A record of my cycling trips in Britain and abroad


Tuesday: snow, in July.

This morning brought us another grey, dingy day. We had breakfast and got the bikes ready, in a rather half-hearted fashion; only Vince seemed very keen to get out and go for a spin. For my part, my legs were tired enough from yesterday that wet weather seemed like an excuse to have a day off today! Apart from Vince, noone really fancied a cold and wet ride, but equally, it was very frustrating sitting around indoors. As time edged on towards lunch we held a council of war to decide one way or the other, rather than letting the day pass us by. Si’s outline plan for the week had been a ride today - somewhat shorter than yesterday’s - and then a day’s walking tomorrow, possibly with a swim in a lake he’d seen on the map in the next valley. The consensus was, that since walking in the rain is less unpleasant than cycling in the rain, we would swap Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s plans, and go for a walk up to the glacier today; hopefully the weather tomorrrow will be nice enough to ride, and if not, we’ll probably go anyway. After all, that’s why we came!

DSCF4532.JPGSi, Oli and I set about preparing ourselves for the walk; Vince wasn’t so keen on the plan, so decided to head out for a short fast ride despite the rain. By the time the three of us arrived at the start of the path up to the glacier - which was only a short drive up to the head of our valley - it was well after lunchtime, and in combination with the clouds the semi-darkness gave the valley a rather ominous and foreboding feel. I was surprised by how much traffic there was on the road up; it was a deadend with only a campsite and a cafe at the end, but a fairly steady stream of cars was flowing along the single-track road. We parked and set off, the meadow and forest giving way after only a few hundred yards to a large expanse of broken, jagged rocks; the remnants, presumably, of the spring’s thaw, deposited as the meltwater
DSCF4545.JPGstream shrank back to its summer size. It still, however, presented a significant obstacle - the bridge having been washed away, none of us were hugely keen to wade through the fast-flowing, waist deep icy water. A couple ahead of us clearly reached the same conclusion, and turned back to walk down along the side of the stream. Meanwhile, we continued upstream, and found a plank further up pressed into service as a makeshift bridge. We crossed and followed the path up, past the sign for ‘Glacier noir - gauche; Glacier blanc - droite’. We chose the Glacier Blanc (a white glacier sounds much more like a real glacier than a black one!).

DSCF4540.JPGShortly after the paths split, we saw the second exciting animal of the holiday, this time a marmot, nibbling away at some grass. He (or she - I have no idea how you tell with a marmot) was keeping a wary eye on us and was obviously aware of our presence, but seemed more than happy to pose for a few photos, which sadly due to the distance don’t do him justice. Imagine a brown badger and you get a good idea of what one looks like.

Higher up, and as the path wound round over the end of the spur dividing our valley from that of the glacier I was glad of my earlier decision to wear waterproof trousers, as the drizzle intensified and the chill wind hit us as if we’d opened a freezer. Another stream blocked our way, fortunately with the bridge intact; this one would certainly have been impassable without, running through the base of a DSCF4547.JPGsheer-sided ravine. The bridge and the path on the far side were caked with fresh snow, yet here and there green plants showed through, somehow managing to survive in such a place. As we scrambled up the rocks on the far side, not far from the glacier, the drizzle gave way to snow, and I thought back to yesterday’s toil through the Desert of Stones up to Izouard, and the sunburn on my arms from that ride.

DSCF4549.JPGBy now, we had reached the peak of a little moraine in the valley floor. Si, who was leading, was looking over my shoulder, and as I reached the top he told me to turn and look. I did, and was greeted by a towering wall of ice, rising from our level to at least half a mile above us and vanishing in the clouds above, and the same distance across, furrowed with cracks and fissures. We stayed a little while to take in the awesome sight of the huge white block, mottled here and there with patches of blue ice shining cold and clear from the base of the glacier. Then it was turn around and back down, leaving the majestic, timeless view clothed in its impenetrable silence.