Alps 2017 - Star fish and steak

We’re now well in to the second week of the holiday, which I’ve been told is less ‘paddle intensive’, and most people start to do more of the other activities out here.  This is largely due to the water levels dropping during our stay, and there being less rivers running at suitable levels by the second week.  Last week on our way back from Argentiere, Sam and I found a place for some horse riding and we had booked that for today (Tuesday).  Keith was keen to join us too, so we later added him to the booking.  That wasn’t until the afternoon though, so we decided to go with Chucky and Dean to get a Via Ferrata done, as we hadn’t managed one so far.  The Via we went to was just a short easy one, about half an hour from the house, and on the way to the horse riding so it fit in perfectly.  It also gave us chance to check out some sport climbing, as there is a little crag at the bottom of the Via. 

The walk in to the Via was probably harder than the Via itself!  Basically because I’m actually pretty unfit when it comes to cardio!  But, after a bit of a scramble up the path we reached the start of the Via wires.  Dean and I hadn’t ever done one before so the others gave us a couple of pointers before we started, mainly to do with the cow tails used to clip in to the wire, and keeping one bolt behind the person in front of you.  The cow tail has two ‘tails’ if you like which attaches to your harness.  You clip these tails on to the wire that is bolted in to the rock along the route.  When you reach a bolt you unclip and re-clip each tail separately, so you’re always attached to the wire with at least one.  If you slip and fall you’ll still be safe.  Staying one bolt behind the person in front means if they fall, their cow tail won’t slide down the wire and take you with them.  All these adventurous activities come with some sort of brief, that give some ‘lovely’ pictures of the terrifying possibilities ahead, however I’d like to note that if you go about this stuff with the right attitude, they really are just a ‘safety net’.  You wouldn’t go without using one, but hopefully you never need it.

About half way up the Via, Keith and I had got a little out front so we stopped on a little ledge in the rock, and took in the stunning scenery.  The views all around the area have been gorgeous all week anyway, but when you take it in from the side of a rock face, about a foot of a ledge to sit on with a very steep drop below you, it gives you a whole different perspective.  The others weren’t far behind and we were soon moving on.  We came up to a part where the route took you down a little in to a crevasse, under a big boulder that had got wedged in the opening, and out the other side.  That was quite interesting, and in the shade of the rock it was nice to cool down for a few minutes.  This route is quite exposed at times, and you certainly do feel the heat!  Once at the top it was a nice walk through the forest to get back to the cars, and we all sat in the shade to eat lunch, and took a look at the sport climbing routes.

Dean and Chucky headed off then, I can’t remember what it was they were up to in the afternoon, but it was only Sam, Keith and I going riding.  We headed over to the yard and found out which horses we would be riding.  I had a little chestnut mare called Lady, Keith had a nice looking paint called Urais (I think) and Sam had a nice Dun called Fenatta (again I’m not sure I’ve spelt those names right.... my horse had an easy name!)  The yard staff helped Sam with her horse, I helped Keith on to his before getting myself ready, and we all set off.   We had a few photos and few laughs along the way through the town and for me it just felt odd to be riding on the wrong side of the road.  It’s mostly odd that this affected me more than driving on the other side of the road!!  We were soon on the forest tracks heading up in to the hills and we had a couple of trots, Keith’s horse was an expert at eating on the move, and managed to get a huge mouthful, while trotting, without Keith even noticing!

One of the trots took us on a short section where the path when downhill, so I told Keith to make sure he kept his shoulders back... trotting downhill was not something we’d covered yet... he managed just fine though and was rather enjoying himself even when his horse came cantering past me, annoyed that we had switched places on the way!  We had our first canter then, and it went well, Keith just about managed to find the rhythm by the end of it, and was keen to canter again as he’d enjoyed the feeling when he got in time with the horse.  The second canter started well but, as I’d mentioned Keith’s horse was getting right up the bum of the horse in front (Sam’s horse) he had tried to ask him to slow down, having only cantered a couple of times (actually only having ridden a handful of times) this was possibly a bit much to be doing on a strange horse (which I think was a tad small for him).  He lost a stirrup, lost his balance and then as he was wobbling he was also turning the horse.  He did well but, after few strides he decided he was better off out of this situation and bailed out, quite dramatically. 

I’ll probably have the image in my head for some time, of Keith throwing himself like a star fish off the side of a horse.  Now in hindsight, there is some comedy value to that image but at the time it was far from funny, and it may not be funny for Keith for a while longer.  The ground on these tracks is very hard, he hit his head and shoulder and managed to twist his wrist and knee.  The ride stopped obviously, and it took Keith a few minutes to gather himself, as his hearing had been a bit affected from the fall.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d had a mild concussion, but after taking some time to sit in a little shade and have a drink he felt OK and.... he got back on... many might have wanted to give up from here, but I think perhaps the fact we were not even half way through the 2 hour ride, and it would’ve meant a LONG walk back he decided getting back on was the better option.  We stayed in walk after this, which extended the ride a little, not a problem for me as it meant I got more time in the saddle for my money, but for Keith it got quite uncomfortable.  As Urais was a skilled snacker, and Keith’s wrist was now sprained, he used EVERY opportunity to get his head down and eat.  This aggravated Keith’s wrist, and when he gave up using the sore arm, and only used his good arm, he ended up with some skin missing on his fingers.  He eventually had enough, and once we were down on some flat open ground he decided to dismount and walked the horse back the last part of the ride.  Not long before this though he had sat a big spook really well (which would have unseated many) so maybe, if I can get him near a horse again, he will make a good rider in the future!

When we got back I got mine and Keith’s horses un-tacked and put back at their spot on the rail, and Keith was understandably keen to just get back to the house.  I put some wet tea towels in the freezer to make an ice pack of sorts for his wrist/knee/neck/whatever, and gave him a little sympathy.  I did feel a little guilty that it was my chosen activity that had gotten him injured, although I had warned him a two hour ride on a trek horse would be a big ask for him, and it would be completely different to the safe, sensible Toronto he had had ridden at home.  The rest of the group gave him a little less sympathy, and saw the comedy value of the John Wayne walk, but they did open his beer for him!  This fall and the sprained wrist unfortunately put him pretty much out of action for the rest of the holiday.
Thankfully he had already accomplished what he had set out to do this year, and had only missed out on the more gentle stuff in the last few days.

Wednesday was a laid back day for us.  There was group going out cycling, and they were going uphill so that didn’t interest me much, and a group going out to find some higher grade water that would be beyond my capabilities, so we stayed at the house for a lie in and relax in the sunshine.  Gregg, Sam and Trevor had all stayed at the house too so we all made use of the paddling pool throughout the day.  I got a little more of my book read and worked on my tan, which after paddling for a week had only really improved on my face and arms!  We had thought about going over to Le Lac but none of us made any moves to make it happen.  The garden and the views at the house were spectacular enough, and I felt I hadn’t really taken the time to appreciate them much yet.  When Chucky got back though, Sam and I were keen to go and have a go on the sports climbs we had looked at yesterday, and we had enough time before dinner to go down there.  Sam had only climbed outdoors once before, and it was some years ago, so this was practically a new experience for her.  She did really well and completed her first sport climb, with a little encouragement.  Keith had joined us too, and as there was a way to walk round to a ledge half way up the longer climbs, he was able to lower himself down from there and take some photos.  I hadn’t been out on rock for many years so I was glad to get out and second a couple of routes, and Chucky was happy to lead.  It made for a nice way to spend a few hours, and we got back to a nice steak dinner, which Chucky was particularly pleased about!

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