Aiguille du Midi and the Vallee Blanche

Thing are very different up high and with tickets in hand we prayed they would be good. This was our one and only chance to peer into the secret life of Mont Blanc and go higher than we had ever been before. 3800m in fact, nearly twice as high as our highest peak in Australia.

It’s a rest day, which for us means more exploring and on the agenda was the Aiguille du Midi and Paragliding, something that had evaded us until now. Wanting to beat the crowds we arrive at the telepherique early, but the signs are not good with the start delayed due to bad weather. This is common, where the weather in the valley is fine but the same cannot be said for the peaks. A squint into the sky reveals nothing the massive mountain hidden by cloud.

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Rifugio Bonatti, location, location, location

Following a rest day of high drama, failure to launch and running against the storm which I’ll write about later. Today we returned to our regularly scheduled program.

With the weather closed in overnight and little hope of moving on, this was a day not to forget the foul weather gear. Switching our poor excuse for language from French to Italian we pass over the border, a solitary faded line in the Mont Blanc tunnel indicating  you’re now in Italy. Well and truly on our way to one of the most picturesque of the Mont Blanc or should I say Monte Bianco valleys, the Italian Val Ferret.

The summit edge of Mont Blanc defines the border, with France predominantly claiming it. Although their has been consternation over the years with wars and victories redefining the Italian / Franco border, in the 21st century the towns of Courmayeur in Italy and St Gervais in France jointly manage it. Even though the village of Chamonix arguably has the greatest access and amenity.

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Bogong in Winter, breaking through

This winter has been like no other with snow levels one for the record books. We’ve been pining for another snow camp since Baw Baw and attempted last year at Bogong but was too late in the season.

We didn’t think this year would come off with much of our snow season spent traveling in Europe. But with an unexpected reuniting with friends and a season extending into early October we found a date that worked and prayed the weather would be good and the snow would still be about. Something we didn’t need to worry about.

Usually it’s just Claire and I on these trips, it can be tricky to find hiking buddies that compliment your pace, ideals and hiking values. In catching up with an old friend we found that and for this trip Sharon joined us. Having lived in some cold parts of Canada, which bit’s aren’t,  we were thankful to have her knowledge and experience of mountain hiking in snow conditions.

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Aiguillette des Houches, all about perspective

It doesn’t seem to matter where you are in the world or what you are doing there is always the potential to have a bad day. Which in essence is the choice you make in how you respond to your circumstances in the moment. And this was truly a selfish and first world bad day of wanting to fit in all the amazing experiences on this epic European adventure.

We knew when we booked our tour around Mont Blanc in June that it was a trade off of crowds versus the weather, but there is always that expectation that you’ll cheat the trade off and get both (low crowds, great weather). One of the key experiences we planned for was paragliding or Parapete. It was due to happen the following day, as that was the last opportunity to fly over the Les Bossons glacier before it became a no fly zone for the summer.

The forecast was for perfect weather today and storms tomorrow. My heart sank, I had  determined this walk was my least favourite and would have gladly given it up to paraglide but it was all too late for that and my chosen response had the potential to rob me of today’s experience while pining the loss of tomorrows. As I write this some months later it sounds ridiculous but in the moment that is what was happening.

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Mt Cobbler, the sleeping Indian

A tradition has formed over the last few years as two families of hikers, well at least Dad’s, daughter and son, come together to explore the mountains of the Victorian Alps. Together we have enjoyed the camaraderie and companionship on journeys over the Cross Cut Saw, around Lake Tali Karn and along the Moroka River. This Easter however was a little different. With both son and daughter now young adults directed by their own schedule, Johnathon and I were left to rethink how our twice yearly get together would work out. With no end of places to explore we settled on the Mt Cobbler, Mt Stirling area and I decide this would be a good trip to introduce my young son to hiking and take along a work colleague, who has a passion for movie making and dramatic scenery. Especially since we planned to visit Craig’s Hut, the set of one of Australia’s iconic movies; The Man from Snowy River.

Our adventures are strictly walking, but with no great certainty we could get the car to the trail head and with new adventurers on board we opted for a mainly driving experience with day walks. This threw me in the packing stage since we didn’t have to worry about pack weight and luxuries like chairs and coolers could be considered. Hiking is rugged but has a beautiful simplicity about it. One that causes you to have great clarity about just what you need to get on in life.

The balance struck and gear stuffing the back of the wagon for four, we were off with enough food to last into next season!

Mt Cobbler is part of the Alpine National Park, about 4.5hrs from Melbourne, via Cheshunt. The road turns to dirt shortly after the town and snakes its way up through the valleys and ridges on a road that is suitable for a two wheel drive.

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Mt Bogong, Alpine Challenge

Well rested we wake to a crisp clear morning. The ground is dry and so is the tent, a bonus for pack up. I’m listening for the stampede of feet and surprised not to have been woken earlier. Peering outside the tent their is little activity, just a few murmurs from other campers. The runners are no where to be seen.

Today’s plan is an exploration of Howman Falls and Maddison’s hut ruins. Leaving Cleve Cole the tracks meanders down to camp creek, a beautiful clear source of water. Before crossing the creek is a little track to the right which heads down to the falls. But thinking we needed to cross to get to them, we rock hopped and started up the other side. Nothing looked like falls territory and before long we found ourselves in a beautiful little valley and three choices of trail. I’d stupidly left the GPS back at the hut, this was after all just an easy side track! Staying put another walker passed by and set us straight. Turns out we were at Maddison’s Hut ruins, but with so little of it left, we’d missed it.

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Camp Valley and the Howman Falls area, so simple on the map

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Cleve Cole, snow blocks the trail

Bogong, indigenous for Big Fella, stands proudly as Victoria highest peak in the Alpine National Park. We’ve previously summited Mt Bogong but the opportunity to explore the high plains eluded us as the weather closed in and visibility reduced to mere 10’s of meters. The mountain seemed to simmer with the dissatisfaction of us being there. We safely descended the follow morning, you can read about it here Mt Bogong, expect the unexpected. The desire to explore the summit never went away.

Fast forward a few years and after helping Claire navigate year 12, the hiking black out was lifted and that meant Bogong was back in our sights. We wanted the perfect, cool but not cold, a bit of snow but no storms type conditions and November seemed the likely month to provide this rare confluence of season and climate.

Winding our way through Toowong Gap to Mt Beauty anticipation was rising with every corner that drew us closer to this spectacular mountain and the elation or disappointment that we had left our run too late. Cresting toward the lookout, Mt Bogong grew before us, its snow spotted dome, glistening in the sun, this was turning out to be perfect!

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