Thursday, September 03, 2020

The Chamonix Classic Climbs .

 After our ascent of the Arete de Saille, we both felt "well climbed".  It  was a big day and we decided we needed a simpler day.  Yet when we met in the morning the rain was there to greet us and so like so often a another idea  needed  to be conjured up,  

John for all his previous mountaineering experience had never tried a Via Ferratta. Like many true mountaineers he was a bit ambivalent about them, but poor weather and limited options he concluded that this was a good as time as ever to commence.

We choose the Via Ferrtta in Le Fayet,  behind the Thermal Baths . It was recently built and it has a reputation for trapping the unprepared.  In fact when it was first built it was ill conceived and resulted in lots of rescues from people with failing arms.

Since then it has been reconfigured and split into three sections with the option to quit at three different points.

We set off up the first and supposedly easiest section and although it had stopped raining it  was oppressively  humid and it felt like some practical- joker had been just ahead of us coating the ladders with soap.    Yet John seemed to be powering his way up and after the spectacular Himalayan-Bridge there was the option to bail.  John was having non of it , he was keen to try the second part.  This starts  sedately and then becomes significantly harder [read over hanging ladders and bold traverses.]. 

I have, over quite a few years done many Via Ferrtta's and this was  the most difficult.  Spectacularly beautiful , but defiantly not for the non committed debutant.  We choose to retire for lunch at the end of the second section and leave the finale for another day.  Lunch, as it happened, was very competent in the grounds of the Thermal Park.

This Via Feratta is definitely not for the faint -hearted.

Like all our big two week trips together we like to work towards  an "End Game" - a mountain  of significance that we set as a potential goal.  This year I had identified the Weisshorn as that goal.  Yet when I went to make the reservation in the Weisshorn Hutte   it had just  closed for a rebuild.  Plan B. We looked at the possibility of climbing the Grande Casse the highest mountain in the Vanoise.  Yet the Refuge was having some sort of organisational crisis , not unrelated to Covid.  

Then we realised Chamonix was unusually quiet , the weather forecast was perfect and there were plenty of the classic climbs which John had so far not done.  We  had the  opportunity to climb them without being swarmed all over.

Our first of the classic Chamonix climbs was the traverse of the Clocher-Clochotons with its  iconic Tyrollean Traverse . First done in 1912 and it hasn't lost any of its magic.

The Tyrollean Traverse
The Iconic Tyrollean traverse.


The next day we climbed the traverse of the Aiguille Crochue - the weather forecast was indifferent , very misty and atmospheric - far too atmospheric for all continental parties and unsurprisingly the only other two groups were British.

Approaching the start of the climb to the ridge


Magnificent ridge scrambling
John on the ridge

John & I with photo taken by fellow BMG Guide Stuart Macdonald
John & I . photo taken by fellow BMG Guide Stuart Macdonald.

Still managed  a swim in Lac Blanc on the way down.

Swim in the Lac Blanc


Next day was our chance to go for the Cosmique Arête .  A climb that has become so popular that frankly it  is frequently  untenable because of the bottle-necks plus it has suffered some significant rock fall which made parts of the route dangerous.  Yet with Chamonix quiet this was our chance to climb what is undistubitably  one of the finest climbs of its type and grade in the Alps and probably the world.

Crux pitch not as hard as it looks.


Yet  confidence was a little dented because as we travelled up in the Cable car, I met my good friend Eric Cantelle who is the chief electrician for the Aiguille du Midi. It's his job to keep it running when  the weather gets bad.  He has access to weather forecasts that us mortals don't have, because knowing what the weather is going to do is critically important to keeping the biggest generator of cash in France functioning.  Eric said " You need to be quick the forecast for the afternoon is bad". 

The Cosmiques Arete.

We were not so much quick, as efficient, with only a couple of other parties we had a wonderful experience and what's more the bad weather never materialised .


John in the Exit Cracks


Next was another Chamonix classic : The papillons Arete .  We were away early and we had the whole route to ourselves again.  It was just perfect.  

First pitch. Brutal for a grade 4 pitch

Stunning climbing

Positions are breath taking .


