Friday, April 29, 2022

This was not what was planned.

Sunrise looking up the Aletsch glacier.

 The plan had been made months ago.  James ,Adam and I were going to ski the Western Bernese Haute Route.  Yet the weather did not know the plan and convened to wreck it even before we started.

I picked James and Adam up at their hotel in Aigle and then we drove to Col Pillions, Glacier 3000 cable car.  The resort was shut due to high wind and poor visibility.  We needed an alternative plan.  We then drove back to Aigle, then onto Martigny and finally to the car park at the old Super Gd St Bernard ski lift.

Neither Adam nor James had ever visited the Hospice and so this turned out to be an excellent option.  We skinned up road in a relaxed two hours.  The weather was no where as bad as it had been in the morning.

It snowed overnight and the avalanche risk went up.  The next morning the weather was indifferent.  The combination of a high avalanche risk  and not being able to see makes route choice particuarly difficult.

We decided to venture out on a short tour and headed up to the col Barrasson which marks the border between Italy and Switzerland.

The border stone.

We were rewarded for our efforts with fine snow on our descent, yet not much of a view.

The next day proved to be a memorable day. Even before we set off I was outside the Hospice where I found a credit card in the snow.  It was Jame's card.  We set off in good weather and lots of cold fresh snow.  Our goal for the day was Mt Fourchon.  The conditions were so good that we virtually skinned to the summit, as opposed to the previous ascents this winter that had involved some basic rock climbing.

Adam arriving at the summit of Mt Fourchon.

It was while sitting on the summit eating our Hospice prepared picnics that an extrordinary thing happened: The only other group were Anglo- Scottish and led by a very personable Italian Guide called Paulo.  We all congregated on the summit where we tucked into our lunches.  A conversation struck up and it transpired that one of their group had shared a house with Adam while they were medical students.  This was the first time they had met in 40 years .

We then skied down untracked snow, which was good at the top and not quite so good  at the bottom. [yet still good] 

We then made our way back up the "Italian Job opening scene road"

and back to the Hospice.

From there we skied down the road on some very sticky snow which I was glad to be finished with by the time we arrived back at the car.

Next we drove to Martigny where we did some repacking/ redressing in preperation for the next part of our trip.

Back in the car, we drove to Brig in about an hour..  In Brig we parked  and got a train to Grindlewald.  But not before James lost his credit card for the second time that day.  It was while waiting for the train that the women who sold the tickets came to reunite it with him on the platform of Brig station. Adam and I looked on incredulous.

We arrived in a very wet Grindlewald at about 6.30pm, checked into our hotel and enjoyed an excellent meal and a good bottle of swiss red.

Our plan was to go to the top of the Jungfraujoch and stay at the Monchjoch Hutte.  The next day we were going to ski down the Aletsch glacier. In the morning the weather was uninspiring it was raining hard.  

The one thing we did have in our favour was that the forecast for the next day had been consistently positive for nearly a week.  

We took the new cable car which apparently passes right in front of the North Face of the Eiger and disgorges you in an ultra modern lift station at the Eigergletscher station.  From here you take the train up through the Eiger as before.

What had been heavy rain in Grindlewald was fresh snow up at the "Top of Europe."  [Thats what the Swiss knowingly misleadingly call the station.]

Gradually it began to clear as we made the 45 miunte approach to the Monchjoch Hutte.

At the Monchjoch.


So far so good.  Adam was about to enjoy his first night in a mountain hut.   Sadly he did not get to experience the Swiss incarnation of Gollum the legendary most miserable obnoxious hut keeper you could wish to meet because he had been replaced by some entirely normal pleasant people who were now running the Hutte.

Sure enough the next day dawned perfect.  This was to be an extrordinary day in terms of the journey and the scenery.

We left the hut at about 6.00hrs.  We started by skiing back the way we had come the previous afternoon, before turning left and heading down the Aletsch glacier.  There is nothing particularly difficult about the descent other than keeping to a crevasse free line.  What is incredible is the scenary and the sense of wilderness, combined with the sun rise.  We were to see no one the entire descent.

