Skiing in the Mont Blanc, Grand Combin and Val Ferret Regions

For the past nine days I have been out skiing with Mountain Guide Graham Frost (www.frostguiding.co.uk) and Ric, Pete, Margarite, Charles, Sonia, Griff, John and Nic from the Eagles Ski Club. As I reported on the 21st April, we had a warm up day at Le Grand Montets ski area. The next day, we embarked on our hut to hut tour. The plan was to spend eight days ski touring between Chamonix and Zermatt. However, unlike most Haute Routes, our aim was to use no public transport and ski all the difficult sections. This version of the Haute Route requires great weather and good stable snow conditions.

The first day of our tour began with a descent of the Glacier des Rognon followed by the ascent of the Col du Chardonnet. From here most teams continue to the Trient Hut. We continued to the Plines Bivouac Hut which gives a stunning, quiet location to spend the night.

Ski tourers in the Argentiere basin on day one of our tour.

Ski tourers in the Argentiere basin on day one of our tour.

By continuing to this hut, it put us in the perfect position to ski the Col de la Grande Lui variation of the Haute Route. A 600 metre skin gives access to a 2000 metre descent into La Fouly. We timed this right and had some excellent spring snow on the descent. There was still snow all the way to the road so walking was not required.

A stunning evening at the Plines Bivouac Hut.

A stunning evening at the Plines Bivouac Hut.

Following our overnight stop we continued via the Val Ferret and the famous Col du Grand St. Bernard Monastery. Following some lunch in this very welcoming place we descended to the Plan du Jeu Hut. This day requires very stable snow as the ascent of the Val Ferret is severely threatend by avalanches. The next morning, from the Plan du Jeu Hut we made the steep ascent to the Col de Proxy and Montorge from where a spring snow descent gave access to the Valsorey valley.

Skiing with the Aiguilles Dorees behind.

Ric and Pete skiing with the Aiguilles Dorees behind.

Charles approaching the Col de Proxy.

Charles approaching the Col de Proxy.

From here the ascent was made to the Cabane du Velan. This hut sits in an amaxing location overlooking the Plateau du Couloir on the side of the Grand Combin, is very friendly and highly recommended. We had hoped to continue on to the Plateau the next day but very poor weather forced us to retreat to Bourg St Piere. Unfortunately, the weather has not improved over the last three days. However, we have made the most of our time by completing two more ski tours and one days lift served skiing. On Saturday we ascended the Tete de Balme from Le Tour before enjoying a nice descent. The ski area has been closed for a couple of weeks and therefore we had the area to ourselves. Following an early start on Sunday we travelled through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to the Val Ferret from where we skiied the Pas Entre Deux Sauts above the Bonatti Hut. Again, we did not see any other ski tourers on the hill.

Ski touring above the Bonatti Hut.

Ski touring above the Bonatti Hut.

Yesterday, was our final day skiing. We spent the day at a quiet Grand Montets using up the last of the energy we had left in our legs!

Rosyth Cragging

Nettle and I got a quick evening cragging at Rosyth Quarry yesterday (29/4/13). The rock was dry on the main crag and looked pretty dry on the routes in the trees, which haven’t got too much foliage as yet. There was a fresh, cool westerly wind and intermittent sunshine. We climbed a handful of routes including the excellent Heathy. Two other parties at the crag plus the usual mini-trials bikes. 

Heathy. Photo credit: J.Foden.

Heathy. Photo credit: J.Foden.

Training and More Snow Forecast

I’ve mostly been working at EICA Ratho this week, hence the lack of conditions reports. As well as work I’ve managed a couple of training sessions with Ivor including a wall session at Alien Rock and a gym session. We tried out his new bespoke Farmer’s Walk kit pictured below; it’s a fairly brutal exercise and great for grip strength. The kit is heavier than it looks and that’s without adding additional weights. 

Farmer's Walk Kit

Farmer’s Walk Kit. Photo credit: Ivor McCourt

There’s more snow forecast for the Scottish hills over the next few days. It looks like fresh snow will settle down to around 600m in a number of areas and there are High and Considerable avalanche forecasts for some altitudes/aspects on the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) website for tomorrow.

Sea Kayaking East Lothian

Out on Sunday, 21/04/13, with George from Dun Eideann Sea Kayaking and Jen, Lesley, Ali and Peter. We started from Seacliff in East Lothian and had a good half day kayaking up the coast underneath Tantallon Castle. The South/South-West wind was gusting fairly strongly so we mostly hugged the coast to find shelter. Despite the weather we had the usual excellent time with George, got some great views and saw a good selection of seabirds, seals etc.

Le Grand Montets

I am spending the next eight days with Mountain Guide Graham Frost and a team from the Eagles Ski Club.  We are aiming to complete the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route.  Today, we had a warm up day at Le Grand Montets off piste skiing and reviewing transceiver and crevasse rescue skills. The snow off piste is variable depending on aspect and height. North facing aspects at altitude had good powder although some areas have been affected by recent winds.

