I recently returned from a trip to the Grand Massif area of the French Alps where I had travelled to spend some time doing a recce of the area followed by summer assessment for the International Mountain Leader Award.
Trekking Skills) we had thought it may be good to have the car as we would be free to head to different areas of the Grand Massif without relying on public transport but the 23hr journey was slightly less than a pleasure after sitting on the M1 motionless in a UK summer downpour for longer than comfortable if we were to make the ferry!
On reaching our base in the village of Samoens we debated our plan of attack for the next few days which would lead us up to assessment.
We would have 3 days walking around the Samoens 1600, Pointe d'Angolon and Refuge de Boston areas to gain an insight of differing habits and species. We would then be spending a day with a local accompagnatuer, who Matt had had the foresight to arrange before we left the UK, to give us a broad insight into the locality and a view of the standard that we should be aiming for to become an IML.
3 days of looking for and trying to identify the alpine flora followed by evenings writing up notes and doing research was far from how I would like to spend my time when away from work so I felt quite relived when Saturday arrived and we would be listening to our local guide rather than searching through reference books.
Meeting at the Bureau des Guides in Samoens we explained what we wanted from the day and despite joking we hoped to one day return and take the jobs of the local IML's Harvey quickly set out a suitable plan to educate us, very nice bloke!
We began with a visit to the 'Gorge de Tines' and a walk through the old gorge to look at the specialised flora and smooth limestone walls created over thousands of years by water and ice before heading back to the car to drive past the impressive 'Cascade du Rouge' waterfall and to the starting point of what would be our walk up through the valley on the GR5 long distance path and on to the Refuge De Sales, which is found in the 'Natural Reserve of Sixt Fer a Cheval'.
Whilst not easily being able to get into the flora aspect of the syllabus I have discovered I am slightly better with trees, possibly due to spending most of my boyhood years hanging from the branches of varying species!
We made our way higher and through the varying habitat as trees have way to sub alpine species before reaching the Refuge de Sales where we had lunch then had a look at the alpage (higher grazing area) before retracing our path back down the GR5 to the car to drive the short distance to the 'cirque de sixt fer à cheval', a natural formation of limestone cliffs and waterfalls which is nearly as impressive as Malham Cove in Yorkshire!
This brought my personal pre assessment studies to an end (there is only so much information my head can handle) and I spent Sunday getting my kit ready and checking all my paper work was in order.
Happily I am pleased to say my preperation was enough to get me through and I gained a pass on the assessment which means I can now I on to the winter assessment based in the Pyrenees in March 2015 and hopefully gain the full award, fortunately the flowers will be under snow so I don't have to go through flora terror again!