What was also good was that lower down at the Konkordia Platz, where the glacier is almost flat the snow had consolidated which allowed us to pole and skate, instead of wading through fresh snow.  We passed under the Konkordia Hutte and continued on down the glacier.  The last time I had come down was on foot with lots of crevasses to maze my way through. That was last  September where it had taken  six hours.  Today on skis it took about 30miutes.

We exited from the glacier by skiing some of silky spring snow, after which we put our skins on and climbed towards the unique tunnel which puts you into the Fiesch lift system.

tunnel entrance 

I mistakenly told the boys not to bother with head torches.

On exiting the tunnel it took us about an  hour  to reach the cable car in Fiescheralp. Although it was open[I did check beforehand!] we had to wait an hour or so becuase it was working on a late season limited capacity. From there it was a bus from Fiesch back to the car in Brig.  

The trip had been as good away as any to sign off the season.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A return after a ten year gap.

 I had not seen Tom and Becky for ten years, it was 22 years since we completed the Haute Route together.  

I was delighted when they got back in touch and we were able to arrange five days ski touring together.

We started at Les Grands Montets where the last time they had skied here it had had a fully functioning cable-car. That was until  until it burnt down nearly six years ago.  Like so many people they could not get their heads around why it was taking so long to rebuild it.

We skied up and over the col de Rachasses and were treated to the magnificent view of the Argentiere glacier.  

Argentiere glacier with Mt Dolent in the background.

On our second day we headed up to Flegere to attempt the Breche du Berard.  The plan had to be adjusted because the weather was getting too hot and the avalanche risk was increasing.  We therefore did the shorter, but classic  Col Crochue/Col Berard ski tour.

Tom&Becky climbing up the col Crochue.

This descison proved to be absolutley the correct one judging by the avalanche debris we had to negociate at the end of the tour. 

On our third day we drove around to Les Diablerts and took the lift to Glacier 3000.  From here we climbed the summit of Les Diablerts.

Becky& Tom on the summit of Les Diablerts.

The ski back down was very good, and we left 3 sets of neat  tracks which were not disturbed because we were the only people around.


Tom climbing back into the lift system.

We then skied down to Le Cabane Diablerets, where we were the only guests for the night.

On our next day the plan had been to make the long traverse to the Cabane Audannes.  This is not what happened:  We left the Cabane at about 6.00hrs.  There was a good freeze, which made it safe, the flip side of this was that it made the ascent out of the hut difficult to skin.  Yet it was after our ski down to the Col Sanetsch where our problems really started.  

In an attempt to double check the skis were really locked on to the boots I kicked the lever on Becky's right binding.  Then kicked the lever on the left one. It just exploded into bits all over the snow.
I managed to find all the bits and fixed them back in place, but it was clear it was not safe to continue and therefore we must retrace our steps.  Becky was incredibly dissapointed we could not carry on as planned.
We had no alterrnative but to retrace our steps back to the safety of the lift system.  Yet in the total scheme of things we had got off extremely lightly, no one hurt, and no need to call for a helicopter evacuation, which at one point seemed like the only option.

So back in Chamonix [Becky with a new pair of skis] we finished with an utterly stunning final day.  We started at the summit of Le Brevent. We skied down the north side of the ridge on wonderful spring snow towards the Col du Brevent.  If you turn right you head back into the lift system.  We turned left and skied down a steep gulley, mostly on good snow.  The scenary and the situation, not to mention the conditions were perfect.  
We then skinned back up the slope towards Lac Cornu.

Becky and the Aravis range in the background.

Next there was the crossing of the frozen Lac Cornu.
Crossing Lac Cornu.

We then skinned up to the Col de la Gliere where we stopped for a bite to eat before skiing down the comb de la Gliere and rejoining the piste.  Amazingly despite the perfect conditions we saw no one on our tour giving us a feeling of solitude that is  sought after but is often  hard to find. 

