Climbing in Calanque de Morgiou – Secteur du Grand Dièdre

Another day, another calanque. On Wednesday, we headed to the next calanque over, Calanque de Morgiou, which Yves described as being a more “classic” calanque in its narrow shape, compared to the wider Calanque de Sormiou. Yet again, I was taken by the setting and views, which were very different to our previous two climbing days at Sormiou.

I will never tire of starting out at/seeing these views/villages on approaches to climbs.

View of the village

View of the village

View of the calanque from the approach to the route

View of the calanque from the approach to the route

Our route (La Directe) was on the Crêt St Michel formation.

Crêt St Michel in the morning light

Crêt St Michel in the morning light

Because the cliff is not right by the sea, the climbing and rock were quite different to the climbing we had done in Sormiou. The first pitch required a little bit of thought for sure.

Kicking things off on the first pitch (Photo: Yves)

Kicking things off on the first pitch (Photo: Yves)


(Photo: Yves)

Yves heading up

Yves heading up


We made short work of the route and got to the top with plenty of time to enjoy the great views of Le Grande Candelle, which we hope to climb some time on this trip too.

Top of the route with Le Grande Candelle (left) and Cret de St Michel (right) in the background

Top of the route with Le Grande Candelle (left) and Cret de St Michel (right) in the background

A clearer view of the hiking trail leading to the Crêt St Michel lookout point (Photo: Yves)

A clearer view of the hiking trail leading to the Crêt St Michel lookout point (Photo: Yves)

We could not find the rappel route down, so the walk down was a bit painful in our climbing shoes, especially with the missing big toe nail for me. But this was a tiny blip in comparison to the rest of the awesome day.

Looking up at the Secteur Grand Dièdre before starting the walk back down to the car

Looking up at the Secteur Grand Dièdre before starting the walk back down to the car



Climbing in Calanque de Sormiou: Le Bec de Sormiou (Envers de la Momie)

We returned the next day to a different sector of Calanque de Sormiou. This time, our routes were at Le Bec (beak) de Sormiou at the La Momie area. Despite being in the same calanque, the climbing and setting are quite different.  The approach was similar to our first day, with the addition of quite a long traverse to reach Le Bec de Sormiou. It was super cool and unlike any other approaches I have done before.

One thing I am so grateful for to climbing, and the ability to still climb is the unique perspectives of a place it offers us.

View from the winding traverse to the route

View from the winding traverse to the route

A short rope up for the approach

A short rope up for the approach

Trying to keep the rope dry

Trying to keep the rope dry (Photo: Yves)


That’s Yves in there, somewhere

It was a pleasant surprise to be able to climb French grade 6 off the couch. This is likely because the rock is very featured so there are a lot of hold options for my hands and feet; a great help since I need to do moves/routes less conventionally than other climbers now.


Climbing right by the Mediterranean sea was magical beyond words

A clearer view of le bec (beak)

A clearer view of le bec (beak)

View of the opening to the calanques from the cushy belay on top of p3

View of the opening to the calanques from the cushy belay on top of our p2 (I had linked pitches 2 and 3 unintentionally)

Enjoying the relative warmth and sun at the cushy belay spot

Enjoying the relative warmth and sun at the cushy belay spot. Right climbing shoe is off to give my missing big toe  (Photo: Yves)

This route combination was a great, though unintended choice, because of the varied nature of the climbing (overhanging, stemming, corners…), and the change in atmosphere: from sunny to cold and windy. I was swearing hard as I transitioned from the sunny part of the climbing to the veritable wind tunnel.

Yves on the last pitch

Yves on the last pitch


View from the windy side of the route

I always think I look like Gargamel from the Smurfs in my photos

I always think I look like Gargamel from the Smurfs in my photos (Photo: Yves)

Back in the sun on top

Back in the sun on top


Chillin’ (I love the clouds in this picture)

View from Col du Lui d'Ai

View from Col du Lui d’Ai





Climbing in Calanque de Sormiou – Antécime

This was my first experience climbing on limestone, so it made sense for Yves and I to do a “warm-up” route. Yves selected Calanque de Sormiou for its amazing views and setting. This was also my first experience climbing right on the Mediterranean, or the sea for that matter. All these firsts have been incredible; it is difficult to convey the joy that was bursting from my chest as I climbed on great rock, in a spectacular location, with a wonderful person and partner in Yves. Maybe it is apparent from my smile in these pictures. I think these experiences mean so much to me because for a long time, I thought that they were no longer options for me after my climbing accident.


View of the small village and calanque on the approach to the route

Morning sun

Morning sun

Antécime was a great introduction to climbing in Les Calanques. The rock is very featured, and because we were right by the sea, pitted and weathered; quite different to the relatively blank slabs of granite I am used to. It might also be apparent in these pictures the feeling of home hanging off rock is for me.

