Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Mt Blanc. The first ascent of the year on foot was hard earned.


Jody Laoureux crossing the Gouter Couloir

Global warming has been messing with the traditional climbing seasons for a while. For example attempting to climb Mt Blanc in the height of the summer has become just too dangerous because the snow which acts like glue and keeps all the rocks in place has gone.
Partly due to this the Gouter Refuge has opened earlier in the season in order to take advantage of better snow cover and therefore safer conditions.
With this in mind I set up an attempt in late May [the day after the Gouter Refuge opened for business] with Gareth Preece and his pal Stewart Beardwell.

Not for the first time the prevailing weather didn't seem to want to play ball with our plans.  The weather forecast for the week was appalling and it snowed hard. 

We met on May 23rd and headed up to the Mer de Glace for some crampon training and to make sure  the kit actually worked properly.  The weather was beautiful.

24th May. We headed up to the Torino Refuge with the main plan being to gain as much acclimatisation as we could.  The other part of the plan was to climb a couple of mountains. 

Our first climb was the traverse of the Aiguille du Marbree which was in perfect condition, covered with just enough snow to glue all the rocks in place , but not too much snow to make it too difficult.
southern endof Aiguille du Marbree

The Torino hut is huge with many many places.  The night we were there they had five customers.  The three of us and another British Guide Dave Gladwin and his client Andy.  They were on the same schedule as us , the plan being to head over to Mt Blanc after some acclimatisation.

25th May .  We eat breakfast at about 5.00hrs and were away to climb the Tour Ronde at about 6.00hrs.  There was no one about .  This might have had something to do with the fact that the weather was rubbish.  Although not too rubbish for us to climb the peak and get back down in very good time for plenty of rest and eating.
Summit of Tour Ronde.


Bye now the weather forecast had improved considerably and we had identified a window of good weather coming up.

On the morning of the 26thMay I picked Gareth and Stuart up from their Air B&B apartment at 5.30hrs.  It was from this point that the trip turned into a true unpredictable , adventure with many twist and turns.
At this stage in the summer season none of the cable cars, train infrastructure are open.  There are fundamentally two choices 1, Start walking from the valley floor .2 Use a 4 wheel drive to drive to the top of the cable car at Bellevue.  We took the  Land Rover Defender which is arguably THE seminal off road vehicle.

Bionassay valley from where we set off.



We started walking at 6.30hrs.  But not before checking our avalanche transceivers were switched on.*
The goal was to get to the Gouter Refuge, [where after a lot of tedious internet work we had secured our reservation.] I reckoned we had a big day in front of us of between eight and nine hours.  We had not been walking long before we met our first snow.  My boot went into it up to the knee. Then the next step was the same followed by the next and so it went on.  We eventually arrived at the Nid Aigle railway terminus [ buried in snow ] after 3 hours, slow but not catastrophically so.  In addition because we had set off early we still had time on our side.  Yet the problem was the scene which confronted us .  There were no track to be seen anywhere and each attempt at a step ended up with me sinking in to my waist.
I turned to Gareth and Stewart and said :
 "there is no way I can do this."

It was looking like our Mt Blanc attempt was about to end.  The guys were reasonably philosophical and reasoned that they had already climbed two of their first alpine peaks.  If this was to be as far as they got then so be it.  We sat on a rock and pondered what to do .  I made some calls to see if I could get a better overall picture of the conditions.  While we were sitting down , we spotted two people slowly making their way up behind us.  We waited about forty minutes for them to catch us up.  It turned out to be a Chamonix Guide and his already completely knackered client.  I asked him what he thought about conditions and what his aim for the day was .  He seemed totally undaunted by the fact there was no track and just headed on ploughing the track through waist deep snow.  We just looked on open mouthed and  incredulous .  We watched him for a further twenty minutes believing he must either turn around of die of exhaustion.  He did neither and so we thought  we might as well follow him and see what happens.  He kept on going and even though his client only had to merely follow, the client could barely keep up.  The Guide ploughed on for a couple of hours .  Eventually he stopped for a rest .  We caught him up and I took over the trail breaking.  It was now unpleasantly hot and we had run out of water.  Then our luck slightly improved , we were caught up by another Guide who told us that the Tete Rousse hut might be open, we could at least refill our water bottles , plus there was another Guide Jody to help break trail.  After 9 hours from leaving Bellevue we were at the Tete Rousse Refuge, but not the Gouter as planned.  To give the situation some context it normally takes 3 to 4 hours from Bellevue to the Tete Rousse.  One to two hours from Nid Aigle.

