Apr 12 16
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The last couple of weeks have found Anna and me joined by Zac, Steve, Brian and Jo ski touring around the area of the Vanoise. The Vanoise National Park sits high above the developed areas of the 3 Valleys ski resorts, and is a largely glaciated plateau rising to 3600 metres, but despite this it is rarely frequented, in fact on the days that we crossed the top of the plateau, we only saw one other group.

We based ourselves in Meribel chez Brian and Jo, and had a couple of days skiing off piste and day touring to check our kit and fitness. This included an overnight stay in a small unguarded hut, from where we ascended the Petit Mont Blanc, and an ascent of the Bourne glacier, accessed from the lifts of Meribel.

Inside the unguarded Refuge du Lac Merlet

On the way up the Bourne Glacier

After our few days of day touring and a day resting we made a belated start on our tour. The weather had been looking very unsettled for the week ahead, and we gave it a couple of days to settle, but this shortened our tour by a day (it really just lengthened one of the days, but I didn’t let on). We left from Pralognan, in the north of the Vanoise in a mixture of sleet and drizzle, and with snow slides coming off the rock all around us. With the forecast improving, we pressed on uphill to the first hut, the Col de la Vanoise Refuge.

Snow pours down off the rock around us on the climb to the hut

Day one.............. all uphill

After a well earned rest, one of our two big days loomed ahead of us. This entailed an initial 700 metre climb up to the Col du Dard, a small descent to the Col du Pelve, and a final long 600 metre climb to the top of the Dome de Chasseforet. As we climbed the final slopes, the weather closed in, and the slope seemed to go on and on, with the summit shrouded in cloud. Eventually we made it to the top and had a tricky descent down a narrow icy ridge with unseen drops waiting to swallow any of us that slipped……..

The long climb up to the Col du Dard

On the plateau.......

Approaching the Col du Pelve

Near the top of the Dome de Chasseforet

The final slopes

My favourite...... icy, narrow and no viz................. gulp!!

Eventually we made it to wider, snowier slopes and came out of the cloud. Here the snow was easier to ski and we made quicker progress to the unguarded refuge de L’Arpont. We soon got the stove going, warmed up and collapsed……………

Easier skiing near to the hut

Fed and rested, in the Refuge de L'Arpont

Day 3 of the tour was another long one: 1000 metre climb of the Glacier du Mahure to the col du Labby, but with the weather a lot better, we made short work of it, only to have to faff a lot at the top when the col marked on the map had a huge cornice on the other sdie, so we had to traverse a kilometre on soft dodgy slopes to another col further south. By the time we got to the refuge de fond D’Aussois, we were ready to drop.

Skinning up to the Col du Labby

View from the hut

During the night, much to the relief of most of us, the weather closed in , and by 6am we were stormbound, unable to leave the hut. We hoped the weather would improve, but by 11am it was worse, so we chilled for the day and stayed put………. ate more, drank wine and napped.

With the storm over by morning we headed for the Peclet Polset refuge, just 600m of ascent and much shorter distance. We were there by lunch, and the plat du Jour turned out to be the French version of a fry up…….. egg, bacon and chips. Just the ticket, washed down with a beer.

Early morning start

The Peclet Polset Refuge

The Peclet Polset Refuge was busier than the others we had stayed in as it is so close to the access from Meribel and Val Thorens, but was nowhere near full, which we thought was strange as it was the Easter weekend.

Our last day was a short climb onto the Glacier de Gebroulez, and a long descent down to Meribel, and a lakeside restaurant….

Climbing up onto the Glacier de Gebroulez

The long descent to Meribel

The Vanoise is a great place to tour and an area I’ll certainly be returning to. It’s quiet and has a real remote feeling to it. There’s a lot of day tours available and great off piste skiing accessed by lifts. I’m not 100% sure I’ve convinced Anna of the merits of uphill skiing, but hopefully by next year she’ll have forgotten the ups …………. Hmmmmmmm…..

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