Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tri Tri Triathlon Lausanne 2008

So it is Sunday afternoon and Agata and Marcus can proudly say it is now time to relax after our participation in the 2008 Lausanne Triathlon

I had hoped to encourage Agata to do the full Olympic distance triathlon on Saturday August 30th but she was adamant that it was not for her, so this left Marcus with the obvious decision to do both the full Triathlon on the Saturday and then together to do the Sunday sprint distance traithlon.

So that's what we settled on. In preparation the previous week we thought we should put in a swim or two so we tried a few Km at Bellerive-Plage

Then in typical fashion Marcus, who had left all serious training to the last week over did it on Thursday when after running 20Km (before one swim) developed a nasty ankle pain.

So despite spending most of Saturday morning in bed, Marcus started the Olympic distance triathlon with tired arms and painful legs. In order to stem the pain I elected to wear compression cycling and running clothing, this meaning I've have to change twice during the event plus look rather odd. In fact I was the only person wearing long trousers on the cycle or run so far as I could see. Still I looked good IMHO (in my humble oppinion)

Marcus take a pre race swim

Somewhere in there is Marcus swimming away, thanks to the nearby boats there was quite a swell.

Out of the water and time to start running

I arrived at my old and trusty bicycle

No need to rush, the longest transition in history begins

Camera crews arrived when my transition time was beginning to become an epic

So after about 3 hours of mild torture it was all over and I crossed the finishing line.

Next came Sunday and Marcus felt suprising good despite a large alcohol intake for Marks housewarming party of Saturday night. Knowing the course was definitely an advantage especially in the Cycling since the braking points and hills were all known.

We also managed to get Patrick to participate

Patrick and Agata

And so the mini Triathlon was over all too soon, both Agata and Marcus achieved times of around 1.5 hours and suprisingly we were both in good shape and relaxed at the finish.

Next it was time to have some refreshemtns and a rest.

Then it was
time to pick up the T shirts, and continue the long cycle up from the lakefront up to almost Epalinges up in the hills.

It almost goes without saying the organisation and timeliness of the volunteers that staff the Triathlon was excellent. There were helpful course directions, ample parking, and free refreshments for competitiors and tourists, just wonderful. We must never take this for granted and realise perhaps what a positive aspect of Switzerland this is.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I must admit to pretending not to care about the health of my iPhone but if it had suffered a drop and consequently a shattered screen I would be most upset.

This is the fate of my colleagues iPhone and I am now waiting for the next installment in this exciting story.

The iPhone was allegedly dropped without the assistance of any alcohol and now has a partially broken screen. The first step in the iPhone resurrection was to order a complete new screen and touch assembly from the British company iPAQ Repair & Parts.

The next step was to find some decent iPhone disassembly instructions

I looked at the Display disassembly instructions. I nearly fainted! Whilst as an Engineer I like a challenge; I concluded that the chances of me carrying out 11 pages (yes count them!) of disassembly, replacing the screen, then 11 pages of re-assembly without overwhelming frustration are about zero.

Somewhere in that long process I would have stopped, said "enough is enough" and hot footed it over to the 3G iPhone store.

So soon the parts will arrive and we will see ... rebuild report #2 to come

Update September 4th: Defeat has been accepted gracefully, iPhone is in pieces and cannot be repaired or re-assembled.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Corsica GR20 - We are back!

We can proudly say that we have returned from Corsica on our GR20 adventure.

We are back early, but overall we had a totally fantastic time. In 5.0 days we managed to complete the first 10, day stages (i.e. 2 per day) of the GR20.

2 factors prevented us from going further:

  • Marcus's schedule was found to be somewhat unrealistic and on the third day we did not make it to Castel di Verghio thereby meaning we would miss our connections at the end of the trip

  • Agata's Salomon boots were found to be too small and on downward sections caused her considerable pain.
So we stopped at Vizzavona and then took the 17.30 1 hour train to Ajaccio on Thursday evening. Then we rebooked our Easyjet flight from Ajaccio to Geneva for Friday morning. So several showers later we are back in Lausanne, cleaned up and having a delicious Sushi and tuning back into BBC Radio 4 to discover what happened to the world whilst we were off the grid.