Yves getting us off to the right start

Yves getting us off to the right start

My favourite place/position in the world

My favourite place/position in the world (Photo: Yves)

And the smile to prove it

And the smile to prove it (Photo: Yves)

Yves on pitch 2

Yves on pitch 2



View from the top of the route (Col du Lui d'Ai) of Île de Riou

View from the top of the route (Col du Lui d’Ai) of Île de Riou

View of the small beach and village in Calanque Sormiou

View of the small beach and village in Calanque Sormiou


Climbing in the south of France: a dream come true

Who would have thought that a very depressing ski season ending injury would lead to me realizing a dream. I never ever thought I would get to climb in the south of France in my life, mainly because I did not know whom I would climb with and if that person and I would be able to take the time off at the same time. It is pretty incredible that in the space of a few days, I decided to join my friend Yves to climb in Les Calanques near Marseilles, and take the steps in order to make this trip happen. It is pretty empowering to be able to decide on an objective/goal/destination, and realise it.

It was a comfortable 3 hour train ride to Marseilles from Paris. Yves secured us a place to stay at the Chercle Militaire de Garnison de Marseilles, an Officer’s Mess. I mean, we’re staying right inside an old fort right at the Vieux Port; how cool is that??

View of the harbour from our breakfast spot

View of the harbour from our breakfast spot

Sunrise from our breakfast spot

Sunrise from our breakfast spot

View of Fort St. Nichol from the officer's mess

View of Fort St. Nichol from the officer’s mess

Sunrise view from bedroom window

Sunrise view from bedroom window

Our room overlooks this courtyard

Our room overlooks this courtyard

Future blog posts will be climbing oriented, so I am posting some pictures of the Vieux Port area here. I dig Marseilles. Dry, sunny weather aside (it is the sunniest city in France), I like the slight grit of the city, although crime is certainly a consideration. There is a significant North African influence in the city, which amongst other things, makes for really good eating. It is really quite different to Paris.

Vieux Port in the evening

Vieux Port in the evening

Aiguille du Midi and sense of history


Aiguille du Midi on the far right

The weather on my last morning in Chamonix was clear, so we decided to take the cable car (Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi) from Chamonix up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. Since the cable car ride is expensive (around €60!), there is no point in paying this sum of money for a day with poor visibility.

We had originally floated the idea of taking the cable car up to ice-climb a route, Chèré, and then take the last cable car back down. However, the time of year was not ideal for this; the refuge where we could have stayed overnight was closed meaning we would have to carry a lot more stuff like sleeping bags, stove etc.; so it was not certain whether I would be able to climb fast enough to make the last cable car down. Hopefully we can get on this route a little later in a future season. The concept of huts is foreign to me, as I am  used to packing everything in/out and camping when skiing/hiking in the backcountry.

The Aig. du Midi is a striking feature certainly, but like a lot of the geography of Chamonix, I was most excited about just getting to be so close to the history of it and its surrounding peaks. This sense of history was a dominant feeling I felt while in these mountains. The closest thing I have felt to this is climbing classic, hard routes that Yosemite greats first put up. Except here, I was not climbing these routes, so it was not quite the same emotion. I have never seen peaks/routes as things to be conquered; but, rather, the process being a personal test; and, hopefully, a fun and rewarding time with a partner. I used to be much more of a loner in the mountains, happy to take off into the backcountry skiing/climbing/hiking by myself. That has changed given my disability, but also as I have gotten older and soon after my accident, I realized one of the most fulfilling aspects of climbing/skiing is sharing the experience with a good friend/partner.


Base station of the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi

The cable car ascends from the base (1,035m) to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2,317m); then a second span up to the upper station (3,777m) vertical distance of over 2,700m! The second span is particularly cool, as the opposite side of the triangle you can imagine, is larger than the adjacent side of the triangle (remember your geometry lessons? 23+ years later, I still remember my SOH CAH TOA :))) Passengers wanting to get to the top need to disembark from the cable car at the mid-station and get on another cable car.


View from the platform of the mid-station

While the Aig. du Midi is not one of the six great north faces of the Alps, the imposing north face always elicits a slight shudder in me.


The imposing north face

Unlike the rest of my time in Chamonix, the temperatures at the top were quite low, and the wind high, meaning not much time was spent outside taking pictures. I was able to see many storied peaks, like the Grandes Jorasses, and the Grand Capucin.


Panoramic view from the upper station. The Grandes Jorasses are in the distance; Pyramide du Tacul, and the Grand Capucin sit behind the Glacier du Géant in the foreground. We had just been on the other side of the Grandes Jorasses ice-climbing

I hope to ski down from the Aig. du Midi in the not too distant future.

