Trail running in the Swiss, Italian and French Alps (UTMB/CCC) and learning French in the process

Trail running in the Swiss, Italian and French Alps (UTMB/CCC) and learning French in the process

All photos are here.

The only “CCC” I had heard of before was “Credit Card Company”. My hardcore trail running friends redefined that acronym for me. Unfortunately, I can only remember the expansion of the first ‘C’ now — “Courmayeur” which happens to be in Italy. And, that took me ages to memorize.

They say learning Chinese is difficult. I have a good counter argument to that. “Try French!” I don’t know why Benoit needs to be pronounced “Ben Wah” and Francois… how in the name of Zeus does that become “Fun Swa”? I will never know.

Anyway, before I digress too much, this travel story begins on a hike I did on Lantau Island. My friends were all going to go to Chamonix (btw, for several years, my crude self didn’t know that ‘x’ in Chamonix was silent. I thought it was pronounced “Sha-mo-nix”). Anyway, I decided to join them. They were going there either to run the UTMB race (one of the most famous 100 miler trail running races in Europe) or its less strenuous sissy version called “CCC” (after all, only a 101km). I was going to join them to simply hike, support and explore the French, Italian and Swiss Alps.

My hidden secret mission though was to stand on the Italian side of the Alps and pee into the Swiss side to please my highly Swiss friend Hannes. I decided to keep that part of my mission private in case Hannes was going to tip off the Swiss military. (He will go to any extreme to glorify the name of Switzerland).

In this report of my hiking adventure in the Alps, in addition to providing the reader ample photos of the Alps, I also aim to teach the average unsophisticated reader the subtleties of the French language. My hope is that after reading this report, one will begin to command more self-respect by using the power of the French language in day-to-day communication.

The preparation
I took the last seat on an Air China flight from Hong Kong to Beijing and Beijing to Geneva on 16th August 2014. My friend Adrian pointed out to me that, “despite not being all that great at navigation”, he had a strong feeling that this Air China flight would fly directly above Ukraine. (He was insinuating that my plane might get shot down similar to the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines plane). He suggested that I carry a parachute with me “just in case”, but, “before jumping out of the plane”, he caringly warned, that I make sure “I would not get sucked into the massive blades of the engine”. As always, his advice was gold. Anyway, the all inclusive HKD 6,500 price tag I paid for the round trip ticket made it worth the punt.

Then I had to go get a visa from the French consulate. A “Schengen” visa is what it was called. All the while, I thought it was called the “Shenzhen” visa and wondered what Europe had to do with China. The lady at the consulate wanted all my details. Where I was going to go on each of the days, why and when. I thought to myself that she should have been working for the CIA instead. After much effort, I finally got my visa. A friend of mine told me that I should have applied for the visa via the Greek consulate. Apparently, those guys in Greece are prety desperate for tourists.

Anyway, all prepared and excited, I set off for Geneva on the 16th of August. Oh, before I forget, the lady at the check in counter in Hong Kong asked me whether “Geneva” was “domestic” or “international” from Beijing. In other words, she wanted to know if Geneva was in China or not. I gave her a mini geography lesson and asked for a free upgrade to business class. She dismissed my request with a smirk, refusing to see the value I just added to her geographical knowledge.

My Air China flight — I got the entire wing row seat as someone didn’t show up!

16th August 2014
On the long 11-hour flight from Beijing to Geneva, between naps, I glanced at the Flight Information screen a few times and remembered what Adrian had said. Several impossible-to-pronounce places ending with a “rsk” showed on the screen. Then it hit me — I did not even know where Ukraine was on the map. Ignorance is bliss.

Anyway, the plane landed safely in Geneva and I walked out of the Swiss exit (you can actually exit to two different countries -France or Switzerland- from the Geneva airport). Then I caught Alpybus to Chamonix. The ride from Geneva to Chamonix instantly put a relaxed smile on my face. Plenty of vast meadows and greenery filled both sides of the bus window, and looking out further into the distance, I saw snowcapped mountains rising spectacularly at the far end. The jagged summits looked both mighty and majestic. As if to complete the picturesque scenery, a beautiful rainbow arched across the sky demanding to be photographed.

Landing in Geneva

Rainbow welcomes me to Geneva

I rendezvoused with my friend Keith at “Valle Blanche” at about 8.30pm. The excitement of being in this part of the world for the first time kept me fueled and awake on adrenaline, making me forget about my jetlag.