Having said that it is a classic Chamonix grant climb with lots of skin shredding crack climbing rock.  We needed something a little less aggressive for the next day and we choose the Peroux route on the East Face of the L'Index.  Again immaculate climbing which we had to our selves , well at least until we reached the ridge and joined the normal route , where chaos ensued .  It is, I'm afraid, one of those climbs that no matter how bad you are at climbing you can be certain there is some one worse than you.  It was a jumble of ropes knots and people not sure how or where to rappel from.  Fortunately for John and `I we had two 60 meter ropes so we could by pass everyone and arrived directly at the foot of the route from where we went for a late lunch at the Castel Restaurant  in Les Praz.

East Face of L'Index



Our final day together was our hardest  rock climb of the trip.  The beautiful Acqua-Concert on the Aiguille du Van with the jaw dropping back drop of the Lac du Emosson.  This is a modern bolted route on perfect rock. 

The turquoise Lac Emmossen give the perfect back drop
Turquoise backdrop of Lac Emosson


 The climb finishes on the summit and then it's a simple scramble back down to the scene of the giant beer tankards.


Big routes need big beers
Big routes require big beers.








Friday, August 28, 2020

Cabane Covid proofed...

A very good view.

 Finally, finally, after quite a few false starts the mountain guiding season started for me.  A lot of things needed to come together, not least John Young's super human determination to actually get here.

John and I had been due earlier in the year,  to ski together , yet it wasn't Covid that stopped this but a broken arm.  Although it had healed well, John had had no opportunity to "road test' it.

We decided that we should do this as conservatively as we could and chose to climb the Pic Janvier route at Flegere.  This delightful ridge runs parallel with the Index chair lift, meaning that once you have finished you merely stroll over to the chair and ride it down.   It would be the ideal first ever route in the alps because,  if you were to make a complete hash of it, or get  or lost, fall off it, or take hours and hours, then you would know not to progress with bigger alpine adventures like any of the peaks behind the photo.  

Pic Janvier our warm up day.


Anyway I think that in almost 30 years of knowing John it is the easiest route we have ever climbed together, yet it is still excellent and it served its purpose- John's arm was just fine.

So we ratcheted up our ambitions stratospherically  and headed off to climb the Arete du Saille on the Grand Muveran.  We walked up to the delightful Cabane du Rambert to experience our first Covid Cabane education.   This involved giant pieces of perspex dividing the tables. 

strange times  Covid  screens


Plus door size sheets of wood hung  horizontally from the ceiling  to create a sort of labyrinth.  Then we were informed that there would be two dinner services so that everyone could be more socially distanced.  

With a little imagination you could see how the Swiss Alpine Club had conjured up such a plan.  But as far as the sleeping arrangements- then  there was no plan.  Everyone was stuffed in the same dormitory as if Covid was not a problem up stairs.

The Cabanne Rambert doesn't get many climbers - mainly walkers and so there is no early breakfast .  The guardian said she would leave breakfast out for us.  We settled down in a couple of deck chairs on the sunny terrace and supped several beers each.  Then, I thought I  recognised someone working in the kitchen but dismissed it as unlikely to be who I thought it was.  But we caught each others eye and he recognised me .  It was Vincent one of the original guardians of the Gouter Refuge.  He and his great friend Guy Bochatet had run the Gouter incredibly well through some unbelievably difficult times.  They were absolute legends.  Vincent and Guy retired from the Gouter 19 years ago. The Gouter carried on but it was was never the same again. Guy's father had been the Gouter guardian before him.  Legend has it that Guy was actually born on the train coming down from the Nid Aigle because his mother had gone into labour before she could reach the hospital in Sallanches.  Long before helicopters were common place.

Vincent started working at the Gouter at roughly the same time I qualified as a Guide.  Like many Guides starting out I used to climb Mt Blanc once or twice a week  and Vincent and I became good friends. We had been involved in some dramatic rescues together too.  He was also wonderfully helpful and kind when I guided Don Planner to the summit of Mt Blanc.  Don was the first blind man to reach the summit.  When he left we lost contact and so to meet him unexpectedly in another Refuge in another country was just fantastic and frankly quite emotional because these had been special time in our lives.

Vincent insisted that he should get up to give us breakfast, after all,  a man who for 17 years got up every night  at 1.30 am to serve breakfast to over 200 people this was not a challenge.

John and I struggled down to breakfast at the comparatively civilised time of 5.00am.  Vincent had laid the breakfast table in the guardians private quarters.  Everything was perfect and he said rather nostalgically " It just like old times?" which of course it wasn't, not least because we were minus about 200 other fighting pushing wannabes.