Here are the full set of links for our trip

GR20 Read this first

GR20 Essential Kit

GR20 What not to take

00 Saturday AM: Journey to Calvi and Calenzena

01 Saturday PM: Calenzena to Refuge D'Ortu di u Piobbu

02 Sunday AM: Ortu di u Piobbu to Carrozzu

03 Sunday PM: Carozzu to Asco Stagnu / Haut' Asco

04 Monday AM: Asco Stagnu to Refuge de Tighjettu

05 Monday PM: Refuge de Tighjettu to Ciottulu a i Mori

06 Tuesday AM: Ciottulu a i Mori to Castel di Verghio

07 Tuesday PM: Castel de Verghio to Refuge de Manganu

08 Wednesday AM: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge de Petra

09 Wednesday PM: Petra Piana to Refuge de L'Onda

10 Thursday AM: Refuge de L'Onda to Vizzavona

11 Thursday PM: Vizzavona to Ajaccio

12 Friday AM: Ajaccio to Lausanne

And what were the highlights of the trip for us:

Beautiful Corsican scenery: First and hopefully not the last time we will experience this

A trek like no other:
This was no walk in the woods or country path. You will often be scrambling on he side of a mountain. If you slip it will be life threatening

Despite it being GR20 high season during any stage we only saw a handful (say 6 or less) people. This gave us great opportunity to admire the scenery and really talk to each other.

Marcus learns about camping the hard way:
I had never appreciated the essentials of camping including how to setup your tent, and the basic washing, cleaning and eating facilities you have to get accustomed to. Quite an eye opener.

Marcus learnt downhill trail running:
During the last 2 days I found a method of downhill running. Previously I had always descended with rather stiff legs. This meant a very slow descent. Instead if:

  • Your ankles are strong enough, your shoes are tight (without slip), your rucksack is well packed and compact with no outer lose objects then:
  • You can develop a running style (without poles) that is composed of very fast and short steps. At each step try to pick a next rock that is solid (not lose). But even if it's lose you spend so little time as you transfer weight to the next step on the other foot that you should not fall over.
  • Further, each gradient has its logical speed, the steeper gradients are tackled by oscillating left and right more, the shallow gradients you are more a less straight down. In this way your vertical descent speed is almost constant.
  • This techniques works even if you are in boots (not trail shoes) and even if you are carrying about 11Kg of rucksack.

Unlimited eating: With at least 10 hours of walking, climbing, running, traversing per day, calorie intake for once was not an issue. Hello to full fat Corsca Cola, Chocolates, Pasta, and Magnum Ice creams.

GR20 Essential Kit

Taking the right and best equipment will ease of your Gr20 experience.Some of our choices, with justifications:

  • Precooked dried breakfasts: allow you to provide a more nutritional meal then refuge bread and jam, prepared when you want (not when the refuge guardian wants). Some examples

  • Guide Books: are Corsica Trekking GR20 by David Abram and GR20 The High Level route by Paddy Dillon

  • Toilet Paper: Unless you are experienced with doing without.

  • Digital camera with exceptional battery life: Panasonic DMC-LX2
    Although we took (5!!) spare batteries we were astonished that the LX2 took over 300, 4MByte, 10M pixel photos on a single battery! If we did it again, LX2 and 2 spare batteries.

  • iPhone for emergency Browsing: Besides being an emergency phone we used the iPhone to securely login and change our flights in Ajaccio. And read our email at trips end.

  • Light Rucksack: The Raidlight 40L rucksack and companion front pack have a total weight of 1Kg but have enough space to hold all items including water inside compactly and securely.

  • Light Sleeping Bag: The LaFuma Warm ight 600LD was warm enough even inside a tent yet weights only 600 grams

  • Light Tent: The Six Moons Design Lunar Duo proved reliable and spacious and only 1.2Kg in weight

  • Light Sleeping Mat: needed if you stay in your tent. We chose Thermalite Womens 3 light since it weighs less than 550 grams

  • Head Torch: You won't get much lighter or more compact than the Petzl E+LITE

  • Gloves: Decathlon GLV 520 gloves pro will save your hands whilst scrambling and traversing difficult rock sections, additionally they grips rocks better than your hands ever can.
  • Walking Poles will improve your stability for walking descents and help you ascend any trail. They will be a hindrance over rock climb sections so collapsible poles that can be quickly attached are optimal. We took our Komperdell Carbon Fibre poles which although somewhat fragile survived.

  • Hiking Boots: We took our existing Salomon boots, which from Agata's perspective turned out disastrously small!

  • Sandals: Needed in the evening when you change out of your boots. Cheap solid lightweight sandals are optimally light and dry quickly after a morning wash before setting out

  • Ziplock bags from IKEA, Velcro, Duck tape and wire tags for emergency repairs.

