The moment I've been waiting for ...

... and I'm lying in bed listening to the rain. My first snowshoe group. Of my own. Ever! It's been raining all night, gusts of wind bringing small branches down. I've been obsessively refreshing the weather apps on my phone, trying to connect to the local webcams. It's looking bleak.

I get a message - "are we following the plan as agreed? Just wondering given the heavy rain". I can see where they're coming from, it has been the worst weather in ages (we later found out that winds of 240 kmph were recorded up the valley!), but I play it down, "it'll be fine, I'm sure it'll clear up". I am sure, and even if it doesn't, our routes will be protected from the worst of it. But of course there's always a chance the forecast is inaccurate. Or the route will be too exposed. Or it'll all go horribly wrong.

We meet for breakfast and finally I'm able to access the webcam - the trees are full of snow! Not rain! It's going to be ok! We pack the cars, head to our start point and everything seems ok. It's raining, but we seem to be right at the height where the rain is turning to snow, and as we walk up through the forest, we enter a winter wonderland ... just as I promised!

It's snowing heavily as we reach the plateau and for a while everyone goes quiet, thinking only of the path we're creating across this almost Arctic wilderness (and of lunch which is apparently "just over the horizon"!). And then we reach the horizon, we see the deserted village and we know lunchtime is soon. We find a shelter, feast on local cheese, bread & hot chocolate, all served on a traditional platter (my avalanche shovel!).

... And then the sun comes out! We're alone and we're looking across to Mont Blanc and it's satellites - the Domes de Miage, Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit ('but why would anyone want to climb the 'Cursed Mountain'? Fair point!). The sun lights the mountains and we sit and wonder at the size of the glaciers, the spires, the majesty.

Eventually we start moving again. The sun stays with us and the views cause the pace to slow. I look up. It can't be. I look up again, a bearded vulture! A lammergeier! And another! There's only three pairs in this whole area and we've got one right above us! Earlier, I suggested some of the things we might see and of course I mentioned these wonderful birds, but I'd only seen one once before, so didn't really expect to see one, let alone two! Fantastic! The snow, the sun, the mountains and now one of the rarest birds of prey in the area.

We pop out of the forest, replacing solitude and nature with civilisation, skiers ... and a welcome beer. Day one done! Fantastic!

The days that followed were equally marvellous - sun, snow, smiles and lots of cheese ... all exactly as I knew it would!

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