So although the Tete Rousse refuge was not officially open for the season we were allowed to stay .  I phoned the Gouter Refuge and put our booking back a night.  The fact that no one had made it to the Gouter should have told me something .
Spot the issue :Dog watches as snow is harvested for drinking water.


Dave and his client turned up a couple of hours after us relatively fresh from following our track.  The same could not be said for Super Guide.  Although he was fine his client was "totaled"  They decided to try and get back down the same day.  This left eight of us in the Refuge.  Then a lone guy from Mumbai called the Refuge for help saying he was exhausted and lost.  Dave and Jody went down the hill to drag back up into the Refuge.  The man was a complete accident waiting to happen, all the gear and no idea , plus a miss placed sense of his own mortality, who was incapable of listening to advice. But over dinner he was very generous with his advice as to where we were all going wrong. We thought we were slow but it had taken him two days to get to the Refuge.

27th May. We were up at 3.00hrs and away by 4.00hrs.  There was a vague track to follow , but we still sunk through it.  The Gouter Couloir was in safe condition and we were able to cross it and climb its right side .  After about an hour and a half we stopped to let the other teams take their turn at making the  track.  It was all very good , beautiful surroundings, virtually no one around.  After three hours we arrived at the Gouter Refuge.  We dumped all our superfluous stuff [like helmets] and headed out of the door and back onto the route.
There was no track above us .  The very first step I took I sank up to my thigh.  Then next step was the same , as were the next few thousand.  I once again said to Gareth and Stewart
 "I didn't think this was on."
 They both then  had ago in front and it was fairly instantaneously that they agreed.  Eventually Jody turned up and he and his group were already looking tired.  We decided that we could try and work together, hoping that conditions under foot might get better.  Jody set off and we followed.  Dave and Andy eventually caught us up and Dave had ago in front.  The snow had not improved Dave was now crawling up hill on all fours. We eventually made it to the shoulder of the Dome du Gouter.  We decided we could try and get to the Vallot.  This next section was down hill , but the snow under foot was even worse .  The sort of snow that supports your weight for about two seconds before collapsing sending you into the snow up to the groin.
We struggled on to the Vallot.  The weather was good . There was little wind and the track was now reasonable because a lot of people had arrived on skis from the Les Grands Mulets route.  Having left their skis they had climbed the final part of the ridge on foot.  All was looking a lot better, except everyone was seriously tired .  Stewart was doubting whether he could go on.  Andy couldn't go on and threw in the towel.

Almost there - but running on empty and digging deep
A bit of a motivational speech persuaded Stewart to to continue.  Jody and his two clients also continued with us .  Progress was slow but we kept going. Then we had a go at the remarkable "get out of jail" breathing technique .  We zoomed ahead of the other group  and at  14.45hrs we summitted.  We were alone.   Views and conditions were perfect.  Against considerable odds we had made it.
Stuart Beardwell and Gareth Preece on the summit of Mt Blanc
Jody Laoureux summits Mt Blanc.
28th May It was all very well climbing to the roof of Europe , but that left the not inconsiderable task of getting back down.  At first this went very well, and we arrived back at the Vallot emergency shelter in good time.
Le Vallot Shelter
Yet after that we entered a kind of hell because although we were retracing our track, it would still not support our weight and with each step we sank in up to the knee.  We eventually arrived back at the Gouter just in time for dinner at 18.30hrs.  Dinner was the most perfect calorie packed meal you could wish for in such circumstances . Tartiflette.
May 28th. Breakfast was at 7.00hrs.  We were a way by 8.00hrs.  It had snowed a lot over night . Our tracks of the previous day had been obliterated .  The descent below the Gouter was exciting .
Who said Mt Blanc was just a walk?
After a lull in the weather it was now snowing hard again.  We crossed the Gouter Couloir and once again had to break trail back to the Tete Rousse Refuge.  We stopped for some very welcome soup before"bum sliding" the snow slope below the refuge.  The snow turned to rain as we slogged our way back to the Nid Aigle railway terminus.
Fairly uninspiring conditions