French lesson learnt today:
“Blanche” rhymes with “avalanche” and is not pronounced “blankee” (thanks to my bus driver for the education)

17th August 2014
It was a cold morning and I woke up early, still jetlagged, after all the adrenaline from the excitement wore off. I went into the cold balcony to get my first morning glimpse of the 4808m Mont Blanc. Looking up, I saw many mighty looking snowcapped peaks and I didn’t know which one Mont Blanc was. This became a recurring theme (my less-than-strong navigation skills didn’t exactly help). I asked Keith, who woke up about ten minutes later, to point out Mont Blanc for me. He patiently pointed at one of the summits and gave me a mini-geography lesson, about a quarter of which I retained. As I sat in the balcony, freezing and admiring all those jagged mountain summits from a very safe and comfortable distance, I thought to myself how uninhabitable the summits must be. You can admire them from a safe distance but you don’t want to be at any one of the summits on a cold morning!

Mont Blanc and the moon — to climb Mont Blanc, one has to summit two intermediary mountains. Mount blah-blah (sorry, complex French name) and Mount Maudit meaning “Mountain of Death” in French

Later on, Keith, Charlotte, Jina and I took a cable car up from “Brevent station” to a place called “insert-complex-French-name here”. (Sorry, I forgot the name of the place but, rest assured, it’s some complex French name). We hiked around there and what can I say! It was stunning. All the money I spent on this trip became well worth it already!

Chamonix town

Later on in the afternoon, we rendezvoused with my friend Dom who flew in from London. We had lunch in a nearby restaurant and after gulping down a big pizza, we returned to Vallee Blanche where Keith, Jina and Charlotte showed off their rope tying skills. (They were going to attempt a Mont Blanc climb in the next couple of days and needed to master the art of knots and ropes.)

Our group in the cable car in Brevent Station (pardon my French — I mean Brevont Station)

Quiz: Which summit are we pointing towards?

Group Photos!

And, here’s the beauty of the Alps

Dom and I bid goodbye to them and left for Courmayeur in Itay on the 6pm bus from Chamonix. We had a pizza as one is supposed to in Italy and checked in to our hotel.

Pizza in Italy… very authentic

French lesson learnt:
“Brevent” does NOT rhyme with “prevent”. It is pronounced “Brevont”, i.e., “von”, in a nasal tone. For that matter, an authentic French accent is one where you learn to harness the power of the nasal tone of your voice. Even “Bonjour” can sound more authentic if you say the “n” using a nasal tone.

18th August 2014
From “Bonjour” to “Bonjourno”
The first thing I learnt in Italy was that you can get away pretending to know Italian by adding an “io” or a “no” to all the English/French words. For example, “Bonjour”, in Italian, is “Bonjourno”. “Refugee” is “Refugio”. And, much like the French nasal tone, if you can sing the words, even better. Eg., Boooonjoooourno. And, say it with a smile!

First impressions of Italy — very beautiful. Every house was decorated so as to please the eye. Colorful flowers rose from pots dangling out of the windows of pretty much every house I saw. The entire neighborhood looked scenic. In the backdrop, the needle-like sharp summits of the Italian alps towered above everything else. Our hotel which had this view was called “Aguille de Noire”. In fact, almost every hotel or shop in the town where we stayed in had a name beginning with “Aguille”. (Warning: the “Noire” in “Aguille de Noire” is not the French “Noire”, meaning, it’s not pronounced “No-ah” unlike, for instance, “Ter-wah” for Teroir. You can simply say “No-are”. That’s what I learnt in Italy. That and, you get great pizzas there.

Beautiful Italy — almost every house has flowers dangling from the windows

Our hotel — Hotel Aguille De Noir

Dom taking a photo of Mont Blanc from our hotel room

After admiring the scenic beauty of Courmayeur, we started on the CCC route which began on a steep road flanked by tall coniferous trees on either side. Once we were on a valley at a higher altitude, the beauty of the Alps beckoned. It felt as though I was standing on the corridor of heaven. A range of snowcapped mountains appeared before us. It felt like I was watching a documentary on mighty mountains on a gigantic and extra-wide iMax screen. The mountains seemed so near yet so far — so mighty and majestic, yet so uninhabitable.

Getting ready to recci the CCC route

Warning: Frizzante in Italian means “sparkling”. Don’t buy water if it’s got “Frizzante” on it

We soaked in the beauty for a while and then proceeded to climb a pretty tough 500m hill called “Tete De La Treonch” (meaning head of the snake or some other animal in French). After taming this snake, we ran along a contour trail and eventually reached a Refugee Hut called Refuge Bertone.

