Leonidio – The next Kalymnos?

Word on the street was that Leonidio – the latest ‘must-visit’, off-season, hot-rock, Greek destination – was the new Kalymnos! Experience tells the savvy climber that new destinations have a habit of being over-hyped; Leonidio however, sounded a little different. 

Steve McClure onsighting Kopa Kabana F7c+/Kopa Kabana Ext at F8b at Elona

A team was pulled together and flights booked; it was time to go and investigate. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that...

Oliva Hsu cruising up Paranihida F7a+ at Elona

Steve McClure, Simon Lee, Rab Carrington and myself hit the tarmac at Athens International in December 2017. However, we were far from alone in our mission to boldly go. Another team of Brits comprising Chris Gore, Martin Atkinson, Chris Plant, Chris Hamper and Phil Burke were also there on a similar mission. It turned out that Dani Andradi and a number of other Spanish wads were also there cruising round the crags as was a small international team of ladies which included Daila Ojeda and Olivia Hsu. Plenty of other climbers were also there – maybe a couple of hundreds in total albeit all spread out in the various Airbnb’s scattered about Leonidio.

Dani Andrada picking his way effortlessly, so it seemed, up the 60m giant that is Goliath Ext F8b at Elona – again!

We picked Elona from the guidebook as the first crag to visit and what a crag it turned out to be! Barring a dozen or so routes which date back to the late 2000’s, most of the routes there had only been climbed in the last couple of years. If Elona was anything to go by, Leonidio really was starting to look like a treasure trove!

Looking down on Leonidio from the hills

Elona’s overhanging tufa garden hit us between the eyes and knocked us for six; it really was very good indeed! Without a doubt, Elona is a world-class wall giving world-class routes.  

Nifida also has some pretty amazing routes including Bersteingerkante F7c+ and its Ext F8b+; one of Dani’s mates on the initial section

Whilst I would have been perfectly happy to spend the entire week at Elona – yes, those tufa lines really are that lush – Nifadia is yet another excellent crag just round the corner from Elona. A deep central cave divides the left and right hand sectors of Nifadia, both of which – like the central cave – have some very steep routes on them. 

Steve McClure on-sighting (what else) but yet another F8a; Skithrpos at H.A.D.A.

Elona and Nifadia were great crags but we still haven’t even scratched the surface! Next up was H.A.D.A., that too was rumoured to be another great crags so yep, we had a day there as well. It’s a bit of a hike up a secondary valley but very much worth the effort; another stonking crag and one with an absolute mass of new-route potential.

Leonidio high street

In total, we had a week at Leonidio and what a week it was! To be fair we hit it lucky; pretty much every crag was done-dry. Some other friends from Sheffield visited a month or so later in January 2018 and they reported back that they weren’t quite so lucky; as with many places the weather isn’t totally reliable so the crags can be quite wet after a prolonged spell of wet weather. It also appears that it’s not unknown for a dusting of snow to be on the ground in January either.

The half dozen or so crags we visited are literally only a handful of those at Leoindio. For more details on the routes we climbed and the of crags we visited, check-out my article in the latest issue (March- April) of Climber Magazine which has just hit the shelves.

The near-by sea front is a great place to unwind on a rest day

BTW, there’s a new guide out now for Leonidio and Kyparissi. It’s got around 1700 routes in, mostly at Leoindio. It’s well worth getting a copy even if you have the older version. A full review will appear in the next issue (May-June) of Climber. 

Elona Monastery; quite a place to hang out – hope no-one sleep walks!

And the take-away; yeah, there’s an abundance of great routes spread across a plethora of amazing crags at Leonidio. It’s certainly an excellent alternative winter venue destination. Whether Leonidio is the next Kalymnos is hard to say – best go yourself and make your own mind up!

Posted in Climbing, Photography

A Decimal Dozen from 2018

So, as a climbing photog I shoot mainly outdoor subjects right. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t shoot other subjects as well as I’ve always figured that shooting different subjects is a good challenge which ultimately drives creativity. Likewise a year-end review one’s own work offers a good opportunity to see what you did in the year which you like in retrospect and/or what you’d do different if your kit, like The Dr’s, included a Tardis.

