lördag 8 september 2012

Homage to Corsica

This year our family of five went on holiday to Corsica, France. Me and my wife had been there two times already,  before the kids came into the picture. We absolutely loved it and dreamed of returning one day. Little M not being so little anymore (2,5 years), some cheap flight tickets, a few visits to the Gites de France site and the trip was planned.

This year we were a bit too tired for great adventures so apart from doing part of the GR20 the trip mostly consisted of "normal" family vacationing. However, I hope the photos will provide some inspiration, especially for hiking-hungry parents who might be in need of a traditional vacation not too far from the sea, while at the same time being able to do great hikes in stunning scenery. Corsica is just that, "A mountain in the sea" and it's not for nothing that the french call it the "Island of beauty" (Ile de Beauté).

Our view from our first Gite in Pedanu (Pietralba), Les Aiguilles de Popolasca or possibly Les sents D'Asco in the background

We were very happy with our two rented houses. This was the second time we used Gite de France and I'm very pleased with the service we received from the administration and from the house owners. It was swift and friendly. An extra baby bed was arranged in no time.

The first week we did a few small hikes, but with the exception of a trip above Lama it was mostly to visit our favorite bathing spots in central Corsica.

Hiking in the Scala di Santa Regina

"Our own" secret waterfall

Swimming in the Asco

Lama (Picture: Pierre Bona, from wikipedia)

The village of Lama is well worth a visit in itself due to its well preserved typical island architecture, and it is also a good starting place for a hike up the Monte Astu. This is a long hike however and a bit out of range for us. Especially as we like to sleep in the morning. We also had some trouble due to a poisonous plant called the Peucedan. None of us had long trousers (which is recommended) and the blisters you could get from contact with the plant looked quite nasty, so we decided to turn back when we encountered too many of them as we climbed up the mountain.

On the way home from Lama

Hiking late has its advantages - Sunset seen from above Lama

The next week saw us move to the beautiful village of Évisa on 800m of altitude, 24km from Porto. The idea was that the second week would be more hiking oriented. However, as it turned out we ended up spending a lot of time on the coast swimming anyway. The weather was quite hot and the scenery around the Golfe de Porto was absolutely stunning.

Bathing on the beach of Porto

Evisa was a good base for hiking however and we went for short walks in the neighborhood. The free-ranging pigs were always an attraction.

The boy who could talk to pigs

A particularly nice walk on a hot day (almost all days were hot) were the natural pools in the Aïtone forest a few kilometers east of the village on the Chestnut-trail. The huge Laricio pine trees are also particularly impressive here. The Romans used them for building masts for boats.

F exploring the small waterfalls near Évisa

The chestnut trail was especially interesting since it had very nice signs explaining the fascinating story of chestnut cultivation which still is a big affair in Évisa. There is even a good Corsican beer flavored with chestnut, the Pietra.  

Snack break on the chestnut trail

Another nice walk was the Gorges de Spelunca. The best walk and scenically most stunning, is supposed to be a descent from Évisa into the ravine, but to climb up again with the kids did not seem inviting, so we settled for a short walk along the river to the genoese bridge.

How many children can you spot? - Gorges de Spelunca

A nice longer walk a bit south of Évisa is the Lac de Creno. It's a nice little lake not far from the village of Soccia and the walk is easy. Just about perfect as a small challenge for the kids. It takes a bit of time to drive there though. 37km doesn't seem far, but mountain roads take their time. As our landlady pointed out there are 240 turns on the breathtaking 22km road between Évisa and Porto.

Pigs by the Lac de Creno

At the end of our stay it was time for the ultimate adventure: The GR20! A nice little section was chosen: Col de Verghio to Bergeries de Radule. It was an easy walk through the forest leading to an extraordinarily beautifully located shepherds hut.

Going down to the bergerie it was fun to try out an exciting feature on the GR20: The chains!
Negotiating the steep passage near the bergerie

M admiring the scenery around the waterfall from Bergeries de Radule

After arriving it was time for lunch. It was prepared on my gadget of the year: The Caldera Cone. When packing for the trip I thought that the "extremely heavy" (Almost 80g!) caddy for the Cone was very handy since you easily had everything in one neat package. With the exception of one thing: The pot. Something I discovered when it was first deployed to cook some coffee. Necessity is the mother of all invention however and some experimenting revealed that the edge of a large conserve-can could fit (somewhat precariously) in the cone supported by the edge. Coffee could now be brewed and the vacation was saved. For lunch ravioli was prepared directly in the can. It worked OK, but I do not really recommend it since the can had a tendency to fall down in on the burner while stirring. Maybe we will all die of Bisphenol-poisoning too.