We left the Cabane  just before dawn.The approach to the Arete de Saille starts by walking down hill for rather longer than you would want.  It then involves walking back up a hillside on a vague path for a lot longer than anyone would want.  

Locating the start of the route is not simple.  One of the reasons is that the route was, until 2016, a well bolted sports-route .  Then some "Eco-Guides" decided to "desequippée" the climb.  What this means is that they removed most of the bolts and cut the main belay stations.  The idea was to return it to a feeling of a  more traditional big mountain rock climb.   Imagine if they decided to do the same thing on the Matterhorn?

This is all very well as long as you know this, otherwise you can turn up equipped entirely with quick- draws with nothing to clip them into. Precisely  what happened to me last year and this led to a very scary fraught ascent well out side my comfort zone.  

This time I came with a traditional rack of protection but it was hard to remember exactly where the start was without seeing a big shiny belay chain which is code for start here and go exactly there and then  there and so on and so forth.

What's more the start is not on the most inviting rock.  It is very loose and serious.  Yet once properly established on the route it all starts to flow beautifully.

John on one of the many draw dropping pitches.

Then came the stunning stand out pitch . followed by the last pitch which has an awkward rather lung busting move to actually reach the end of the sustained rock climbing.

The stunning atmospheric penultimate pitch 

John belaying while I climb the awkward last pitch


Yet like all true big alpine rock climbs just when you think its over it continues to lay down various challenges.  After several pitches of moving together you are confronted by a steep difficult wall which is as hard as anything on the route.  Then there was the challenge of finding the best line over some very complicated ridges.  Finally we made the summit and the beautiful views all around.  Lake Geneva to the north and all the Swiss giant mountains to the south.

John on summit 


The descent from the summit is down the normal route.  It must be said that its not the most interesting route- lots of loose rock and a lot of it close up resembles a quarry.  We saw no one all day which again just adds to the wilderness experience.

Nevertheless it took just over an hour back at the Cabane , say our good byes to Vincent and the promise we would not wait another 19 years before we saw each other again

All that was left was to walk down, but not before getting a traditional drenching in an afternoon thunderstorm.

Sunset on the Arete de Saille

And this was only day three of our time together . More to follow.



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Seven Climbs by Charles Sherwood

To mark the publication of his new book Charles Sherwood has written a short piece on 

How to Choose a Mountain Guide





I first met Mark Seaton in 1993.  We have climbed together, often two or three times a year, ever since – in ski boots, in mountaineering boots and crampons, and in rock shoes – from the Alps to Africa.  We have shared some unforgettable experiences from the Old Man of Hoy and a traverse of the Matterhorn to the North Face of the Eiger and a traverse of Mt. Kenya.


Mark has unquestionably been my ‘chief guide’ over those years, but I have used others too, especially in more distant parts.  So, how do you choose a guide?  I am assuming things like basic competence, evidenced by qualifications and experience.  But, what other factors should you take into account?


First, I would suggest, temperament.  When we met, Mark was a young guide with considerable ambition.  But that ambition included becoming an old guide.  With a lovely wife and three daughters, Mark had no plans to get killed – a fate that sadly befalls all too many guides.  I, on the other hand, have always been more from the ‘go for it, come what may’ school of outdoor adventure.  I too, however, have a wife (equally lovely) and three children and I did recognise that in a guide I needed an element of prudent caution.


Second, personality.  A climbing partnership is an intimate one.  The new fashion of ‘social distancing’ is not easy on a portaledge, or at a tight bivouac, or trapped in a refuge for days on end.  It is important you like each other!  In Mark’s case, his devotion to client service extends even to bedtime stories.  He is the author after all of the children’s series, Mark the Mountain Guide.



Third, type of climbing.  This is more relevant in North America, where guides tend to be much more specialised: backcountry skiing versus ice climbing versus rock climbing.  In Europe there is more of a tradition of multiple competence.  Nonetheless, even there, you want to be sure that you and your guide enjoy broadly the same kind of climbing.  If one of you wants to go cragging at the side of the road and the other is hell-bent on the North Face of the Aiguille Blanche, then it is not going to work.


