Sunday, April 16, 2023

La Terreur du Chien Fou

 "The Terror of the Mad Dog" is a wonderful name for a climb.  It is one of the original routes of Orpiere and is the classic climb of the area.  I first climbed it with Jane, my wife, when the area was still being developed- some 30 years ago...

Quiqillon West Face which dominates the village.

I have to say this time around it felt a lot harder.  I'm convinced some of the key holds had vanished- or maybe it had something to do with my doubling in age.

The reason Charles Sherwood and I found ouseleves down in Provience was one of "alpine pragmatism. " Charles and I had had a date in the diary for some ski mountaineering.  Yet as our week approached the weather in the alps was looking rubbish.  This was confirmed by a series of devastating headline grabbing avalanches which further underscored that skiing mountaineering was not a good option.

We had left the alps in a mixture of rain and sleet which followed us all the way past Grenoble and started to sew seeds of doubt about whether we would find any dry rock.

Yet: we arrived in an area which was in severe drought.  Orpiere had not had any rain since January.  Crisis measures had been employed and the only reason our hotel was open was because it had its own source. [Well]

After our triumph on the Mad Dog we headed for Buis Les Baronies following the impressive D65 over the Col de Perty.  A road sign calls it "route remarkable". It was and it was deserted it was only a pity we hadn't brought the Lamborghini.

We stayed in the picturesque  but somewhat quirky Hotel Les Arcades- Le Lion D'or.  We were given a suit with a living room and two bedrooms.  Its difficult to describe,but the toilet led straight into the living room as if it was a feature of the living room rather than part of the bathroom. 

Our plan was to climb on the Rocher Saint Julien.  

St Julian crags seen from the village.

Our goal was the route called "La Gastronome."  All was going well until I got to the first belay.  Then the wind hit.  Not only was it unconfortably cold, but we couldnt hear each other.  What's more because the descent was eventually  going to be via rappel , the prospect of dealing with ropes being blown vertically up in the air and wrapped around all number of bushes and trees suggested an immediate escape.

We re located to the magnificent crag called Baume Rousse. It is described as a place where "no climber could fail to have at least one day here."

We had two days here.  It was brilliant.

Mad Dog enjoying a beer after the Mad Dog .


The planning for these types of trips has been made easier with the use of the Rockfax App.  This allows you to have all the guide books on your phone.  It is highly recommended.

Monday, April 10, 2023

La Vallee Blanche via the Comb Noir: As good as it gets.


Mt Blanc Blanc du Tacul with Geant glacier in the foreground.

Easter Saturday was the day to be in the Vallee Blanche.  Liam Abby Holly and Gavin were lucky enough to hit perfect conditions.  Clearly as a Guide living in Chamonix I have skied the Vallee Blanche many many times , but non better than today.

Dent du Geant.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

The best and worse skiing of the season condensed into a week.


John Young enjoying one of our many quiet untracked runs of the week.

This week saw some of the best powder skiing I have experinced in years. But it was also interspersed with some truly grotty weather where it rained higher than any where it was feasible to ski. It was bewildering to experince such dramatic changes in the weather in literally a blink of an eye.

On our first day, as I picked John Young up from his hotel - it was sleeting, [the previous day Grands Montets had closed down while I was skiing there.] The day had "forboding" written all over it.

Yet we headed to Grands Montets - the lifts started to open , the sun came out and there was 50 cm of light fluffy un tracked  powder everywhere.

The quality of the skiing was exceptional and there was hardly anyone about.  What had threatned to be an inauspicious day turned out to be truely exceptional one.  The sort of day you could go through a whole life time of ski holidays and never enjoy.

The next day we headed to Le Tour.  This time not only was the snow sublime , but there was a cloudless sky.  The skiing was "other -worldly."  lunch was good too : At the Alpage de Balme.  In the afternoon we skied off the back of Le Tour, briefly using the skins in order to access yet more untracked powder down through the widely spaced trees of Les Jeurs.

Then ugh; the weather changed.  Although we could still see, the temperature shot up and it instantly ruined all the wonderful snow we had skied the day before.  We made the most of it while skiing on the piste around La Flegere and Le Brevent while watching incrediously at other groups trying to go touring and taking huge risks with large wet soggy cornices.

A big cornice?

Still we got some good sking.

Thursday the weather was challanging, especially if you were in a resort that didn't tip the 2500meters  mark.  John and I headed to Les Grands Montets, We then took the Bochard liftto 2780 meters   We exited the lift to be greeted with light fluffy snow.  We then decided to go even higher.  Due to the continuing no lift saga we stuck our skins on and headed up to the Col du Rachase. There were quite a few other paties with the same idea .  We made it to the col very quickly and decided to continue even higher-but we soon had further weather challanges.  The first was zero visibility and the next was the worrying fizzing sound of static around the hood of my jacket which all of a sudden develpoed into flashes of lightening followed by loud claps of thunder.

Zero Vis!

The descision to turn-tail wasn't difficult.  We "felt" our way back to the col and fiddled our way into the comb de la Rachasse.  The cliffs on our right gave us good definition, which allowed us to do real justice to the untracked powder, which in turn gave us a brilliant descent all the way to a late lunch at the Chalet Lognon.

Friday was a right off.  Awful weather which shut all the lifts .  Nothing else to add.

HOWEVER Saturday was another story. The forecast for Italy was considerably colder and it was snowing  hard.  We headed to Courmayeur.  We arrived to find the car park empty.  This was because the lift was closed.  But then it openend - seemingly just for John & I.   We had the whole resort to our selves, with 20 cm of fresh untouched snow everywhere.  Inevitably as the sun came out and the resort started to fully open there were more people- but we were quite "well skied" by then.  We refuelled on Pizza at the famous Maison Veille - before continuing with more powder skiing .  A great way to finish the week.

Courmayeur powder.

A full set of the weeks photos can be found here