Monday, 9 May 2016

Cordillera Huayhuash UltraTrail Adventure prep: tips learnt from Cordillera Blanca

On Saturday, we are leaving for 20 days back to Peru for another awesome stage race!
Last year we did the Cordillera Blanca stage race, 200km for 10500m of elevation gain, it was so beautiful, tough and rewarding that when Christophe told us about this year running "expedition", we thought, we have to do it! This time we are going through the Cordillera Huayhuash, a gruelling 220km for 15000m for 8 days ( click on the link for the full program)! It's going to be tough I think...and this time there is no rest day or night at the hotel for showers!
No no! 8 straight days of running and camp nights! But look at that:
Location of our first camp night!
Luckily we are again with Adventures Andines ( and its brilliant organisation. It's still scary thou! hopefully the tips from last year will help us enjoying more and suffer less?

Tip 1: invest in the right sleeping bag! 

Last year, we wanted to recycle the Lifeventure down sleeping bag we got for Kenya but it has a +7 comfort...not really appropriate for the cold Peruvian nights so we added the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme mummy sleeping bag liner ( apparently it's supposed to "add" 15C degrees to a sleeping bag...I think that was a bit exaggerated...) So this time, we have invested in the NorthFace Gold Gazoo sleeping bag. Apparently it's a very warm bag, warmer than the specs ( 2C comfort)...but I'm still bringing my sleeping liner! 

THE sleeping bag!
Frendo Foldable Solar Charger

Tip 2: the solar charger

Last year we had a small solar charger which wasn't charging anything but I found out it was because it only had 1.5KW...! load of the other dudes had the decathlon usb solar charger one, it's pretty cool, you can clip it to your bag while running/walking. So this time we'll do the same! 

Tip 3: Down pants

Packing the running bag: after each run, we wait for the mules to come with the camp which is fine if there is sun as you stay warm. However as soon as the sun is down, you start to get really cold! Last year, we had a down jacket only. This year, I would like to bring a down trouser! but man there are expensive!  I did find the Jack Wolfskin one! but no budget for that one either! :( so it will be long johns and my rain pants! 

Jack Wolfskin Atmosphere Pants

PHD design Down Pants
Tip 4: The Bag for the porters

Our gear is taken by mules from camps to camps. Last year, we had a basics addidas bag. Superlight and sturdy but not waterproof...So this year we've invested in a duffel or duffle bag. I first picked the 65L Transporter Osprey Bag, but when it arrived it was too small and the shoulder straps were not retractable ( tricky when travelling by plane), same with the Arcteryx Carrier 75L one. So, we've decided on the Lowe Alpine 90L one! I do like the blue colour....but we took the black one. Why not the NorthFace popular duffle one? Too rigid and heavy! 

Tip 5: Clothing & Food/Water

Well, we didn't sweat that much during last year race, so 5 running tshirts are good enough, while 3 shorts will do the tricks. What concerns me the most in being cold, so cold gear is on the list! I've got 2 down jackets to use as layer as last year the Northface thermoball hoodie did NOT do the trick! Lightweight it is but can't beat the down! Mick has the Arcteryx Cerium LT hoodie which is also lightweight but is packed with 850g of down and man did I envy him when I needed to have 3 layers under that Thermoball! So this time, well I'm bringing the thermoball and a down jacket!

Cerium LT Jacket

Northface Thermoball Hoodie

We had brought the water pills, used it once as it gave me tummy cramps! Normal water was fine, so hopefully we can do the same on this Cordillera! For food, I trust the cooks, they were brilliant last year, we ate like KINGS! I can't wait to drink the Sierra Andina local beer as it is awesome for acclimation ;) as well as their Causa Limena ( potato and avocado dish!) 

Oh yeah! We are ready and cannot wait to go back to Perou!!! it is going to be epic!

What about you? what's your next adventure? contact if you want to do something similar, Marco speaks English, German, French and Spanish! I'm sure he will accommodate your need of adventure

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Peneda-Gerês Trail Adventure, Portugal: the Best European stage race you can sign up to!