Mark Seaton Traverse of the Gods NF Eiger photo Sherwood


Finally, there is an important element of geography in all this: do you go for a truly local guide or what I might call an expedition guide, i.e. a guide who climbs all over a region like the Alps and perhaps even further afield?  The local guide has attractions.  There is the cultural affinity and, of course, you will never get lost.  But there are downsides.  The local guide is unlikely to be excited about a route he or she is climbing for the fiftieth time.  This is often cited as a problem with those Zermatt guides that focus almost exclusively on the Matterhorn.  Some, at least, are rather disengaged, choosing to eat, sleep and socialise separately from their clients.  The alternative is to tie up with a guide who is as keen as you to explore new climbs and new countries.  This means getting lost – I guarantee it – but it also brings a shared excitement and even a shared sense of responsibility.  You are a team trying to crack this problem together.  Most of the more ambitious climbs that I have done with Mark have been of this kind: climbs such as the Nant Blanc Face on the Verte in France, the Comicci Route on the North Face of the Cima Grande in Italy, the Biancagrat on Piz Bernina in Switzerland, and the Pallavicini Couloir on the Grossglockner in Austria.  These routes have been as new to him as they were to me.  Somehow that makes for a different and rather more fraternal experience.  It is the kind of experience that turns a guide into a lifelong friend.


Be wary though, because this climbing thing comes with a health warning: it can prove addictive.  It was as I descended from the Eiger with Mark after four extraordinary days on the mountain that I set my heart on a project that was to take me a further decade: to find an Eiger on each continent, in short the finest seven climbs in the world.  This challenge would take me from the Alps on to the Himalaya, Yosemite, the Andes, Kenya, New Zealand and South Georgia.  It is described in my book, Seven Climbs.  It can be bought by clicking on the Amazon link of recommended  books at the side of this blog.

Charles Sherwood
C Sherwood in the White Spider. NF Eiger.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ski Season 2020 It was good while it lasted .



Catching it right. On the way down to Le Plan
The ski season was shaping up very nicely. A steady supply of unstable weather had provided regular top ups of snow through out February and March. This is not to say it was perfect because it was not. This was because there were  dramatic fluctuations in temperature resulting in some soakings.  There were several days when it was so wet getting on  a chair lift was exactly like being attacked by the riot-police with a water cannon.

Some days were better than others...


Yet there were many days when the powder skiing was as good as it gets .

Bill Wendin hits the sweet spot in the Youla Couloirs Courmayeur.
Brian Hunt's photo of me skiing down to Giettaz.
Each morning we knew if we were going to potentially get good powder skiing at around 5.30hrs when a giant Bernese Mountain Dog arrived in our bed.  Eddy had become very scarred of the avalanche control blasting and thought he would be a lot safer under our duvet.
Eddy.
It is always fantastic to wake up to a fresh dump of snow, sometimes it was necessary to get up an hour or so earlier in order to clear the snow  from the drive so we could get the car out.


All in all there had been a tremendous amount of snow fall through out the season.  Low down this had been affected by the unhelpful swings in temperature, yet high up the snow had accumulated significantly and the ski touring season was looking good because all the glaciers were well filled in.

Then it changed in ways it had never changed before.  Frankly I did not see it coming .  There were accounts of Coronvirus out breaks in Pietmont Italy.  I had a group booked to go ski touring in Gressoney which we cancelled , not for fear of becoming ill , but incase the Mt Blanc tunnel shut and we got stuck in Italy.  Yet we still had a few day trips through to Courmayeur and everything seemed fine.
Then events started to change - Italy went into total lock down, including all mountain based activities. But  life in France kept on as normal, the snow continued to fall, the skiing was good and everything was seemingly just fine, or so I  thought ...
Thought it was a storm clearing but it was a storm brewing



Then suddenly the lifts in Chamonix closed with no forewarning . Then, we Guides  were told  we would not be insured which is another way of saying you aren't allowed to work.   Then President Macron announced the total lock down.

It became  obligatory to down load and print off a

"ATTESTATION DE DEPLACEMENT DEROGATOIRE"

A form you had to fill in to leave the house.  To start with this meant you could still go cross-country skiing or biking or running, but no rock climbing or mountaineering. But the next day the cross-country skiing closed and then the regulations tightened and an up dated form had to be filled in , this time stating you could not venture more than a kilometer  from your house for a maximum of one hour and no cycling.  The reason being that falling off your bike could stress the hospitals unnecessarily. 

So there you have it.  Never in the history of skiing or mountaineering  has the season stopped so abruptly and so that seems to be the situation today in the Chamonix Valley.  Mind you events are moving so quickly anything could happen.

 Beer anyone?




Monday, February 10, 2020

Klosters delivers yet again.