Skiers making their way down the Aig. du Midi ridge

Skiers making their way down the Aig. du Midi ridge


Grand Capucin on the far left. Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc in distance.

While we were standing comfortably warm inside the enclosed upper station walkway, we saw a helicopter rescue taking place on the Glacier du Géant.


Helicopter rescue on the glacier


View of Chamonix-Mont Blanc on the cable car ride down

Given this sense of history I experienced, I really enjoyed visiting the Maison de la Montagne, which also houses the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix (founded in 1821), and the small Espace Tairraz museum in Chamonix.


Climbers/skiers can get information on the latest conditions on route through messages left by other climbers/skiers in these message books in the office.



A to-scale 3-D model of the Mont Blanc massif inside the Maison de Montagne

While the Espace Tairraz is small, I really enjoyed our visit, specifically because of the interactive displays of the five great peaks of the Alps: Les Drus, Grandes Jorasses, Eiger, Mont Blanc, and the Matterhorn.


The exhibition hall with the interactive displays

At each of these displays, you can use your fingers to rotate the displays in every direction, and reveal various routes up these peaks.


The Directe Americaine route put up by Gary Hemming and Royal Robbins

The interactive display for the Grandes Jorasses

The interactive display for the Grandes Jorasses

I am not sure if a non-climber would have been as interested as I was in this space, but I thought it was well worth the less than €5 as a rest-day diversion.

Ice, Ice baby: Cogne, Italy (round 2)

Based on weather, and because ice-climbing aggravates my leg much less than skiing, we returned to Cogne a few days later to do a route in the adjacent valley to Valnontey, Lillaz. The short approach was very welcome. As usual, Yves carried all the heavy stuff. I always feel kind of lame about my partners shouldering most of the load, but it is for the good of everyone involved.

The familiar drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmeyer

The familiar drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmeyeur and Aosta

It was pretty cool for the initial “approach” to the climb go through the small village. I have not experienced this in North America.


Yves’ route choice was  spectacular.


The starting pitches of Cascade del Lillaz

The adjacent single pitch Chandelle de Lillaz

The adjacent single pitch Chandelle de Lillaz

Unfortunately, the short approach and spectacular nature of the climb meant that there were a ton of other parties (Brits, Italians, Germans…Yves and I were the only French/Asian dynamic duo :)) arriving at around the same time as us, or right after. I have never been surrounded by so many other ice-climbers on a route; we could have been in sport-climbing area. It detracted from the peace and serenity that I seek when I climb, and having so many other climbers around me makes me feel a certain pressure. When I am rock climbing, my leg brace is apparent; however, I do not wear the brace when I ice-climb (and it would be under my pants anyway), so other climbers might be wondering why I move/climb the way I do. However, this did allow me to glean a little insight into other climbing cultures.

Perhaps because climbing is more popular in Europe, and population density is higher, such crowds are not uncommon. I am used to crowds on popular Yosemite Valley and other Sierra climbs; but nothing like I experienced here. Parties seemed to hurry and hop on climbs as fast as they could. In the States, if there are multiple parties at the base, the party that arrived first usually has priority to climb first, unless there are discussions about one party being much faster over the party that started ahead of it.

Climbers here seemed to have no problems climbing under/over ropes, without communicating with the other parties. The Brits were quite respectful; the Italians and Germans were atrocious, aggressive, and not particularly skilled. Of course, these few data points do not allow me to make generalizations about all the climbers from these countries. But I was surprised that Yves and I (the supposed loud, obnoxious “American” :)) were the ones that brought civility to the party :)


I am looking kinda pissed in this picture because Yves and I had hurried up to escape the many other parties, some of whom were quite rude and aggressive. I’m parked here by a waterfall, seeking shelter from the ice raining down from the other parties above us. (Photo: Yves Durieux)


I included this picture to show how many other people there were, and how at one point it was a rope shit-show (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Fortunately, the crowds cleared significantly after the first pitch or so.

It is too bad the website is now defunct

It is too bad the website is now defunct (Photo: Yves Durieux)

I was pretty psyched to place my first ice-screws in Europe!


Getting ready to lead (Photo: Yves Durieux)


(Photo: Yves Durieux)


My happy place (Photo: Yves Durieux)


(Photo: Yves Durieux)

One really cool aspect of this route was that instead of just going straight up, you need to skirt around picturesque pools of water, snowy ledges etc. to move between some pitches.


Moving around little ponds


Yves humping the ropes around


Looking at the final pitch

I feel very lucky to have been able to experience such a place, with a great partner. The snow and clouds made the drive back through Gran Paradiso very atmospheric.


