glace camping in Le Praz. The campsite had plenty of Covid rules but it all very well organised - in fact, the whole valley was extremely well prepared and set up; from the scheduled cabins on The Midi lift, complete with temperature testing, through to the boulangerie with restricted numbers waiting for their baguettes! With some blistering heat in the valley, we did several hot walks on the Aiguille Poisettes above Le Tour/Vallorcine, Balcon Nord under the Aiguilles and also the Sud across the valley. We also endured one rather brutal walk up from Argentiere to the Refuge Lognon and onto the glacial morraine on the Argentiere.

Scramby steps above Vallorcine

The valley was not as busy perhaps as it normally would be at this time of the year but there where plenty of people around, as well as in the mountains, which was no doubt a relief to the guides, campsite owners and the myriad of businesses attached to tourism, who have had a huge loss of earnings over the season. Hopefully, as the summer passes into the winter, business will improve and things might return to normal, but it certainly doesn't look like its clearing quickly at the moment. It was great to be back in the valley again; somewhere I have been going since a young age. Aside from a few shops changing name and the odd chalet popping up, it's a place which largely stays the same. The only thing that changes is the ever increasing standard of mountain activities; on the mountains and in the air above...Chamonix always makes you feel you are in the company of the cutting edge of outdoor sports and rightly has that reputation.

Looking to Mont Blanc from the Plan Refuge

However, there is one very notable thing changing in the valley, which is an issue the world over and that's the climate. The Mer Du Glace is an obvious visual marker of this, as it is receding at a rapid rate, along with the other glaciers. It's sad to see this. With all the amazing effort made by countries to combat Covid-19, which has in many ways been extraordinary, it is a shame that the same amount of effort cannot be applied to the climate change issue, which is in many ways far more serious. As we left, I saw on the news that the Val Ferret area on the Italian side of Mont Blanc was being evacuated due to the threat of a huge section of the Plancipeux glacier falling down. I fear that the only real action to reduce climate change will occur at the eleventh hour when London is submerged underwater. The weather was certainly hot in the valley and in other areas of France records where being broken. Now in the UK the same is happening this weekend, it's no longer an issue that can be denied.

Large chunks falling from the Argentiere Glacier every few minutes
Reaching the end of the Balcon Nord under the Midi

Sadly, the glaciers may be not be there for future generations to see, if the temperatures keep rising.

On a more cheerful note, we couldn't help noticing that everywhere in Chamonix there were people out on eBikes. Chamonix, always at the forefront of adventure sports had numerous sports shops, all offering an eBike hire service. Having not tried one before, now was the time! Hiring bikes in Argentiere, we made rapid pace to the Col du Montets, with a great ride down to Le But and onto the Swiss border before racing back up to the Col. The bike featured three modes: 'eco,' 'trail' and 'boost' which made uphills seem effortless. I had never been sure just how effective these were but they are incredible, gliding up very steep inclines. I can now see the attraction. I am sold! Previously, I had thought that they were a bit of a cop out on the exercise front but in actual fact, you end up doing twice the distance you normally would but also enjoying the ride much more. You just have to be a bit wary on the speed you hit the uphills, as they are pretty quick. I wouldn't want to run out of power though, as the weight of an eBike is very heavy to ride without the power. We shall have to wait until next time to try again by which time hover bikes will be the new thing.

eBikes: the way to tackle steep Alpine trails

It was then time to make our way back to the ferry and head back home and see whether there was anything left of Boris' Britain and see what the latest Covid developments were. I was pleased to see that, finally, it had been decided after many weeks that perhaps face masks were a good idea and now mandatory in enclosed public spaces. Luckily, we had our recent French training and are fully versed in their use, perhaps better to take best practice from France, adopt it and then wait for the UK government to catch up........

Chamonix centre with the Arve river and Mont Blanc Massif behind

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