I spent 17 consecutive years skiing in Klosters with the famous Flying Grannies. [The FG's]
 http://www.markseaton.com/?s=flying+grannies . I got to know the off piste runs very well .

Sadly the last time I skied with the group was 2008.  Since then they have either died or key bits of their bodies have broken.  Still they went on into their late 70's.
So I was very excited to return with Chris Dovell and Lia Heisters.  Yet like most of the best trips it got off to an inauspicious start.
We left Chamonix in the lashing rain and endured it for the entire  5 hour ,500 km journey.

On the Monday it was not actually raining but it was warm.  So warm that the avalanche risk was 4 out of 5.  [The Swiss virtually never post a risk 5 unless there is a threat to buildings and infrastructure.]  We contented our selves by skiing around the resort , which is colossal.  Then in the afternoon the temperature dropped dramatically and it began to snow.

Tuesday: Every lift  was more or less shut .  The only area that was open was called the Rinerhorn.  A good  off-piste area but quite an undertaking  to get there, especially when the railway had been closed by wind blown trees across the line.
It kept us entertained  until it closed around us because of the strong wind.  We returned to Klosters stopping for a sandwich in Davos.
 It was snowing hard. So much so if, Donald had still been in town he might have said

 "How can you have global warming if it's snowing like this ?"



Coffee and cake stop .  Davos.
It dumped all night and the same snow-plough spent its entire evening  out side my window making loud scrapping noises mixed with lots of beeping each time it reversed.

Wednesday, eventually morning arrived.  We now had plenty of snow.  In fact too much , because all the lifts were again closed. Yet at about 9.15 Klosters opened the Gotschna cable car to its middle station.
From the 17 years with the Flying Grannies I knew that in these snow conditions this is all you need for skiing heaven.  We were off for some world-class powder skiing through the trees.  Our first run was back  down under the line of the cable  car.  Absolute perfection.  Then the top section opened. We headed up but although it was [euphemistically] atmospheric it was too windy to get really good off-piste skiing so we instead skied down the Schwarzeealp all the way back into Klosters and got some sublime pitches through the trees.

 Next we went back up to the middle station and this time  cut out skiers left and skied the trees , ending up on the Klosters home run piste.  Here we put the skins on for about 10 minutes before attacking the meadows which head down to Sernus where we picked up the Post Bus back to Klosters, where we did a final lap from the Gotschna middle station.
Chris Dovell enjoying himself.
Thursday.  We now had marvellous snow and beautiful weather .  Every single turn was perfect.    Huge  descents from the top of the Weissfluhgipfel via the famous "Direttissima" run followed by powder pillows in the meadows. It was exceptional.
Lia Heisters putting in tracks in the early morning with the back drop of the Cassana


Perfect snow to ski
Friday .   Change of venue.  The other side of Klosters is home to Madrisa ski station.  It always took me a bit of negotiation to get the  FG's to ski there because  it was far too modern for them and it wasn't really Klosters.  [It opened in 1964]

Yet it has impressive skiing terrain.  Chris, Lia and I headed there and hit the sweet spot.  We skied line after line from the lift system and then in the afternoon headed down the long remote run to St Antonien.  Before we skied the run, I wanted to get the views of the local avalanche experts and dropped into the piste patrol office to see what they thought.  After all there were virtually  no tracks in the valley.

I had skied the route many times, the last time, rather poignantly, [although I didn't know it at the time]  was to be  the valedictory  run with the FG's before they signed off. - [Not a bad place to sign off either] Back again under different circumstances , the run was perfection.
The entry pitch into the St Antoien run.

Saturday. Inevitably the resort was busy.  Despite a sharpish start we were still in a queue for the Gotschana cable car.  But once we were through that we worked our way once again to the to off the Weissflugfel.  We dropped off the back and were instantly alone.



Klosters has a reputation as being a place for "posh wooley-heads" and royalty to hang out. But  the terrain we were in would have impressed anyone from the "extreme fat ski brigade."

We worked our way around and through the cliffs and eventually  found our selves once again on the   glorious north face of the "Direttissima"

Not sublime turns to start with , but in any other resort, after 3 days of sun they would have made your holiday.  Further down the skiing was once again perfection.  In the afternoon we skied the classic Gmeinboden off-piste run from the top of the Seetali drag lift.  Again only quite good at the top but flawless the lower we skied.

