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Chamonix Alps : 1A • June 13-July 5, 2016

Hola and Bonjour from the Pyrenees!

July 4, 2016

Part 1:

Hola and Bonjour from the Pyrenees! This crew has just completed an unbelievable trek through the French and Spanish Pyrenees and our hearts ache to be leaving such a majestic mountain range where we truly came alive and became a Moondance family.

On day one, Mary Abbott and KP started as our LODs to start us off in the gorgeous Pyrenees. We began with a short 20 minute walk to the Col des Tentes along the French/Spanish border. On the French side of the border, the weather was cold, foggy, and misty, but the minute we reached the Col to cross over to the Spanish side, we emerged from the thick fog and stepped into a picture perfect, sunny, blue sky day with an absolutely stunning view of the Pyrenees. The first day was quite a long one. We hiked a total of 9 miles with a lot of downhill, but we pushed through and made it to a quaint village called Torla where we rested our sore feet and were treated to a lovely dinner by our hostel Lucien Briet. As we learned from some fellow hikers, this refuge was created by a French Alpinist named Lucien Briet who discovered the town of Torla and built the hostel we were staying in back in 1660!

On Day Two, Gracie woke up to some chocolates surrounding her bed that some little gnomes must have left her for her birthday! She also was an LOD this day along with Ann Chapman. Today was canyon day! We were dropped off at the Ordessa Canyon trail head and made our way into the valley. As we walked alongside a crystal-clear blue stream, the canyon rocks towered over us on either side.  Maggie seemed especially awed by the incredible landscape. We made many cow friends this day and stopped at several waterfalls. Gracie was happy to make so many new friends on her special day, including the mysterious gnomes that kept leaving chocolatey delicious treats in her bag. At the end of the canyon, we saw the largest waterfall we’d seen yet, where we all gathered on a huge rock just below it and allowed the falls to hit us with a misty spray and the wind to blow through our hair. When we arrived to our next refuge in Bujuarelo, John Michael, Will, Kam, Wilson, George and Reid spontaneously decided to run outside and go jump into the crystal blue, freezing cold stream just next to the hostel. Bondy also ran after them to take pictures and encourage everybody to jump in! We had a delectable meal that night, including some chocolate pudding that somehow missed John Michael, Ann Chapman, and Will’s mouths and ended up on their faces. Soon after, we began singing happy birthday to Gracie and the whole room of refuge goers joyously joined in and cheered loudly for her. It was a great end to a gorgeous day full of beautiful scenery, fabulous convos, and lots of birthday surprises!

On day three, Reid and George were selected to be our LODs. Today was going to consist of a lot of snow travel, so we were confident that with George’s snow experience and Reid’s calm and comforting demeanor, they would be perfect for the job. This day, we hiked from Bujuarelo to Sarradets which sat just under the breathtaking Breche de Roland. The first half of the day, we hiked up to the Col des Tentes where we had descended the first day. This section consisted of lots of slippery rocks and scrambling up the mountain, but this group completelyyy crushed the 3 mile uphill in just an hour and a half! Unlike the first day when we walked up to the Col des Tentes, the French side of the Col this day was completely clear and we could see glorious snow capped mountains for miles. Just two miles along the right ridge and around the bend, our isolated refuge, Sarradets, stood waiting for us. With all of our Microspikes fastened, we began our snowy trek along the ridge. John Michael did a fabulous job of leading the crew through the snow and making great steps for everybody to follow. At times, the ridge became a bit steep, but the whole gang did a fabulous job of following directions, stepping in the correct places, and keeping spirits high during the difficult snow travel. Bondy and Mary Abbott entertained everybody with their singing as we strolled along, passed a waterfall on our way up, and finally reached the top of the Col. An outstandingly breathtaking view, each one of us were wide-eyed, and jaw-dropped, completely in awe of the view we were seeing. Sitting at about 8,000 feet in elevation, Sarradets sits right under the Breche de Roland and overlooks the Cirque de Gavarnie, where the tallest waterfall in Europe resides. Soon after we settled in at the refuge, several of us were not quite ready to take off our boots for the day. The beautiful Breche above us was too enticing, so a group including me, John Michael, George, Kam, Will, Reid, KP, Kirby and Bondy, and of course Hank (Ann Chap’s beloved friend) strapped our micro spikes back on and booked it up to the Breche! In just 25 short minutes, we were up at the top gazing upon a magnificent 360 view of the Pyrenees—an awe-inspiring view that I believe will stick in our minds forever.

