Sunday, April 26, 2015

Figure of 8 ski tour around Chamonix& bit of Switzerland

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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Traverse of the Eastern Bernese Oberland

This was an exceptional week of ski touring. Chris Dovell Lia Heisters and I left Chamonix at 6.00am. Chris was good enough to drive. I slumbered and apparently snored in the back. We drove via Bern. It was Easter Monday the weather was beautiful and it had recently snowed a lot. The result was that Grindelwald was packed. It took quite a while to park the car , queue to buy tickets and finally board the world's most expensive train [where all the seats were occupied] and travel up to the Jungfraujoch.
Despite the weather being clear there was a very strong viscous wind which coupled with the new snow meant that there was a lot of wind-slab developing. Our plan was to ski tour to the Hollandia Hut via the Louroiter col 3659m. By the time we reached it the wind was "knock you over strong". Nevertheless we need not have worried about the avalanche risk at the col because all the snow had been blown away!
We skied down the Kranzberg glacier in some difficult snow, before stopping to put our skins on and skiining up to the Hollandia Hut 3158.

On the Tuesday we climbed the Abeni Flue 3924m This has all the hard work of a 4000er with out the glory. It was particularly hard because the wind was still very strong. The other two parties turned back leaving the 3 of us to battle on.

A quick photo on the summit and then we skied down through some tricky crevassed terrain until we arrived on the Aletsch glacier. This is meant to be down hill. but what we soon found out is that its not down hill enough to seemingly ski. We tried poling, skating. All three of us tried a different method because there was not one solution better than the other. Yet eventually we put our skins on for the stretch over to the Konkordia Hut. We stashed our skis under a rock and then clambered up the metal stair case to the hut.[See earlier blog entry] Just then the helicopter arrived with the supplies . The Hut dog was especially happy because his dinner was on board.

On Wednesday we headed up and over the Grunhorn col 3279m and over to the Finsteraarhorn Hut,but not before making a detour to climb the Wyssnollen 3590m. The wind had now dropped significantly but it had done its damage to the snow. The descent in good snow would have been very good. But not for us. It was challenging breakable crust. The Finsteraarhorn hut was very busy but because it is such a good hut everything ran smoothly and we enjoyed a good evening.

On the Thursday we headed to the Oberaahorn Hut 3256m. This was a comparatively short day. We arrived at lunch time . Th In contratst to the previous night We were the only guests. The hut was still in the process of being opened for the ski touring season. Chris and Lia decided to help clear the snow from the deck.

Meanwhile The guardian Christoph managed to drop a critical screw while attaching the satellite dish to the veranda. He got involved in a fruitless but heart stopping search for it.

Meanwhile I decided on some "re-hydration therapy" while admiring the view of Matterhorn:

The reason for the short day was partly because the next day was to be big. Very big. Plus partly because we couldn't safely descend the south facing slopes in the afternoon because of the risk of wet slides.

On Friday we awoke at 5.00am. Chris and I then gulped some coffee left out the night before in a vacuum flask . It was then out onto the hut balcony and immediately on to the climb which would take us to the summit of the Oberaarhorn.3629m. Having zoomed up the peak we were treated to a spectacular sunrise.
Plus the first view of where our ski descent would take us.

It took an hour and fifteen to climb and about half an hour to get back to a delicious muesli breakfast. A quick pack up and then the real challenge of the day started .

We skied down the long Oberaar glacier and onto the reservoir, before deciding that it might be best if we didn't actually ski on its frozen surface. At the end of the lake we had some fun and games negotiating and skiing along the top of the dam

The issue with skiing on the top of the dam was that the railings provided no security due to the height of the snow.

Eventually we made it across and this shot shows the entire descent

The day was far from over. Where as it should have been comparatively simple to negotiate the road to the Grimsel pass,[1&half hours on the summer sign post] it proved to be difficult steep terrain . So much so that we couldn't easily skin and so we had to carry our skis and post-hole across steep ground. A slight change of plan meant we headed for the Sidelhorn pass. Magnificent wild terrain and views over to the Furka Pass and the source of the Rhone where we did not see anyone all day.

From here it was very good spring snow and then as we got lower mushy snow , but nevertheless snow, all the way to within 10 minutes walk of the railway station at Oberwald

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Week of big wind

John Young arrived at the start of the week with a really bad forecast. Typical of the change in the equinox. There was 50cm of snow very strong winds which all added up to a very high avalanche risk. The net result was that most of the lifts in the Chamonix Valley were shut. So not for the first time we had to drive through the magic weather tunnel to Courmayeur.
On the Monday we skied off piste in the trees. In some very good snow.

Tuesday we drove to La Thuile. The weather was clear but there was a ferocious wind blowing which shut a lot of the lifts , but we still had many good long runs.

Wednesday we headed to the Petit Croix Baulet above Combloux. The weather was better and crucially it had got a lot colder.
From the summit we skied all the way down to Geittaz always on excellent snow but there were a few interesting streams to negotiate, some giving one or two comedy moments.

Thursday we headed back through the Mt Blanc tunnel where the weather was perfect. This time we climbed Punte Crocce.

Friday: Funny how these things work out but Friday was the stand out day of the season. We did the traverse of the col du Crochue col du Berard. Everything came together. Some fresh snow over night which critically fell with no wind. Hardly any other parties on the route .

Once we passed over the col du Crochue we were treated to some fantastic skiing.

Followed by another skin to the col du Berard

It was then that we were treated to the best yet: No one had been down the valley. There was 30 cm of untracked light fluffy snow..

We quickly made the transition from skin to ski mode because we were conscious that with the good weather the snow ould deteriorate. We skied down until the snow changed from powder to spring snow. We stopped had a bite to eat and then continued on down the valley and still continued to find good skiing.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

La Vallée Blanche

The Vallee Blanche is famous for many things but what most people skiing it for the first time remember is the ridge at the start. This misses the point because the best skiing is actually from the Italian side. So with this in mind Richard Lewis and I started in Chamonix skied down to just under the Pyramid du Tacul. Here we stuck on our skins and climbed up to Helbronner. This gave us access to the comb de la Vierge and some fabulous skiing.