Peneda-Gerês Trail Adventure, a 5-8 days race organised by Carlos Sa, a famous Portugal ultra runner who've completed several Marathon des Sables and UTMB and LOVES his national park!
The paths taken are wonderful going from eucalyptus fields to wester canyon, jungle, river crossing, ancient bridge! you will see EVERYTHING during this stage! You can do as an individual or a team, the long or shorter (starter) version. We did the long version as a training for Perou so signed up as a team and how much fun we had!!!

This adventure starts with the organisation picking you up at the airport and helping you settle in Arcos de Valdevez where the first stage will be held the next morning. It is a small village with great food and nice views! Mick and I joined our friend Helene from Reunion Island to eat in our first portuguese Barbeque (Braseiro) Chicken and man it's good! It's with a fully content tummy that we fall asleep!

Day 1- 42 Km with 1800D+/1800D

This stage constitutes of doing a loop going up through eucalyptus fields, small villages full of greenery and the most welcoming people ever and going down some western movies looking fields full of suspended rocks, paved tracks very beautiful and an awesome river crossing!
When you finally reach Arcos again, you can relax on their " lake beach" near the hotel, eat great local foods or enjoy the spa at the hotel! A nice first stage!

Day 2 is another 42 km but with 2000D+/2100D-

Legs are feeling the elevation gain and lost of the first day, we take a bus to Sistelo a cute little village not far from Arcos. We start slow going up to cross another small village before carrying on until Branda Da Avelera. It's very warm but not complaining, we like it better than rain ;) We go up a bit more before going down and cross some soggy fields with these scary looking but relaxed cows. We reach the half way point for the starter via wine fields, go down some river looking paths before crossing another river to reach Melgaco village. The huge lunch full of fresh local food and beer is welcomed as well as the massage! It's an opportunity to really share our experience with the other runners we've been running with on that leg.
Such a nice bunch from all over the world ( Brazil, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Singapore, Costa Rica and America!!!), it's ecstatic! We carry on our conversation in the bus to our next hotel destination, tomorrow is promising to be yet another beautiful part of the park.

Day 3, 30 km with 1000D+/1000D-

I'm so glad we don't have to run another marathon but can't wait to see what Carlos have chosen to show us. We take the bus to Peneda, a BEAUTIFUL place with just a hotel and a church at the centre and the villagers are scattered around. We go up the road we came from before going down to the first aid station, we don't stop it's only been 8 km, we go up again in a savannah playground, I can pictures elephants and lion living there, it changes dramatically as soon as we start our small descent to the next check point! It's a dramatic change of scenery is less than a kilometer! We eat watermelon and dry ham before starting our last up hill and soon reach Castro Laboreiro. I'm tired but so glad to be with Mick! We spend more time taking pictures and embracing the views than actually racing and it's nice! The after race is brilliant with a visit to the  Castro Laboreiro Kennel and a nice "apero" with the Luxembourg group!
PS: Castro Laboreiro is also a rare dog breed unique to Portugal! ! it is such a nice breed looking good for ultra running!!!

Day 4- 29 km with 1300D+/1500D

We are back in Peneda, but this time we are going to the opposite direction. First going down to go up a loonnnng road tp the first check point. My! This piece of road was something! walking was too slow and running was too fast! But at last, we reach the aid station which means we are not going down towards the reservoir! Another paved path so pretty I wanted to do it again! We soon reach the half way point of the starter race and see the top 5 of that race! They look so fresh it's incredible! I'm not looking that great haha but I'm enjoying so much of the scenery and the energy of the runners is so contagious we carry on down to a nice little river with a bridge, up some crazy jungle looking path to reach the reservoir, which means that straight up ahead there will be the castle!!! Reaching the top, we happily eat with the other runners talking about how the day went! We rush as we need to take the bus to Montalegre ( a 2 hour drive), the bus driver doesn't use GPS there, so we got a bit lost adding some more fun :), reaching the hotel, I'm baffled! it's such a nice hotel my gosh, with a sauna and everything!