Climbing and photography have both been good to me – and both float my boat. Yet it remains very difficult, read next to impossible IMO, to do both in the same time continuum; you need to concentrate on one or the other to get the best out of either. A trip to Spain in January/February, as a climbing boot-camp, has become something of a ‘must-do’ activity. I go with the firm intention to climbing lots and lots and lots but take the camera along as well – just in case.

Paul cranking up the excellent Oceano (F7b) at Wildside

Photo opps on a ‘climbing’ trip are typically minimal but a day at Wildside towards the end of my trip in February offered a fleeting opportunity to get high up and so get a suitable angle. A single opportunity in a whole week isn’t much but you have to grab what you can when you can on these trips.

 

A boarder cruising one of the slalom’s at Risoul

I came to skiing late in life; however, if it wasn’t for climbing I could become a ski-bum for sure! Last year we rocked up in Risoul in early April; thankfully there was plenty of snow about despite it being the end of the season. As with climbing photography, ski shots need to be planned; very occasionally something does pop-up that worth nabbing. Shooting from a lift isn’t the norm but it can give an interesting alternative with luck.

 

Mina on the top roof of Totally Free II, Malham

By May we were well into the Malham season and in May last year Mina was taking a bit of time out from her long-term project to get a bit of mileage done. Totally Free II is one of the longest single-pitch routes at Malham as well as in the country and it’s a stonker. Catching Mina on the top roof had entailed a hell-for-leather run up the plethora of steps on the left of The Cove; it was worth it though even if I had to hang over the edge without a rope to get an angle that I wanted to show the totally out-there feel that pulling over the top roof can only entail!


That candid moment after the wedding ceremony when you’re alone – apart from the photog – and crack out the big smiles!

Also in May I shoot a wedding! My Dad used to shoot weddings and yet it was a gazillion miles what I ever wanted to do. However, when you’re asked by very good friends what the heck can you say but yes!! I argued with myself that shooting digitally at least I’d be able to review the shots as the day progressed – what could go wrong?! It was still a stressful business though; definitely can’t go for a re-shoot afterwards!! Will I do more then? Hmmm, maybe, maybe not – pleasure though to capture Graham and Helen’s big day though…

 

Abersoch Harbour at dusk

Fast forward to August and a surfing trip to Abersoch in North Wales. I’d been threatening to take my girls surfing for a couple of years – going ‘public’ meant that it would be harder to bottle and duck-out. Like many photogs, I’d dabbled with surfing shots – albeit from the safety that the shoreline offers! I’d love to have a go catching surfing from actually in the water but I suspect that will be one item that remains on my bucket list for some time. Arriving at Abersoch late on the Friday we were treated to a storming sunset. Fortunately, I made the effort to get down to the harbour and rattle a few shots off as dusk fell; just as well given the two days of solid rain that followed!!


Katherine Choong pulling down in the Hallshalleran Cave

Flatanger, Norway has gotten under many peoples’ skin; certainly it’s firmly embedded under mine! My second trip last September was the usual mixture of amazing conditions; amazing good and amazingly bad! It’s one heck of a locale is Flatanger – not only a stunning venue with some amazing scenery but its (obvs) got a stack of stunning climbing too.

 

The sunsets are often spectacular; maybe not literally to die for but pretty darned good!

It’s a tough gig though; don’t even consider it if your into apres climb and can’t handle day after day of rain and wind. I’ll be writing a piece for Climber Magazine later this year to if you’re interested keep an eye out for that!

 

Airbnb is definitely a thing these days and images for accommodation listings are an integral part of that process

Come September I had a request to shoot a flat for an Airbnb listings; something different again so off I went! It’s an interesting exercise in balancing perspective and lighting.

 

Chelsea Park in the autumn

Brincliffe Woods and Chelsea Park are literally right on my doorstep; it seems wrong not to capture autumn which is a fantastic time of the year. Again, it’s about selecting a subject, then a viewpoint then having the lighting to tell the story. I spotted these tucked away in a corner of the park so got down low and included a brightly coloured distant tree to contrast the foreground.

