I was flying out to join the rest of the group in the Alps, Darren, Helen and Hugh has been there for a week already and Steve, Chipper, Andy and Duncan a couple of days, so there was the potential of some good stories having already been written by the time we arrived to add our own. We had been told before we left that someone had already sampled the quality of the stitching of the locals, which wasn't encouraging; we wereassuming that socks weren't being darned. As noted Steve and I had good money on Hugh looking like Frankenstein when we arrived and while he was an actor in themisdemeanor, despite trying hard, he wasn't the star of the show. Not quite anyway. When we arrived we were eager to hear the tale, like any good rubber necker would be, but were forced to wait until the next day for the recounting and it all started with Hugh and Darren heading off for a day on the mountain bikes. Picture the scene, a steep alpine slope, with erratically winding bike track negotiating the treacherous slope and two brave bikers balancing on the cusp of stability as they push the limits of balance and nerve to the limit. I'd like to say that in the pursuit of 'the edge' one of them went a little far and quickly slid down the slope of instability the rest of us know as crashing. However, the reality is that Hugh had stopped on a bend to admire the view, or practice the 1000 mile stare he was to adopt for the rest of the day, when a momentary loss of balance caused a slow motion tree felling like fall. On the steep slope, upright to laying down was a sweep of 150 degrees, by which time kinetic energy is having a say and Hugh tumbled down to the path winding below. Shaken and somewhat stirred Hugh picked himself up after a while and declared that he was fine and started to push his bike down. Darren had suspicions that all was not well when Hugh left behind his bag and helmet, these were confirmed when, after mentioning this, Hugh claimed that he meant to do that. With medical attention firmly in mind the two adrenalin junkies came quietly down the hill at Hugh's hobbling pace. Given that Hughs insurance did not cover helicopter rescue this walk was felt to have saved Hugh about 100 pounds per step, well worth the effort. Once at the bottom an easy (well we'll come back to that in a minute - perhaps 'an apparently easy') track headed down the valley to the nirvana of medical attention in town. Being as tough as Palin's rucksack Hugh declared himself fit to peddle his way home to speed things up a little.

The astute reader will note that so far there has been no head wounds mentioned and only a vague hint that the easy route home might contain some hidden dangers, but before we continue we should perhaps examine the day from Darrens perspective. The day starts with the decision to go biking, with all the fun and games that promises, and I assume then moves onto a struggle peddling up to the top of the hill, all the while being driven by the anticipation of the downhill to tame. On the way down there's a certain playing poker with Risk and Danger, which is undeniably seductive, particularly when your winning. So with the chips stacking up your feeling pretty good, but when the game is prematurely ended by another player in the game losing all his chips in what can't be described as a calculated move it's pretty disappointing. Walking pace is simply not the speed to be coming off a mountain on a bike. That said injured friends take precedence and Darren happily sacrificed the rest of his ride to help Hugh off the mountain. But once down and heading home there's no harm in seeing whether your place at the table is still good is there? I imagine various attractions caught Darren's eye, any small jumps and the like, but one proved a touch too tempting. With Hugh a little way in front the path looped around a patch of ground much like an ox-bo river snaking round a patch of land. Darren noted that a small off road section would cut out the loop and simultaneously save seconds and look cool so decided to go for it. The unfortunate assumption was that Hugh would not be doing the same, given his beaten up state. Darren puts his foot down and attempts to sprint ahead of Hugh before branching off when too late he realises that Hugh, while maybe not feeling better,has spotted an irresistible short-cut also. With handle bars locked, bouncing around off the track it became clear that your last play at the table was 'all in' and judging by Risk's slight nod of the head and Danger's broad grin you've just lost. The exact dynamics of the following few seconds are unclear but the upshot was the loss of most of the skin on Hugh's fore-arms, and a gash in Darren's head. In a quick role-reversal Hugh was up and patching up Darren as best he could, when a somewhat shocked passer-by helpfully offered a selection of finger plasters which were quickly deemed somewhat inadequate for the inch long hole in Darren's head. After as much first aid as was possible had been administered the pair were up and heading into town once more, seeking yet more medical attention which might in the long term deal them back into the table they had been forced to leave earlier. The story ends with Darren laid out on a table in the local Doctor's surgery with a sheet over his face while being stitched up. However, before we leave him there we should mentioned the drunk ex-pat who strolled in. Apparently a friend of the Doctor he seemed concerned that a fellow Brit was suffering, so much so he came in to offer his consolations while Darren was being sown. Being drunk, and presumably a little paternal, he thought that stroking Darren's leg would be an appropriate gesture of comfort. I don't know what Darren's preference is for being blindfolded and having random men caress his legs but he did tell the story with much enthusiasm and a glint in his eye.

With that story eagerly told we asked, with a little trepidation, about anything else that had happened so far and if you had your fingers crossed for another chuckle you wont be disappointed. Having left the scene of stitching we rapidly fast forward in time until the arrival of Steve, Chipper, Andy and Duncan. Hitting the ground running they waste no time organizing a summit attempt with a bivi alpine start. While I'm sure the walk to the snow covered peak was interesting, particular attention should be given to the way back down. Steve, Chipper, Andy and Duncan were roped up together and looking for adventure when they came across a crevass on the downward slope of the day. Risk started shuffling the deck while Danger wasted no time dealing out the chips. Andy, being the man at the front, was sent out to test the strength of the snow bridge spanning the crevass and it has been reported that while testing it's strength he said

"I need more slack......although I'm not safe" - Andy

which turned out to quite prophetic as Risk won the round and the bridge promptly collapsed. With Andy retrieved from the crevass another approach was clearly needed and given the limited number of options to hand talk soon turned to jumping the gap, Danger almost fell off his chair laughing. This did work well for the first three climbers and given the introduction you can guess that number four didn't have so much luck. Andy must have had a, feeling in his bones about this as he pulled out his camera to capture the event on video......

I recommend sound for this video as there is some rarely heard notes of panic in Chipper's voice towards the end, after Andy shouts 'OK' crank up the sound until you hear Chipper counting down. After the jump you will easily spot Chipper falling backwards into the crevass, while desperately trying to front point with his knee caps to avoid this. The issue with jumping is you tend to bring a lot of slack rope with you, not what you need in moments of crisis when you've metaphorically gone all in again. Despite, or perhaps because of, Duncan falling to his knees this slack wasn't being taken in fast enough for Chipper, as evidenced by the just about audible

"For f*ck sake Duncan" - Chipper


With these stories told we set about ensuring we would have something similar to tell at the end of the holiday