The railway. No trains any time soon.
Normally this marks the end of the journey for most people who have climbed Mt Blanc.  But with the railway track being chocked with snow and the two tunnels blocked our climb was no where near over.  We still had to burrow our way out of the end of the tunnel and descend a treacherous slope which was above a void.
Escaping through the tunnel. Gareth still has a smile on his face.

All in all the descent took from the Gouter back to the Land Rover took nearly nine hours.

Mont Blanc anyone?




* Best practice is to wear an avalanche transceiver when there is a lot of snow around, no matter what time of year .  See blog Thinking of climbing Mt Blanc this summer? Guided Ascents of Mt Blanc: What they Don't tell you.You need to know this.



Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Rite of passage? Its a bit like ski touring only different.

Sunset from Wildstrubel Hutte
If you come to the Alps for your holidays the one word you never want to see on the weather forecast is Foehn.  This is the southerly wind that brings poor weather to the southern alps and awful windy erratic weather to their  northerly aspected slopes .  If you have come to ski-tour it is even worse as it generally always transforms the snow into unskiable crud.

If you come from Perth Australia for the week and the Foehn is blowing then it's a potential disaster.  This is just what Harry and Ben Hewitt did.

In addition, the choices for resort skiing in the Chamonix Valley have been sabotaged by either the early closing of the lift stations, setting fire to them or actually demolishing them.  [See earlier blog "Resort with Issues" for context.]

Our first day was to be a "shakedown day" after Harry and Bens considerable journey.  We skinned up to the Col de Rachasse on Les Grands Montets in indifferent " jour blanc" conditions.  The ski down was without doubt one of the worst of the season:  It was difficult to see, it was difficult to ski, there were big crevasses and the wind howled.
Still we had checked all the equipment worked and gained some valuable acclimatisation and they had found their ski legs for whatever adventures lay ahead.
Harry exiting Argentiere glacier .
The weather forecast for the next few days was for continued Foehn.  Experience told me that if we were going to do something of significance and memorable we needed to get away from the local weather and we needed to go high and stay high.  I decided we should head for the Western Bernese Oberland and head to Les Diablerets with the aim of ski touring along the Western Bernese Haute Route.

As we drove over the Col de Forclaz into Switzerland it was obvious we had made a good choice as the mountains along the southern bank of the Rhone valley were socked in with cloud while the northern side [ our side]were clear.  The mountains were in bright sunshine, but it was still windy.  Even as we pulled up to the parking at Glacier 3000 we were warned the station  might close at any given moment.

Luckily it did stay open and we eventually managed to at least get to within a hundred meters of the summit of Les Diablerts peak before the wind became too strong.

Harry at the foot of the difficult step on the attempt on the summit.

We skied around the top of the resort before making  our way down to the Cabanne Prarochet, where we were the only guests.