 

Mark stretched out on one of NW’s classic Font 7a – Elephantitus

I’m always pretty keen to get away to North Wales bouldering so when a decent dry spell popped-up in the forecast it was an easy decision to pack and go. We had three days of cracking weather and came back utterly spent. I (finally) got to go to an number of areas that I’d been meaning to check-out for some time including Sheep Pen and The Elephantitus  Cave. Sheep Pen is utterly brilliant and the setting leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. Defo a venue to check-out if you’re not been and yeah, there’s plenty – like tons – to go at! The Elephantitus Cave couldn’t be different to be honest; a small, lake-side venue but the blocs again are brilliant – especially Elephantitus itself.

 

The eagerly anticipated Statement of Youth didn’t disappoint the KMF audience

Finally then, Kendal Mountain Festival. This is another ‘thing’ which is very much on many climbers’ annual calendar. Last year, the weather was absolutely cracking and I, like many, simply couldn’t resist getting out onto the rocks for a bit. KMF is, of course, all about films and literature and last year they were some pretty stout films and books knocking about. I’m biased, having lived in Sheffield at the time the Hunter House Road houses were the place to hang, but Statement of Youth was a splendid trip down memory lane. Any other year and New Dawn, the film about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s battle royal with The Dawn Wall, might have scooped all but last year it was up against Free Solo which centred on Alex Honnold’s utter audacious solo of Freerider on El Cap; that was captivating.

So that was a decimal dozen of subjects from 2018; no not a dozen, or a Baker’s Dozen but a decimal dozen! Yeah sure there’s 11 pixs – value for money egh!! More this year!!

Posted in Adventure, Bouldering, Climbing, General, Photography, Scenic, Skiing, Travel

Some Top Blocs in North Wales

With temperature dipping into single figures and a three-day high pressure system it was a no-brainer; pack the pads and head out west to North Wales.

Mark picking a pocket or two on Fagin at Clogwyn y Bustach

We figured we needed to avoid the northerly wind and save skin and energy so our two-part plan was pretty simple – start late on the Saturday and head to Clogwyn y Bustach above Llyn Gwynant and hope that Snowdon would act as a giant wind breaker.  Walking-in mid-afternoon we thought we’d blown it but once inside the tree it was indeed sheltered – if however – a tad on the damp side. Bustach was predominantly dry though and kept us entertained for a good couple of hours. Fagan and Sick Happy (Stand) couldn’t be more different if they tried – great blocs though, for different reasons! Fagan, by the way, feels like a limestone pocketed wall and it seems almost impossible not to mouth the words from the famous song whilst pulling up the ever improving pockets!

Mark Sick Happy at Bustach again

Sunday was Sheep Pen day; what a location it is too high above the A5 as it snakes towards the Ogwen Valley. And what rock too – totally lush; defo one of the best locations in North Wales which is just as well as pretty much all the blocs put up a fair bit of resistance and will need more than a few trip up there! The Pinch has to be one of the best and aesthetic looking problems anywhere but the Main Block has got to have a lifetime of pulling on it for most peeps! It was pretty primo connies all day; the snow was still on the tops when we’d gonnen back to the car late afternoon so it clearly wasn’t overly warm all day!

Ogwen at close of play Sunday

We woke on Monday morning to a frost on the ground so we figured a sunny venue would be in order. Craig Llyn, a new bouldering venue on the shores of LLyn Dinas sounded just fine; the east-facing roadside location a total bonus. Voie Normale and Voie Normale SS were just what we wanted to get going. Whether Voie Normale SS is one of the best Font 7a in North Wales is open to discussion but it is defo very good if a little more accommodating for the taller climber.

Pete Robbins warming-up on Elephantitus

Suitably warmed-up, we shifted up the road to Elephantitus. It’s a stunning location and whilst it might only have a limited number of blocs the quality is absolutely stonking. Elephantitus is another candidate for ‘the best Font 7a in North Wales’. Part way through our session local Pete Robbins rocked up and proceeded to polish off the project link starting up Going Down on an Elephant in what couldn’t only be described as double-quick time to give Bucking Bronco Font 7c – nice work Pete!

Pete crushing the final moves on his latest addition Bucking Bronco Elephantitus

Great weather, great blocs, great trip…

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Posted in Bouldering, Photography

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk is Totally Free

Privileged to have a bird-eye view last week whilst photographing Mina Leslie-Wujastyk send Totally Free II (F8b) at Malham. It was pretty inspiring stuff from Mina – as usual!

