Thursday, May 10, 2018

Winter Round Up

This last winter sort of swamped me and it became difficult to Guide, to be continually clearing snow and be thinking about writing a Blog. If all the precipitation had actually fallen as snow , it is reasonable to think that we would be still clearing it now. In fact it is still necessary to climb over mountains of old avalanche debris on the daily dog walk. Instead we had massive fluctuations of temperature where we would get huge dumps of snow followed the next day by torrential rain. In late February Catherine Lewis , Lucy-Kate Hunt and Bella Noakes and I went to Arolla . This coincided with a plunge in the temperature . It dropped to an astonishing -30c. Yet the weather was perfect and the whole scene was magical. They made a short video which encapsulates the trip. In March the weather was always unstable. This gave great snow , but it was unpredictable and there was was plenty of re-planning because of the inherent danger of choosing the wrong avalanche fraught destination. My second trip of the year to the Gd St Bernard Monastery was an example of this constant change of plan, although we usually had great skiing outcome.
The theme of unstable weather with lots of snow continued through March. A few trips where we had intended to go hut to hut ski touring had to be rearranged, with day tours and off piste skiing. There were days of perfect blues skies and then the next day skiing in the trees. One particularly special day was when Sophie joined the team of Peter and Glen for a day in La Thuile.
There were classic day tours in the Aiguille Rouge. Perhaps the stand out day was the traverse from La Flegere to Plateau d"Assey which I made with John Young on his yearly skiing week with me.
Over Easter Charles, Tabatha and Tim Sherwood and I headed to the Vanoise in order to attempt the Tour de Vanoise. We should have known something was not quite right when we were able to park the car right outside the lift office, in Brides Les Bains. Despite it was a beautiful mild day in Brides , in Val Thorens it was blowing over a 100kph. Although we went to have a look it was very apparent that we were not going to be able to go with plan A. The wind was indeed awful. Plan B involved driving around to Pralognan and ascending the very long way up to the Roche de la Peche Refuge, which is more like a hotel than a refuge. We spent two nights there and by way of a big consolation we were rewarded with some world class skiing. But we had to earn it ! .
Next trip with Reuben and Fiona Berg was four days of off piste skiing . The weather was again all over the place, generally lots of snow in Italy and poor foehn weather in Chamonix. We had two snowy days in Courmayeur and one in La Thuile. Not sure what I would do without the Mt Blanc tunnels quick access to reliable powder snow.
The rest of April was taken up with two Chamonix - Zermatt High Level Routes. The first was with Michael Ian and Grant. Michael was a returning client, whom I climbed and skied with over 25 years ago. We set off in fairly horrible weather and it continued like that for most of the trip. The first day was completed in zero visibility and some very difficult navigating on the Le Tour glacier. We had one particularly brutal day form the Dix Hut to the Nacamuli Hut in zero visibility high winds and no track. We were on our own breaking trail in knee deep snow for 90% of the day. This big push did allow us to get into position for the final section into Zermatt and take advantage of the small weather window and ski all the way into Zermatt just as the weather completely broke.
After the interlude of Musilac music festival coming to Chamonix, [which although deemed a success by the town did have the effect of clogging the whole of Chamonix up for nearly a week] I headed off on another Haute Route , this time with Matt Rob and Chris. This time we set off in glorious sun shine. This had the effect of frying everyone as the heat was intense.
The team got to the Albert 1er Hut and claimed it was the hardest hottest thing that had ever done in their lives. Matt wasnt helped by having a stinking cold. They did concede after a few reviving beers that the sun set from the hut was a good as view as you will ever see :
The weather continued to be good , especially from the Mont Fort to the Prafleuri Hut.
Yet the forecast was not good. On our penultimate day we climbed the Pigne d'Arolla and by the time we got to the summit the cloud had rolled in and the wind had picked up. The forecast was poor. We decided to ski down to Arolla to finish in the village. This involved skiing through the difficult steep section section above the Vignettes. It is very helpful to have good visibility. Although this was a sensible decision , at the time we did not know quite how sensible this was. A few hours later the area witnessed one of its worse catastrophes in living memory when two groups got caught in a terrible storm. The lead Guide fell over the cliff and was killed. The groups were unable to navigate to the Vignettes hut. Trapped and pinned down by the weather and only ten minutes from safety of the Hut seven of them died of cold. At the time we knew nothing off this tragedy and we only learned of it the day after. May arrived and with all the ski lifts closed , but still stacks of snow around Peter Folkman and I headed to the Gd St Bernard Monastery for a final ski tour of the season. The weather was fantastic. There was hardly anyone around and the sense of solitude made for a great experience