Clearing clouds


Beautiful Gran Paradiso

I hope it is not too long before I see you again, Cogne!


Heading back to France

Cham area and Cogne, Italy (round 1) ice-climbing

I was fortunate enough to have a great tour guide in Yves for ice-climbing around Chamonix. This was actually my first European climbing experience, rock or ice, and what an introduction. Beautiful setting, great partner, fun leads. I am glad Chamonix is a multi-sport destination and we could ice-climb when I could not ski.

Since Yves and I had not climbed outside together before, we started off with a mellow trial run close by, at La Cremerie, Argentière. I often feel a bit bad about having to limit our routes to ones with not very long approaches.

I do not move well in deep snow, so the recent snowfall was a challenge for me. But it made for some beautiful scenery.

Looking up Mont Roc from the base of the climb

Looking up Mont Roc from the base of the climb

Snowy but warm temps (Photo: Yves Durieux)

A snowy day (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Through the trees...

Through the trees… (Photo: Yves Durieux)

This went quite well, so we next headed over the border to Italy and did climbs in the Valnontey valley, and Lillaz valley in Cogne, Italy. A place so nice we had to go there twice.

I guess it is pretty neat for my first visit/experience in Italy to be via ice-climbing! I know it doesn’t really count…not like when someone visits a city in Russia, and can then colour out half the world map.

Yves suggested ice-climbing in Cogne in Gran Paradiso National Park in the Aosta Valley, Italy for the setting, and the route because he knew it was in good condition. One thing I really enjoy about Chamonix, and many parts of Europe for that matter, is being able to cross national borders so easily and ski, ice-climb, rock-climb etc. in different places and countries.

The drive to Cogne involved passing through many tunnels, including the rather famous and long Mont Blanc tunnel. As one might imagine, accident/fire mitigation inside the tunnel is a big deal. Within the tunnel, cars are asked to leave 150m between them and the car ahead of them. This is so sensible for avoiding traffic jams due to accidents/breakdowns etc. I doubt that drivers in the US would adhere to such a rule.


Cogne is about an hour away from Chamonix, just over the border in Italy

Mild temperatures made me realize ice-climbing could actually be Type-I fun and not entirely a freezing suffer-fest. While the approaches to these areas is mostly flat, the abundant new snow at La Cremerie and Valnontey made the final kick up to the climbs challenging for me.

The two climbing experiences in Cogne could not have been more different. We had Sentiero dei Troll entirely to ourselves on one day; and I have never been in more of a multiple parties shit show than Cascade del Lillaz another day. The setting for both were beautiful though; the latter was particularly striking. I have never climbed in a place quite like this before and am super psyched about returning to do more ice climbs here and around Chamonix. It has also gotten me more excited about doing more ice-climbing in my backyard of New England. Separate blog posts to come for each of these days…

The first route, Sentiero dei Troll, is located in the Valnontey valley. We drove through a number of small, mountain villages, which struck me as being quite run down. Perhaps it was just the age and state of some structures; I’m sure the quality of life of the residents is not bad at all.

A beautiful approach to the climb

A beautiful approach to the climb

It was a wonderful surprise to have the entire route/place to ourselves.

View of the valley from the base of the route

View of the valley from the base of the route

Avalanche danger can be an issue around here because of the south facing climb, accumulation of snow higher up and the steep valley walls.

Yves ready to blast off

Yves ready to blast off


Cool clouds

We saw some Chamois, which you do not find in North America. The couple we saw seemed quite unperturbed by humans.


What goes up…


…must come down

...must come down

The climb itself was enjoyable. Convenient belays, comfortable temperatures with ice that was not bullet-proof. What really made the climb great was the setting and views. We made good time on the route, descended without incident, and made our way back to Chamonix.

Ice-climbing in the adjacent valley, Lillaz, in a future post…


Cham skiing and injury woes

We skied a lot less than anticipated due to what I now know is a bad case peroneal tendonitis, which had first cropped up in January on my skiing road trip, but I thought was just muscle inflammation. Tendonitis sucks because tendons are avascular and take forever to heal. I have dealt with elbow tendonitis from climbing, and also in my knees when I was running a lot in my late teens/early 20’s; so I know the deal. It is going to be 3 months at best, probably longer, for recovery. There are a number of contributing factors in my case: standing on one leg when I ski and asking these tendons/muscles to do so much work stabilizing my full body weight, very high arches that put more pressure on the peroneal muscles AND my foot’s tendency to supinate (roll outwards), not stretching at all on my road trip leading to just solid and tight leg (especially calf and hamstring) muscles. This issue may have been instigated on my early December trip to Hong Kong, where I was walking for a couple of hours a day on many days. A diet that was not particularly nutritious and had a lot of foods associated with inflammation did not help matters either. I hate being so high maintenance (not in the tai-tai way, at least).