Rejuvenating on top of “Tete De La Treonch” (complex French name as usual)

Dom zenning himself up

The Alps — beauty beckons

What a smart looking guy

Mountain horses

We then passed Refuge Bonatti (probably named after some confectionary), then we passed a valley called “Val Ferret”. We ran about 10km more and finished at a Refugee Hut called “Elena”. I’ve got to say — Italy has redefined the meaning of the word “hut”. Hut, according the definition I was taught back in the day, is a small, basic place of accommodation with a thatched roof. This “hut” which was 2000m above sea-level offered hot showers, a bar/lounge area, a clean dormitory and a 3-course meal! The only thing it did not offer was a Western Style toilet. It only featured a squat toilet. So, allow me to summarize the Italian surprises for you.

Italian surprises
1. Add an “O” to everything and sing it, you will sound Italian (thanks, Dom, for the tip)
2. Every meal is filling, you get a minimum of two courses wherever you go. Even Refugee Elena offered us a two-course meal and a dessert. Italian food is awesome
3. In Italy, squat toilets are the norm, not Western toilets. So, prepare to exercise after you empty your bowels

Refugio Bonati (sounds like the name of some Italiano sweet)

Refugio Elena — this is not a “hut”. It’s a friggin’ hotel!

You get a 2-course meal + dessert and hot showers in this “hut”. All good except one thing — only squat toilets available

French lesson for the day
When you want a longer and cooler sounding name, feel free to generously add syllables like “De” or “La”, Eg., “De La Treonch”.

19th August 2014
No adventure hiking trip can be complete without experiencing a bit of rain. As we looked out of Hut Elena at 8am in the morning, we saw what we did not want to see — rain pouring down from the sky. Luckily, though, it was not all that cold.

Rain makes you wet and cold but once you start walking, the scent in the air is intoxicating! And, the beauty of the trails is amplified

After another sumptuous breakfast in the “hut”, we left at around 8.30am and climbed 500m to the highest point for the day, a place at 2500m called “Grand Col Ferret”, pronounced “Gr-ond Col Fer-rey” to make it sound more grand). The weather, although slightly raining, was perfect. The freshness of Swiss Alps air seemed even more fresh. I probably gained a few more years in my life just breathing that air. Once on top of that one, I decided to execute my secret mission for my friend Hannes, who, I’m sure will be proud of me. I stood on the Italian side of the Alps and peed into the Swiss side.

Executing my secret mission for my friend Hannes — looking into Switzerland from Italy

Hut Elena from the top of “Grand Col Ferret”, complex French name pronounced “Gron Col Faray”

We preserved the golden moment for future generations in the form of a photograph and after that, we carried on heading downhill all the way to “La Puele”. What a fulfilling experience that was! The trail was almost carpet-like and it felt like a gift to be running down on it. The air was so pure and pristine that it almost demanded to be bottled up and taken back to Hong Kong!

Running down on a gorgeous trail from Grand Col Ferret to La Fuele

A little electrical fence to keep the cows at bay

We then ran to our next destination called “La Fuele” (pronounced “La Foo-le”). We reached this place around 12.30pm and took a couple of wrong turns which added another 150m climb to our hiking route. Then we passed a place called “Praz De Fort” (no idea how to pronounce that) and then we ended up at our destination for the day which was called “Chompex”. For some mysterious reason, Chompex is pronounced “Shom-pex” and not “Shom Pe”. Why? Like, I said, don’t ask. It could be a French thing, or a Swiss thing. What I can tell you though is that Chompex is an attractive little town which has a beautiful lake by the town centre. Hence, the name “Chompex Lac” (“Lac” meaning “lake” in French).

La Fuele — You’ll find that the Swiss are quite patriotic. You find Swiss flags everywhere. No wonder my friend Hannes has a Swiss flag on his bike

Don’t be surprised if Rammstein, AC/DC and Kiss show up in La Fuele

La Fuele to Praz De Fort

La Fuele to Praz De Fort — here’s some Champiogne, i.e. mushroom (isn’t my French great?)

For lunch, I had an authentic Swiss dish called “Rosti”. Essentially, mashed potato as far as I can tell. We then checked into our little hotel called “En Plain Air” (pronounced “On Pen Air” — I know, complicated) and I was happy to find Western toilets again instead of squat toilets!