Pat 2:

What a wonderful week we have had trekking throughout the magical and majestic Pyrenean mountain range. A lot has happened since we last left you up on the beautiful Col de Serradets and Breche de Roland. Just a few hours after our weary eyes shut and the dreams of what we accomplished earlier were beginning we were awakened by the loud yet peaceful humming of our breakfast landing. Yep you heard it right, our breakfast was landing! We were lucky enough to witness the food drop and restocking of this isolated refuge, an awesome experience for the kiddos.

After some coffee, bread and jam we laced up our boots, threw on our bright orange micro spikes and got freakin pumped to take on this snowy descent down the col into the Valle de Pouey D’Aspe. With Kirby, our silent driver, following my every step and Mr. Will Weaver sweeping in the back, we slowly made our way down this steep incline, crossing waterfalls and keeping the positivity high as the sky! The group did an outstanding job this morning; coming together and truly working as a team in order to safely descend in to the valley below. Whether it was overcoming a fear, stepping into a new leadership role or just being there for encouragement, every single person in the group took strides forward in life which was an absolute beautiful thing to witness

With the toughest leg of our trip behind us, we decided to settle down in the valley for a quick picnic. After we gobbled down our sandies, fruits and mysterious candies; we laced up our boots and continued on through the valley gazing up at the prestigious peaks around us and listening to the rushing waters below. This section of our trek was a very special and personal one. Instead of hiking toe to toe we decided this section would be the perfect time for a little reflection walk. One by one we spread out across the trail in order to have some solitude in this surreal valley, some time to think back on what we had achieved the days leading up to this and to set some goals for our final few days together. This time of solitude ended as we turned a corner and came upon the Plateau de Bellevue, a lush green table top setting ones gaze upon the Cirque de Gavarnie, a great place for everyone to sit and contemplate. With our minds refreshed and tummies grumbling we descended down to the town of Gavarnie. Arriving at our hostel, we sat down to another glorious dinner ending with candles and birthday wishes from all to KP who turned 19 on this majestic day of travels. With celebration in the air we cooled out jets and circled up for a great moon up before laying out heads down for a well deserved nights snoooooze.

The morning came soon with our natural alarm clocks, the lovely French cows outside our windows, waking us up to yet another beautiful day in this fairy land. Retracing our steps, we hiked back through Gavarnie and headed to the base of the cirque which we had been gazing at for the past few days. Wilson led the way this morning, setting a nice and smooth pace, slowly winding up until we reached this place of grandeur. Feeling like tiny little ants beneath these humongous snow laced walls, our heads turned from left to right taking in this scene of beauty with everyone’s eyes stopping upon the La Grande Cascade, the tallest waterfall in Europe. While we could’ve stayed for hours our time was cut short due to some ominous clouds rolling in through the peaks. Trying to beat the rain, Maggie took over the front and we began our siege uphill towards Refuge des Espuquettes, our home for the next two nights. Our quick movements and a little luck from Mother Nature allowed us to take a quick dip in a hidden gem of a swimming pool we found en route. Chap’s little friend, Hank, graced us with his presence and hopped in as well, cruising down the waterfalls with ease. With a quick dry in the sun we all headed on up to Epsuquettes, arriving just in time to beat the rain and sit down for some cookies and tea. As the rain cleared and day turned in to night, Mother Nature once again treated us to a gift from above. As the clouds settled in the valley below creating a sea of dreams and the sun nestled it’s way behind the mountains to the west; we were able to sit down for a moon up unlike any before. It was special event for everyone on the trip.

The next morning didn’t just feel like it came quick; it actually did. Alpine start, 4:45 wake up call! Grabbing a quick breakie and tossing on our headlamps, the crew began to meander it’s way up to the peak of Pimene. Sitting at 2800m, we had 800m to hike, scramble and climb in order to reach the summit of this beautiful peak. As we pulled the ridge and arrived at it’s little brother, petit Pimene, the sun began creeping through the surrounding mountains and blessed us with it’s warmth. After a little ridge running (don’t worry we were walking!) the whole crew arrived at our goal for the day, the summit of Pimene. Our arrival time couldn’t been better as the sun began to rise high enough in the sky to illuminate the valley below cloaked in white clouds. It was a beautiful sight that only enhanced the feeling of accomplishment growing deep within everybody.  After some well needed relaxation on the summit, the group safely and slowly descended back to our hostel. Upon arrival, we sipped coffee, ate bread and jam, played cards and discussed the wonderful times the Pyrenees had been gifting us. With naps following our well deserved meals, the rest of our day was a relaxing way getting ready for our final day in the Pyrenees.