The pain was bad enough to cut short the skiing, and walking is painful. But we did get some turns in, in gorgeous weather. It was perhaps the first time this winter I was able to ski with my face exposed.

Aiguilles Rouges

Aiguilles Rouges

I had first learned to ski as an adolescent in Verbier, Switzerland, which borders the Haute-Savoie department Chamonix is in. So this trip to Cham felt a bit like coming full circle (in a very contrived kind of way :)), even though I had never skied in Chamonix before. I am definitely a North America skier by trade, and noticed a number of differences between skiing in Chamonix versus areas in Canada and the U.S.

There are four “altitude ski areas” around Chamonix: Brévent-Flégère, Balme-Vallorcine, Les Grands Montets, and Les Houches. We spent most of our time at Grands Montets because of the more interesting terrain and location and views of the Glacier d’Argentière, les Drus, Aiguille Verte, les Droites, amongst many many peaks. I did not bring any touring gear with me on this trip, so we stayed at the resort the “whole” time.

Les Grands Montets sits right above Glacier d'Argentiere

Les Grands Montets sits right above Glacier d’Argentiere

There had been no new snow for a while before my first ski day ever as a “proper” skier in Europe (!); conditions were pretty icy, and the lower part of the mountain was in bad shape. I was not super impressed with conditions, but was happy to be in very warm, sunny conditions, after all the time spent in really frigid, often low-visibility conditions in Canada and the U.S. on my road-trip. The warm weather did keep the snow that had not been skied off in decent, soft, shape though. But conditions were not good enough to warrant paying the extra to take the tram to the top of the Grands Montets.

One thing I noticed was that people here did not approach me or ask me questions like some do in the U.S., Canada. Maybe it is because of language differences, or maybe it is more cultural reticence to pry. One French skier yelled something to me which I did not understand, and when I apologized for not understanding he said “It is beautiful to ski on one leg like this!” That made my day. Another difference was that I was skiing and riding lift with Yves; whereas on my road trip I was a solo female skier with a curious setup, and that tends to invite conversation.

Yes, I attract a lot of stares with my setup

Yes, I attract a lot of stares with my setup (Photo: Yves Durieux)

A close-up showing how I clip my left leg up to a quickdraw attached to a belt on my waist. Like pin the tail on the donkey

A close-up showing how I clip my left leg up to a quickdraw attached to a belt on my waist. Like pin the tail on the donkey. Except no prizes. (Photo: Yves Durieux)

We were not expecting vastly different conditions the next day, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find great skiing conditions! There must have been some new snow overnight, and/or the direction of the wind had deposited the snow favourably. It was a total blast skiing the same runs we had done the previous day. Temperatures were still extremely mild, though a little colder (a good thing), and with such good visibility, we took the tram up to Grands Montets.

Looking up Grands Montets from the lunch deck

Looking up Grands Montets from the lunch deck

I don’t think I can recall a tram at a US ski area covering such a large vertical distance as the tram here. It was great! I had also never been so jammed in a ski lift as was on this tram. It’s a good thing I wear a helmet as my face is at most people’s chest height.

When you exit the tram, there is a little platform area with a great view of les Drus and the Aiguille Verte.

Aiguille du Grands Montets. It's a lot of steps down from where you exit the cable car down to where you put your ski(s) on.

Aiguille du Grands Montets. It’s a lot of steps down from where you exit the cable car down to where you put your ski(s) on.

Aig d'Verte Grand Montets ridge

Aig d’Verte Grand Montets ridge

It was particularly cool to see such a storied and iconic formation, Les Drus, so close up.

Les Drus and Mont Blanc from the top of the cable car

Les Drus and Mont Blanc from the top of the cable car (Photo: Yves Durieux)

My right leg is even huuuger (in Donald Trump voice) than my left leg these days

My right leg is even huuuger (in Donald Trump voice) than my left leg these days (Photo: Yves Durieux)

About to step in ski and ski down from Aig. des Grands Montets. Yeah, those outriggers are kind of beastly

About to step in ski and ski down from Aig. du Grands Montets. Yeah, those outriggers are kind of beastly (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Because the run gets a lot less traffic than the rest of the resort, the run down and snow was awesome. The views were pretty spectacular too, especially of the 9km long Glacier d’Argentière.

Skiing towards Glacier d'Argentière

Skiing towards Glacier d’Argentière


Getting turns in from the top of Grands Montets

Getting turns in from the top of Grands Montets (Photo: Yves Durieux)

I love that there are so many people who tour/ski out of bounds in Chamonix. But there is also a sadness I feel when I see people with their touring bindings (mostly randonee), ice-axes, and avy packs, because I can’t ski like that any more.

