Sunday, 3 July 2016

ALPS 2016

This year has been the year for adventure. My most recent took me to France. 

12 days kayaking in the French Alps.

When the trip was first offered late last year, I decided that this year, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel my skill level would be sufficient enough to cope with the alpine rivers and no other girls were up for going on the trip either (12 days is a longggg time to spend alone with 10 guys!). The deadline for deposits came and went and I’d accepted the fact that I’d have to wait until next year to go. In the meantime, I bought my own boat, and training sessions in the pool improved my skills. I got much better than I thought I would, which made me begin to regret my decision to pass on the opportunity.  Unfortunately, one of the guys supposed to be going on the trip had an injury early this year, which meant that he couldn’t go anymore and his space was open. I jumped at the chance and there I was, going to the alps!!
Preparation started about a week before we left. I could’ve easily packed all my stuff in around an hour or two if I wasn’t the queen of procrastinating, moaning, and just general dilly dallying! The living room was cluttered with various kayaking and camping equipment. The weekend before I left, my boyfriend, Joe, helped my put my tent up in the garden so I knew I could do it and wasn’t gonna be sleeping under the stars. This was a really good idea, because as we found out, putting a tent back into its bag is also very challenging! If in doubt, fold it into thirds (-Top tip…).
We were leaving for our flight to Geneva on the Monday, but our kit had to be packed into the van which was driving out there on Sunday, which meant I had to be packed by Saturday. Friday night was hectic. For me and the witnesses of my many breakdowns through the tough decisions over which onesie to take, how many airbeds, and do I take my pillow as hand luggage or not?
Another thing I discovered in my Alps preparation was “pack light” is not in my vocabulary. When faced with the prospect of being away from home, I feel need to take everything I could ever possibly want with me. It turns out fairy lights are one of those needs… so in the bag they went! Along with a pop up princess tent, a jar of Nutella and a dinosaur onesie (I eventually decided on one!).

Van loading was surprisingly easy, rucksacks packed into boats and the other bags slid into the remaining gaps like a precarious jigsaw puzzle. The doors were closed and the van left for france!

We arrived at the airport on the Monday and were all given our trip t-shirts. The flight went smoothly and we landed in Geneva, where we quickly stepped out the airport on the Swiss side, just so we could say we’d stepped foot in Switzerland too before crossing to the French sector of the airport where we picked up our hire car and drove to our first campsite, Saint-Pierre-de-Bœuf.

Tents up, pegs in.
Would it really be my tent without fairy lights and nutella?

This campsite had a man-made white water course. When we arrived on the Monday, we didn’t have time to try out the course that evening, so we all eagerly anticipated 9am the next day when the course switched on. The course was so much fun and didn’t disappoint. It was excellent for practicing skills and white water rolls. The course carried on down into a lake which you can then paddle back up towards a ramp which brings you back to the start of the course. We spent 3 days here, which allowed for a lot of paddling, swimming and sunbathing. It was here I discovered that I really don’t tan very well! Everybody else was going a lovely shade of brown or lobster, I stayed very very white… that didn’t stop me from soaking up the sun though.


Food on the trip was organised in groups. I was in a food group with the 3 other freshers. It was quickly discovered that if we wanted any hope of having edible meals, I needed to take charge. Our go to meal was steak hachet with a variety of other acompliments. It’s amazing what you can do with a few burgers! On the first night we had 10 minutes in the supermarket to decide what we were eating and to find it. We ended up with burgers & hotdogs (minus the bread…) with lettuce and chip sauce. Which surprisingly, when garnished with pringles, isn’t all that bad! Our next meal was a lot better, I unleashed my chef potential and made us spaghetti Bolognese, followed the next day with pork fajitas, then on the final night, a barbecue. Breakfasts were croissants and lunches were baguettes stuffed with sliced meat and cheese. We ate like kings.

Day 1: Sausage, Burger, lettuce and chip sauce

Day 2: Camping stove bolognese 
Day 3: Pork fajitas

Day 4: Barbecue!!

The Journey from St-Pierre to L’argentière was so much fun.
Playlist on loud, windows down, cruising through the French countryside.
Although I don’t think the residents of the towns appreciated their windows shaking to the sound of Basshunter and R Kelly…

Top 5 Summer Roadtrip Tunes:
-Sun is shining – Bob Marley vs Funkstar De Luxe
-Viices - Made in Heights
-Stay - Kygo 
-Fade - Alan Walker
-Wrecking ball - Miley Cyrus

What was supposed to be a 3 hour journey turned into a 4 hour journey when we discovered that an entire mountain we were supposed to cross had been blocked off due to road works, and the detour added another 3 hours onto the journey. Sam practising rally driving through the mountains managed reduce the detour to an hour and a bit .