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk on the headwall of Totally Free II on her unsuccessful attempt last Wednesday

At 70m in length it’s one of the longest single pitch hard sport routes in the UK. Mina tied in at 4pm on Wednesday 9th. An hour later, she had topped the final roof and only two metres or so of climbing remained; a nasty, rounded mantleshelf onto the final, final headwall. Having belayed Mina on the first half of The Groove, I handed over the belay duty to ‘Buster’ Martin and then ran round to the top of The Cove with my camera.

I arrived to see Mina climbing Free and Easy – perhaps the second most ‘out-there’ F7c in the UK. At the top of that she faced the final roof of Breach of the Peace – a huge roof right at the top of The Cove another F7c pitch and definitely totally ‘out-there’.

Finally she committed to the final roof. Determined as ever, Mina was soon on the very lip but it was almost immediately obvious that she’d hit a problem. She could just about reach the final quickdraw above and off to one side of her but the rope drag was so bad she couldn’t pull any slack through and clip it. Then the forecast rain started; initially a few spots being blown in on an increasing wind. She hung there for fully ten minutes shaking out and trying to clip the draw as it swung about in the wind. Cramping badly and in the face of increasing rain she gritted her teeth and committed to the mantleshelf finish. Pulling over the final bulge she drew level with the quickdraw – still stubbornly off to one side. Her movement were determined but her elbows were up. One final last-ditch throw to a distant hold failed; totally blown she fell off the final roof into the wind, the rain and the abyss!

Mina back on the headwall again during her successful ascent on Friday

Two metres off a 70m route after 70 minutes climbing was no place to fall! Two days later Mina was back. Battle-scarred and still pretty tired but with a new game-plan. Her first burn she fell off the top of The Groove. A weaker person might have thrown the towel in – but not Mina! “It’s always worth one more go though” she said before tying in again for what turned out to be a successful ascent, the first by a women of one of the longest and best single-pitch hard sport route in the UK.

Posted in Climbing, Photography

Bootcamp

Nothing beats an early trip away to ‘get your eye-in’ ahead of the season in my opinion.

Ceguera Temporal (F6b+) on Sector Ceguera is a rather fine pitch overlooking the village and just a stone’s throw from the climber’s cafe

After a winter of pulling on plastic – or more likely these days – bars, rings, fingerboards and wooden holds, there comes a time in the spring when you’ve gotta bite the bullet and get back out on the rock. It ain’t easy stepping outside again; training has become your ‘thing’ – the norm in fact, but it’s outside where the real action is and where what really matters goes down.

Coffee, a guide and some sun; all you need for some serious chillin’ in the square in Chulilla – on a rest-day, obvs!

Leaving the comfort of your regular training routine feels all kinda scary. Yes, it’s a process we’ve been through before but it’s still a tough one. The holds are smaller and strangely they don’t come tagged with brightly coloured tape! Footholds are none existent; at least that’s how they seem at first! Those who have travelled that road before us have chalked every last dimple as well; each and every one of the plethora of holds within your field of view needs to be assessed and sorted into the good, the bad and the ugly and then incorporated into a possible sequence. This process should take nano-seconds, but your brain seems stuck in second (at best) gear and the pump is coming on fast. Your movement feels laboured and mechanical, wooden at best. That polished foothold is half the size you need it to be as well! And why the heck did the person that bolted the route think it was a good idea to put the next bolt right up there out of reach!

Welcome to bootcamp!                                                                                       

Serengueti (F7a+) at Sector Serengueti is just one of a handful of new(ish) routes at Chulilla slightly off the beaten track. Well-worth searching out however – the rock at Serengueti and the nearby Masters Wall is top notch.

This year’s bootcamp for me was in Chulilla – at least it was until rain stopped play and we reconvened down south at Wildside in Sella. Compared to Chulilla, Wildside comes-up as rather ‘old skool’ now-a-days. Wildside is much more limited than Chulilla, the routes are generally shorter and being older they’re ‘well-loved’ but, in general, they’re steeper. Yeah they’re different; but good different. TBH, a few days climbing at Wildside will hit a different spot than Chulilla; together, they complement each other very nicely. Two class venues – highly recommended!

Oceano (F7b) at Wildside gives steep climbing on good holds; pumptastic!