My overall impression of the skiers I saw at the ski resort is that there is a very wide range of ability levels, more so than the US. I’m guessing this is due to all the tourist traffic this place gets. I would say the grading of ski run difficulty is also softer here than in the ski resorts in the US and Canada that I have spent time in; and the snow quality in North America is better. That being said, I loved the mild conditions here, the setting, enclosed cable cars (versus frigid long chair lifts).

Another difference is that people don’t really queue up in an orderly way for cable cars/lifts. You have to be slightly aggressive and just push your way to the front to get on a car. I prefer the pervading system in North America, where on busy days/lifts, you have an attendant calling people out and making sure chairs are filled in a fair and orderly manner.

Despite two rest days from skiing (ice-climbing and a complete rest day), I found my lower right leg issues to prohibit me from skiing on Monday. I found myself unable to control my ski because of the pain, and had to cut our day short. Again, I found myself very upset and frustrated that my injury had reared its ugly head and completely ruined a ski day in Chamonix, especially with a good friend. After another few days of rest, I could only ski a run or two on Friday before having to bail. I felt lousy.

While scrambling to rehabilitate my leg/treat the symptoms upon my return to Cambridge, I visited a PA who gave me his diagnosis, admonished the doctor in Jackson, WY for injecting cortisone into my muscle compartment, and did not want to give me another cortisone shot because it was a) too soon since the last one, and b) there is danger of rupturing the tendon if a cortisone shot is done there. All that can be done is to start physical therapy in March, strengthen, and hope I can be ready in time for a planned ski trip in the Southern Hemisphere in August. I also hope that I can return to Cham in the near future to take fuller advantage of the skiing than I did on this trip. Like with climbing and a lot of things in my life, I just need to put in a lot more work than the average person to keep things functioning and to compensate for my physical deficits. It still feels frustrating to feel so thwarted, and that this winter, which was supposed to be the ski season of a lifetime, hardly went according to plan. It does not always seem fair, but there is not much point in dwelling on that, when I need to get on with things, learn from these experiences, so that I can embark on future trips and adventures.

Despite being frustrated and upset with my injury, life isn't so bad

Despite being frustrated and upset with my injury, life isn’t so bad on the lunch deck (Photo: Yves Durieux)


Martinique 2017 – warm weather (and political/social) interlude

Anse Dufour

Anse Dufour

The political insanity that is taking place in America right now has me experiencing a kind of fear, anxiety, and dread I have not experienced in my lifetime. Thus, writing a blog post on my recent trip to Martinique seems so frivolous. But I am not egotistical enough to think that such a post is going to have any effect either way.  It certainly was a warm weather break from the harsh winter weather I had been dealing with on the road trip I rushed back for this trip.

We had visited Martinique last year, after hearing about the cheap flights from Boston on Norwegian Air, via a friend of mine. Way back last August, before I knew I would be embarking on a big skiing road trip, I had purchased tickets to Martinique again, thinking a quick warm weather break from winter would be nice, and necessary.  I had wanted to go to Guadaloupe, but the flight schedule was not agreeable, so Martinique it was. Martinique is an overseas region of France, and one of the islands making up the Lesser Antilles. Probably because it is a part of France, airfares from France are likely cheap, and the result is a ton of French visitors.


Martinique is one of the windward islands in the Lesser Antilles. Source:

Norwegian Air has flights to/from Martinique from Boston every Wednesday and Sunday; the Wednesday to Sunday stay is a very suitable length of time to fully explore the small island (smaller than the US state of Rhode Island).

While small, Martinique is surprisingly diverse in its geography. The north part of the island is more mountainous and wetter, as it is more exposed to the northeasterlies (the trade winds from the Northeast). Being on the lee side, the western part of the island is quite dry; the south part of the island is dry too and has more beaches and amenities, making it more touristy.

In our previous visit, we stayed north of La Trinité, and did a lot of driving around the north part of the island and through the middle. This time, we wanted to do less driving and more swimming/eating :) Our hotel was just south of Le Francois, putting us in a very convenient location to access the south part of the island.


The south part of Martinique. I could not find a better map online than the beat up driving map I kept.

When we were looking for hotels online, it seemed like many used a fishbowl lens to give the impression of a bigger room. Our hotel needed no such deception; the suite was enormous. A family of 6 could have easily slept there, with room to spare.


Sunrise from our balcony (Photo: Scott McKay)


Our room had this random safe in it. Check out how thick the safe/door walls are!