Chompex Lac (Lac meaning lake in French. (I’m proud to say, I worked that one out myself!)

In Switzerland, you get water in fountains like this one everywhere

After hot showers and a delicious Swiss dinner, we hit the sack at about 10pm.

French lesson learnt:
When in doubt, simply say only the first two letters of a word and mumble something in a nasal tone after that. Oh, that and, all “en”s become “on”s. Hence, “En Plain Air” is pronounced “On Pl ooo Ai”. Same applies to words like “Grand”. Grand will change to “Gr-on-d” in French.

20th August 2014
Today was our “rest” day. We took a “Chair Lift” to a 2200m peak called La Breya. It was the first time I took a Chair Lift. Felt very weird. You stand in position on a pavement with a red footmark painted on it. Then you look forward, remove your backpack and wait to be rammed in your rear end by what looks like a cheap sofa dangling from a moving cable. Once your rear end is firmly planted on the sofa, you pull down the safety handle and enjoy the ride. Getting off is fun too. There’s a net just before the pavement which looks like it is in place for passengers who decide to jump off the Chair Lift. While that may be one option, the more safe option is to wait for the red line by the pavement and then attempt to disembark from the lift. Dom tried to get me to jump into the net by preying on my ignorance but, fortunately, I was too scared to jump into the net!

The “Chair Lift”. Stand in position to board and get rammed in the rear

Best not to jump into the net

Once we reached the top, we walked down a valley called Val D’Arpette and climbed up a further 500m to “Col Des Escandies” (pronounced “Col Dee Candies”). We had lunch there and from the safety of our lunch spot, we heard and watched big boulders rolling off glaciers about 300m above us. One big rolling boulder created a dustbowl of snow in its path as it came crashing down with great vigor into the barren valley above us.

Small patch of snow on our way up Val D’Arpette

I wrote “DUDE” on the snow

After munching on our Swiss bread, Swiss cheese and a pear, we headed back down into Chimpex via “Val D’Arpette” (pronounced Val Dee Apit) to call it a day.

Our lunch spot — Dom cutting his pear

Looking at boulders rolling down and crashing below

French Lesson Learned:
If you want to give a French name a false sense of importance, simply throw in an apostrophe into it. Eg., D’Arpette instead of De Arpette. It makes the name sound more important than it really is. Think D’Aguillar street in Lan Kwai Fong. The same sort of false importance applies.

21st August 2014
Today was a big “Learn French Day”. You will know why in a minute. Feel free to take a break and read this report later if you fear OD-ing on French words.

We were again the last ones to get up and leave our “Dortoir” (pronounced “Dot-wah”), meaning dormitory. (Isn’t my French great?) It was a supposed to be a big day. We climbed up to 1900m to a valley called Bovine and were greeted by plenty of Swiss cows. Each cow had a massive Swiss bell around its neck to reveal its location to the herdsman. I tried greeting a few cows with my usual “Yo, wassup” but got no response. Later, I realized I should have instead been trying my newfound and quickly developing skill-set in Francais but it was too late for that. We already started going down a beautiful 700m downhill trail to “Col De Forclaz”. (I will leave this pronounciation to the reader as exercise).

Bovine — partying with the Swiss cows

This cow didn’t let us cross!

The grassy trail leading up to Bovine

From Bovine to Trient through a beautiful wooded trail

Running a few more kilometers took us down a pretty steep path to a sleepy Swiss town called “Trient” (pronounced “Tri-ont”), not “Trent” [See why in footnote below]. We tried getting lunch in Trient but that was like extracting blood from a stone. The town was too sleepy and shut for anything.

The sleepy town of Trient

A beautiful Church in “Trient” (pronounced “Tri-ont”, not “Trent”)

There was an underground bunker for some reason. Who the heck would attack this sleepy place?

From Trient, we climbed another steep 700m hill to a placed called “Les Tseppes” (pronounced “Les Seps”, according to my best French knowledge). The climb was steep but very doable thanks to the pure Alpine air and the tall, beautiful trees by the side of the trail. The border town between France and Switzerland was demarked at a small junction called “Catogne” (pronounced “Cat-on-ye” [again, you will know why in the footnote] ). We saw plenty of sheep in this place grazing on some fine French/Swiss grass. Btw, whether they were Swiss sheep or French sheep, I don’t know. That would probably depend on their exact location. Couple of meters left of Catogne and they’d be Swiss, otherwise French.

