Another fine week of weather allowed us to set up a very interesting beautiful ski-tour where we even met Christophe Jaquet on the top of the Col du Chardonnet. [Christophe is the translator of Mark The Mountain Guide into Marc Le Guide.]
Charles Sherwood and his friend Simon Allen joined me for four days. While I have enjoyed many adventures with Charles , Simon was new to ski touring. So it was necessary to build a trip which would hopefully have all the elements of a ski touring challenge but was never too committing.
On the Tuesday we met up and went to Stamos Sports in Argentiere in order that we could kit Simon out with ski touring skis and all the other paraphernalia associated with ski touring. We then went skiing at Grands Montets primarily so that we could test out all the kit before heading off into the wilderness.
The skiing was awful, icy and very noisy. In an attempt to find something better we ventured off-piste . This was considerably worse. Simon would have been forgiven if he had packed up and gone home then and there. It was not intentional but it probably seemed like some horrendous initiation test.
At least we established that the kit worked and I ascertained that if Simon could ski this frozen rutted stuff that had once been snow, then he could probably ski anything. We headed up to the top of Grands Montets. After a very good Croute & salad in the somewhat shabby Buvet in the the top station. We then skied down the glacier du Rognons. At the junction with the Argentiere glacier we stuck our skins on and headed up to the Argentiere Hut for the night. The hut was very busy , but mainly with climbers taking advantage of the good conditions on the North Face of the Doites.
Wednesday we had breakfast at 6.30am. It was up to its normal Aregentiere Hut crap standard - luke warm insipid tea/coffee/chocolate and a miserable piece of bread which had a texture and resemblance to balsa-wood.
Leaving the Hut was tricky because the snow had frozen hard over night and a lot of care was needed. We then skied down the Argentiere glacier and searched for an exit on our right so that we could follow our intended route over the col du Passon. Global warming continues to speed up and cause more issues with glacial retreat. Yet again what should have been a straight forward exit off the glacier was instead a sketchy scramble wearing crampons, not skis.
We climbed up to the col du Passon without incident and from this point we only passed one other skier. We reached the Col du Passon at about 11.00am , then headed across and up to the Tete Blanche . On the way we passed a ski plane that was parked up while its occupants sat in the snow and had a picnic.
We got the descent just right and had some excellent spring skiing all the way down to the Albert 1er Hut. This was the first winter it had been opened , few people seemed to know this and it was consequently quiet.
On the Thursday breakfast was marginally better than the day before , but the toilet was back to the bad old days of huts. One squatter for the entire hut population. Pretty much 3rd world standards and not for the sqeamish. If they are going to continue to operate in the winter then something will need to be done.
We left by 8.00am.We continued to enjoy perfect weather and solitude . We climbed up to the Col du Midi. But first we passed the not very well known, but hugely significant point "Signal Reilly." Reilly was an English surveyor who was with Whymper on the first ascent of the Chardonnet. He used this rock to triangulate the heights of many of the peaks in the area.
At the top of the col du Midi the snow had gone and so there was some more thought provoking route finding through some indifferent rubble and broken rocks. [Col du Midi was used for a helicopter scene in James Bond Golden Eye. JB jumps out of the the helicopter with his skis already strapped to his feet.]
It was then around to the Aiguille du Tour.3450m We left our skis and the foot of the couloir , roped up and climbed the north ridge to a perfect windless summit. Simon's 1st alpine summit. It would be hard to imagine a better introduction to it all.
We then skied over to the Trient Hut for a late lunch of Omlettes and beer. The Trient Hut is one of the busiest in Switzerland but not mid week , so we had a very pleasant time. Plus we got to see a very memorable sun set
On the Friday, the toilets were good and so was breakfast. Our plan was to reverse the traditional first day of the Haute Route. We skinned across the Trient plateau to the Fenetre du Saliena. We were confronted with a steep descent. While it might have been possible to ski it later in the day when it possibly might have softened up. But not in the condition we found it. If we had attempted to ski it , we might have ended up in an unwanted , perhaps terminal slide. So we cramponed down the slope,facing in with our skis once again strapped on our rucksacks.
It was then over to the col du Chardonnet.This was a magnificent wild and wonderful place to be. At the foot of the gulley which leads to the col du Chardonnet, again it was crampons on , skis strapped to our rucksacks and a steep climb up to the top where [as I said earlier ]we met the Mark the Mountain Guide translator , Christophe who had just climbed up from the side we were going to ski down.
From this point at 3321meters it would be down hill skiing all the way to the village of Argentiere at 1240meters. Just over 2 vertical kilometers of spectacular skiing rounding off a remarkable and varied 4 days.