The next morning it was clear.  Just across the valley to our south it was shrouded in Foehn cloud.  There was not much wind, but it was forecast to increase.
Cabanne Prarochet with Foehn clouds billowing behind.
We skied of down to the Col du Sanetsch and then started to climb up the Arpistock ridge at first on skis and when the snow ran out on foot carrying our skis on our rucksacks.  The wind started to increase.  Then the wind built some more and then it became quite annoying making us stagger around like drunks.  Neither was it helped by having the skis on our backs acting like sails. Progress was slow.
We finally got to the top of the col and instead of immediately putting our skis on , we ran down the hill and sheltered behind a big rock.
After a short ski [they are never long ski touring] we started the long climb to the Col du Puce on the shoulder of the Wildhorn.  Far above us [not that we knew it at the time]  we saw the only people we would see on the entire ski tour. A Swiss Guide with three  local clients.
The wind was quite manageable but the slope was steep and the snow was hard.  Progress was slow and carefully made.
Ben nearing the top of col du Puce after the long climb up.
At the col we could see the Cabanne Audannes.  A very good ski down on spring snow took us to the front door in about 20 minutes.  The group we had seen earlier were the only other guests.  Seven of us in total.

The next morning was beautifully clear with just a mild breeze, nevertheless the forecast was for it to increase...
The other party  had had enough of the previous days  wind and choose to head down.  We decided to press on to the Wildstrubel Hutte.  We climbed over the Col des Eaux Froid, climbed up a little further and then skied down dramatic steep open terrain before joining the long skin along the Plan Rose.

Then the wind  commenced. At first it was actually helpful because it blew directly into our backs so it propelled us along. Nevertheless although our direction did not change, the wind veered through 180° and  simultaneously ratcheted its speed up enough so that it was continuously knocking us over like skittles. It was all quite attritional and none of us could hear what the other one was complaining about. 
Unsurprisingly we were pleased to close the Wildstrubel Hutte door on it.  Equally unsurprisingly we were the delightful Konrad and Maxi only guests. *


The wind built and built all evening and all night.  It clocked 130kph.  The noise kept us a wake.
The next morning was beautifully clear yet the wind had not really decreased. It was clear that we could not continue with our objective which was to traverse the Wildstrubel mountain.  Nevertheless it was far less clear if we could even safely leave the Hutte given the ferocity of the wind .
We had breakfast at 6.30
Breakfast.
At about 7.30 we were outside doing battle with the wind .  Our new objective was to try and get down to Crans Montana. 
Wildstrubel Hutte.

Final col doesn't show the ferocity of the wind






At first we struggled but once we made it over the first col onto the glacier de la Plaine Morte basin everything was much more straight forward .  Our reward ? Stunning vista's in every direction.








Looking down the Rhone Valley towards Sierre and Sion
 We eventually picked up the pistes [closed  for the season] and skied all the way back into Crans Montana.

Almost ...
we walked about 30 mins in total.
Back in Chamonix it was still horribly windy.  So much so that the "Musilac" rock festival  had to be cancelled because the stage blew away.  The forecast for our final day together was in a word Crap.

However it snowed overnight and the morning weather was okay. Still, true to form Les Grands Montets were shocked by this phenomena of fresh snow in a ski resort and were slow to open, yet despite their best efforts they could not ruin an excellent  morning of skiing un tracked powder. 
Spot the Skier .



*The hut guardian told me the other guests for the evening had set of from a different Hutte.   They had climbed the Wildstrubel,  but had failed to locate the correct descent and had ended up stuck above some cliffs .  They were rescued by helicopter...

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Traverse of Europes biggets Ice cap. La Vanoise.



The challenge of having skied and climbed with the  same people consistently for over twenty years is that we are constantly having to search out new areas.  Yet this is a good problem to have.

Chris Dovell [fortunately] had never visited the Vanoise a vast wilderness in the French alps, where, for the most part, mobile phone reception does not reliably exist.*

We left Chamonix, with a less than good weather forecast.  Therefore we choose the most sure option of getting to our first refuge which was to be the Roc de la Peche.  After dumping the car in Pralognan-la- Vanoise we "geared up" and carried our skis for only about a kilometer before sticking them on our boots and skinning up the long road to the refuge.  We had clearly made the right choice in terms of approach because it started to rain.  Yet we arrived at the refuge after about two and a half hours.  I say refuge but its more like a hotel .  En suite bathrooms, and a hair dryer...