This trip was all about the climbing so photography took a back seat. Still couldn’t resist getting a few snaps though, be rude not to…

 

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Posted in Climbing

Once more into the breach – a day on The Skull

May 29th; 2017

The Skull is, without a doubt, one of the ‘must-do’ routes in The Pass. Like a giant ogre, Cryn Las hangs over the southern side of The Pass. Early morning summer sun casts deep shadows across Cryn Las; the resemblance to sunken eye sockets looming ominously high on the headwall is both unmistakable and daunting in equal measure.

A sunny but daunting  Cryn Las

A sunny but daunting Cryn Las

The Skull climbs up to and through the left-hand ‘eye socket’ – when looking face-on at Cryn Las.  I’ve ‘wanted’ to do The Skull for years – since the 80’s in fact; last Friday Paul and myself committed to the snatch a day over in Wales to get the job done ahead of the (predictably) forecast end to the good run of weather. I’d not trad-climbed in a couple of years so to say I was a little ‘trad-rusty’ was an understatement. The solution was simple; an evening visit to New Mills Tor (of all places) on the way over however was the perfect opportunity to – at least start – to get my trad head together.

The plan came together like a dream; but would our execution be as flawless? Nothing to E4 seemed like a bit ask to my sport climbing head but nothing ventured. And what could go wrong; how hard could E4 be?

Paul questing into the unknown on the fifth and final pitch of The Skull

Paul questing into the unknown on the fifth and final pitch of The Skull

Long story super short; it was a stunning day and we got the job done – although not without a degree of excitement. One of the great mountain classics in the bag after 40 years of dreaming! A couple of teams were on Main Wall and none other than the legendary Phil Davison was in the groove on The Grooves. An amazing route up an amazing crag; an all-round amazing day. And thanks too to Nick Bullock for the loan of a spare chalk bag; that would have been one experience too far to have to climb that route sans chalk. And yes Nick, I’d agree with you, all three of the main pitches are worth 6a.

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Posted in Adventure, Climbing

Interview with Mick Fowler – A Climbing Legend

Without a doubt he’s a climber’s climber, a climbing legend and a pioneer with true grit.

Mick Fowler probing the envelop on Jermyn Street in the mid 70's

Mick Fowler probing the envelop on Jermyn Street in the mid 70’s

He rampaged around the country doing first ascents of classic routes like Linden, Caveman and Ludwig – all E6 – and then turned to winter mountaineering doing Shield Direct – the first route to be given VI (now VII, 7). The chalk cliffs of Dover amused him but the Himalaya provided a play-ground that he excelled at. The first ascent of Gave Ding in 2016 secured him his third Piolet d’Or.

I first met him in the Peak District in the mid 70’s. Around that time I photographed him spread-eagled on blank rock attempting an unclimbed direct finish to Jermyn Street at Millstone. It’s still unclimbed today by the way. He was probing the envelope – something which he’s done on numerous occasions throughout his climbing career, a career that spans more than four decades.

He’s a reluctant ‘hero’ but, without a doubt, he’s a climber’s climber, a climbing legend and a pioneer. I had the privilege of listening to some of his exploits at Kendal in November 2016 and have interviewing him recently. That interview will be in the next edition of CLIMBER.

He, is Mick Fowler…

 

Mick Fowler recounting a stand-out occasion from one of many epic London to Scotland trips at Kendal 2016Mick Fowler looking at a direct finish to Jermyn Street, Millstone in the mid 70's

Posted in Interviews

Snowdon Calling

Sprinkled with a tantalising dusting of snow Snowdon was calling this weekend; at least it seemed so as the Pen-y-Pass car park was rammed at 6:30 am on Saturday!

Nant Grwyd, Pen-y-Grwyd and a hint of Snowdon

Nant Gwryd, Pen-y-Grwyd and a hint of Snowdon

Driving along the North Wales coast road we could see the white-topped Snowdon standing out in the distance. Remarkably, given the high ambient temps, the dusting of snow seemed to be persisting.

Snowdon and Crib Goch from the east

Snowdon and Crib Goch from the east

Tempting as it was, I didn’t get set foot onto Snowdon though that didn’t stop me getting a few snaps in the can first thing Saturday morning…

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Posted in Photography, Scenic, Walking

Young Guns – a.k.a. GB Climbing Development Squad

Managed to touch-base recently with some of the Britain’s best young climbers during a GB Climbing Development Squad meeting.

