Before you think that all was lost, I did manage to get up a mountain on my Chamonix weekend. I took the train up to Montenvers where I intended to visit the Mer de Glace glacier cave. Alas, it was closed that day due to the weather.  It was snowing fairly heavily, unlike down in the valley where it was raining. Clearly, very few attractions were going to open for me on this weekend. Still, I had a look inside the Glaciorium, which told me about the glacier.  And then, in the best of French tradition, I went to lunch at the hotel next door … at the Grand Hotel du Montenvers.

~ Spotted Cow



Runner in the snow

I went to Chamonix – the French ski resort – on a weekend in early January. It rained. The snow was slushy and horrible and most of the ski runs were closed because of heightened avalanche risk. So, what did I do? I took my trusty camera out for a walk in the drizzle and took photos of the forest.

It wasn’t easy walking conditions, but there were a few people about. I spotted this runner out on his daily jog. He looked quite hardy. Or foolhardy.

~ Spotted Cow

I wish it would snow properly

Snow in Leicester Square

It’s been very cold in London for the last two weeks and I wish it would snow properly like it’s doing in Scotland and other bits of the country. Like it did in the winter of 2010 / 2011 when the city turned into a magical white wonderland. At the moment, it’s just cold and what little snow we’ve had hasn’t settled. It’s a little bit unsatisfying. Hmph.

~ Spotted Cow

30,000 year-old ice for your gin & tonic

Giant iceberg

It’s a massive understatement, but there’s a lot of ice in Antarctica. Great giant blocks of ice the size of castles. In fact, they’re the young ‘uns, the bits of ice that have broken off glaciers or ice shelves and drifted out into the sea. It’ll take about 20,000 to 40,000 years for them to melt down to something you can put into your measure of gin & tonic.

We had excursions in motorized dinghies around these iceberg graveyards, to get a sense of their enormity, broadly aware that the ice is continuously melting and the iceberg could potentially tip over on one of its sides. Do you know the sound of groaning ice? I would like to have known, albeit from a safe distance !

~ Spotted Cow

IMGP0668 Ice the size of castles Seal on the iceIceberg perspective

Snap chat. White-out

On the edge of a lake

Winter holidays are around the corner and I thought I’d do a post on taking pictures in the snow. Have you looked back on your snowy photographs and thought that the snow looks sullied and grey?

Without getting too technical about it, your camera meter automatically adjusts for a mid-grey. That works in most instances because there is a range of different colour light that averages out to that mid-grey. However, if you have a bright white scene, it ends up turning your “average white” into the same mid-grey.

The easiest way to deal with this is to over-expose your shots by one or two notches. If you’ve never moved your camera from it’s automatic settings, look for the (+/-) button. You might have to read the manual to discover how it works on your camera. The default setting is 0 and you want to click it to +1 or +2. If the scene is very bright and white, it’ll need to be at +2. Dial down toward +1 depending on the proportion of coloured objects in the frame.

Keep checking your pictures. With a little bit of practice, you’ll become accustomed to the settings that are likely to work.

If it’s very cold and you’re going to be outdoors for awhile, a set of fingerless gloves with mitten covers come in handy. Mind you, the photos here were taken in Northern Finland, and the temperature was between -20°C and -30°C. I wore glove liners, fingerless gloves and big padded glove mitts … and I had to take off the mitts whenever I wanted to take a picture.

Remember to carry a spare battery in your pocket. Batteries run low very quickly in cold weather. When you come indoors from a long spell in the cold, put your camera in its bag in a cool place. Heated rooms cause condensation.

Most of all, enjoy the monochromatic fun. Let me know how you get on.

~ Spotted Cow

Cross country skiing across a frozen lake Frozen rope bridge White scene

Sun or snow?

The week between Christmas and New Year – where should you go on holiday? Sun or snow? One year we decided that we wanted a really truly winter holiday. So we booked ourselves onto a week’s wilderness activity trip in northern Finland with Exodus. We were based at Basecamp Oulanka in their toasty log cabins. It was absolutely fantastic and we had a really wonderful time.

Oddly, we didn’t feel the cold too much and it was -30°C at its coldest. Your eyelashes freeze into mini icicles outside. The warmest day was a sweltering -11°C.  The camp kitted us out with the appropriate clothes. As the Nordic saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

We were active the entire time it was daylight.  There were lots of things to do – dog sledding, cross country skiing, walking trails, snow-shoeing, building igloos, sledding down hills, ice-fishing, climbing an ice wall. There were day trips out to a reindeer farm and to a downhill skiing resort. After an exhilarating day out, the sauna was a daily late afternoon ritual. Then, a book by the fire, dinner, chatting with other people and a few drinks. Ahhh.

One night, we saw the Northern Lights. It wasn’t as techni-coloured as some of the pictures I’ve seen, but an impressive sheet of light nonetheless. And there was the option of sleeping out in the igloos overnight.  How many people can say they’ve done that?

~ Spotted Cow

Basecamp Oulanka

Snow walk

Snowy bridge

Cross Country Skiing

Night in an Igloo

On our trip to northern Finland, I slept in quite an unusual place.  I slept in an igloo for one night! Although I didn’t build it – I watched the adults shovel and pat the snow into place –  I found the igloo experience very enjoyable.

Initially, I was quite reluctant considering it was -35 degrees Celsius outside. But the guide at Basecamp Oulanka explained that it would keep the heat in. She was right.  It turned out to be a snug zero degrees. I slept in the igloo with a few other kids who were at Basecamp, plus an adult.  It was cosy!  We slept in very warm sleeping bags and as the night progressed it felt warmer due to our warm bodies.  In fact, I discovered that igloo water was dripping on my feet by morning. If you ever get the chance, definitely try sleeping in an igloo for a night.

~ Chocolate Milk Cow



Dog sledding in -30°C

Yup, you heard me right the first time. Minus 30 degrees. You wear 2 sets of long undies, 2 sets of fleece pyjamas, inner jacket, outer jacket, yet another jacket on top, glove liners, gloves, big gloves, sock liners, 2 pairs of socks, woolly hat and hood. Then you’re ready to get on the sled.

It’s really fun. You feel the cold a bit, but more than anything it’s quite exhilarating. The dogs are quite fast and you have to be careful not to slide up the side of the path and tip the sled over.

The dogs are gorgeous. They have big eyes and perky ears and lots of thick glossy fur.

We did the dog-sledding in Finland. I’ll talk more about our Finnish winter holiday next time.

~ Spotted Cow