We awoke the next morning to a wonderful French breakfast of bread, jam and coffee. With picnics in hand we set out on our final day of trekking. With KP and Reid as our LODs we knew it would be smooth sailing to the finish line and it sure was. Descending into the Vallee D’Estaube we slowly made our way to the Lac des Gloriettes where we stopped for lunch. A lush blue lake formed by a hydroelectric dam, we ate our final picnic which ended with will and Reid taking a quick dip before continuing on. Bellies full and the sun shining we ascended the Turon De Pouey Boucou, a grassy bald resembling Black Balsam in the hills of NC. This would be our last main stretch of beautiful hiking with the trail funneling us towards out final refuge, le Maillet Hotellerie. As we reached our destination, hoots and hollers were abound, high fives were flying and smiles couldn’t be contained. After some well deserved ice cream and relaxation, the crew headed outside to play some good ole fashioned games and chat about the terrain we had just covered. It was a joyous yet sad time for all.

The next morning came too quickly and so did our arrival in Lourdes. With the bulk of our trip now behind us we begin to make the train trek to the worldly city of Paris where we will eat macaroons, gaze upon beautiful architecture and as all Parisians do, people watch.  While the city is waiting our arrival, it is what we are leaving behind that truly inspires Alexis and I as leaders. Throughout our week in the Pyrenees we witnessed amazing achievements; goals were accomplished, peaks were summited, snow fields were crossed and slid down, creeks were swam in, fears were overcome, and, most important of all, life long bonds were created. This amazing group made up of your sons and daughters came together as one and truly became a family, a family that cared for and encouraged one another, they pushed each other further then one could imagine, and every single one of them grew as a leader and human being. It’s sad to think that in a few days Alexis and I will be saying au revoir to this unbelievable group but it’s great to know they will be returning home with love in their hearts. I want to thank you, their amazing parents, for giving us the opportunity to get to know each and every one of your teenagers, for trusting us to take them throughout the mountains of Europe, and for doing such an amazing job raising them to see the greatness in the little things. And with that I say cheers and see ya later. Paris is in our sights and in a few days your children will truly be in yours!!


JAM and Alexis

Sea Kayking...and Iron Chef!

June 24, 2016


Leaving the vast peaks of the French/Swiss Alps behind, we trade our trekking poles in for paddles and our adventures continue. After a well-executed train travel day, our group of bonafide explorers arrived in L’escala, a small Spanish beach town straight from a movie. From the towering sea bluffs to the crystal clear water, excitement was at an all time high as we prepped ourselves for some relaxing sea kayaking in these picturesque waters.

The day began with Bondy and George leading the pack, discussing their past kayaking adventures throughout the Maine coast with our wonderful guide, Róger.  We continued our day, paddles in hand and sunscreen abound, weaving in and out the many magnificent sea caves that have been formed in the bluffs over years of erosion. Whether small or large, Will, KP and Gracie were always gung-ho to hop in and explore these mysterious waters. Our guide even found some wildlife for us to check out, a beautiful sea urchin which Ann “Chap” right away wanted to befriend and hold in her hand. While we put this marvelous creature back in the ocean, I believe Chap made a new lifelong friend.

Lunch was soon to follow, and our guides led us to an amazing tucked away inlet that allowed us to enjoy our snacks and truly take in our spectacular surroundings. While Maggie, Mary Abbot and Kirbs took in the sun and worked on their base tan, some of the boys were eyeing some cliffs (not too tall, we promise!) to leap from into these beautiful waters we had been pirating the past few hours. After some looking, Kam, Reid and Wilson found just the perfect spot. Mr. Will Weaver used his swimming skills to go down and check the depth for safety, realizing he could barely reach the bottom, we knew we were good to go! The whole group joined in taking a dip from this awesome cliff. After a little encouragement from the crew, Caroline overcame her fear of heights and hopped from a lower cliff into the crystal-clear water. Everybody hooted and hollered with excitement. This brought an end to our first day of kayaking, and we headed on back to begin some friendly competition among the students in the 21st annual Iron Chef, Cala Montgo edition.