The next day the weather was superb.  We left the refuge at about 7.00am and made our way further up the main valley before taking a left turn and heading up a steep icy slope [ which was the first of many.]  At the top of the slope the route opened up into a stunning valley which we followed further until making a turn to the right to climb up the long slope to the summit of the col d' Aussois 2916m.
Chris arriving at col d'Aussois.
We then skied down some reasonable spring snow before making a final climb to the  Refuge de la  Dent Parrachee.  This refuge over looks the ski resort of Aussois.  It was very comfortable [ for a refuge] and even had hot showers.  The food, beer and wine was also excellent.

Our third day also started beautifully .

Rufuge Dent Parachee.

We left the hut again around 7.00 am and skinned up to the Col de Labby.  All was perfectly fine until we looked over the col and just saw thick , thick cloud smothering our descent.  This was going to be challenging navigation.  Thrown into the mix was a glacier topped with heinous breakable crust. It is at times like this that 20 years of skiing together means you know the person you are with will be well up for the challenge and will not be phased.

We left the beautiful sunshine and descended into the fog.  We stopped reguarly to check our position against the altimeter the GPS and the map.  The snow was so bad that turning in it was next to impossible so we descended by making long diagonal descents punctuated with kick turns.

After about an hour of this [ 5 minutes in good visibility?] We emerged out of the fog to see another party heading, I didn't know where.
Glacier de la Mahure

 Yet although the weather was far from good , we could at least see.  Another , skin followed by a traverse followed by some pretty shit skiing saw us arrive at the Refuge de L'Alpont.  Our reward was to see a majestic eagle glide within meters of us as it circled the refuge.  I had never been so close to an eagle.    We later worked out that it was after the refuges pet bunny rabbit whose days were seemingly numbered.

On our 4th and  final morning we awoke to poor weather and no visibility.  This was particularly unwelcome because of all the days on our tour this is the day you  need to be able to see because our route took us over the Vanoise Ice Cap - The biggest in Europe.

We left the refuge at again around 7.00am , psyched for a big challenging day.
Pretty much straight out of the refuge we were faced with an intimidating icy slope which had to be ascended.  This was quite daunting and the fact that it was so foggy was for a time a good thing because you could not see the consequnces of where you might end up if you missed a kick-turn.

At the top of the slope conditions were unrelenting. There was another party attempting to do what we were doing yet they were finding it as difficult as us  The ground was featureless and made up of troughs and bumps and lakes. [ According to the map.]  It was maddeningly difficult to find and stick to the correct bearing and we were contiiously having to readjust our course.

Eventually as we got higher we started to climb out of the mist.  the scene became hauntingly atmosperic.
Chris breaking out of the fog.
It was still by no means easy, yet it was now great to be in such  a wonderful mountain setting.  We headed up toward the col du Pelve 3100m , our penultimate col, now in clear weather.  The earlier tribulations of the day seeming worth it , to experience what we were now experiencing .
Col de Pelve
Finally we were on the top of the Vanoise Ice Cap.  We started to come  across other parties who had climbed up from the Col de la Vanoise Refuge, which they appeared to have done in the polar opposite weather to Chris and I.

We skied down the glacier and then elected not to ski down by the standard route but instead took a steep alternative route which although challanging brought us into the town of Pralognan and a short walk back to the car.
Chris skiing off the Vanoise Ice cap.

 * For piece of mind It is important that your party is equipped with an emergency radio which opens the repeaters of    "Grand Reaseau des Alps."


Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Glacier d'Armancette


April, at some point. always brings unstable weather with the change of the equinox - "April Showers."

Last week was no different.  Charles Sherwood joined me for six days. On  our first day together it was snowing, making it less than ideal for ski touring.  Nevertheless we still managed to drop off the back of Rochbrune at the back of Megeve and climb over the border ridge between the Haute Savoie and the Savoie and ski all the way down into Hauteleuce.  From there we picked up the Les Contamines lift system and continued our circular tour back to Megeve. This was quite a feat because two weeks previously I had had a 20 minute walk down muddy fields .
Bit agricultural
Strange as it might seem but we skied these slopes with no problems.


