Stepping off the bus in Chamonix on a sunny June morning I did the first thing any sensible mountaineer would do. I went and got myself a good cup of coffee. My trip to Chamonix and the French Alps started a few months earlier when my colleague Andy asked me if I would supervise a DofE Gold group on their assessed expedition to the Alps. After a milliseconds deliberation I gave the obvious answer of yes!
I arrived in Chamonix in June in order to carry out the pre-expedition risk assessment. My plan was over four days to walk the route that the group had planned, check their campsites, find water sources, identify hazards and familiarise myself with the area. Their planned basecamp was in les Praz de Chamonix. From here I set out walking through a mix of forests and meadows heading gradually and then steeply uphill to the Col de Balme. Situated on the French/Swiss border at altitude of 2191 m the Col de Balme offers amazing views of Mont Blanc. Waking up in the early morning light to a stunning view of the highest mountain in the Alps was simply awesome…
Over the following days I continued checking out and risk assessing the planned expedition route. My days were a mix of forests, steep ascents on well-made mountain paths, coffees in small bars, and sleeping beneath the stars. My accommodation was a British army Gore-Tex bivvy bag that I had bought for £20 at least 10 years ago. On the fourth day of my trip as I entered the Col de Brevent I saw the cutest creature…a marmot! With a happy heart I continued to the summit of le Brevent, at 2525 m the highest point on the expedition. After a lunch of vegetarian lasagne served in the café that the French had cunningly built I walked the last few hours back down into Chamonix. A long coach journey brought me back to England I wrote up my expedition risk assessment, gave feedback to the DofE group on their planned route and completed the DofE paperwork.
Fast forward to August I found myself at Gatwick airport travelling with a great Gold group; Frankie, Hamish, Tom and James. After a day acclimatising and food shopping in Chamonix the group set out on their four day expedition. Despite some unseasonably cold and inclement weather the group absolutely smashed their expedition. They did exactly what a successful Gold group needs to do. They got their heads down, walked through forests and over mountains and had what was a life enhancing experience. Back in Chamonix after four days we all enjoyed ice creams whilst sitting in the Alpine sunshine.
If you wish to buy maps of The Alps we would recommend going to Stanfords