  • Not too many clothes: Your clothes will get smelly anyway so best to take only a few synthetic clothes with fast drying times and travel soap. Wash clothes each evening.

  • Watch: Ideally a Tissot T-Touch trekking since it contains a built in Altimeter which would be very useful to know when you are close to your peaks. In practice we took cheap digitals since we thought they would get damaged.

  • Medical: Bandages, plasters, diarrhoea, vitamin pills are recommended.

  • Emergency Tools: Leatherman / Duck Tape

  • Partner!: Obey the first law of hiking and never do this alone. Also as a couple you can share the weight of the 2 person tent.

GR20 What Not to take

A list of items that I would not take on GR20 with some reasons:

Anything heavy: Unless you are a masocist then believe me the severe gradients (both up and down) and traversing life threatening rock faces will be made a lot easier if you travel light.

Computer: There are no electricity sources. Don't bother!

SLR Camera: The benefits over a high quality compact are not worth the extra weight IMHO

Expensive Watch: Could easily be damaged

GR20 Read This First

If you only read one part of our GR20 report then make it this one.

Difficulty: We have walked extensively throughout our local region of Vaud Switzerland but this did not adequately prepare us for the GR20. The main key difference is that the GR20 is not a gentle hike in the woods. As you climb any one of the stages a moments slip or lack of concentration could lead to anything from a twisted ankle to falling off the side of a mountain.

Books: The 2 English guidebooks are Corsica Trekking GR20 by David Abram and GR20 The High Level route by Paddy Dillon

Timings: listed in either guide book assume you are something of an elite athelete and do not take account of any breaks. Example L'Onda to Vizzavona (low route) of 5 hours. We managed 5.5 hours despite trail running down the last 3 hours

Getting there: Reaching to Calvi/Calenzana and away from Conca will take you considerable time. This is beacuse the air / rail connections can easily have you waiting almost a day at each end.

Beds: At each refuge were available and August was high season. So in fact we need not have taken a tent at all. With this in mind the optimally light load would be a rucksack containing a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and bivvy bag (400 grams) to cater for the paranoid case where there are no beds and no provision to sleep inside a refuge floor.

It is illegal to make camp en route, plus there are not many level sheltered places even if there was an emergency (i.e. you are too tired to continue)

Paths are marked with white and red markers. Some trails have 2 variants. In that case the alternate path could be marked differently e.g. yellow markers.

Light: You will not be able to negotiate these trails in the dark! This means that during August the latest you should arrive a stage would be 20.00. Otherwise you are going to be stranded on a cold mountain, without water and probably without any place to setup a tent.

Up early: To fit in as much as possible you should get up at about 05.30 daily. Thus, by the time your tent is packed, and you have had breakfast it will be about 07.30 before you set out. Leaving this earlier allows you to start in the relative cool and not have to face the sun till later in the morning.

Test out your kit before you get there. There are no camping or hiking shops so any faulty or broken kit will not be able to be replaced

Consider food supplies: Refuges provide meals including breakfast (but only bread and jam), and dinner (usually pasta / soups). Worthwhile to take a few pre cooked meals in bags

Consider Water: A bladder and suitable rucksack are considered a no brainer. If you have to keep stopping to get out and sip from that old fastioned aluminium can, you have more patience that us! As a guide Marcus used about 1.5L water per 3 hours. So for a 6 or 7 hour journey you would need 3Kg of water

Food Supplements: Good to take Cashew Nuts (high calorie & protein & fat per gram weight), Protein bars / Liquids. Water supplements Isostar or preferably compact Nuun. We took about 5 days worth of food & nibbles and 7 days water supplements.

Fri AM Aug 22: Ajaccio to Lausanne

The phone rang before 07.00 indicating our taxi to Ajaccio airport had arrived. We mused that for the first time we had set off at 7 am on our trip. Although today with sadness it was to the airport.

25 Euros later we were in the Airport checking in our Possessions. Minor drama ensued as the Komperdell Carbon Fibre poles were refused entry to cabin of the Easyjet plane. We had to go back to checkin and pay the Easyjet supplement to check them in. Grrr.

And then by 10.00 we were back in Geneva. All very efficient and easy, our landing was so soft that we didn't even notice it. Just to remind all, we used our iPhone to securely logon to and change our Easyjet bookings back in time to this Friday

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thu PM Aug 21: Vizzavona to Ajaccio

As we ran down the mountain close to Vizzavona at about 12.15 we did hear a train hoot or two. When we finally got to the station at about 12.45 we realised that we had just missed one of the 4 daily trains to Ajaccio.