The forecast for the next couple of days was going to be our chance to do something significant.  We identified the traverese of the Domes de Miage and the descent of the Armancette glacier as our goal.
After pre-dumping a car at the car park which we hoped to arrive back at, if the plan worked. We parked our second car at in Les Contamines, shouldered our packs and walked past the sign post which told us the Conscrits hut was  6 hours away.  We plodded with our skis on our rucksacks through forests for about 2 hours before we were able to find enough consistent snow to start skinning.  There was a lot of fresh snow .  Luckily for us someone was ahead of us and it is they who broke trail.  We did our best not to catch them up, but inevitably the we did because they just got too tired.
The long hot climb to the Conscrit Refuge
Conscrits Refuge

We arrived at the hut tired and hot.  There were only seven of us in total.  The next morning we were on our skis just before 7.00hrs.  Conditions were perfect and we made good progress up to the col before putting crampons on for the final ascent of the majestic  ridge which is one of the reasons the Miage is well known.
Domes de Miage


At the summit we caught up with a party of three German skiers who had set off slightly earlier than us. We all got ready to ski from the summit.  There were a few tracks in the snow which looked good.  It was therefore a bit of a shock to discover that the snow pack was very thin and merely covered boiler plate hard ice.  Luckily this was negotiated fairly quickly.  Mind you the snow was still not great with some challenging breakable crust.  Yet after a few hundred meters we did eventually hit perfect snow and enjoyed some first rate skiing.
The ski descent of the Armancette glacier is one of the most sought after


The descent was 2400meters .  We arrived back at our pre dumped car and were able to help our German friends by giving them a lift back to their car , which probably saved them a good two hours of grief.

The next day Charles and I attempted to traverse the ridge of Mt Joly which separates Megeve /St Gervais from Les Contamines.  The weather was non co operative because we got stuck in thick cloud.  We had little alternative  but to turn around because I thought there was a good possibility of falling of the ridge.

The next day the forecast was for it to be cold and windy.  It was cold and windy but we decided to see if we could ski tour over the Col de Crochue.  We headed up the Flegere lift and at the top of the Index lift we poked through the cloud and we were able to continue.  Alone.  This is a fairly unusual thing to do on this particular ski tour, as it is with little doubt the most popular ski tour in the world.

Approachong col du Crochue with the Aiguille Verte as the backdrop.
At the top of the col we skied down in very good snow.  We elected to skin up to the Breche du Berard. Yet  the mist rolled in and we were forced to climb the whole ridge in a white out.

Jour Blanc

 Mind you we enjoyed good snow in the Berard valley on the other side and were able to ski all the way to the Hotel Du Buet, where we discovered the train had been cancelled.  Fortunately we were able to persuade my daughter Florence to come and collect us.
Its not over until its over .


On our final day we decided to attempt the traverse of Mt Joly again.  I a woke to thick mist.  It did not look promising.  Yet we still decided to go and have a look, because the forecast was for it to clear . After some waiting around drinking coffee , some blue holes appeared in the sky.  We arrived on the ridge to a world class scene .  We were treated to a view of the entire descent of the Armancette glacier , plus the whole of the Mt Blanc massif which was seemingly sitting on a bed of cloud.

We made our way along the ridge, but not before the cloud rolled in again making navigation very difficult.  We sat down for a bite to eat and a drink hoping that the mist would clear enough.  I also manged to drop my phone in the snow.  It slid out of reach.  It stopped .  Then just as I thought I could grab it , the phone started to slide again.  It went faster and faster and then disappeared like a hockey puck out of sight.  I skied off after it thinking it was a very expensive mistake. There was no sign of it.  Then about 100 meters further below I saw a black speck in the snow. I found my phone.  Whats more my descent had taken us below the cloud and we could now see enough to continue safely.  I called to Charles who was incredulous that I had found the phone.  We hit some very good spring snow and enjoyed a fabulous run back into Les Contamines ski resort.

