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Second Form Explore the French Alps

27 Second Formers we were lucky enough to visit the French Alps this summer holidays. See what trip leader, Mrs Heathcote, had to say:

Our trip is an annual one-week trip and takes place in the beautiful Ecrins National Park in the southern French Alps. It’s a lovely area with the most stunning hiking, biking, rafting and climbing activities, all lead by local qualified guides. We were very well supervised by staff and mountain leaders on the trek, making use of footpaths or tracks, plus Giles’ local knowledge and close relationship with the leaders made it interesting. The whole trip was a fantastic experience.

Giles & Anne Cornah were our hosts along with their three children. They live 10 minutes from our camp and looked after us all extremely well all week. Giles is passionate about the mountains and has been inviting Bloxham students to Vallouise for over 10 years, thanks to Mr Stindt who encouraged Giles while he was a pupil at Bloxham years ago.

This year we had a fantastic trip, everyone got stuck in throughout the week and we were encouraged to challenge ourselves; sometimes this was hard but with everyone’s support we all managed to achieve the tasks that were in front of us without too much trouble. Some of us surprised ourselves with what we achieved!

Our base camp was a well-appointed site in Pelvoux St Antoine (which is two miles from Vallouise, about 10 miles from Serre Chevalier, Briancon). The camp is sheltered and positioned approx. 1 km from the road, alongside a river in a secluded field with mountains all around. Most of us shared a two-person tent, with pairs allocated by ourselves but some were lucky to get a 3-man tent.

The tents were supposed to be fully waterproof but due to unusual amount of rain we did experienced some soggy tents! When it was wet, we were able to use the student dining tent where all meals were served, and we played games until the rain stopped.

At the end of the week we took part in the two-day hike, this was the finale of the week so it’s important that we were prepared. So, during the week we took part in activities preparing and climatizing us so we can enjoy this experience - and we did!

Our hike was the Col De Buffère route which is in the Grand Aréa. We split into two groups and started in Névache valley. The more motivated and practiced group climbed the ridge and a dome; the place was wild and austere. A few rockery flowers brought some touches of colour. Ascending to 32,869m was tough but the views were spectacular. It was the most beautiful headlands of the Briançonnais I have ever seen.

The other group also made their way to the summit by taking a trail that climbs along a small grassy combe between the Grand Aréa west ridge and dome and snaked along gradually climbing to reach the same point.

We finished the day at Refuge Buffère where we stayed the night. This was a wonderful chalet that had all the usual quirky toilets, rules and beds! After a good nights’ sleep, we descended all together back to camp which seemed a lot easier. Lots of us enjoyed a well-earned rest by Lac De Cristol halfway, where some of us could swim - but it was cold!

Mountain biking: we all found this exciting but quite tricky, as the brakes are on the opposite side and the terrain was challenging. We had to balance and control our bikes down some quite step paths and tracks in a ski resort called Puy-Saint-Vincent, Pelvoux.

White water rafting was our favourite activity of the week. We started the day in two-man kayaks which was so much fun. We then had a six-man boat which we could jump from and float down river when there weren’t any rapids. Some pupils did capsize on the larger rapids towards the end of the journey, but it was so hot getting wet was ok. Boats were encouraged to work as a team and defend themselves in the warfare of the river. Team Barry and the Love Shack came to blows in more than one occasion with Jess’ “near death experience” talked about all week.

Matthew’s boat overshot the dock and had to walk and transfer again which was hugely annoying for those involved. Lastly, we lost one kayak that wasn’t tied up and decided to go on its own journey, following some great somersaults from the cliff.

Unfortunately, we were unable to canyon this year due to the large amount of water in the gorge making it unsafe. Instead we had the afternoon climbing and abseiling a great gorge and ridge. We all enjoyed this, especially the races and laughing at Charlie who was very funny.

The annual French bake off took place when we spent the morning at the local market in three groups supervised by staff, and it was hugely competitive! Starter, main course and pudding where allocated to the groups and, using our best French to barter for produce, bought and cooked on an open fire that we had made by an organic lake! Alex and Georgia headed the starter group who were impressive and won the competition by serving garlic bread, salad and cheese… delicious even though slightly charred. Hector was given the French Speaking Award for his efforts conversing with a stall holder about the raspberry tarts for sale!

Vallouise has a great Via ferrata - a sheer rock face - that we climbed all together. We were joined together by ropes and had to crab along the protected cliff. We were high up and had a river below us which made the experience even more thrilling. The extra hard overhang route was tackled by nearly all pupils. I was hugely impressed and think this was the best group ever!

Lake swimming is where we went to relax and jump off trees, eat ice creams and hire pedalos, and Willy the Whale was introduced to the group. We all wanted to spend more time here.

The starry nights were beautiful, as were the lightning and thunderstorms we experienced this year. We could experience the outdoors in the dark and walk around the camp to explore nature and the surroundings with our friends, and then we spent our last night around a huge campfire with some rather special guests from down the road!

This atmospheric evening celebrated the end of camp with us all singing and celebrating our success as individuals and team members.

Overall the trip was a great success and we are already looking forward to next year. To see photos from the trip, visit our Flickr page here.