Tuesday, June 18, 2024

"Mayvember" The mountaineering season starts.


The north face of Aiguille de la Floria

Stuart Carder joined me for five days climbing with a list of goals.   The Forbes Arete on the Chardonet being the number one plan.  Yet even before he arrived the preceeding weather had already written this off.

The weather in the alps has been cold and wet for weeks, with never more that two consecutive days of good weather.  So we had to come up with a few new ideas. Below is what happened:

On our first day climbing together we took advantage of the large volume of snow and were able to climb the rarely in condition north face of La Floria high above La Flegere.  The route was in good condition because it was cold.  The climb to the top was interseting and enjoyable.  Yet we arrived on the summit to be engulfed in thick cloud.  Our goal was to traverse the mountain and descend down the south ridge.  This requires some tricky route finding.  It is even more difficult when you can't see your hand in front of your face.

Stuart arriving at Col Crochue

Looking back down the face to Col Crochue

Needless to say we made it back down and had a great day climbing completely on our own.

The forecast for the next day suggested that it was going to be the best weather day of the five days .
I picked Stuart up from his hotel at 7.00am and we drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel and took the first lift of the morning on the skyway cable car.  We were not alone...
The cable car punched through the clouds and we arrived in the Vallee Blanche to a beautiful cold clear scene. 
La Vallee Blanche

 Again our plan was to use the unusual conditions to our advantage and head for the Tour Ronde.  This is a mountain which requires it to be cold and have plenty of snow inorder to glue all the rocks in place.

All was looking good, but on closer inspection the conditions looked suspect.  We decided to play it safe and not proceed.  Our default plan was to traverse the Aiguille Entreves, but to our horror when we looked at the ridge, it was mobbed.  Neither of us wanted to suffer that experience.

Crowds on Entreves

Fourtuantly there was a third option; again a route that is rarely in condition, but again with the strange weather we found  the climb  in excellnet condition:  The traverse of Aguille du Toule via its north face.  Admittedly it is not the longest route, but what it lacks in stature it makes up for in aesthetic's-Good safe climbing, beautiful views and the summit to ourselves while we munched our sandwiches.  

Aiguille du Toules,Dent du Géant to its left.

So that was the end of the good weather.  The next day it was grey, windy and raining.  We drove up to the Emosson Dam and headed out in the rain and battled our way to the summit of Le Bel Oiseau.
The final hour involved postholing through deep snow.  It had a Welsh or Scottish wibe, but nothing alpine.
Mind you it gave us a sense of satisfaction to have actually gone out and climbed a summit.
A wet car park Emosson Dam

Looking towards Lac Emossom

Yet the forecast for the next day was even worse.  Heavy snow above 3000 meters- driving rain lower down and in the valley.  We decided to bin the next day and reconvene the day after when there was due to be a considerable improvement in the weather.  
It was at this time that I had a eurica moment; If we have all this cold snowy weather, then lets not fight against it, but rather go with it.  Lets go ski mountaineering?  Stuart was a little sceptical at first, but it wasn't long before he bought into the idea.

Sunday was the polar opposite to Saturday weather wise.  Stuart and I drove around to the Col du Grand St Bernard where we were greeted by wonderful spring snow skiing conditions.  So much so that were not the only ones to have this brilliant idea of going skiing.  Most of the ski touring population of Italy had the same plan.  Due to the fact that the road had been only recently opened [by cutting huge swathes through the snow,] there was no where to park the car.  Eventually we had no option to park somewhere we didn't want to and walk down the road to the start of the skinning.
The road approach 

We climbed Mt Fourchon, where the surrounding views did not disappoint.  Plus the ski descent was excellent.
Stuart on summit of mt Fourchon

Les Grands Jorrasse& Mt Blanc to its left.

We finished the day with a Shandy on the terrace out side the wonderful Hotel Italia where only five weeks ago the hotel had been burried under 4 meters of snow.

On our final day together we decided to continue the skiing theme and head round to Glacier 3000 high above Les Diablerts.  Stuart and I were the only mountaineers in the cable car.  The rest were Indians dressed in ill fitting Gucci clobber.  Each and everyone of them looked ridiculous- no doubt these thoughts were reciprocal...
Anyway we headed of into the wilderness and they headed for the gift shop.  From the momment we left the top station  we didn't see anyone.  It was a wonderful experince to reach the summit of Les Diablerts where we could seemingly, almost, touch lake Geneva, then turn our backs and see the whole moutain range of Les Valais including the Matterhorn , Dent Blanche and the Grande Combin.
Stuart leaving the top cable car station

I forgot to mention there is a rockclimbing section!

The summit of Les Diablertets with Lac Leman in the background.

After our sandwiches we had a mellow ski down, followed by the reversing of the rocky ridge
Stuart battling steep soggy snow.

Followed by another ski down into the summer ski area [ closed] finishing with a climb back up to the lift station.

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