Mt Blanc Massif seen from the ridge of Mt Joly



Saturday, April 13, 2019

Winter Returns Big Time

50cm of snow fell in one night.  This was the view outside the kitchen window.  The day before had been okay ski -wise but there was little doubt the end of the resort skiing was not far off. 

It had sort of threatened to snow over night but everyone was surprised by how much...  Not surprisingly everywhere was closed because of the avalanche risk.  Yet the muddy fields of Les Houches had been transformed into pillows of powder snow.

On our final day together the sun came out and we skied off piste with wonderful conditions.










Grands Montets on a powder morning

Saturday, April 06, 2019

If there is better spring snow skiing than this - then show me what it looks like.



Approaching the might North Face of the Doites
This was a week of skiing that started well with good conditions and then it just got better and better.

John Young joined me for six days of skiing.  There was no real plan other than to go where the snow and conditions were best.

Day 1 : We decided to kick off with  a visit to Les Grandes Montets and " take advantage"  of  the fact that most of the lifts are broken. The benefit is that the whole area has returned to a true skiers paradise. We skinned up to the Col du Rachasse in about an hour and were then able to ski under the north face of the Doites and despite it not having snowed for over a week we found plenty of cold fresh snow.
Day 2: Weirdly the temperature dropped and the wind was due to blow from the north.  All the lifts were closed in Chamonix.  We simply changed venue and headed for Combloux from where we climbed the Croisse Baulet.  Mind you it was super cold and we wore every stitch of clothing while steaming at full speed up hill in an attempt to stay warm.

Climbing up to summit of Croise Baulet with Mt Blanc in the background
The descent started rather badly because it was so cold that the snow had not softened up.  We were thrown around on our skis. Yet about a 100 meters lower down it all changed.
We found spring snow and enjoyed a sublime descent all the way to Geittaz.  In fact from that moment on [although we did not yet know it] every single turn of the entire week was going to be  perfect.  As John said  "Ridiculously perfect."

Day 3  The wind was still blowing hard high up so we decided to head to Megeve with the creative idea of skiing off the back of Rochbrune, before skining up to the ridge line which is the border between the Haute Savoie and the Savoie departments. From there we skied down into Hautleuce.  Here again we found perfect spring snow.   There was one small snag .  We ran out of snow and had to walk down through fields of mud and cow shit, [but mainly cow shit.]  Still it was a small price to pay.  We walked down to the lift which took us back into Les Contamines lift system [ Not before we stopped for some rehydration thereapy].  We finished by skiing into the village and then taking the shuttle bus back to St Gervais where we had left the car.

Day 4.  While we had been skiing through Les Contamines we had sussed out the general conditions and had been able to see that the snow cover was exceptional.  There were boundless possibilities which in other years are just not an option.  We came up with a rather ingenious plan  to traverse the ridge of Mt Joly and drop into the lift system of Les Contamines.  We set off from St Gervais and rode the lifts before sticking our skins on and climbing to the summit of Mt Joly.  This is not for the faint hearted and a good head for heights helps. [We had taken Ice axe and crampons in case of need] Mind you it is a world class setting .  John remarked that he had never been in such an area with skies on his feet.
It took a hour or so to negotiate the ridge , before we could safely leave it and ski down to Les Contamines, but once we found the best slot the skiing was perfect and we arrived for a late lunch and beer.

Day 5.  Conditions were so good in Les Contamines that it was a no brainer but to return the next day and just ski off piste using the lifts.

Day 6.  Back in Chamonix for the traverse of the Breche du Berard.  Again clear blue skies, yet being a Saturday there were many many people all heading up in our general direction.
Approaching the col du Crochue


Fortunately we had chosen not to do the classic Crochue /Berard traverse but rather the Brche Berard.  This tour climbs up a stunning ridge with the whole of the Megeve ski area in the background.
The route then continues to the Breche.
It is then skies off again for the short scramble through the Breche.
This capped off a sublime week of spring snow skiing.  The week is a good example of being able  adapt our schedule to the weather and conditions and using local knowledge to find the optimum snow.