We had had our eye on Les Trois Cols ski tour for a while, and although the forecast for Thursday wasn’t exactly perfect, that day happened to be the day we did it. The guidebook has an estimate of 6 to 8 hours from the Refuge d’Argentière, and it doesn’t get dark until nearly 8pm now, so we knew we had plenty of time… just as well!
We got up in good time and made our way to the Grands Montets ski area. I had forgotten my rope (I wondered why my bag was so light), so we had to make a diversion into Argentière to make a quick purchase. This wasn’t too shocking because we wanted to replace one of the old ropes, and we got a nice discount.
Back at the lift station the queues were pretty small – we’re coming to the end of season – so we got to the Grands Montets top station at about 10.15am. We quickly got the skis on and headed off through the piste barrier and across the Argentière Glacier over towards the Col du Chardonnet. The snow conditions were very crusty which made for a difficult ski on dangerous ground, but we made it in an hour with a couple of tumbles where the skis got stuck.
I could see that although the lifts had been quiet, the Col du Chardonnet was not. There were quite a few groups of people already snaking their way up, most of whom were starting the Haute Route and were on their way to the Cabane de Trient. We thought of Ian and the gang and wondered where they were. They had slept at the Refuge d’Argentière the previous night, so we knew they were somewhere in front, but would we catch them? We put the skins on and made our way up, quickly catching up and over-taking many people with various abilities and incompetencies.
It was a long slog, and the altitude was making us a little dizzy, but 800m and 2 hours later we made it to the col. It was very busy – there is an 80m abseil down the other side, and many of the groups were being lowered off. We have been in France long enough to know how to act like the French, so Pete barged to the front, stated that we were fast and simply created a new line to abseil. Luckily, we didn’t annoy anyone, apart from one American who had been waiting patiently. The Italian guide was very accommodating, as he could see that his group of 8(!) clients would take a very long time.
So, a quick abseil and some down climbing (we only had 30m ropes), got us to the bottom. I had a quick look around at the group of people already there and noticed a rather fetching yellow bandana. Now, who do I know who wears a yellow bandana? “Grimshaw!”, I shouted in my most authoritative voice. He didn’t look up. “Grimshaw!” I shouted louder. Big grins and a, “Hey, what are you doing here?” came from Ian. We had actually planned to the the 3 Cols on Wednesday, but I had opted for a lazy day instead. Anyway, they all looked fit and in good shape, but were a bit annoyed by how long the abseil had taken as they had opted for the very British method of queueing (Doh!). They headed off to the Fenêtre de Saleina while we had a bite to eat.
We caught the gang up again just as they were about to put on their skins for the second climb of the day. We said we had to keep going fast to make sure we got down in day light. I was a bit focussed actually, so I didn’t even say a proper farewell (sorry guys).
The second col got pretty steep at the top, so much so that I started sliding backwards and took a tumble down the hill – ouch! I got back to the track, tried a little more skinning, but after more slipping backwards decided it was easier to walk the last 30m. At the top we had a chat with some very friendly Norwegians about Lofoten and then we headed off to the final col, the Col du Tour.
This was only a short distance, and a small height gain, and on the other side is the most amazingly long downhill off piste, all the way to Le Tour. Care still had to be taken because we were on the Glacier du Tour. Snow conditions weren’t great – crusty at the top, mushy towards the valley and lots of avalanche debris which added to the stress levels – and my legs were exhausted, but eventually we made it down.
We walked the 1km from Le Tour to Montroc just in time to catch the 7.11pm train back to Argentière. Phew!
Back at base, despite everything hurting, we made a quick turn around, refueled and showered, and made our way to one of the Piolet d’Or events. We didn’t stay long. By 10.30pm we had to call it a day and go to bed for a very, very long nights sleep.