Day 5- 25km 940D+/830D-

I can't believe it is the last day! Legs are not sore but heavy! We start by going around the Montaglegre Castle before going down to reach the beaten path. My mind is not in a great place! there is too much continuous running involved and my tummy ache I've been dragging for 2 days is playing up! Lucky I have Mick with me, pushing me to keep going, as well as  runners trying to cheer me up and the photographers ( Thanks to Luc Van Oost and the others)!
This was not my favourite stage thou, beside the end when we reach the church by the river and the village! what a sight! And the welcoming villagers with their awesome soup and beer just made the day looking better! Thank you Pitões das júnias! After everyone has arrived and eaten, we take the bus back to Montalegre for the prize ceremony. Again more amazing food ( especially the dessert!) We finished first mixed team so we got some cool trophies, heavy! but cool!

Our cool trophy! 
What an adventure! After the race, we stayed with the race organisation and help out on stage 6 in Geres, 38 km of pure joy! Enjoyed the views of stage 7 cheer up our friends! and actually resting with a canooning session and prize ceremony on Day 8!
A wonderful time we had and a race we highly recommend!!! We made friends from all over the world and discover Portugal in an unique way! Thanks Carlos!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Ski Touring in St Jean de Maurienne, French Alps: 18 days of blissful outings!

I know, it's been a very long while since I have posted anything on the blog. Not even my recipes made it there even thou I still had a few to post and pictures to add. What can I say, with the ankle accident while in Reunion Island in November, quitting my job on our way back and London's weather, it was hard to write anything "inspiring"!!!
And so with 5 additional kilos from not being bothered to do anything but eating crap and sulking, Michael and I made our way to St Jean de Maurienne, France for 3 weeks of Skimo, in the hope to get this sulking disappear with the sweat of hardworking outings.
And let me tell you after 18 of them, good food, excellent weather and company, it worked! Back to my old self! Just take a look at the pictures below and I dare you to  tell me you won't want to join us next year ;)

Michael's dad loves to skimo and was our guide for most of our outings. So that's him at the front in most of the pics ;)

St Jean de Maurienne is 2 hours away from Geneva Airport, and is the perfect location to be based as you have the Belledone Range, Vanoise Range and  Maurienne Valley all for yourself! But with ski touring, no need to buy an expensive ski pass when you can just go up there for free (albeit your sweat!) and if you do want to downhill ski, our favourite familial station Les Karelis has plenty of nice ski slopes without the crowd!

So enjoy the pictures and let me know if you need a hand to plan your next trip to the French Alps!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Running the Gimillan peaks of the Aosta Valley, Italia in 5 days

As part of Michael's preparation to l'Echappee Belle ( read his awesome race report, here) and with Christophe inviting us to discover la Aosta Valley, we were off for 6 days to Gimillan, a small itallian village in the Aosta Valley near Cogne. There we covered more than 120 km with 10000m of ascent and enjoyed the best hot chocolate !
So if you are thinking of spending a week in the Valley, this is what you could do.

Day 1
We arrived around 1 pm, and our friend told us we could start already visiting the area, so we went to Coll de Laures on the Path number 8. All trails are very well marked, so it's a real bonus to not have to carry a map!

Gimillan 1800m- Coll de Laures 3035m, 22 km- 4 hours, 1400m of elevation gain
Difficulty: None, a bit of snow on the top of the Coll but nothing scary.

Day 2- Part 1
Because we wanted to go to Bivouac Gratton located on the other side of Cogne, we decided to do a small outing by going to Mont Creya in the morning, before going to Bivouac Gratton late afternoon. Gimillan 1800m- Mont Creya 3015m, 1250m of elevation gain. 3 hours

Day 2- Part 2
Gimillan to Bivouac Gratton (3195m) via Cretaz ( 1483m)- 3h30 Total Ascent: 1700m

Day 3
Bivouac Gratton- Gimillan- After a cold night in the Bivouac ( we were by ourselves) we went down when it was a bit warmer to Gimillan to have a hearty breakfast! We then went to

Gimillan 1800m- Tsa- plana (3030m)- Trail 4b a kilometer vertical.
Video of the whole trail!

Day 4
Gimillan 1800- Mont Emilius (3557m)and back 6-8 hours
Difficulties: loads of rocks, slippery at the top, can feel too long but it's totally worth it!