Our room had floor to ceiling bookshelves – a veritable library. The texts certainly followed a theme…


One guess which way the owner of these books leans politically

The theme continues…


While basic, the balcony area had a large fridge, a sink, hotplate for cooking, and all the cookware and serving ware one might need. We ate out the entire time though, consuming copious quantities of accras de morue (a ubiquitous appetizer), poulet (colombo, boucane), poisson (blaff, court bouillon, and grille), and coconut ice-cream, flan, and blanc mange. I never have 3 (or even 2) full meals a day, so I was surprised to be able to pack it all in me.


The dining area and bar/kitchenette on our balcony

We thought we would do a “quick” drive around the perimeter of the southwest peninsula since we had missed doing that on our last visit.


We stumbled across Anse Dufour only because it looked like a good view from the road, so we descended, and found this great swimming beach. We ended up coming here all three days.

Anse Dufour

Anse Dufour

We saw a lot of fishing boats and fisherman, and traps as I was swimming. The protected bay of Anse Dufour seems to make it amenable for fishing, and the port capital of the island, Fort-de-France is not a long boat ride away for fisherman to bring their catch to.


Photo: Scott McKay

The water here is very popular amongst snorkelers, and we would see boats coming in with snorkelers, dropping them off to snorkel around and have lunch at one of the restaurants on the beach. While water visibility was good, I did not see anything of interest.

As we drove around the peninsula, we saw the Rocher du Diamant. I guess it catches people’s attention because it is sitting on its own out in the water. It was occupied at one point and had some significance in the Napoleonic Wars.



Photo: Scott McKay

As you drive into Le Diamant, you see a very long beach; it is hard not to pull over and check it out. The beach was Grande Anse du Diamant, a 2.5 mile stretch of beach. Strong winds make it good for windsurfing; not so much for swimming.


The Rocher du Diamant from Grande Anse du Diamant


Looking down Grande Anse du Diamant. The sand is a dark volcanic sand.

The weather was more variable on our third and final visit to Anse Dufour. The clouds were doing cool things.


Photo: Scott McKay


Photo: Scott McKay

Anse Noir is located around a very small peninsula from Anse Dufour. What makes it noteworthy is that it is a black sand beach located so close to a white sand one.


Anse Noire

We swam out far enough at Anse Dufour to see Mont Pelee. It was cool to catch another perspective of it from the lookout to Anse Noire.


Mont Pelée, the highest point on the island

A more secluded beach we frequented on our last visit is Anse Trabaud. A very rough road and fee keep the crowds away. We enjoyed returning there, but the nice swimming at Anse Dufour and shitty drive to Anse Trabaud made the former more appealing.

I have mixed feelings on Martinique as a destination suited for people of limited mobility. This is not a third world area by any stretch of the imagination, but sidewalks are very narrow and in some places quite uneven, making them tricky to negotiate if you were in a wheelchair, say. I was able to get around perfectly fine, plodding up/down steps and slopes where they were. The public restroom situation can give me some anxiety because of my SCI. While not the most well-lit or comfortable, most towns and larger beaches will have them.

I returned having overindulged. After a Chinese New Year Dinner this past Sunday, and a full day to sort things out, it is off to Chamonix tonight!

This loop closed

And thus brings an end to, as someone put it, the mother of all road trips. In total, I travelled 7,896.3 miles. That is more than I usually put on a car in a year! The drive back was fairly speedy, but felt very tiring. Maybe it is because driving East feels like stepping back (is it a coincidence that people tend to say “back East?”), versus the feeling of liberation heading to the wide open spaces of the West. Driving into fog, cold sleet, and rain did not help alleviate this feeling.

Miles travelled on this trip: 7,896.3 miles

I thought skiing at Snowbird in the morning would be a good way to jolt me awake for the first leg of the drive back to Cambridge, MA. Overnight and continuing snowfall cemented this decision. At least that was the plan. And as we see from this trip, plans inevitably get thwarted.

The Snowbird aerial tram has the beefiest arm I have ever seen

The Snowbird aerial tram has the beefiest arm I have ever seen

Conditions were a stark contrast to my warm, bluebird day at Snowbird, but the fresh snow was great.


White-out conditions

White-out conditions make for excellent photos

Yet again, outrigger issues cut my day almost the moment it got started. Snow/water kept getting into the spring mechanism that allows me to flip the outrigger blade up and down. I went into the cafeteria to get hot water to temporarily fix the issue, but it came back as soon as I did a run. I was pissed because I had gone through the trouble of getting up very early to get first tram and spent the money on a lift ticket, only to have equipment failure ruin the day.

However, I had learned the previous day that my new job’s start date had been delayed till March 1st. This immediately made me want to use this opportunity to travel to Colorado to ski at the places I had intended to go to on this trip, but had to forgo because of the delays caused by all the mishaps. So it was easier to roll with the situation knowing that I had an opportunity to get more skiing in later in February.

