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."

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