This is the most common question we have been asked when we meet friends, each time it is asked, we mumble for a while between ourselves as we try to break down ten months of continuous travel, adventure and van life. It’s too difficult to pick one experience that has outdone the others, as there have been so many of these top moments, the kind of experiences and memories that will last a lifetime! So instead of picking one, I’m going to try for a top three!
A view to inspire
One of the main objectives for this trip was an extended stay in the Alps, predominantly in Chamonix. The reasons for this are easy, it is so easy to live full time vanlife in the area, it’s a beautiful place, in a valley surrounded by mountains and routes, I have loads of guidebooks and the mountain lifts are amazing and can take you right into the thick of it, and this is why this is one of the top moments of trip!
I have been on trips here a few times in the past, however each time I have forgone going up the Aiguille du Midi lift station, as it’s super expensive. Many tourists pay this fee for an opportunity to get to the highest non mountaineering point in the area, and see the amazing views, however when on these trips, I’m always doing it on a budget and can’t afford this lift! This time however we brought a multiple pass, and all lifts cost the same, so we took advantage of this by going up the Aiguille du Midi.
First off on this lift, you get to the mid station, where you can see the north face of the Aiguille du Midi, I was in my element even here, as I could trace routes up the face, Mallory Porter and Frendo being two that I took in as I plan to do these in the future! The second lift then takes you over this face to the station at the top. Here is a variety of platforms and lookout points, as well as museum style exhibitions. We ignored all of this and made our way to the ice cave where we kitted up, there was a few of us in there, as well as a few tourists who were taking photos. When we were ready we stepped out together.
This is the moment I would refer to as being a top three, from the moment we left the cave you are exposed to the most fantastic mountain scenery. Only an hour ago, I was in the valley and now here I was I the thick of the alpine environment. We walked down a ridge, that disappeared off the sheer north face on one side and on the other down to the basin of the glacier. This was quite a baptism of fire for Jess, as this was only her second time in crampons, however she handled it well.
From the first moment the ridge plateaued out, we stopped to absorb everything that was around us. As far as the eye could see were snow capped mountains, jagged across the skyline. Large fields of snow and glaciers stretched out below us, creeping there way up the foot of the peaks, the whole arena was a spectacle. I know that this scene will be permanently etched into my mind, however as impressive as I found this moment, it must have had an equal or more impressive impression on Jess. Previous to this moment Jess had never quite understood why I was drawn to climbing in the mountains, however since this moment she has been converted, and in one moment gained an understanding as to why the pull to the mountains are so strong!
Snorkelling in Sardinia
In general the scuba diving and snorkelling in Sardinia was amazing, in every place we found a variety of sea life, and more often than not stumbled across amazing sea life whilst snorkelling rather than Diving. In some respects the large amounts of money spent Diving could have been saved. The top moment came when we were trying to find a Climbing area in the south of the island.
Just south of the Capital city Cagliari, we found a lovely bay that was accessed through a hole in the fence and a short while later the bay came into view. A small beach surrounded the seas edge, and as it turned out this was a nudist beach, above the beach was rocks, bush area and then some great climbing cliffs.
When we first arrived we settled on the beach, and in no time decided to get in the water. Within a couple of minutes I stumbled across an octopus, wow, just wow! I grabbed Jess’s attention, whilst keeping an eye on its movement through the water. I could not believe that this was the first time I had forgot my go pro. On the beach I had an adventure camera, however after many adventures it was no longer very adventurous, and although I managed to get a couple of photos, it soon filled up with water and died. I have travelled the world with this camera, and this was its last great moment.
We vowed to return to the water the next day, and damn right I remembered the go pro! In vain hope I entered the water, hoping to see an octopus again. Luck was with me, and not only did I see one octopus, I saw three! How amazing it was to see one, but to see three was beyond! I was in my element, duck diving to have a closer look as they moved from one location to another. This time I was able to get some snaps, as ever the experience itself, outweighed whatever the camera could capture. Add to this the other sealife, shoals of fish, starfish and crabs all just living their lives in this amazing underwater world!
Although an opposite to the other top moment, this is another arena that I love to be in. Below the surface you are transferred to another world and I love being there! This is most definitely in my top five underwater experiences and so it says a lot for how amazing it really was, and how it deserves to be one of the top moments of the trip!
Dreaming of Dibona
Many years ago, I was climbing in the North of Wales with my friend Colin. We decided one night to pop into Plas Y Brenin outdoor centre for a beer or two and also to watch a talk about the Alps by one of their instructors. Anytime I’m in the area I pop in to find out if any talks are happening, sometimes they are about adventures, sometimes they are informative, like winter skills etc. The opportunity to gain some free knowledge is never to be overlooked, especially when you can do it with a beer in hand!
During the talk the instructor showed a mountain that he and his partner climbed called Dibona. Sometimes you just see a picture of something and it is etched into your mind, and this was one of those. A shear spike, soaring out of the mountains around it, this was a peak that screamed to be climbed. During the talk he was talking about the route and I remember thinking that this was harder than I could climb, however one day I would climb that peak!
We finished our trip in Chamonix, and headed straight for the Ecrins National Park, with one objective, Dibona. On the approach path, it starts as a small spike in the distance, however the closer I got the more intimidated I started to feel! I was starting to ponder my ability to climb this sheer face of rock. That night I continued to ponder, this time over different guidebooks that were available at the hut, trying to cement in my mind the route up the face.
The next day we rose with an alpine start and initially there was a minor queue at the foot of the route. As time went on, we branched away from the groups as everyone seemed out their own line up the face. The Climbing was within my ability and it felt good to be rising above the hut that sat at the foot of the cliff! At one stage we were seriously questioning our route finding, another pair of Brits came up behind and decided we had gone off route, we continued on and felt a little unsure of our direction. However all was to end well, when we finally crossed routes and found we had judged the route to a T, our route finding was spot on!
This next section, we decided to go direct, following a different route, that was more serious in the grade than what we had been on, both me and jess led pitches where we struggled, although we did overcome all the obstacles and soon we were on an easy scramble to the summit point! I was lucky to have the top to myself, and although I don’t ever celebrate until I’m down and out of the danger zone, I felt happy that I was stood atop of this magnificent peak.
We descended safely and once I was back on easier terrain, I started to feel the joy of having climbed an amazing peak, something that years ago, I had thought out of my league, and now I had been there and climbed it! Another fantastic moment to add to the many on this trip.
This may be a little premature, hopefully I can rewrite this article at the end and replace all three with a new top three. With a month to go, there are some pretty amazing plans in the pipeline, so this optimistic presumption might not be too far off!