Hydroelectric power station on the way to Les Steppes from Trient

Sheep butt

More sheep on the way to Vallorcine

We then descended down a gravel path to a small but very beautiful French town called Vallorcine where we had lunch. And, after that much deserved lunch, we concluded our 32km run for the day by walking over to “Tres Le Champs” to our “dortoir” which was called “Auberge La Boerne” [see exercise below in footnote].

The town of Vallorcine

Our “Dortoire” in “Tres Le Chanps” called “Auberge La Boerne”

Dom showing off his world-class towel

French lessons learned:

Couple of lessons today. Let me list them.

1. “oir” somehow becomes “wah” in French. So, if you want to say “Shamwat road” in French, you’d say “Shamoir road”
2. “ien” somehow becomes “on” in French. So, if you want to say “almond” in French, you’d say “Almiend”
3. “tse” somehow loses its “t” in French. So, if you want to say “moose” in French, you’d say “mootse”
4. “gne” somehow becomes “onye” in French. So, if you want to say “good on you” in French, try “goodogne”
5. Exercise for the reader: based on everything you have learnt on this report so far, how would you pronounce “Auberge La Boerne”, “Trelechamps” and “Col De Forclaz) in French? (Tip: French is not as easy as you think. There are some deceptive grammar rules)

22nd August 2014
We left Tres Le Champs at around 8.30am and walked over to Col De Montet to begin our 800m climb up to “Tete Aux Ventes” (meaning “Head of the Wind” in French and pronounced God-knows-how). It was a steep climb! After having done 90km of running during the CCC race, this last 900m must be “enjoyable” I’m sure. Once on top, we took a little detour to “Lac Blanc” (pronounced “Lak Blonk”). This lake was stunning! Turquoise waters in an oval shape, glimmering under the rays of the sun and surrounded by tall snowcapped mountains with jagged summits. There wasn’t any other place I would have rather been!

On top of Col De Montet

From Col De Montet to Lac Blanc

A lake with no name before Lac Blanc

Ladders on the way up Lac Blanc

Selfie just before the lake

Lac Blanc!

The mountains never cease to mesmerize

Bonjour-ing our way back to Chamonix

Conclusion of a 130km recci across the CCC route!

After admiring Lake Blanc and her beauty, we “bonjoured” our way down to “Les Flegere” (pronounced “Less Flej”). There was a cable car station on top of Les Flegere which meant Lac Blanc got many visitors from day hikers. That in turn meant only one thing — plenty of “bonjours”. We wished we had carried tape recorders that could keep playing “bonjour” on continuous playback. There were so many “bonjours” that I started making distinctions between different kinds of “bonjours”. You’ve got the lively girlie kind which would go “bonjoooor” (in a high pitch tone) whereas an exhausted hiker would say “bonjur” (in a little shortened manner, possibly because of exhaustion from hiking).

A rubble path took us down a further 300m and then a beautiful mountain trail took us down the rest of the way to Chamonix.

This concluded our recci of the CCC course. We did 130km and 7,700m in total elevation over 5 days. And, what a beautiful course this was. The Alps are a real treat to the senses! And, as an added bonus, my Fracais is quite kick ass now, even if I say so myself.

French Lesson Learned:
As mentioned remember, remember how I said “en” becomes “on”? Well, “an” becomes “on” too. i.e. “Blanc” becomes “Blonk”. So, if you want to say “monkey” in French, try “Manckey”. Given all the education I have received in French during this trip, I have a strong gut feeling that “Tete Aux Ventes” is pronounced “Tet Ou Vints”.

23rd August 2014
Our running friends showed up the day before after close to a 22 hour flight from Hong Kong and the first thing they wanted to do was to go for a 45 minute run. (I know, crazy).

Hiking friends fly in to Chamonix in style

They always sport the latest fashion gear

Our “humble” abode — 8 bedroom chalet with a jacuzzi and sauna

After checking into our 8-bedroom luxury “humble abode” for the week, we climbed “D’Aguille” (pronounced “Dagle”) which was a good 900m climb to 2200m above sea-level. Then we ran around a technical trail to a place known as “De Montenvers” (pronounced “Mountain Verse”). Apparently, Monsiuer Montenvers is the person who theorized that the environment could have something to do with the growth of microorganisms. This place was next to a restaurant that does authentic French blueberry pies, a place called “Mer De Glas” pronounced “Mer Di Glass”. Unfortunately, we could not stop for dessert as we were out of time.

