Monday, April 22, 2024

It's never as planned. A 35 degree temperature change overnight.

The mighy north face of Les Doites

David Brooksbank and I "re-teamed up."  The last time we had been together it was for an epic ascent of the Weisshorn.
This time we joined up it was to ski together.

We arrived  at Le Brevent lift station already to start with a ski tour in the Aiguille Rouge. David went to the ticket office to buy his lift ticket.  But the resort was closed...  Fundamentally they had decided that it was too hot.  Which meant there was a distinct possibility of  avalanche wet slides.  
So after a rethink we headed to Les Grands Montets.  From here climbed up over the col des Rachasses and then headed for the Seracs of Rognan glacier.  [Not the worst plan B.]
Col des Rachasses

We skied  across to  below the north face of the Doites and onto the Argentiere glacier and down it , eventually joining the lift system.  We even found some fresh tracks.

The next day, Sunday , we skied the Vallee Blanche.  As a result of it being so hot the previous day the snow had melted and then re frozen, making the first section an icy horrible rutted affair that had  little to do with anything resembling skiing.  Yet we survived and fortunately the snow improved.  We crossed below Mt Blanc du Tacul and put our skins on.  We then headed up to the Italain side of the Vallee Blanche. An area that where again the scenary never fails to dissapoint.

Dent du Géant

After a sandwich and a drink we skied down the Combe de la Vierge eventually crossing back into France and joing up with the normal descent route.

A crevasse ...

on the left north face of Tour Ronde on the right Mt Blanc.

David with the Geant Ice Fall.

We carried on down until the snow ran out- 

It had been blisteringly hot.  When we arrived in Chamonix it was 28 degrees C.  We walked into the awaiting bar for some rehydration therapy, somewhat fryed by the sun.

On the Tuesday the weather was no longer beautiful.  Plus there had been  no overnight freeze.                Le Brevent was partially open, so we used the lift system to gain some height before heading off up to the Col Cornu and into the Aguilles Rouge national park.  Yet it became apparent that the conditions were unfavourable to venture any further.  The consolation was a very good descent of the comb de Charlanon back into the lift system.  We then decamped to Les Grands Montets for the afternoon.

Wednesday.  Winter returned. The previous day it was nearly 30 degrees.  Then it dropped 35 degrees and snowed... 
We headed for the Grand St Bernard .

Inauspicious start.

David arriving at the hospice.

After about two hours of steady ascending we arrived at the Hospice.  There was an impressive amount of snow.  It came up to the covered-bridge that spans the two buildings.  [In summer huge tourist coaches can easily pass under it]

We continued on past the Hospice and continued to and on into Italy. [Our third country that morning]
4 m of snow?

Walking back to the magnificent hospice

Hotel Italia 

For comparison: Summer.

We climbed up to the Fenetre de Ferret, where we peeled off our skins and skied back the way we came on good soft snow.
Looking back to the Col du Gd St Bernard.

David making sweeping turns with our high point in the background.

We then headed back to the Hospice but not before encountering a bit of wind.

There is always something extra special arriving at Hospice in bad weather.  The feeling of sanctauary is complete when you open the big oak door and step in side to be greated by warmth and silence  - a feeling of complete safety.
The door of the Hospice.

After a good dinner and a good sleep, we awoke to see our bedroom window had been plastered with snow.  The temperature outside was -11c.  
After breakfast we ventured outside and set off to see if there was anything we could climb in these tricky conditions.

Although there apparently been over 30cm of snow overnight, it appeared to all have been blown away, clearly creating big wind slab avalanches somewhere.  Nevertheless I reasoned if we choose our route carefully and stayed of steep slopes we could achieve something.  This is what we did:  Firstly we skied down the Comb des Morts in fresh snow before stopping at its end and climbing up to the East col of the Barason valley.  The weather was in and out yet we still got to see something.