Still it was not the end of the world, and we established a presence at Restaurant-Bar L'Altagna. The stationmaster seems to own this restaurant, operate the epicerie Rosy shop, manages the train ticketing office, and the (payable) hot shower facility which we immediately took advantage of.

So after a nice clean up we ordered the traditional Cannelloni a Brocciu, a pasta stuffed with sheep's milk cheese, spinach, and spiced with herbs. Since we had almost 5 hours to wait this was then followed by Corsican white wine and a sucession of ice cream treats all whilst watching the relay and showjumping live coverage of the Bejing 2008 Olympics.

So we boarded the train of mostly day tourists and headed to Ajaccio. It seems that it's popular to drive out from Ajaccio by car and park up at one of the small stations, then come to Vizzavona by train for some mild walking, and swimming in the nearby river. So on the way back many people left at each stop on route to their cars.

It was a short train ride but we both had a little nap

By 19.30 then we were searching the streets for a suitable hotel. We found an Internet Cafe and by purchasing some glasses of wine we gained free iPhone internet access. We then managed to change our Easyjet flight booking and then via book the Hotel Fesch.

However on arrival at Fesch they claimed no availability and no amount of amateurish complaining in French could change the mind of receptionist Annie. So we reverted to planB and walked back to Hotel Napolean which Marcus had researched before our trip.

After another hot shower (well why not!) we were ready to hit the town. Ajaccio is the capital of the regional government of Corsica. Concequently there is a good selection of impressive buildings be they Government, regular shops or restaurants. Like most tourists we ended up in the South East quarter called Citadel. There are a selection of restaurants looking over the quai.

We liked the look of The Forum and it served up two excellent salads, another bottle of wine (!!) after which we somewhat alcoholically took a stroll of the quai shops

Then we navigated back to a large Ice Cream restaurant for a Night Ice cap, and then back to Napoleon

Thu AM Aug 21: Refuge L'Onda to Vizzavona

What was that bright light shining all night straight into our tent door??

On the last day we managed a record early set off time: 7:25

This was our second night in our tent. We didn't sleep very well because of the night noises - dogs barking, generator and the mad flapping of our tent in the wind. Nevertheless we got up and set off for the last etape of our trek.

One of the local dogs showed particular attraction in smelling my boots... strange.

Let's pretend it's steep.

The last ascent. Agata discovered that the lower route we chose is only 5 hours instead of 7 hours! So we decide to get rid of our excess supplies of water, suddenly it was so much easier to walk!

The last part of the trek before Vizzavona was in fact a 'Sunday tourist' boulevard to a place called 'Cascade des Anglais' where you can have a swim in the stream or an ice cream from a cafe.

Train station isn't far away.

So easy to walk on a flat surface...

Here's the train station! But we just missed the train ... so it is going to be a 5 hour wait

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wed PM Aug 20: Petra Piana to Refuge L'Onda

The second etape of the day 5. We start from Petra Piana at 14:00.

We have two choices: the low route, the regular GR20 trail, or the more challenging high route - through the ridges. We choose the high option... through the ridges - because it's supposed to be shorter. There is a possibility that there will be more rock scrambling and more adrenaline rising passages, but we take the risk. And it pays off! It's not as difficult as we were expecting, although one Frenchman suggested we should turn back when we met him mid route and we said we might have mild vertigo! We get to the Refuge l'Onda in a reasonable time of 4 hours. The low route would have taken much longer.

See the beautiful views below.

The fertilizer production line.

Arrived at 18:00.

At the destination it turns out that the refuge l'Onda is less attractive than the 50 meters lower laid Bergerie de l'Onda with its shower, epicerie and a camp site.
The tent option wins again.

The bergerie owners cater for the hikers as well as doing their 'mountain' business involving a lot of animals (dogs, donkeys, horses, pigs) and mysterious white bags full of gravel.

The John Cash joke ;-)

We go for a rich soup at the bergerie - rich enough to satisfy our apettites.

Marcus uses stones to protect the sides of the tent. It proves to be a brilliant idea as the night is windy and for most of the time it feels like we're about to take off and fly away.

The last sun set in the mountains...

A small overview of the facilities that are present in one for or another at the each accommodation stop en route: the washing lines

The stand in toilet (with optional light or door lock)

A shower - hot water not an option