We arrived at L’argentière at around 4pm where we met with our coach, Chris Brain. We  discussed what we wanted to achieve out of our trip and he let us know what kind of ideas he had for us as well. We unpacked the van a second time and pitched our tents on the rockiest ground EVER, which proved to be disastrous for me when it rained (…I’ll get to that later). 
Sam vs Tent

Chris showed us to the local supermarket, where we bought plenty of snacks before heading to the pizza shack next to the campsite (It was literally a pizza hut!!!).
The nights in the valleys were incredibly cold, *See toilet roll tube effect*. Night times in St Pierre were comfortably warm, you could sleep happily in shorts and your sleeping bag unzipped, so it was a shock at L’argentiere when I woke up at 3am shivering. The warmest item of clothing I took with me was a hoodie and a onesie. Big regrets. During my packing fiasco, I was talked out of taking a blanket with me. Never have I wanted an extra blanket so much in my life! I’ve been camping in February and I don’t remember being as cold as I was at L’argentiere. The daytime temperature was glorious though, we couldn’t have asked for better weather than we got. Everyday except 2 were sunny.
Our first alpine river was the Durance, which started at the campsite. The stretch that we did is commonly known as the sunshine run and is a long section of grade 2/3.

The rivers in the alps are cold, wide, and very fast flowing, which is pretty daunting at first. The length of the river was a downside for me as I’m currently recovering from a back injury, the motion of paddling is quite painful so a long continuous paddle wasn’t the best. Which I’m really sad about because if I’d have been fit and well I’d have really enjoyed all of the rivers that I managed to do and would’ve been able to do so much more!
I only did 3 rivers in the alps. The sunshine run, the upper durance and the upper Guisane. I swam (kayaking terms for ‘falling in’) on the upper durance and it was pretty scary! Nothing bad could’ve happened to me because we had lots of people there to help get me and my kit, but the shock of the cold water and the pace that the water moves at makes it feel like you’re going to get washed away, and knowing that there’s a massive dam just around the corner doesn’t help! It was only on the last section of the river that I swam, so as soon as I got out of the water I could get changed and sunbathe! (Priorities)

As much as I went to the alps for a kayaking holiday, the sunbathing and relaxing was a huge upside, especially with my injury – any excuse to take it easy!
As part of the trip, we took part in a white water safety and rescue course run by Chris. Bits of this were done on the river and others on the slalom course on the campsite. It definitely helped with my confidence on the river as we were taught tips on saving ourselves and others.

On the days that I didn’t paddle, I’d go and sit at the get out and wait for the others to make their way down the river, which was lovely!! Everywhere was SO picturesque. (Everywhere also kinda looked a bit like those yogurt adverts you see on the TV with kids playing and old dusty buildings.) The days were split up in such a way that easier rivers were done in the morning and harder rivers in the afternoon so there’d usually be quite a few of us not paddling whilst the more advanced kayakers went off to do something scary. This meant we usually had a few hours to kill every day… queue the exploration!!

Whilst the guys were doing the Lower Guisane, us non paddlers were left at the get in, the view of the river was gorgeous, and the little village was incredibly picturesque, however it was completely deserted! It was a mini ski resort, even though the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day, it was so eery walking around the streets of a beautiful town with complete silence, empty windows and no sign of life. We were hoping to find a cafe to get some lunch (i completely failed my food group and forgot to buy us breakfast... my bad) but absolutely everywhere was shut so we went and sat in the minibus and passed the time until the guys got off the river.

Lower Guisane

Ghost Town

Wednesday was a rest day for everyone, so we decided to go and see a glacier. Most of us we're very naive. We thought it would be a nice little road up to the top of the mountain to see some icy water and then we'd eat our sandwiches and go back to the campsite. Something nice and relaxing, just like a good rest day should be. 
Oh how wrong we were... 
We parked up on the carpark and a few of us decided to go and run up the first patch of ice we could see. In the excitement of it all, we left everything in the minibus, coats, water, food, everything. The 'adults' left us on the ice and started the walk towards the glacier, so we climbed down as quickly as we could and followed them. The walk up the mountain was not what i expected for a rest day. I use the term walk very lightly. It was a trek. The adults were already pretty far up the mountain so the pressure was on for the rest of us to catch up. Now i am not an intrepid explorer. I'm also not the fastest walker, nor am i the fittest. There was no way on earth i could catch up to them! On the way up we walked past multiple groups of french school children, i had to wonder how their teachers were going to get 30 children up the mountain when i could barely string a sentence together after 15 minutes, but they stayed pretty close to the bottom... lucky them. 

