Our Six Month #vanlife Tripaversary!

It feels like half the time, which can only be a good thing!

When we set out we planned on a years trip and so far it is all going to plan. Of course there have been a few problems on the way ( no one mention getting stuck and wedging the van under a bridge and all will be fine!), however for the most part this trip has been absolutely amazing. As climbers, we are living the dream of travelling, and most importantly climbing out of our amazing home on wheels! This post will serve as a small review of our trip so far, where we have been, the highlights, low points and general mellow meanderings of two travellers on the road chasing adventure!

It all started with slow beginnings, the six month conversion of the van was not planned. We thought it would be done in a couple of months, however this slight hiccup enabled us to leave on our trip in spring, and with summer just around the corner this gave us plenty of time and hopefully fine weather to hit the great outdoors. It seemed only logical that our first destination would be Fontainebleau as its only a few hours away from Calais and as one of the top bouldering destinations in the world.

We only spent a week in Font, and we managed to squeeze in a good few days of bouldering. The weather for the most part was fantastic and it was a great location to help us get settled into our new home, due to the ease of wild camping in the area. It also allowed us to fix a few problem on the van that arose here and there. We climbed a couple of circuits, although not completely, and occasionally had real battles with the routes, ending with scrapes and bruises everywhere! To cap it off we attended a local climbing festival which had a bouldering competition wall, unfortunately the weather was playing up and we soon left Font, heading south for Dijon.

Dijon was a place we had visited in the past and we had barley scratched the surface of Climb’s available. I relished in driving from location to location, passing through idyllic hamlets, rolling hills, and vineyards. The climbing was enjoyable and gave us a chance to get into the first proper climbing of the trip! Unfortunately after a couple of weeks the attraction of the alps was too strong and soon dreams of the mountains overpowered any desire to stay.

One of the main destinations that we had planned to visit on this trip was Chamonix. It’s fantastic location, with easy access to the highest peaks was a no brainer. We spent two months here, climbing in the mountains, steadily increasing the difficulty of the routes we attempted, from snow plods to sheer rock climbs. One of the great moments of this chapter was our first trip up to the Aiguille du Midi station, I had always bypassed this lift as it is super expensive, however as we had a multi lift pass it was as cheap as any other. The immediate exposure on the ridge when you exit the station is a baptism of fire, and the views are also out of this world. From the first moment you are captivated by a skyline that could have been created in a dream, to step into this beauty and grandeur and face its challenges was my pleasure.

On leaving Chamonix we made a slight detour to the Ecrins National Park, where we were hoping to climb on a mountain called Dibona. This shard of rock is so captivating, that from the first moment I laid eyes on it I wanted to climb it. We chose a route that winded its way up the south face, however half way up, we decided to cross over routes and take a more direct line. This increased the grade and also the enjoyment of the route, the whole experience of being on the climb was a culmination of our months in the Alps; an amazing mountain, good route finding, pushing our grade on a big route, and perching on its summit I felt that I had achieved a silent goal set many years ago!

After what seemed to be an age in the Alps we started to make tracks south. In our minds we imagined driving along winding coastal roads, through quaint little towns and hamlets, stopping every so often when we found a quiet place to stop for the evening… Well the reality was that the whole coastline is ruined, and by far its the worst place we have visited on this trip. Ugly towns with overcrowded streets, roads and beaches. I could not think of a worse place to be, and although we tried for a few days to find some joy, we soon gave up and hot footed it to the lakes of Italy. We plan to give the south of France a second chance on the way to Spain, although I’m a little hesitant after this experience.

Lake Como delivered the relaxation that we were seeking from the south of France, we found a free camp ground at the North end of the lake. This was a picturesque camp, with wooded hills surrounding the lake on all sides. We sunbathed and swam in the lake, and treated ourselves to a rare drink at the local bar. We spent a couple of nights here, however even after a couple of days off from climbing we were itching to get back and so we headed for the Dolomites. The highlight of this was the accent of the Piaz arête on the Vajolet Towers, a route that gave climbing at an amendable grade and the exposure of climbs much harder. This exposure seemed heightened for us as the conditions were less than perfect and a strong wind seemed intent on peeling us off the face. All of this culminated in a fantastic day in the mountains.