Day 5
Gimillan 1800m- Col Tsa-Seche (2815m) via Arpisson Chalet, 2-3 hours with a picnic. ;)
Difficulty: none

Day 6- Another up to Mont Tsa-Pla to see the Virgin Maria ;) and then down for a last hot chocolate at Albergo Le Belvedere.
Auberge le Belvedere has the best homemade REAL hot chocolate, as well as breakfast and food! It is a nice place to stay and quite cheap and are a very nice family!

So there we are, one week to discover Aosta Valley peaks in 5 easy steps! Let me know if you want more information on maps and distances!
Thanks to #Christophelesaux for this adventure!
Thanks to Merrell for the Allout Rush!

Next stop: Preparing for Les Mascareignes!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Cordillera Blanca Trail Race 200km, 10500m of elevation gain, 8 days

After these 3 days of acclimation, it was time to start what we actually came for: "running the cordillera". If felt more like fast packing, hiking up, jogging flat and running down but at least we cover 200km in 8 days and so wonderful scenery and people!

Stage 1- 10 km, Hualcayan (3140m) to Calamina (4400m), 1300m elevation gain

To access the Cordillera Blanca Trail, we took a bus to Hualcayan (3140 m) to get to Calamina ( 4400). Calamina is a small lake with some grounds to put your tents and get fresh water. It is only 10 kilometeres but due to the attitude, it is a good first day. I had taken 1L of water, but that wasn't enough, I ate before the start and that wasn't a good idea. Fruits would have actually been better instead of a carby quinoa salad! But we all made it eventually and settle camp to enjoy our first night under the stars!
Time needed:  2:00 - 3:00 hours
Difficulties: the heat and attitude!

Stage 2- 20 km from Calamina to Ruinas (4000m), 900m of elevation gain

From Calamina, we followed the water pip tand came across this beautiful glacier lake as seen on the center of the collage. We then carry on to go throgh Toropishtanan pass (4800m). It starts flat to warm you up and then starts to climb up gradually. When you reach the pass, you then go down on a nice downhill to go back up to the next pass Vientunan ( 4750m). From there, the hard climbing stops for you to enjoy a nice downhill, reach a long and flat ( 7-8 km) river trail to get to Ruinas (4300m) , where we set camp again.
Time needed: it felt like we spend all day, the flatshish section felt longer than any of the climbs….but it actually took the fasted guy 4 hours and the slowest group 6 hours
Difficulties: to join the Vientunan pass, you really need to look for the trail as it is in between rocks that look the same! If you are going down, you are on the wrong path...

Stage 3- Ruinas  to Huilca (4000 m) - 13km, 750m of elevation gain, 900m descent

After a good night sleep and sharing the makeshif camp ground with a nice bunch of American, we started our day by going through some very wet grassy pass jumping from grass patch to grass patch before reaching a long and sharp mountain pass. The path is not easily identifiable. If you are lucky you find it, if you are not so lucky ( like Mick and I) you will end up making your own way which will take you much longer than the official good luck finding the official one. Not impossible but very difficult. The good thing it is only for 150 m of ascent before reaching the official one no matter what so, I bite my tongue and carried one. When you reach Garagara mountain pass (4800m), you will go down keeping the river onto your right (otherwise it will be boggy and you will waste quite a bit of time and dry socks) before reaching the second pass of the day while looking up for condors ( national Peruvian bird, HUGE but harmless). Huilca is a one hut, where you will have a nice river with fresh water and set camps among the lama fields.
Time needed: 3 hours
Difficulties: the boogy pampas if you don't stay on track  

Stage 4- Huilca (4000m) to Pingospampa (3800m) – 13km 650 elevation gain, - 1400m descent

Another good night of sleep, with some coca tea and banana porridge for breakfast and we are set to do our last short stage ( by then we should be more accustomed to the attitude and push the distance without too much drawbacks)
The trail will be on the right side of the hut towards the Yanayacon pass (4330m), you will cross a wet pampa before reaching a small rocks mountain pass. From there, you go down to a very wet flat pampa, stay on the left of the mountain or you will again enjoy some wet smelly socks and shoes. :)
Enjoy the nice trail to reach the second mountain pass Ventanilla (4350m). It is a sort of a cliff with tunnel looking parts, not long and enjoyable so keep a eye on the trail or you'll find yourself in another cliff and not in Pingospampa. Which would be a shame because where the villagers will be waiting for you with fresh beers and ocras. We set camp on a dry part of flat pampa with again a nice small river ( you could catch a fish for supper, but don't really count on it, we didn't get any…)
Time: 3-5 hours
Difficulties : The wet pampa made if very difficult to get on the right trail. 