Our group photo on the way to “De Montenvers”

This is a “cog” train — the cog pulls up the chain

View of Chamonix valley

Back to Chamonix Mont Blanc

Resting in style after our 20km run in the jacuzzi — hard life I tell ya

Our luxury chalet group kept getting bigger! Our group heading to town for pizzas

French Lesson Learned:
1. Stop trying to learn French and just speak in English with an accent

24th August 2014
Running started early in the morning today! Rom and I went out for a bakery run in the morning at 6.30am. The morning alpine air probably added a few more years to my life expectancy. I’ve got to say — French bakery shops are probably the best in the world!

Our 6.30am early morning run to the bakery, and a pit stop to the UTMB/CCC finish line

Back at our luxury chalet, us boys didn’t know how to operate the stove to make our hot chocolate

Later on, we went for a 20km, 1600m ascent, Chalet-> Ballachat (2400m) -> Brenvont (2200m) -> Chalet run. The trail was such a pleasure to run on. Tall pine trees gave the trail a natural and intoxicating scent. It left me wondering why no one had ever tried to make “Pine Tea”. My thoughts shifted from Pine trees to blueberries as we climbed above 1800m and saw many blueberry plants on the way up to “Ballachat Hut” (pronounced “Bal-a-shat). I was eating away to glory. It got quite cold when we reached the 2400m, but as if to compensate us for braving the cold, Mont Blanc and all the neighbouring summits peeked above the clouds majestically. About an hour later, we had a glorious view of the mountain ranges.

The “window of opportunity” to see the summit

Three handsome gentlemen

I hear snails are a delicacy in France

Martin works as a night club dancer when he’s not running

Picking blueberries for our morning breakfast on the hike up to “Bella Blanchet”

The hut at 2300m — “Bella Blanchet”

Three handsome gentlemen

Rom filming the handsome me and the not-so-handsome Martin using his drone

Martin trying to fly using Rom’s drone

Spelt “Lake Brevent” but pronounced “Lake Bro-vont” for some reason

Paragliding at about 2300m

The cable car up to Brevent station — we ran down and hiked up!

No matter how many pictures you take, the views will never cease to amaze

After admiring the views, we ran down the Brevont trail to conclude our 6-hour, 20km, 1500m run for the day.

French Lesson learnt:
“ch” somehow becomes “sha” in French for some reason. So, if you want to say “I shall not” in French, you write it as “I chall not”. This is why “Ballachat” is pronounced “Bal-asha” not “Bal-a-chat”

25th August 2014
Today was a day full of “wow”s and yet another productive learn-French day. We started at 8.20am to get to a place called “La Tour”. To do this we had to take a bus to a place called “Arjenteire” pronounced “Ah Jont Air”. For a while, I thought it had something to do with Argentina! But, it was just complex French pronunciation of an English name.

Once we climbed up, we were in total “wows” as we saw glacier “Glacier Du Tour”. Yet again, it was one of those occasions where I just kept snapping away on my camera. No matter how many pictures I took of the glacier, it never ceased to mesmerize. There was one catch though — my hands became too cold trying to push the “click” button on the camera after about a minute! We were 2750m above sea level and it started to snow!

The hike up to the 2700m Glacier Du Tour

It was one heck of a steep climb which got us super cold at the top!

Hut “Du Glacier”

On ice! I learnt that ice is essentially compacted snow that forms over several years

Icy group photo

Helicopter air dropping supplies to the hut

After a brief stop in a hut near glacier “Du Tour”, we took a beautiful contour trail to a place called “Col De Balme”. I remembered that name from a few backpackers who told us about it when we were in one of the huts on the CCC course. The name sounded weird to me then. I thought he was talking about some sort of a bomb! Or maybe Tiger Balm!

On the way to “Col De Balme”

What are Dom and Rom pointing at?

Rom is is France while Dom is in Switzerland!

Hut “Col De Balme” — apparently, the lady who runs it is called “Dragon Lady”

We were at the border of France and Switzerland again. I sensed an opportunity to take another photo for my friend Hannes — this is me dumping in the outdoors in Switzerland!

My secret Mission #2 — Dumping in the Swiss outdoors

We then ran to a place called “Col De Possets” and finished our glacier run by descending back down to the 1300m La Tour.

Running back down to La Tour to conclude our 20km, 1500m ascent run

The equivalent of France’s “Wisdom Path”

Another fantastic day full of wow-ing scenery and impossible-to-pronounce French names!

