Friday, May 03, 2024

The last ski trip of the season.

 It was six years since Michael and Ian had triumphed on the Haute Route.  Thirty years since Michael and I first climbed Mt Blanc together.  This time they were back with a new friend Paul who in his 70th year was persuaded to have a go at ski touring.

The plan was to head up to the Gd St Bernard Monastery for two nights, then head over to the Bernese Oberland.  Yet not for the first time the weather didn't seem to know the plan and was uncooperative from the start.

Yet one of the many great things about going to the Monastery, is that not only is it a great trip to introduce people to ski touring, but because the terrain is non glaciated it can be done in [almost] any weather.  This was just as well because we left the parking area in sleet which was falling at  right angles to the vertical.

Yet as we ascended the sleet changed to snow and the wind was behind us.  It was quite hard work and we made use of the emergency shelters to get out of the bad weather where we could eat our sandwiches.  

Unsurprisingly we saw no one on our climb.  Once we arrived at the Monastery we had to dig the door out.  Stepping into the warmth and calm of the monastery was wonderful.  We went down into the ski room and peeled all our snow plastered gear. In fact there were quite a few other pairs of skis there too, it transpired that their owners had not bothered to venture outside, but instead wait out the bad weather.

The next day the weather was considerably less windy and while the visibility was far from perfect it was good enough for us to set off.  There was a lot of new snow.  We let another group go first and forge the track.  They were a group of 10 with 2 Guides.  They were meant to be on the Haute Route but had been forced to change their itinerary several times.

Our plan was to attempt Mt Fourchon the classic ski tour of the area.  We skied around the lake into Italy where the border post house  was completely buried, passed through the snowed in avalanche gallery and then stopped to put our skins on before starting the climb.  This is also what the other big group intended to do.  Meanwhile I noticed a loan skier attempting to cross above us in order to save himself about 30 meters of extra climbing.  I suggested to Michael, Paul and Ian that his route might not be the best choice in the conditions... Then right on cue the whole slope avalanched over a 100 meter wide crown wall.  Fortunately the victim stayed on the surface and was able to pick himself up and dust himself down, before scuttling off back the way he came, accompanied by jeers from the watching audience.  Jeering a man who had almost buried himself might seem a bit harsh, but he wasn't far off burying everyone else...

Not the clearest photo but you can glean the idea.

Anyway we continued sharing the trail breaking with the other big group.  The challange was as we climbed higher we found our selves in thick mist.  So thick that it was impossible to discern what was up and down. The only way to see, was keep throwing the ski pole out in front of me in order to gain some orientation.

In the end it was decided to stop because it was impossible to choose a safe line that wasn't avalanche prone.  The consolation prize was some good snow on the descent and when we popped out below the clouds the skiing was excellent. 

We headed back to the Monastery for a second night but not before stopping to marvel at the huge amounts of snow that had fallen through out the winter.

This is a 4 storey hotel.

The next day the forecast wasn't much better.  The dreaded foehn wind was reaking havoc across the region.  What's more it was bringing the gift of more Sahara sand and dumping it everywhere.

Sand is not good to ski on.

We did however manage to battle our way to the east col of the Barrasson where we were able to see all the way down the valley to the viaduct which is the opening shot of the Italain Job with the iconic Lamborghini Miura.
2 shots of the bridge featured in the  Italian Job  

An S on one side an I on the other.

By the time we skied back to the car the conditions were a bit grim.

Our original plan had been to travel to Grindlewald and then make a ski traverse of the Bernese Oberland.

Yet you didn't need to be the worlds greatest meteorologist to you know that this was not going to be possible.  So we returned to Chamonix to regroup.

The next day we headed to the Glacier 3000 ski area above Les Diablerets.  [Everything in Chamonix was shut because of the foehn wind].  We arrived to find that  this ski area was shut too.  Well for skiing anyway.  I managed to persuade the powers at be to let us up anyway because our plan was not to use the ski slifts but to ski tour up the peak of Les Diablerets the highest peak in the Canton of Vaud.

So far so good, then just as the lift was about to depart they announced that the wind was increasing and there was a good chance that they would close the lift system entirely.  Having run out of options we decided to go up anyway and see what was what.  This is when the adventure became memorable. 

Indeed the wind at the top made the idea of ski touring a joke.  Nevertheless there is a way of skiing all the way back down to the car park via a new tunnel if the piste is open. [And the tunnel. ] However the piste closed several weeks ago and the markers had been taken away for the summer.  We could see that there was enough snow to ski, but whether the tunnel was open was another question.  I made enquires at the top with the Guide who heads the ski patrol and he gave us permission to use the tunnel, providing we closed the door firmly afterwards!

We left the top station and skied down the piste.  This was not easy as the wind blew us back up the hill despite all four of us  adopting a schuss position.  Then suddenly we were in the lee of the slope and it seemed like another world.  We continued down to Le Diablerets Hut to find the guardian packing up and closing for the season, yet she sold us 4 cups of coffee, plus reassurred us that the mission critical tunnel was easy to find and obvious...

Well it wasn't obvious to us and we went zooming past it.  If we hadn't stopped to watch some ibex and an eagle and then check the map I would have comitted us to a long climb back up the slope.  As it was it took us about 10 minutes to retrace our steps.

The Black Wall.

The door opened and we were in.

At the other end it was quite an exit:

We skied down the slope until the snow ran out

Then through the crocuses back to the car.

On our fifth and final day we awoke to rain, but no wind.  Les Grands Montets was open [although it seemed it was  for our sole usage.] However fortune favours the brave and we got out of the gondala to fresh snow and decent visibility.  We skied until our legs were shot and that was how we finished the day and the season plus a memorable week to finish on...

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