Three bungalows, three teams, two dinners, winner takes all; let the cooking begin. It all began at the supermercado, where our teams scurried around purchasing goods for their two meals making sure they didn’t go over the allotted money for the competition. It was quite impressive to witness the energy and cohesiveness among the teams, everyone was eyeing for the gold. The first night, Alexis and I were hit with some spectacular meals; from burgers to spaghetti to steak tacos our taste buds were smiling from ear to ear and bellies close to exploding. After another wonderful day of kayaking (more coming about that further down), day 2 of the competition began. Once again, intensity was high as our three teams hit the kitchens in full force, whipping up concoctions that would make any food conoseur’s mouth water. Team 1, consisting of Kam, Chap, Will and Kirby, hit us with some fabulous quesadillas and energy that made me truly believe we were in a Mexican cantina. Team 2, made up of George, “Mabbot”, Gracie and Wilson, whipped up a spectacular red sauce across penne pasta – delicioso! Last but not least, Team 3, consisting of Reid, KP, Maggie and Bondy, threw together some fantastic bacon cheeseburgers which were just mouth-watering. What made it even better was that these burgers were the first burgers Bondy had ever cooked in her life, another first!  While all the teams did a wonderful job, putting together great meals each night, one team had to take home the crown of Iron Chef. Between the bacon cheeseburgers and the wonderful steak tacos, team 3 came out on top and took home the gold. No matter the outcome, Alexis and I were extremely proud to see everyone come together with their teams, work as one and truly create some majestic meals.

Rewind a few hours and back to our second day of kayaking. Due to the change in weather and high winds surrounding Costa Brava, we decided to move from the salt to the fresh water. The crew geared up and hit the river in tandem, open-face kayaks. As we began our paddle down this beautiful Spanish river, spirits were light and the mood was at an all time high. Scooting through small rapids, teamwork was key in order for success. In between the light and fun rapids, splash wars and singing were abundant.  Whether it was Taylor swift or the Grateful Dead, everybody joined in as much as they could and definitely provided some humor for our Spanish guides. The day was a well-deserved relaxing one for our world explorers that ended with a wonderful Moonup on the beach. This Moonup allowed for us to reflect on the amazing opportunities we have been given and to talk about the ones we hope to achieve.  It allowed us to truly think back about our past week together and how, in a handful of days, a group can transform from strangers into a family creating moments that will last a lifetime.

As I hit sit here on a train en route to Lourdes, our gateway to the Pyrenees, excitement fills my soul. Excitement to begin our eight-day trek across the France-Spain border, to watch our group continue to come together, and excitement for everyone to grow and push themselves further than they ever thought possible.

Well, that’s all for now.  The trip has been a glorious one so far.  Alexis and I are so proud of the group and can’t wait to see what happens next!

Jam and Alexis

Mont Blanc and Beyond!

June 23, 2016

Bonjour from Chamonix! Wow, what an incredible first week in the Alps. This group of enthusiastic adventurers has enjoyed a splendid week of frolicking through the mountains, eating lots of baguettes, and getting a taste of the exquisite European mountain culture.

On day one, because of their enthusiasm and genuine interest in everybody in the group since the minute they walked into the airport, Will Weaver and Caroline Bondy started as our first LODs (leaders of the day) of our trip. We enjoyed exploring the quaint mountain town of Chamonix, an epicenter of outdoor adventure sports for thrill seekers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. As we walked through town, the majestic peak of Mont Blanc towered over us. Standing as the tallest mountain in Europe at 15,700 ft, Mont Blanc draws some of the world’s most experienced climbers and alpinists. This group had the opportunity to witness this cultural hub and experience for themselves the high mountain life.

On our first day backpacking, we met up with our French guide Luc, who immediately clicked with the whole crew. An outstandingly experienced mountaineer and athlete, Luc guided us through what he knows to be his backyard. We began with quite a difficult uphill trek, crushing about three to four miles straight up the mountain. Although it was the rainiest and coldest day of our time in the Alps, there were nothing but smiles and wide eyes in awe of the gorgeous scenery. As we hiked higher and higher, and the weather got colder and wetter, we got to trek through some fluffy white snow as well as some thick mountain fog. Our LODs for the day, Reid and Ann Chapman, did an awesome job of keeping spirits high in the cold weather and making our first day memorable. When we reached the top of the pass of the Grande Col Ferret, the wind started howling and the weather gods decided to hit us with hail, but even that did not phase this crew one bit! George got everybody to huddle up in a big bundle to warm each other up, jumping up and down, giggling, all proud of their accomplishment to the top! We didn’t stay long though, because we were ready to get to lower ground, get warm, and enjoy some traditional French lunch- baguettes, jambon, et fromage! (Ham and cheese!)