French lesson learned
1. “La” or “Les” in French is probably just the title of something, like “Mr” or “Mrs”. Eg., today’s “La Tour”
2. “Jen” in French becomes “Jon”. I.e. Arjenteir turns into “Ar-jon-taire”

26th August 2014
Woke up to some fresh rain and decided to call it a proper rest day after having done close to 200km of running with some 10,000m of ascent in the past 8 days!

It rained nonstop and we saw some seriously high water levels at the river by the city centre.

Continuous but nonstop rain does this in Chamonix!

Cloudy view of the city and the lurking snowcapped peaks

We checked out a Trail Running Expo in the afternoon

Took a break from learning French today!

27th August 2014
It was a stark contrast compared to yesterday. We woke up to some glorious sunshine and saw the summits make themselves visible again towering above everything else under an azure sky.

The summits made themselves visible again thanks to a clear sky

Us chilling by the jacuzzi — hard life!

In the afternoon, Adrian and I went up to Montenvers again for a quick 15km run.

En route to Montenvers aka Mountain Verse

Views from the top of Montenvers

Selfie to conclude the run

Adrian and I struggled to order our ice cream in French despite all the French lessons I have already had.

French Lesson Learnt:
I have learned that I have not learned much yet!

28th August 2014
Finally paid 55 Euros for a cable car ride up to the 3800m “Aguille Du Midi”, pronounced “Agwile di midi”. It was worth every cent of the money. Another one of those days where armed with a camera in my cold hands, I clicked, clicked and clicked, yet wanted to click some more to capture the endless beauty of what I saw. The cable car ran every 15 minutes and carried 70 people in one go. This was from Chamonix valley which is at about 1000m. In 15 minutes, it climbed all the way to 3800m (with one brief stop en route where we had to change to a different cable car). The temperature change and the altitude change in those 15 minutes were remarkable. We went from hot to freezing cold in 15 minutes!

The cable car gives you a steep and picturesque 15-minute ride

The glaciers appeared before us threateningly. It was like watching a big iMax screen!

Aguille Du Midi at 3800m. Pronounced “Agwile Di Midi” if you want to get the French right

Mont Blanc is the one that has that spherically shaped cloud dangling above it

Our group at 3800m above sea level

Some climbers camp out here by pitching their tents in those snow holes

Crampons and ice axe armed mountain climbers

Beauty at its best

This is where you exit the Aguille Du Midi station and start climbing into the snow armed with all your gear

Helicopter dropping off supplies

Climbers set off from Aguille Du Midi

Ice axe on ice!

My friends describing the effects on pressure on a water bottle on the way back

French Lesson Learned:
1. “Aguille Du Midi” is pronounced “Agwile di midi”, essentially, you have to sat it by accentuating the “u”s and the “i”s. The more you sustain the “wi”, the better. I.e., “Agwile di midi”

29th August 2014
Today was going to be a big day for almost all of friends who were going to participate in the actual 101km CCC race (Courmeyeur / Chompex / Chamonix). I joined forces with Rom, who was filming instead of running, to support my friends and take many photos of them in action. Anyone who asked me what race I was doing (TDS or CCC or UTMB or PTL) received the same response. I made up my own abbreviation. CAR. The CAR race — Chill and Relax race!

UTMB? No. CCC? No. CAR? YES! Our CAR team (Chill and Relax team)

You can almost read nervousness and anxiety on the faces of many runners

Beginning of the race

Sam, Rom and I ran up to Bertoine Hut to see the runners

1st Checkpoint – Bertoine Hut

Dom is first from our chalet group to reach Bertoine Hut

Mr. Tinworth followed suite

Our “1st Lady”, made a flying visit

Mr. M “U Can” do it showed up next

Sabrina looked strong as she yelled out my name

Adrian swung by in style

Ida from HK was also there!

Supporting the crew at different points turned out to be difficult because of logistical reasons. We decided instead to go celebrate their achievement at the finish line.

Rom and I prepare to run the last 200m with Tilly and Dom

Dom arrived first looking fresh! He was 100th overall and in the top 25 in his category. Amazing feat!

We went to sleep at 3am and were supposed to be back up at 6.30am to take photos of some of our guys in the UTMB race.

30th August 2014
I got up at 6.30am after having had about three and a half hours of sleep.

We headed back to Chompex to catch Hong Kong ace runner Stone in action.

Switzerland again! Chompex brought back memories from the past week!