Aiden Dunne bearing down on the Wasp 8a at The Foundry

Aiden Dunne bearing down on the Wasp 8a at The Foundry

It’s impossible not to be uber impressed with these guys – their output is little sort of phenomenal and their attitude and psyche is amazing. I caught up with William Bosi, Jim Pope and Aidan Roberts at The Foundry. They’d all had great weekend – firstly at Awesome Walls and then at The Foundry. Some, Jim Pope – for example, had even slipped a session in at The Works after Awesome Walls. They – alongside the rest of the squad – are ‘on it’ and gunning for the top slots in this year’s comps. Sure, they all take full advantage of the training facilities at their disposal and the experience of their coaches but they graft super hard and are seeing the results.

I’m in the throes of writing an article on the Development Squad for CLIMBER Magazine BTW, so look out for that in a forthcoming edition if you wanna find out more.

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Posted in Climbing, Photography

Guilty Pleasure

March 7th; 2017

There’s something about skiing that gets under the skin – for me at least! I get all the pleasure of being up in the mountains – the stunning environment and the amazing feeling that skiing gives – yet I don’t have to endure all the hard graft of flogging endlessly uphill that is part and parcel of mountaineering. Mountaineering, of course, is more than that – but skiing, at least for me, is just unadulterated type #1 fun – mostly.

Mont Blanc from the Grand Massif

Mont Blanc from the Grand Massif

We’ve just been to Grand Massif – our third visit in fact. The Grand massif is the sprawling ski conurbation that encompasses Flaine, Vernant, Les Carroz, Morillion, Vercland, Samoens and finally, Sixt. It was easily the warmest visit – mainly we skied with open jackets and a thin baselayer only – even gloves were dispensed with at mid-day. We skied over from Samoens into Flaine one day only to be greeted by temps of 17 degs – yep, seriously warm. Not surprisingly, there was less snow than usual; sufficient, but definitely less. It’s dumped over a metre of fresh snow since we were there so the rest of the season should be pretty much assured.

There’s considerable development underway at Samoens; both in the village itself and at Samoens 1600 – the base for operations in that neck of the woods. A monster development in town is going to add a fair number of peeps, and pressure, to the infrastructure but not nearly so much as what is apparently a ClubMed development at Samoens 1600 where, so the word on the street has it, a c.400 bed development is partway through the procurement process. All the extra bodies will create the need for additional uplift, new pistes and – it is said – some re-modelling of the exit runs off Tete Des Saix @ 2118m where the two existing runs will surely be swamped under the burden of the new skiers.

The last run home from the Desert Blanc

The last run home from the Desert Blanc

Whether all this is positive or not depends on your viewpoint. It’ll undoubtedly be a plus for local businesses as well as those directly linked to the ski business. The environment will take a further hit and that’s the mute point I guess. Yet it can only be duplicitous to raise concerns about new development and turn a blind eye to that which has already been undertaken – after all, all the existing lifts and pistes weren’t dropped-in overnight by the ski-gods.

Interesting, Grand Massif was awarded the Green Globe in autumn 2016. In fact, Grand Massif is apparently the first ski area in the world to be awarded the Green Globe Certification. There’s some blurb on the back of the piste map related to said certification. Here’s what it says:

“Green Globe is an international certification programme which rewards the efforts of tourism businesses in their social, economic, cultural and environmental initiatives. The programme is built on a series of 40 topics set out in over 300 obligatory and optional criteria ranging from management to sustainable development… and is a firm long-term commitment since [they] have to present significant improvements every 2 years in order to keep the certification.”

So there you go. Something positive to offset the guilty pleasure of skiing in that area…

Deux Pain SVPOn-site bakeryOn-route to Samoens 1600On-route to Tete Des SaixLooking past Corbalanche towards FlaineTete Des Saix - Corbalanche panoMont Blanc from the top of Desert BlancThe joy of an open pisteDropping into MorillonThere's never a rush to start the final run homeTete Pelouse (2474m) above the Desert BlancSunset over Cluses on the way back from FlaineDown-town Cluses

Posted in Skiing, Travel