Cooking ravioli in the can - works in a pinch

All in all, it was a great vacation. Many gorgeous places still remain to be seen. We will go back again for sure.

Sunset over the Golfe de Porto from the Calanches near Piana

tisdag 28 februari 2012

The unbearable wait for snow and the joy of igloos

Finally we arrived to the snow covered hills of the Orsa Grönklitt ski resort and 70cm of powder snow. Since my Grand Shelters ICEBOX Igloo tool arrived the wait for snow was starting to become unbearable. At last I would be able to test my long awaited new toy. Much time had been spent on studying the instruction manual and watching the included instruction video. Time well spent it would turn out.

The main reason to choose an Igloo as a shelter is not weight savings as I see it. It is the fun and the added comfort you get from a warm shelter. After having built two igloos I can honestly say that I would not yet dare to go out on a trip only equipped with the tool. The construction can certainly fail, and I would not want to be caught without a shelter in a snow storm. The way I envisage using the tool is mostly to provide some fun for the family and also as a base camp for winter hunting trips.

Next time from an igloo base?

First impressions
The Grand Shelters ICEBOX is a really refined product. Every detail seems to be thoroughly thought out and tested in the field. The included instruction manual was very good, but there is a lot to learn and I had to read it a couple of times. The instruction video was also very good.
The tool itself is quite large. Packing it inside a backpack is not a good option. The included pack straps work well though and I could strap the tool to my GG Mariposa without a problem.
The Grand Shelters ICEBOX Igloo tool (Picture linked from http://www.grandshelters.com/)
The first igloo
Almost immediately upon arrival to our rented hut I started to prepare the platform for the first Igloo. My wife had to restrain me from not spending half the night outside in the snow. You should make the pleasure last as they say. I'm not a great fan of snowshoes, but I must say they worked quite well for this job, but I think skis will work well too. This was a quick task done in a few minutes. In field conditions I guess time should be spent to find a good reasonably flat spot as this would probably save a lot of effort.

The ramp and part of the first level
The next day I started the working right after dinner and started work on the first level. I decided to build a two person 8-foot Igloo. The first three blocks are built as ramp with a gradual rise for the next level. As I was doing almost all the work alone the work took time and I only made about a third of the first level that night. Mostly it took a bit of time to get used to the tool and to assemble it correctly the first time. It was amazing to see how well the tool worked with powder snow. The temperature was about -10C and it didn't take many minutes for the blocks to freeze.

The tool with a filled block - Next step is to move the form very carefully to the next position
The next day work went faster and I also decided to skip cross-country skiing altogether that day and spend all my available time on building. Nevertheless it seemed each layer took me around 45 minutes. It takes a lot of extra time to gather the snow yourself. I was quickly getting the hang of it however and the only real trouble I had was when building the blocks on the ramp. The middle ramp block is a bit more tricky.

The difficult nearly horizontal last blocks
On the third day I again skipped skiing. I blamed the onset of a flu, but that was probably just a lame excuse. I was now desperate to get the job done. Up to and including level 5 everything went smoothly, but at level 6 and 7 the blocks start to lean inwards and several blocks broke when I moved the form. It helped to make smaller blocks. At this point things were also getting more complicated since I found it easiest to pack the blocks from inside. This meant I had to shovel snow inside and crawl through the door. This last part would have been a lot easier with two people working. The last blocks where the most challenging and I still haven't figured out how to do these well. Small blocks again seemed to help, but a lot of blocks broke and collapsed. When I started to suspect that a block would break I sometimes took a break for a few minutes to let the block freeze before moving the form. For the last two or three blocks it was not possible to pack from inside, but I had to stand on my snowshoes to pack from the outside.
Snowshoes used as steps to reach higher
Finally the Igloo was finished and there was much fun and rejoicing. I was quite amazed that the construction had worked on the first attempt and that the tool makes the Igloo look almost professional. The space inside was really quite large, but a tad too short for a 193cm tall guy like myself. 

A proud builder
The ICEBOX is a fantastic tool, but it takes a bit of practice to master and you need to pay close attention to the instructions. I spent around 5 hours on the first 8-foot igloo and around 4 hours on the second 7-foot solo igloo. Some lessons learned where that good gloves are nice since the snow tends to melt on your hands when you are packing and shoveling. I was quite impressed that my cheap Gore-tex gloves kept my hands dry. My trusty old army leather chopper mitts soaked through. 
Another thing is that a larger snow shovel really helps to speed up the process. Forget the small Snow Claws and even other normal mountain shovels. Bring a big one with lots of capacity. If you are winter camping you are probably using a pulk anyway so the extra weight and bulk is not such a big concern.
As for sleeping in the Igloo, stay tuned, it might even happen this year.

It's all for the kids (big and small)