I knew that I wanted/needed to get back to Cambridge by Sunday evening, but I was not entirely sure where I was aiming for this first day. Lincoln and Omaha, NE were certainly too far. I re-entered probably one of my favourite states, Wyoming, driving through and reminiscing fondly about all the times I have spent in this state. Interestingly, I crossed the Continental Divide on two occasions as I drove East on Interstate-80. I had never driven through Nebraska; there was a similar peace to it that I experienced when I was driving West through Saskatchewan. Seeing large drilling and mining equipment, and a wind-turbine blade transported is really cool, too. I made pretty good progress and decided to bed down for the evening in North Platte, NE, which was a fairly sizable town. Most importantly, the town had places to get coffee for the next morning. I’m normally not a big Starbucks fan, but I will be the first to admit that their in-store and packet Pike’s Place coffee has gotten me through many a cold morning and drive on this trip.

Day 1: Solitude Ski resort to North Platte, NE

Day 1: Solitude Ski resort to North Platte, NE

Like the drive westward, the second day is the toughest driving day by far for me. It was a combination of poor sleep, very boring terrain and scenery, the toll of the first day of driving, and accumulation of all the days of driving on this trip. I had to make numerous stops at gas stations/rest-stops to nap, and buy horrible snacks to eat to keep me away on the drive. I don’t think I can look at Chex-Mix or Muddy Buddies for quite awhile. Though both are very flat states, Nebraska felt wide open and peaceful, while Iowa just felt bleak. Illinois was a fairly brief interlude between Iowa and Ohio. The nice thing about driving on a weekend was avoiding traffic around metropolitan areas, like Chicago.

I became more alert at around 2.30pm and found myself going strong for the Toledo, OH area, which would put me in a good position for the third and last day of driving. It’s funny how the relative density of the East Coast becomes so apparent as you travel farther East.

Day 2: North Platte, NE to Perrysburg, OH

Day 2: North Platte, NE to Perrysburg, OH (just outside/next to Toledo, OH)

The final push. I woke up very early on this third day feeling very alert. Again, it could be knowing this would be my final day of driving and that it would not be a marathon driving day. It is somewhat amusing that a driving day of under 12 hours now feels on the shorter side! While it was dreary and wet, temperatures were far above freezing, which made for quick travel. Having such closely spaced rest areas across New York and Massachusetts is both weird (like, why the need?) and quite nice, knowing my next bathroom/soft drink/gasoline refuel opportunity is coming up soon.

Day 3: Perrysburg, OH to Cambridge, MA

Day 3: Perrysburg, OH to Cambridge, MA

It was hard not to let anxieties about unpacking and unloading the car, and washing and packing for my next trips (Martinique and Chamonix) creep in. It would have been nice to have trips spaced out a bit more, but I felt the need to jam in as much fun during this time I have of not working.

So would I do this again? I got to ski in some really awesome places with great conditions; I got to experience familiar places in new ways (e.g. Alberta, Idaho, and Wyoming in the winter); I got to see totally new places, like inner British Columbia, America’s Heartland (Nebraska, Iowa), Saskatchewan, North Dakota; drive across the continent and back; experience extended periods of deep cold like I had never done so before and travel/deal with it; learn how my body and equipment responds to extended skiing road trips (the good, the bad, and the ugly); and all this solo. My main complaint was the abysmal skiing/driving ratio. Driving was a great way to see Canada and the US, lug all my shit around, and have the freedom to drive wherever, whenever, depending on conditions and circumstances. But that time spent driving could have been spent skiing or climbing. Granted, I was operating under a very compressed timeline. If I had another month or two on the road, I might consider driving again. But, more likely, I would choose to take two trips and fly (one city in Canada for one trip e.g. Calgary, the other city being Salt Lake City or Denver) rent a car for a month or a few weeks each time, and do a loop. What I certainly will do next time is:

  • At the very least, carry plenty of spare outrigger parts. I had some spare parts with me on this trip, but they were the wrong parts; not the ones that kept failing. Now I am much more aware of the parts of the outriggers that are most likely to fail for me. Transporting a second spare pair of outriggers would not be possible with air travel.
  • Now I know what the causes are for my lower right leg pain that was bad enough to stop me from skiing for awhile, I can get on a foot, leg, and hip strengthening program months in advance of the start of ski season.
  • Perhaps be less ambitious in how many places I wanted to go to. Driving from place to place was very tiring and made things not as relaxing/restful as they could have been. But again, I was operating under a very compressed schedule and eager to “make the most” of my time.

Now it is time for some R&R in Martinique this week, a welcome change to the rain, sleet, and 50 mph winds in Boston last night/today.