As we descended into the valley, the snow faded away and the green hills flourished with a multitude of colorful wild flowers. We reached our first mountain town of La Fouly where we were greeted with cozy beds, a delectable dinner and the boy’s floor even had a sauna!

Day two, our LODs were Kam and George. The day started off cloudy and chilly as we trekked leisurely through the forest canopies. At lunch time, however, the skies opened up and we had one of the most beautiful days yet! We meandered through the Swiss towns, one in particular where the Wilson, KP and Maggie filled up everyone’s water bottles at a spicket (talk about some solid EB) and got gnomey by a giant gnome garden! The hike was fairly easy this day, leading to lots of trail conversations and sing alongs to Ann Chapman’s tunes on the trail. We also ran into an old military bunker built into a giant boulder- pretty nifty! We reached the town of Champex early in the afternoon, allowing for a relaxing afternoon stroll through the town. We all ended up congregating on the back of a bakery porch enjoying our afternoon cafés and croissants and convos. We found a great spot on the lake for Moonup, right next to a playground! So, naturally, we had to get our yayas out before sitting down for moon up. It turned out to be a gorgeous, easy day which made for many laughs, great convos and lots of opportunity for bonding.

Day three our LODs were Ann Chapman and Kirby. We left the quaint town of Champex and were off to Trient! This day consisted of a lot of beautiful creek crossings, passing through lush forests, and all around stunning views of the snowcapped Alps. We stopped at the Alpage de Bovine, a small alpine café straight out of the 18th century, for lunch! It was simply exquisite. At our hostel that night at L’Auberge du Mont Blanc, our bellies were delighted with some delicious local vegetables and fondue! Our Moonup this night was very special, as we decided to open up to each other even more and talk about some of the biggest challenges we have faced in our lives. Although emotional, our whole group really came together this night and showed us just how much they really care about each other.

Day four our LODs were Gracie and Wilson. We knew it was going to be a tough day, but yet again, this stellar crew of adventurous wanderers did not let it faze them. The beginning four miles were all uphill. As the sunny weather soon became rainy, foggy and windy, we suited up in our warm rain gear and took on the cold winds! We went through the Col de Balme this day, a very large mountain pass with lots of snow on the top. Luc lead us through the snow, umbrella in hand, as we went up, up, and up until we reached a nice little café at the top- our reward for a job well done! The hike was very difficult and the weather dreary, so as leaders, we were so pumped and thrilled that they still enjoyed it and were not affected by the conditions one bit. Reid and Will’s enthusiasm and genuine kindness really shined all day long as they were constantly checking in with everyone and keeping the spirit of the group at an all-time high. That night in Argentière we treated everybody to a delectable pizza dinner at Stone Bar Pizzeria across from our hostel, followed by a good night’s sleep to gear up for our last day of hiking!

Our final day of hiking was very special. Our LODs were Mary Abbott and KP. We woke up to an absolutely breathtaking view of Mont Blanc with crisp blue skies and not a cloud in sight After a delectable breakfast we laced up our boots and started off.  We did not have to hike far, which made for a nice, relaxing last day on the trail. This day was full of greenery and flowers, including one house we saw completely covered and decorated in flowers where a famous alpinist once lived and where a tribute to him is now displayed. As we walked through the towns following Luc, we suddenly saw him stop and take some mail out of one of the house’s mailboxes- he had walked us to his home in Chamonix! We sat in his yard as he generously provided us with drinks and snacks, as well as an awesome tour of his 200 year old farm house! We ended the day eating lunch on a large open field in Chamonix where we first began our trip five days before. The weather was perfect, the mountains were majestic, and we all goofed around tumbling, dancing, singing, and playing goofy laughing games in the middle of the field surrounded by unbelievable scenery. It was as if we were in a dream. As we continue on our way, we will miss the stunning Alps, but we are excited to switch up the scenery and head on to Cala Montgo, Spain for some sea kayaking, swimming and maybe a cliff jump here or there!