The ascent lasted around 2 years hours, we had to stop for lots of breaks on the way up, sometimes there'd be little trickles of glacier water running down the side of the rocks, and seeing as none of us had a water bottle with us, we drank like it was the last time we'd ever see water in our life! It was a little unnerving on the way up when we'd pass people with hiking sticks, coats and full on hiking equipment coming the other way, when the majority of us were in vans, t-shirts and shorts (we got some very funny looks). We made it to the top (or as far as we were going to go) eventually and decided to make the experience memorable. *See picture below*
Nude at 8000ft

The next day i was in a lot of pain, muscles i never knew i had started to ache and my back was not thanking me for 4 hours intense trekking so another rest day for me it was! I wasn't going to even go with the kayakers that day, my plan was to stay at the campsite and chill whilst i waited for my boyfriend to turn up (He was on an alps trip with another club), but i couldn't just sit and do nothing in such a beautiful country, so just as the minibus was leaving the campsite, i ran, jumped in, and went to the river with them! To give you an image of just how late i changed my mind, i didn't even have time to put a bra on... i went to the river in my pyjama top (forever classy)The get out was a place know as the Rabioux wave. I sat at the waters edge watching other kayakers for a few hours, until my Joe and Georgie -one of my uni friends - came to meet me. It was so lovely to see them, we got some chairs from the icecream shop and sat and watched the wave waiting for our kayakers to come down. They did the shuttle, ran the middle Guil and then we went back to the campsite. 

Nutella at the get out w/ a 3rd wheeling Georgie

That night, i planned to put my tent down. The rain had caused a massive puddle to form in my tent because i couldn't peg it out properly and the inner was touching the outer and it all dribbled in and it was just a straight out disaster. I moved all of my sleeping stuff into my Joes tent and moved the rest of my stuff into the middle of my tent, so that it didn't mater when the inevitable moat formed around the edge of the bedroom. The airbed that i lent to joe for his trip had gone flat on his first night, so we both had to squeeze onto a single airbed. Now i know how Rose felt in the titanic... it's a lot easier to just be a little bit of a bitch and kick your guy onto the floor (or icy cold water in the case of the titanic). We did attempt to stay on the airbed together for as long as possible, credit where credits due, but when you're in a badly done makeshift double sleeping bag (2 singles halfed zipped together) and you have one leg at iminent risk of frostbite on the floor trying to keep the balance so you don't roll straight off the bed, you've just got to accept your inner princess and let him sleep on the floor. It's hard to feel bad when you're starfishing.

The final night, after i'd actually put my tent down, we had pizza and tidied up camp whilst the 'adults' went out for a meal. We had to leave at 3am the next morning so we were in bed by 11. (Granny life ftw)  This time, instead of recreating the titanic, we properly zipped the sleeping bags together, abandonded the airbed, and both slept on the floor. It was surprisingly comfy and a lot warmer than the night before. Until 2am. I will remember the moment i woke up for the rest of my life. Rhys decided to play the animal hospital theme tune through the tent walls whilst telling me people were very angry i hadn't got out of bed yet (baring in mind all of my stuff was packed and ready to be loaded into the van).But anyway, i started getting up, finding all of my things in the dark, and i was part way through getting dressed when Phil used his grown up voice across the campsite. I've never moved so fast in my life. I couldn't find my sock, but that was a sacrifice i was willing to make to not have to be screamed at again! But anyway yeah, all i did then was carry my chair to the van, i wasn't much use as i can't lift anything heavy, so i really could have stayed in bed for another hour! I sleepily aid my goodbyes to Joe and set off for home.

I slept most of the way home, it was so nice to get back home to a proper mattress and duvet.
The trip was an amazing experience and i'd do it again in a heartbeat, but it does make you appreciate the comforts in life!

Bring on next year


A few more pictures from the trip

This is what happens when you let Bacon cook.

He fought the rocks and the rocks won.

Rhys the remix destroyer

Upper Guisane

Chateau Q