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Four seasons in one week.

 There is no way to dress it up -March was a shocking month in terms of ski conditions.  It snowed once, but not with actual snow, but sand, Sahara sand.  Everything was left with a brown tinge.  Needless to say this was less than ideal.

Hugo Goisnard skiing in the Sahara.

Yet as it is so often the case, April brings a change in the weather patterns [April Showers] and the day after John Young arrived to ski with me, it snowed a lot.

On our first day together we were treated to  some of the best skiing conditions of the winter, off the back of Le Tour.
Not bad for a 1st morning.

On our second day we went ski touring behind Le Brevent setting of over Le Col Cornu.  It had been our intention to climb the Aiguille de Glieres, but were thwated by too much unconsolidated snow.
Descending off Aiguille de Glieres after failing to get up it.

 Nevetheless we contented ourselves with some good skiing down to Lac Noir before skiing over the Col Glieres and descending back into the Flgere lift system via the Combe Lachenal.

On our third day, still in good weather we went to Grands Montets. After a few runs, we put our skins on and headed over onto the Argentiere glacier.

Seracs on glacier Rognan

Afterwhich we skied down and enjoyed an excellent late lunch at the Chalet Lognan.

Then the weather changed for the worse.  Everything in Chamonix was closed because of the avalanche risk, so we went through the Mt Blanc Tunnel to Courmayeur.  Here the conditions were marginally better in the sense that the resort was open, although at times it appeared to be for our exclusive use.

Eventually we ended up in the "Rifugio Maison Vieille"  for a couple of giant pizza's and some beer.

During our final two days together the conditions did improve in the sense we got some more snow, but the weather was challanging and so it was too dangerous to try any further ski touring . We skied off-piste from the Grands Montets lift system staying mainly in the trees and skiing mostly untracked , but heavy powder, hardly a sob story.

Lots of untracked snow at Les Grands Montets.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Introduction to ski touring


Aiguille Verte seen from the Col Glieres.

Vincenzo and Richard joined me for three days ski touring.  The challange was that the conditions were poor.  It had not snowed for a month and seemingly summer was approaching having completely skipped spring.

I had long ago booked the Albert 1er Refuge, but it was becoming clear that it was not going to be possible to get to it  because of the state of the glacier. [This month there had already been many people falling in many crevasses.]

Therefore started with a day tour,  behind Le Brevent and ending in La Flegere.  The scenary was to its usual standard.

Vincenzio and Richard were dissapointed that we could not safely go to a refuge, but were more than happy with the Plan B :  An overnight at the Gd St Bernard Hospice, where I knew there was very good snow cover and no nasty crevasses to fall into.

We drove around, or Vincenzo and I did, Richard turned up later because he couldn't find any where to charge his electric car...

We then headed up the road to the Hospice.  Before arriving at it , we took a detour and climbed up to the col de Barasson and were treated to wonderful views.  After which we skied down on some good snow back to the road and continued up to the Hospice arriving late afternoon.

The next morning we were treated to beautiful cold weather. Our plan was to climb Mt Fourchon the classic and popular tour from the Hospice. 

The ski around the lake was beautiful.

The Hospice with Mt Velan in the background.

We made good time to the summit of Mt Fourchon.  The ski back down was, considering the overall conditions, was fine.  We retraced our steps back to the Hospice and then skied back to the car and ending a very successful three days.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Haute Route revisited.


The Matterhorn seen from the Col Vallpelline.

Eighteen years ago was when Stephen Yeates, John Donner and Mike Woolford completed the Haute Route with me.  Needless to say a lot has happened between then and now.

Mike was never coming back, having retired from hut to hut touring.  That left John and Stephen.  Then on the morning we were due to leave John tested positive for Covid.  Only Stephen was left.

The other complication was that the weather had been very hot and cloudy.  This meant that there was no overnight freeze and the avalanche risk had shot up. No matter which way you looked at it, I could not justify setting off.  I had to make the big call and break the bad news.  I then had to work out how we might re jig our plans.