So may be the moral of the story is you need bad weather if you want good snow, yet Klosters delivered again.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Very Deep Snow

This person is actually standing up
We have had some good skiing in the low resorts while the higher resorts of Chamonix have been trashed by the wind or even shut.  Fiona , Reuben and I headed for St Gervais, where it was still very windy , but we did find some sheltered tree skiing which gave us wonderful powder.  In fact I had never seen it so windy in St Gervais

But there was a reward the next two days we spent in Combloux.  The conditions were absolutely perfect.  Clear skis and powder snow.  The ski down to Giettaz was magical.

Yet as is seemingly more the case each year the next day it rained and all the wonderful conditions were gone.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Excess Boys 2020.

22 years ago was the last time Kevin Tuck & I were last here.



They returned again...  Not quite so many of them this year as last - injuries, illness and accidents had unfortunately afflicted a lot of them in the preceding year.  Added to which at dinner in Argentiere Steve almost choked to death while trying to eat half a cow.  Luckily an overly enthusiastic nuclear  thwack between the shoulder blades did the trick.  Life carried on and more flagons of rouge were drunk.

True to form this was not the only incident of their trip.   Always in my attempt to be creative and think of new and unusual places to journey, I suggested we went on a massive tour of the St- Gervais, Megeve, Les Contamines ski area.

This is how it "worked":
 Everyone was squashed into the back of the Land Rover, a challenge in its self  [which becomes more of a challenge as every year passes,] We  then  drove to St - Gervais. After parking there was the spectacle of them all spilling out of the back.

Next we rode the lifts of the Telecabine du Bettex to the top of Mont d'Arbois. We then skied down the beautifully flattering green pistes to Megeve.  We then  worked our way over to Rochebrune.  The aim was to then carry on around in the direction of Cote 2000.  From the top of the telesiege des Jardins,  we skied off the back of the resort into a picture perfect scene straight out of a Samivel painting.

From there we put our skins on and climbed up to the La Croix de Pierre.  At the top we peeled the skins off and started the descent down to Hauteluce.  The skiing was difficult.  The snow was crusty, icy and in places  just horrible.  We did however eventually find a good pitch of skiing .

Next was a unique incident which was defiantly a first for me.  While skiing the final section down to the lift station it was necessary to negotiate a farm where I was attacked by a very pissed-off giant goose.
I did at least distract it long enough for the rest of the group to pass through the farm without further incident and we all reconvened at the Val Joly cable car.

The team were feeling well skied after this mega journey.  Fortunately all that remained was to ride the lift to the Col du Joly.  From there it was a mellow ski through the Les Contamines lift system to the bus stop.  Two buses then took us back to St Gervais to within a ten meter walk to the Land Rover.

The previous day did for Pete and Steve which left us James Adam and Kevin.  The weather was a 100% better than forecast and so we decided to do the Col Crochue / Col Berard Ski tour.

This is the  worlds most popular tour.  I have said it before and I'll say it again it :

 It's the sort of ski tour that no matter how bad you are at ski touring , it is certain that you will find some one worse than you.  And we did. [ More of this in a bit]

Having said that it is the most popular tour in the world because it is fantastic.  It has everything all neatly packaged  into one trip.

Kevin Tuck leads the way up the final slpoes of Col Crochue.

The building of the new Flegere lift has made the start to the day less stressful in terms of actually getting into position, but inevitably easy access means that many more people are being spewed in to the same  area.

Chris Boulton painting of the Col Crochue
 Once over the col everyone fanned out and set off for different objectives.  One guide even decided to split his group.  He set off up a different itinerary , the breche du Berard , while sending  a mother and daughter splinter group off one their own to the col du Berard , where we met them .  They were terrified and were totally out of their depth.  They however still were under the illusion that their guide was the best guide anyone could ever have, despite abandoning them with the instruction , all they had to do was ski down the valley keeping the river on their left.

My team were incredulous and even more so when the women continued to think they had employed such a wonderful guide.  It was pointed out to her that there are three rules of mountain guiding .

Never leave your clients on the mountain , 
Never leave your clients on the mountain, 
Never leave your clients on the mountain.

If this wasn't enough they were indifferent skiers who shouldn't have been there in the first place .

Needless to say we had no choice but to help them down.  Eventually more by luck than judgement the guide was reunited with them at the end of the valley and we were relieved of our responsibility and carried on down the route, stopping at the fairy-tale setting of the buvette at the  cascard  du Berard for a celebratory IPA beer, before skiing down to the train station and returning back to the Chamonix valley.