Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Chulilla

Our journey to Chulilla was one of the hardest we've ever endured. It started with a snowfall in Vancouver, a rarity that often throws the city into a snow-bound panic. Luckily, the storm had a minimal impact on our drive to the airport and the plane almost left on time - there was a short delay for de-icing.

We had just over an hour in Heathrow to change planes, which is a pretty tight connection but one that the airport had certified. Upon arriving, the plane had to circle for 15 minutes before landing and then, once on the ground, had to sit on the tarmac waiting for the gate to become "available". After another fifteen minutes we pulled up to the gate and were soon informed that the jet-way (the tube you disembark through) wouldn't fit our plane. Nice one guys... We sat on our plane for 30 minutes while they brought a stairway across the rain-soaked tarmac to the plane. At this point making our connection was an impossibility...

To make a long story short, British Airways re-booked us on two flights the next morning that would eventually take us to our destination in Spain, Alicante. We had to spend a night in a hotel and catch a 6:20 am flight the next day.

None of us slept more than a couple of hours that night. Pam was recovering from a cold and Elise had just come down with one so there was a lot of coughing and congestion.

Elise on the bus at 5:00 am heading back to the airport. She's wired - the fatigue "crash" will come later.

After two exhausting flights we made it to Alicante around noon. Elise's congestion had intensified and the descent on the first flight was very painful for her. She couldn't pop her ears and was in real discomfort. Both Pam and I felt terrible for her.

As Murphy would have it, none of our luggage arrived with our flight so we faced two options: have the airline deliver it to our remote destination "the next day" (so they said) or wait until 7:00 pm that night and pick it up at the airport when the next flight arrived from Barcelona. We choose the latter since we were basically trapped without any of our stuff and didn't trust the airline to deal with it promptly. Therefore, we had 7 hours to kill around Alicante after 36 hours of travel with little sleep. We grocery shopped and then headed to the beach in front of El Altet. This worked out okay all things considered. We got our shopping done, Elise had a nap and then blew off steam while Pam and I got to relax a bit.

After a meal of tapas at a local bar, we headed back to the airport. Luck was finally on our side and our luggage arrived - all of it! We quickly packed up, jumped in our rental car and started the 2.5 hour drive to Chulilla, which went by without incident. We met the owner of our apartment, unpacked and all fell into a serious slumber.

We've always found the best way to combat jet lag is to follow as normal a routine as possible (aided by sleeping pills), so we forced ourselves up around 9:30am the next morning and then packed up for a day of climbing. The day went well and we enjoyed our first explorations of the surrounding area.

After our afternoon of climbing, we searched out a Christmas tree, a necessity Elise reminded us of repeatedly throughout the day. We settled on a small juniper which we cut down and then allowed Elise to carry back to the car.

We decorated the tree and then went for a night walk around the village to get oriented.

The next day was Christmas Eve. We climbed a bit and then went touring around the countryside. We found a larger village with a supermarket and got some last minute supplies for Christmas. You don't see this in the meat department at Save-on Foods in Squamish...

After a nice Christmas Eve dinner, we went for a night walk to the Chulilla castle ruin then came back and watched the movie "Prancer". Elise was very excited, so we stayed up late to ensure a good night's sleep. It worked, since we all slept until 10:30am! Pam had to force herself up and wake both Elise and I. Christmas morning unfolded quickly...

Here's Elise looking unimpressed at me delaying her present opening.

Tearing into the loot.

Santa brought her a tablet computer. She was very excited.

She opened the rest of her presents (what we could manage to haul to Europe from Squamish) and was very pleased.

After a french toast breakfast Pam baked some Christmas cookies while Elise watched moveis on her new tablet and then built some of her new Lego.

As luck would have it, it's pouring rain today in this part of Spain, and not only on the "plains". With luck, it will dry enough later today so we can get outside for a walk or a drive.

We hope you all have a nice Christmas wherever you are. We'll post more pictures soon.

Marc, Pam and Elise

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Final Week

We leave for our Christmas trip in two days. It's been a busy couple of weeks packing and getting organized, but we've managed to get outside whenever we could to enjoy the nice weather.

We survived the Arctic outflow winds which, despite some discomfort, caused a lot of early season ice to form around Squamish. I took Elise skating outdoors, something she'd not done before. She enjoyed it so much that she wanted me to take her every day after school. In the end we managed to skate three times: twice at the ponds on our local golf course and once at One Mile Lake in Pemberton.

Inspecting the ice at the golf course...

A blurry shot, but she was moving so fast!

Elise is very excited about Christmas and there have been lots of festive school activities. The school Christmas concert was greatly anticipated, as usual, and Elise's class performed "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", which they'd practiced for weeks. Elise got to sit on Santa's lap, bid on items in a silent auction and buy treats at a bake sale after the performance. She and I both indulged.

Here she is wearing the special Christmas dress that Grandma made for her.

Pam and Elsie skied last Saturday in stormy conditions, but it cleared a bit on Sunday so we hiked the Chief, our last time this year. It was a nice outing, but the freezing level had gone up significantly, which is bad news for the local ski areas. The ski season is not starting out that well this year.

Breaking ice on the summit. Always a popular pastime.

The hike up was comfortable, but there was a wind on the summit which cooled us off fast!

Elise and I did a portion of the Chief hike this week at night using our headlamps. Surprisingly, we weren't alone as we passed a number of other groups. Here she is eating skittles at the big boulder about 2/3 of the way up the mountain, our turnaround point.

Hot chocolate break at the saddle viewpoint above the Squaw, a hike we did during the outflow conditions. It was freezing...

The packing is almost done and we head to the airport Friday afternoon. Our next report will be from Chulilla, our destination in Spain. It's a small village about 50 km inland of Valencia.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Metal Dome

Looking for a backcountry ski objective this week, Jay and I decided to check out the zone around Brandywine Meadows despite the lean snowpack. There was very little snow on the approach up to 1,200 m so we opted to climb Metal Dome to get a summit under our belts in case all else failed. As we gained elevation the snowpack improved and we found ourselves skinning through lovely old-growth hemlock toward the wind-scoured summit. Miraculously, the weather cleared as the morning progressed.

The outflow winds from the previous week had wreaked havoc on the exposed ridges and we found some very hardened surfaces as we approached the summit, which lies at 2,050 m. Here's Jay on top, looking north toward Rainbow Mountain.

Looking west toward Brandywine Mountain, which is just out of sight on the left side of the photo.

And looking southwest toward the volcanic peak of Mt. Fee.

After hanging on the summit for awhile - the weather was amazing - we decided to continue along the ridge and check out the option of a traverse over to Brandywine Mountain. A cloud layer was building in the valley but Mt. Garibaldi was still visible to the south.

Looking back toward the summit of Metal Dome.

As we gained elevation along the ridge it became apparent that a straightforward link-up wasn't likely, so we opted to stop. The peak of Brandywine, the feature we were headed for, is in the upper right of this photo.

Jay at our turn-around point.

Looking south over the valley cloud toward Cypress, Tricouni and the Tantalus Range.

After taking in the view, we headed back toward the summit of Metal Dome and then descended the south face of the peak toward Brandywine Meadows. It was steeper and more complex than we anticipated, but by continuing to angle leftward we found clear passage and some decent powder in trees, a nice treat after a very pleasant day out.