It just so happened that my daughter Andrea was home for a few days and so I asked her is she wanted to join us.  Andrea is a Chamonix ski instructor and has been mountaineering since she was a baby, the added  safety back up of having her along could not be underestimated.

Andrea excitedly packed her stuff.

The forecast for the next few days was good and there was now a hard freeze every morning making eveything much safer.  Due to multiple challenges, [avalanche risk, covid and not least lack of  reservations in the huts,] we elected to join the Haute Route in the beautiful village of Arolla.

Firstly we used the drag lift to "catapult" us on our way, then we skinned up to the Pas Chèvre before descending the ladders.  We then skinned across the glacier and climbed upto the Dix Hut.  It has a good mellow vibe these days, the guardian is very layed back and the food, beer and wine are very good.

The next morning we left at about 7.30hrs.  Firstly we had to endure some pretty horrible skiing on boiler plate hard steep snow inorder to get us back down onto the glacier.  The weather was beautiful, yet there was a bitter wind blowing and I lost the feeling in my fingers.  

We climbed gradually up into the sun shine and stopped for something to eat and drink.  The next challnage is the Col du Serpentine. Sometimes it is possible to skin all the way to the top of it, but this year it needed to be "boot packed."

The track was in good condition and we quickly negociated the col before making the gentle rise to the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla.

Stephen approaching the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla.

It was then a ski down towards the Cabane Vignettes

It never fails to impress the first time you see the Cabane: You need to look  at the photo below  closely to see the Cabane.

The final ski into the Cabane is tricky, but having good skiers with me made it relitvely straight forward.

Again, a new Guardian at the Cabane.  She had only been there a week.  Mind you the Rosti was as good as ever.  Andrea claimed it was the best meal of her life!

The following morning we a woke at 5.30, Breakfast was at 6.00 and we were away soon after.  It was windy and cold .  We needed crampons on to leave the Cabane.

Stephen&Andrea set of from the Vignettes with the Pigne d'Arolla  in the background.

Only after 5 minutes of skiing there is an intimidating traverse where as a Guide, you absolutely need good skiers with you.  This then leads down onto a flat section which leads up to the Col Eveque in about 2hours. Again it was very cold.  We battled our way across the glacier fighting a strong cold wind, which was  tiring.

We arrived at the top of the col Eveque and stepped into Italy and some welcome sun shine.  We skied down for about 15 minutes[back into Switzerland] on some half decent snow, before stopping again to put our skins on for the approach to the penultimate col , the col Mt Brule.

Again this col needed to be negociated on foot carrying the skis and wearing crampons.  It was straight forward with a line of steps up it.

A 5 minute ski was again followed by the long climb to the summit of the Col Vallpeline.

Andrea&Stephen heading towards col Vallpelline

The final climb had been trashed by the wind revealing lots of bare ice
Andrea coming up to the col.

Then finally you get to see the view

Stephen&Andrea with the Applestrudelhorn in background

All that remained was to ski the huge Stockle glacier , then ski under the north face of the Matterhorn before eventually picking up the piste at Staffel and then skiing into Zermatt. Always  big final day. Yet is still one of the most rewarding.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Sahara Snow.

The magnificent oak door of the Hospice.

Sometimes refered to as the Gd St Bernard Monastery, but more commonly refered to as the Hospice de Gd St Bernard , either way it is on of the most incredible places you could hope to visit on a pair of skis.  I have been lucky enough to stay many, many times, in all sorts of weather, but this was the first time I had to go in a Sarah sand-storm. It left the snow looking brown and not a little apocalyptic.
On this trip I was joined by Diana, Charlie, Cordelia and Mike. Only Charlie had been before and he was keen for his friends to experience this wonderful place too.
We left Chamonix and drove aound to the road head at what use to be the Super Saint- Bernard lift , which is now sadly defunct.  We arrived to an unpleasant scene of sand and snow blowing around and buffeting the car.  I immediatly turned around and drove into the deep dark foyer of the Gd St Bernard tunnel where we were able to gear up in the dry before eventually braving the wind and heading off up the track to the Hospice, in less than glorious weather .
1st emergency shelter on the way up to the Hospice

At the first shelter I decided this was a good place for lunch.  We were all happy to get out of the wind for a while .
Any port in a storm: The comparitive luxury of the emergency shelter.