Stage 5 - Pingospampa (3800) to Yanama (3400m), 33km, 2000m elevation gain, 2100 of descent. 

From Pinfospampa, we are going to Yanama, a small village where we will be sleeping in a hotel and have our first shower since the start! It was worth the extra kilometres!
We first went up towards the mountain pass of Tupatupa. Quite long first climb to then go down towards a small village full of eucalyptus trees, to go back up another while…Then it's all down towards the river crossing before climbing up to Yanama. It was very hot, and water was very dear. Peruvian are awesome at sharing with you the little they have with a big smile! As you can notice the kilometres are longer, why? the attitude is lower and you should be more accustomed to the attitude. :)
Time: 6 to 9 hours
Difficulties: finding our way after that first downhill and bull chasing!
Alternative: If you are too tired to go to Yanama, when you cross the village just af

Stage 6- Yanama (3400m) to Chacas (3360m), 36 km, 1300m of elevation gain, 1350m of descent

Another long day to enable us to reach another village Chacas, where we will spend another night in a hotel.
The scenery makes up for the fact that for 20km you are on a jeep track, you go up to a Pusha mountain pass (4050m) go down while crossing tiny villages smelling eucalyptus, reach the main road where you can load of powerade or anything you fancy in Acochaca, cross the river to then finally go back up again on a school kids paths who will be walking along with you while chatting (a lot!) and with no effort before reaching the small village of Chacas. There we had time to visit the town centre made of wood and ate a very nice Causa Limena avocado peruvian mash!
Time: 4 to 7 hours
Difficulties: None, it was quite straight forward
Alternative: If you are too tired to go Chacas when you arrive at Acochaca you can take a bus.

Stage 7: Chacas- Huari (3150m), 36km, 1600m of elevation gain, 1400m of descent. 

Another long one to reach the Lake Huari where you'll have a nice little cafe and relax your legs in the lake. You first start nicely in the woods, crossing the river and getting into some wet pampa with waterfalls on your left. You then have to climb at 4650m ( very cold and windy) to be able to join the path for the lake, more went pampa after the rocky downhill to cross a river before arriving on another mountain grassy trails, there it's a rollcoster until you can finally see the lake. From there, it is a long downhill not too technical to arrive at the bottom of the Lake. Enjoy but be careful of the nasty flies when you get into the tent, or you will itch for days!
Difficulties: the long ascent before reaching the mountain pass at 4650m.
Time: 6-9 hours

Stage 8 : Chavin 3140m to Oleros, 42 km 1800m of elevation gain, 1500m of descent

To reach Chavin, we took a day off to get from Huari to Chavin by bus…it took from 6 hours in total but at least we got to visit Chavin and relax at the hotel a bit with a warm shower.
The following day, we started the climb to get on the higher plateaux of Chavin to reach Yanashllash mountain pass ( 4600m, you'll feel it!). When you get to the top, it's a long down hill to the pampa which will then lead you to more pampa until you don't want to see pampa again! climb a little more before reaching Oleros and take a bus to Huaraz.
Difficulty: the long way in the pampa is a mental killer
Time: 6-9 hours

There we go, 9 days, 8 stages. Awesome memories in such a short space of time…I miss it very much but we have so much more to see…and the summits to do! So stay tune on Michael's Blog!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Acclimating for la Cordillera Blanca Trail- Peru

Finally, I am able to put some words and pictures down for our Peruvian adventure.
If you want a blow by blow account you should read Mick's 3 parts blog posts.  It is awesome and give another insight. For me,  I wanted to share how it all came together trough pictures and show you that you can do it too even if you don't speak french, spanish or german ;)

La Cordillera Blanca trail is a 200 km (124 miles) , 10500m (35000feet) in 8 stages, designed by Christophe LeSeaux, a french elite distance runner who loves to show to other runners beautiful places while running and eating well, and Adventures Andines, a small trekking company with the BEST cooks  ( with the attitude and everything, this is the most important!!!) and guides.