Unfortunately the weather decided to take a turn for the worse, even snowing at one stage, and the decision was made to head south for Venice. We had a fantastic day playing tourist and even had to opportunity to pilot a gondola, showing that neither me nor jess should ever be left in charge of one alone, unless you really like going around in circles. We decided that we would continue our trip south and head to Slovenia, however just as we were leaving, jess saw a post on Facebook about Sardinia, showing beautiful beaches, climbing and clear turquoise water, we could not resist, and in a moment changed the course of the trip and headed west across Italy.

We travelled around Sardinia nearly 360 degrees, and what we saw in the post was true to life. We swam in beautiful waters, climb on amazing coastal crags overlooking the sea and relaxed on pristine beaches. A couple of days diving opened up a new world under the sea, where we came face to face with large gruber, barracuda, lobster, huge rock formations that were out of this world, and beautiful cavern swim throughs. As well as diving we snorkelled as often as possible, and in some cases this was more impressive than what we had seen diving, all manner of fish from various starfish to flat fish. The highlight of the snorkelling was in one cove when we saw a few octopus moving around in the open, the way they move is so surreal, sometimes my snorkel was flooding and I was nearly choking to not miss a moment.

After leaving Sardinia we landed in Naples and we proceeded to drive around Italy, taking in all the main tourist spots on the way, including Pompeii, Rome and Florence. Even though each of these places was interesting to visit, not one of the beautiful things I saw ever outshone the different sculptures of nature that I had witnessed so far on this trip. I felt as if I should have done this many years ago, before I started climbing and would have had more appreciation for it all. As we headed back to the north of Italy, it was getting colder as the summer faded into autumn, however the forecast predicted some sunny weather and the decision was made to have another crack at the Dolomites!

This time the weather played ball, and we managed to squeeze every last ounce of climbing and adventure that we ours out of two weeks of good weather. Near Venice we had purchased via Ferrata sets, and set about making good use of these. We did three routes, each with their merits, from the hardest in the Dolomites being steep, pumpy and aggressive, to easier routes on fantastic rock! A large suspension bridge on the Bridgata route, was a highlight, as was the descent which had large patches of ice and large icilcles hanging above the route, all of this reminding us just how close to the winter season we are. Nights in the van wee getting cold, and the snow and bad weather closed in again, it was time to move south and head for Slovenia.

Nearly every travel blog that has ventured into Slovenia will sing the Merit and beauty of lake Bled, and I can’t help but agree, however it was the other water features in and around the Julian Alps that were the more impressive for me. I’m a huge fan of rushing torrents of water and waterfalls, and will happily go out of my way to find them! As well as this the mountain range of the Julian Alps was magnificent. Although we only spent a couple of days exploring the mountain range, if I could have spent more I would have. We enjoyed an ascent of Mala Mojstrovka via the Hanzova Pot route, a great day on the hills made a little more exciting by the sporadic snow patches that were on the route and made the whole climb a little more edgy than I imagine it is normally. Again the views were breathtaking, I really hope to have another chance to visit these mountains on the way back through, hopefully they will have their winter coat on and present a different challenge!

The final destination of the past six months was Croatia. This was a return to sport climbing, we travelled around the north part of the country initially, slowly ticking off climbs and crags as we went. The countryside and coastline scenery has never failed to impress since we arrived, and as well a this we have been treated to some of the most beautiful sun sets that I have ever seen, I would be able to talk about sunrises too I guess, however I’m too lazy to wake that early!! We managed to sneak a days diving, even with the winter temperatures it was enjoyable, seeing the underwater world is always amazing, and the first wreck of the Ribolovac was memorable. Through the cloudy water the wreck slowly appeared, ribs of the wreck allowing rays of light to penetrate through, shoals of fish went about their daily business, and small gatherings of coral and plant life matted on the sea bed. As well as the diving we have managed to climb a couple of long multipitch routes in Omis that were mini epics in their own right, with each of then ending in a head torch descent as the ropes and ourselves got caught, stuck and twisted on every rock no branch on the way down.

All in all, so far this trip has been beyond what I thought it would be. In Sardinia a man asked me “what it was I was getting away from?” I can already answer that this trip is not about escaping or getting away from anything, it’s about realising that the most important things are not things, it’s that life is not to be spent within unhappy circumstances. In years to come I hope to look back on a life lived, opportunities taken, a privileged life filled with vibrant experiences that belong to me and identifies who I am. I am perusing the ideals of youth whilst I still have the ability to act, and it is this action that gives life its value.

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