Rom filming Stone using his drone

Stone in action! He looked pretty good for a guy who had already run 120km and was still going

And, that brought this vacation to an end. At 5.20pm, it was time to head back to Hong Kong, back to the hustle and bustle of city life. I said “Au Revoir” to France and the fresh Alpine air. At least for now…

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A Kick Ass Adventure to El Nido, Palawan

The origins of another “kick ass” trip
Dark, cold, wet, windy and cloudy. Those were the words that described Hong Kong’s weather in the beginning of March, 2014. Naturally, the only way to counter that was through beaches, sports and ample sunshine! And, thus originated the humble beginnings of yet another “kick ass” trip to the Philippines – the land of sunshine, turquoise waters, pristine beaches and plenty of buko juice. (That’s Tagalog for coconut juice as we learnt during this trip).

Before I continue with this photo blog to summarize our trip to El Nido in the Philippines, I will have to tell you what makes a trip truly “kick ass”. You see, the “kick ass” adjective can’t be used to describe just any old vacation. No Sir. A vacation has to be truly, and I mean truly, worthy of being given that description. It has to be totally kick ass. When you hear those words being ascribed to a vacation, you just know it’s going to be, well, kick ass! And, why so? Because, of the secret ingredients, of course! Namely, mountain biking, kayaking, motorbiking, island hopping, snorkeling and, the best of all, truly and outstanding “kick ass” company!

March 4th/5th 2014
Dom, Read more

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HKTR’s first annual Summit in Sipalay plus capture of Mt. Kanlaon in the Philippines

HKTR’s first annual Summit in Sipalay plus capture of Mt. Kanlaon in the Philippines

All photos here.

Leaders to meet and discuss economic affairs of the world
We’ve all heard of the APEC Summit, Kyoto Summit, United Nations Summit and blah, blah, blah. Forget all that — an event far more important and exciting than any of the above –The Hong Kong Trail Runners’ Summit– was to be held in Sipalay, Philippines in February 2013. Key world leaders Martijn, Vivien and yours truly were expected to meet there to solve the problems of the world over some beers. And, all this while looking over the beautiful sunset from the bar stools of Artistic Diving Resort, Sipalay in The Philippines.

Leaders very busy at work solving world problems

Read about the Summit Achievements up ahead

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Trail running in South Island, New Zealand “No baggage” style

All photos are here.

Trail running in South Island, New Zealand “No baggage” style

Me, my hand-carry backpack and my heavy-duty rucksack
Armed with one light hand-carry backpack and one heavy-duty rucksack, I set foot for what promised to be a great adventure in Kiwi Land!

13th December 2012: Welcome to Queenstown!
What a landing this was! I could barely take my eyes off the plane window. By the time we landed, I had craned my neck so much to the left that it started to hurt! It felt like we were part of a flight simulator video game where the plane has to carefully navigate through picturesque mountain ranges. One tiny mistake by the pilot and it would have been game over! Nature kept beckoning us through the airplane window. Each time the plane banked right, I could see glimpses of a serene greenish-blue colored river. As the plane descended, this river showed off more and more of her beauty. The snowcapped mountains we saw moments ago quietly disappeared into the backdrop while gently giving way to lush green grasslands. And, all of a sudden, a runway appeared out of nowhere and we were somehow in Queenstown, New Zealand!

What a landing! This is Read more

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“Holdin’ it in” and practicing Putonghua in Northern Xinjiang during October 2012

“Holdin’ it in” and practicing Putonghua in Northern Xinjiang during October 2012

All pictures here.

Holdin’ what in?
Read on and you will be enlightened. But until then, here’s the story.

Strange departure from the original plan
The original plan called for a trip to Vietnam in October 2012. The group was supposed to consist of 6 of us. That number first went down to 5, then 4, then 3, then eventually … 2. We could have still gone to Vietnam but then came one of our brainwaves. Why not do something MORE adventurous?

Enter Xinjiang in Northwest China. Picture Muslim music playing in the background. Then picture eating some nans (bread). Picture kebab and lamb. Picture thousands of square kilometers of desert and contrasting grasslands and majestic mountains. That’s Xinjiang. It occupies 1/6th of the total land in China. It’s home to several distinct tribes. It’s a mysterious land – a land far, far away geographically, ecologically and, of course, spiritually to Central in Hong Kong!

So, Martijn and I decided to be brave and explore Xinjiang. “Brave” because, of the two of us, only I could speak the best Mandarin. And my Mandarin was unfortunately largely limited to “Wo bu ji dou Read more

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