We’d come to Chamonix with the objective of climbing Mont Blanc on ski. But, the weather hasn’t really been on our side – we’ve had big dumps of fresh snow, thick cloud on the mountains, hot temperatures, and consequent massive slushy avalanches. However, on Monday morning we got all excited when, from Chamonix, we spied the distant fresh tracks in the snow leading up Mont Blanc… More “Mont Blanc failure…”
After days and days of lots and lots of snow, with poor visibility and high winds keeping skiers on the lower slopes, at last the day came when we had sunshine and no wind. It had to be a day for the Vallée Blanche. More “Vallée Blanche Powder”
On Friday it snowed all day and well in to the night. We checked the forecast for the Saturday, and although the temperatures were rising and rain was on its way, it looked like the snow might stick around for long enough for us to have some fun in Kentmere. More “Kentmere Ski Touring”
As I needed to train a bit for our Chamonix adventure in January/Februar I had to do something about the lack of ski touring experience for the last couple of years. Visiting Max at his new place in Miesbach, Bavaria we decided to take the risk and despite the rain, which poured down on us instead of the lovely snow we had for days, we drove up to the beginning of the slopes. More “Ski Touring @Schliersee (Bavaria)”
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.
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.
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……..
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……………
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.
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.
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….
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…..
We thought another half day on the piste before going for a touring adventure would be a good idea, so we decided to go to Les Houches on Boxing Day.
We like Les Houches because it’s a bit quieter and there’s fun to be had through the trees.
We messed around on the piste, practicing some fast turns and stopping for lunch in the sun. Then we headed for the trees.
Aiguillette des Houches
The next day, we decided to go for a tour from Le Brevent to the Aiguillette des Houches, and then ski down to Les Houches railway station. It’s not often you can do this because you need snow down to the valley.
The tour looked easy enough. The lifts give you most of the height gain, then for a mere 200m up, you get 1350m of descent.
The lifts were very busy, and I was reminded that post Christmas day, the slopes in Chamonix are very crowded. I was very pleased to leave the crowds behind as we exited at Le Brevent.
The skiing wasn’t difficult, but my touring legs have gone on holiday. I found the going quite tough on the down hill towards the Lac du Brevent, especially when an invisible rock caught my skis and I almost went flying. Yikes! Another big scratch on the bottom.
The sun was hot, so I was glad that much of the ascent (the bit I find the easiest) was in the shade.
By the time we started the descent, the snow was very heavy and turns were very hard as the skis sank into the snow. With the weight having to be at the back to keep the skis from digging in, there seemed very little control and thigh muscles were burning. I could see that this would be a superb descent, if we had made it there first thing before the snow had time to warm up.
Eventually we made it to the tree line, at which point we met lots of people snow shoeing. I was so knackered I could’t follow Pete into the trees, so instead I took my skis off and started to walk down the snow shoe path. This was a lot quicker for me, the alternative being crashing constantly into trees.
Pete and I eventually met up again at Les Houches railway station about an hour or so later. Pete had also taken his skis off about ten minutes after me, but we ended up following different paths down. We were so relieved we had both made it to the station within 10 minutes of each other (we had failed to state a rendezvous spot in case we got split up) that we didn’t mind that it was dark and that we’d just missed a train and we had an hour to wait for the next. Luckily we had Christmas cake and a flask of tea to keep us going.
This year we decided to go to the Silvretta area of Austria, which borders Switzerland. A group of eight of us met up in Galtur in the Tirol : Anna and me, Chris, Steve, Brian, Jo, Chris and his son Dan. A few of us, myself included tried new gear this year; “light is right” was the motto and I was very impressed with my new skis and dynafit TLT bindings. Unfortunately my new boots, despite the hours of fitting, were another story and I ended up hiring boots (which didn’t really fit) and getting blisters and swollen feet. Oh well, I’ll get it right for next year……
Anyway on with the tour:
The Silvretta region lies south west of Innsbruck and there is no set route to follow. The idea is to tour the area and take in some peaks. We chose to start in Ischgl and travel first to the Heidleberger Hutte, an easy ski down from the lift system…. from here we climbed Piz Mottana the following day.
From the Heidelberger Hutte we traversed to the Breit Krone and down to the Jamtal Hutte, a modern, large hut with a bar at the door, showers, a climbing wall and all modern amenities………….. who said we were roughing it???
We had two nights at this hut and spent the follwing day on an ascent of the Gemspitz (3107m), followed by an early night and an early start to get across to the Wiesbadener Hutte……..
This was a very friendly hut with two eastern european girls constantly trying to sell beer to all newcomers….. watch out for them at Hunters in Cockermouth this summer!!!
With news that the Saarbrucker Hutte was closed we opted to stay an extra night at the hut, so took in the Rauherkopf and Oschenkopf……..
Our intended journey to the Silvretta hut via an ascent of the Piz Buin neccessitated an early start, but despite this we couldn’t beat the weather and after only an hour, the valley had been engulfed with cloud. With a tricky glacier ascent ahead and a descent of unfamiliar ground to the next hut, we turned tail and retreated back to the Wiesbadener Hut where a day of gin rummy followed. It’s easy to get very lost very quickly on skis….. and the hut was very comfortable.
The follwing day was a lot better though, but fate conspired against us…….. a slightly later start and Chris’ binding breaking and quite a wind higher up led us to bypass the Piz Buin and leave it for another day. It was still a fantastic day though and a great ski down to the Silvretta Hut; beautifully positioned above Klosters but small and traditional with great cooking. Easily the best hut and worth another visit.
All that was left was a steep ascent to a col the following morning and a long descent back to Galtur on fast disappearing snow. It just lasted to the resort but involved a lot of poling on flatish terrain. All in all though a great area to tour with some very accessible peaks, fantastic huts and great company!