We then continued to the next shelter where we again availed our selves of its "ammenities."

Everyone was more than happy when we got our first sight of the Hospice and even happier when we could shut the massive oak door behind us leaving the weather behind and enjoy the majestic silence.
We were welcomed with the traditional Hospice tea, before I retired for an afternoon's snooze and the rest of the team went to explore the chapel and the museum.  Dinner was very convivial, although the Dole left me with a rather "thick head."

The weather forecast was more or less correct- the next day was clear and there was little wind , but it was way too warm. It had snowed over night, but not light fluffy stuff. No , instead,  it was like cement, not white but a brown sludge.  We were away first and it only took a couple of meters to realise I'd not been  smart being in pole position. Mind you at the speed I was breaking trail it did not take long for other teams to catch us up and then they naively over took me and immediatly started to suffer.  I saw no reason to try and catch them up...

Our goal for the day was the summit of Mt Fourchon. We made slow but steady progress and eventually   left our skis just below the summit before scrambling to the top.
Charlie approaching the summit.

The view was better than the photo suggests

 The ski down was not the best:  Sand on top of snow, it was soggy and leg sapping.  Still the team were all very good skiers [Thankfully.]   I attempted to lift their moral by pointing out at least we werent on Snow-shoes like many of the other parties. 
We then plodded back the way we came , arrived back at the Hospice ,peeled our skins off and then skied back to the road head.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

A school outing


Sunset from Les Diablerets Refuge.

Certainly when I went to school I do not remeber going on an outing quite like this.  I was one of four Mountain Guides, four school teachers from Aiglon College who accompagnied 15 adolescents on a two night, three day ski touring expedition. 

We all conveyned at the school, where we distributed and checked  the equipment - transceivers, shovels, probes etc.  We then walked the short walk to the ski lift in Villars where everyone picked up their skis from the local hire shop. We split into two groups .  Terry was the lead Guide and I brought up the rear. We then skied through the lift system to Diablerts. 

Mt Blanc seen from the top of Villars lift system.

 After which we took the shuttle bus to the Col des Pillions and rode the enormous cable car to the middle station before dropping down to Les Cabane des Diablerts where we dumped  all our overnight kit before skiing around on the glacier.  We finished by doing a short ski tour of about 20minutes just to check all the equipment was working properly.   It was beautifully remote.

Lead Guide Terry making the skining track.

We arrived back at the Cabanne and settled in for the evening and enjoyed a spectacular sunset.

Cabanes Les Diablerets reflecting the evening sunset.

The next day was to be the big day and the main goal for the expedition.  Namely to climb the mountain of Les Diablerets , the highest mountain in the Canton of Vaud.  The weather was perfect, if anything a little too perfect because it was very hot and some of the kids struggled with the heat. 

Stopping to put skins on before climbing to the summit  on right of photo.

 Nevertheless everyone, eventually, reached the summit.

view from the summit.

We then all skied back into the lift system where everyone inhaled  a huge 2nd lunch before some of us went to explore the spectacular bridge recently built between 2 summits.

It was then back to the Cabanne for our second night.  In the morning the weather was not so good.  It was very windy and the resort was shut. We therefore had to escape by skiing down to the road head and catching a bus back to Les Diablerets, where the weather was much kinder.  After lunch Terry lead the group on a long off piste run through some beautiful terrain , where we eventually arrived back at the piste which ends about a quarter of a mile from the school.  [Only in my dreams do I remember my school being at the bottom of a ski piste. There again my school was in Stockport.]