In addition we enjoyed good skiing all the way back to the car park and finishing an action packed week on staggeringly different fluctuations in temperature and conditions.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Mont Gelé

Bill Mills reads his book outside the Refugio Crete Seche

After 12 years of ski touring together [not including the hiatus of Covid] It becomes increasingly difficult to find truely unique and interesting places to ski tour with Bill Mills and Greg Knott.  Yet still a good problem to have...

 After some thought, I phoned the guardian of the Refugio Crete Seche to discover if the place was open.  It was one of those good news bad news stories.  Firstly the bad news: It wasn't open - then the good news-They would open it early just  for us.  So we could continue with our plan to climb Mt Gele a very remote and beautiful mountain on the Swiss/Italain border.

Yet on our first day together the weather was unstable - so we contented ourselves by staying in the Chamonix area and by climbing the Aiguille Charlanon.

Perfect snow

welcome to Aguille Rouges

This proved to be a good choice because the snow was wonderful and despite having climbed this peak many times, this was the best skiing I had ever had on the peak.

The next day we headed of to Italy through the Mt Blanc tunnel. We drove down to Aosta afterwhich we headed up the very long and remote Valpeline valley to the village of Bionaz.  Here we took the road which eventually becomes a dirt track. [Mountain Guides using the refugio get dispensation to drive up the track.]. This was all very well but at one of the steep corners we ran into un navigable snow.

Er What Now?

Not wishing to be defeated, nor wanting to walk up the road carrying skis.  I attached Trac Grabber™to all four wheels engauged low-ratio locked the differential and then proceeded to go absolutely nowhere.  

The Trac Grabbers were completly fucking useless. So we dumped the car and walked.  As we should have done in the first place.

a long hot walk.


Fortunately it wasnt actually that long before we did hit continuious snow,  which meant that if we had negociated the bend in the road  we would still have had to abandon the car.  Plus we could put the skins on the skis and progress like ski tourers.  

It was hard work getting to the Refugio because it was hot.  We were relieved to arrive.  We were met by the quietly impressive Sophie who is the guardian of the Refugio.  She provided us with beer.  In the end there were only seven of us staying the night.

The next morning we had breakfast at 5.30hrs.  We were a way by 6.15hrs.  There had been a good overnight freeze and conditions were optimum.  

Bill with an amazing back drop.

Picnic below the summit.

It took just under 5 hours to arrive on the summit.  The majority of the ascent is quite straight forward until your about a 100 meters below the top. From where its nescesarry to complete the climb on foot.

The summit has a great big wooden cross fixed to it.  It made a useful thing to grab onto and avoid falling a long way into Switzerland.

Me & Bill clinging to the summit cross.

I'd like to report that the ski back to the refugio was magnificent.  But it was not.  The first portion of skiing was in breakable crust.  The skiing did then get better the lower we got, but we never did find sublime spring snow.  Mind you 5 hours up and 1 hour down still means its always  better than walking.

Approaching the snowy Refugio from above.

We arrived back - to find a full blown party kicking off.  There must have been a hundred people sitting out side the building in various states of undress, drinking copious amounts of Processcco/beer or what ever. I had enough sun.   I went inside and went to sleep.
It had always been our plan to spend a second night.  Yet it was a contrast to the previous night - The refugio was packed with Italians all determined to have a good time - It seemed like chaos to us.

The next morning - Sunday -  the majority of people left early at around 5.00hrs in an attempt to climb what we had climbed the previous day - Mt Gele.  However it had been cloudy overnight and there was seemingly no freeze, which was going to make the conditions unsafe.
Our intention had been to climb another peak and then ski back to the car.  Yet it became quickly apparent that with out a hard freeze we were in danger of being caught it a big wet avalanche.  So we retreated back to the car- then back to Chamonix.

On our final day we went to Grands Montets and climbed up over the col de Rachasse before heading of in a huge circular descent of the Argentire glacier taking in the spectacular seracs of the Rognan glacier.
Argentiere Glacier

Col du Chardonnet

Skiing underneath the huge North Face of Les Doites

Seracs of Rognan glacier