Day 1- Lima, its markets and icons

The air there is quite sticky and polluted. The noise is unbelievable…but the food is so nice

Hiking the Cordillera Blanca for non-local people can be tricky…you do less with more effort! So before we started the trail, we had to travel to Hurraz located at 3100m to become acclimated to the attitude. To get there, the only way is via a Bus...

Not your typical British double decker looking bus thou, we were told we could actually sleep. It's a night bus, where you are served some food and watch cartoons on an old fashioned TV. Sounded quite cool! What they don't tell you if that it was designed for Peruvien people (small size) therefore if you are tall like Mick and you have someone in front of you putting their seat down fully, you will have a 8hours journey from hell…luckily we were with other members of the trek and the guys shared the pain! 

Day 2 - Huaraz (3100m) & La casa de Zarela

We arrived in Huaraz at 6 am, took our quarters at Zarela Bed and Breakfast,  we visited a bit while starting an acclimation hike in the surrounding area.

We went up and up to the top, then go back down, by then we were all tired so we recovered…with a local beer! 

Day 3-  Laguna Llaca- 4200m

We took another bus (tiny one) with an awesome driver. Hike to the Laguna, ate (but not too much) and then it was already time to go down…hiking till the bus caught us up :) 

Day 4- Pasturi Glacier 5200

We took another bus for another acclimation hike. This one was going to get us on top of a glacier of 5200m of attitude!!!

We arrived at the top and Christophe tells us we can go higher to have a view on another cordillera.

With that, it was decided that we were ready for the race.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

South Downs Way 50: Not such a bad training run

South Downs Way 50: A 50 miler up and down the south downs of England. One I started and not finished last year. One where I learnt 10 lessons and hope I've learnt them well.

Looming in the distance are dark clouds onto the South Downs way  but in my head this time, there is no doubt,  this is “only” a training run to help me with the Barcelona Ultra Trail, so I just need to do as much as I can until I think my training is done.  There is no crazy sub hours pace to follow or a early bus to catch. This time we will run to make it for the 9 pm bus, and Mick says we can run it easy for a 9 hours finish. All seems to be quite manageable so why not?

So I do everything I've learnt from last year from breakfast: eggs, bacon, broccoli and avocado washed down with a cinnamon cocoa coffee to a clif shot 15 min before the start

With that in mind and Mick on my side, we start the SDW race at a slow pace and because it rained the day before, we are a bit like balls in bobsledder track trying to maintain balance while not running over each other. It is a bit exhausting so we give up passing other runners and wait to be in a bigger clearing to get into a comfortable pace.  But to do 9 hours finish Mick tells me we need to run an average of 6.30min/kilometres and I don’t know how a 6.30 min feels like in a long run, so I just nod and follow him

Reaching the clearing it is time for serious running with a clear strategy: run the flat, downs and shallow hills, walk the stepper ones. It works for the first 27 miles and after passing CP4 (last year drop out) I get tired and start to have some cramps... I haven't had cramps for the last 3 years... I forgot how it feels and that makes me moody! I need to slow down I know it but it's so hard I really want to run with Mick. He makes it look so easy and is looking at his watch ...aiaia getting paranoid I ask him how bad it is. It's quite bad the average is I try to accelerate but the cramps are quite violent...I'm pressuring myself in running with Mick...not such a great idea we decide and just before CP5 after much debating that he is going to drop me. Mick goes off to complete it in 8hours33 while I plot along managing the cramps and decide I need to finish this as I'm not doing it again!
Arriving at Alfriston I gorge myself of tea and fruits as I found it eases the cramps. Knowing there is a lemon drizzle to die for at the last CP I find some motivation to go a bit faster but aware I'm no longer following the initial pace and finally finish in 9hours18 min! Which surprises me quite a bit and gets me hyper because we can catch the 6:30 pm bus and go home earlier then predicted! 

I'm so glad I did it thou as I got to see so many familiar faces and new ones! What a great community is the ultra running one :) but what a training day! I never ran that much in my life and I'm glad I've completed it! I'm no keen on this running strategy and rather want the run the downs walk the rest haha so I really hope Barcelona Ultra Trail will have less running involve! For sure I'm a mountain runner...