The view today from the top of Le Grand Montets ski area.

The view today from the top of Le Grand Montets ski area.

Pentlands

Working with Martin, Pamela and Susan today for Maximillion Events. We were out with walking groups in the Pentlands in excellent sunny weather with great views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area. A fairly strong south west wind, but no precipitation. Just a few remaining small snow patches in the Pentlands and Moorfoots and the hills and paths relatively dry for this time of year. Apologies for the lack of photos, my camera still hasn’t quite made it’s journey back home.

Skiing between Val d’Isere and Aosta

On Saturday 13th April Rosie and I made the short drive from Saint Gervais Les Bains to Val d’Isere. It had snowed the previous evening and we had a great day skiing both on and off piste on excellent snow. The ski area  was very quiet and therefore it was not hard to find fresh snow for skiing. We stayed in the village on the Saturday evening before meeting up with Scott and Tina on the Sunday for more great skiing.

Rosie skiing at Val d'Isere with the Haute Maurienne beyond.

Rosie skiing at Val d’Isere with the Haute Maurienne beyond.

 

Rosie travelled back to Saint Gervais on the Monday morning leaving Tina, Scott and I to begin our five day ski touring trip. We began the trip by using the lift system to allow us to access the Col Pers (3009m). From here we descended to the Refuge Prariond (2324m) and following a short break we ascended the Col de la Lose (2957m). The avalanche forecast for the Monday and the whole week was ‘Considerable’ early in the morning rising to ‘High’ by midday due to the heat and this route gave us a ridge to follow to the col making for a safe itinerary.

After our ski tour we had a relaxing evening and night at the Refuge Prariond.This is a very friendly, small hut which is highly recommended.

We were up early on the Tuesday morning to increase safety and ensure good snow on our ascent and descent of the Grande Aiguille Rousse (3482m). The descent was at first on powder followed by beautiful spring snow in the mid section.

Scott and Tina on the ascent of the Grande Aiguille Rousse.

Scott and Tina on the ascent of the Grande Aiguille Rousse.

 

On Wednesday we linked France and Italy with the ascent of the Pointe de la Galise (3343m). It was important to complete the ascent of this mountain early in the morning as it passes through a narrow passage which is exposed to avalanches when the snow warms later in the day. This meant we arrived at the summit early and therefore had a nice relaxing break to allow the surface of the snow on the descent to improve before a brilliant ski descent to the Refuge du Fond (2324m).

Tina and Scott relaxing in the sun before another brilliant descent.

Tina and Scott relaxing in the sun before another brilliant descent.

The Refuge du Fond is a small hut located near the Refuge Benevolo. It is run by the owners of a local restaurant and serves brilliant homemade Italian food. It has showers, small rooms and provides a comfortable base for a number of excellent ski tours.

Refuge du Fond on the morning of the 18th April 2013.

Refuge du Fond on the morning of the 18th April 2013.

 

On Thursday we made the ascent of Punta Calabre (3445m). This mountain provides an excellent viewpoint from where it is possible to see the Barre des Ecrins, Gran Paradiso, Matterhorn, Grand Combin and Mont Blanc.

Scott and Tina on the summit of the Punta Calabre with the Grande Casse behind.

Scott and Tina on the summit of the Punta Calabre with the Grande Casse behind.

 

Following our descent we visited the Refuge Benevolo before refreshing crevasse rescue techniques and returning to the Refuge du Fond.

The forecast for Friday was for a deterioration in the weather mid morning. Therefore, we made an early ascent of the the Col du Fond (3081m) before our descent to the village of Rhemes Notre Dame (1723m).

The Roc Basagne with the Col du Fond on its right.

The Roc Basagne with the Col du Fond on its right.

 

Rosie picked us up at the village and we returned to France and Saint Gervais via the Mont Blanc Tunnel for some lunch and rest.

Ski resorts such as Val d’Isere and Chamonix (near Saint Gervais) can be accessed via the transfer company Alps2Alps. They can be contacted through their website www.alps2alps.com. They also have a blog and facebook page with interesting informatiuon for skiers.

The deterioration of the weather did arrive on Friday. This morning, in Saint Gervais at 850 metres, we have woken up to a large dump of fresh snow! Up high in the mountains I would expect large quantities which will need a few days to settle.

Low Port & Cockleroy

I was doing some staff training today with the Instructors from Low Port Centre in Linlithgow. We spent the morning looking at solving problems and performing rescues in a climbing wall environment. We were able to utilise the excellent small wall they have at the centre and used the CWA (Climbing Wall Award) syllabus as a basis for the problems and rescues.

Elspeth and Alan on Cockleroy

Elspeth and Alan on Cockleroy. Photo Credit: Mike Harvey

In the afternoon we went out to Cockleroy hill and looked at security on steep ground/the ropework covered by the Summer Mountain Leader Award. Care is required on the South side of this hill due to the loose nature of a lot of the rock, but there are some good areas for this sort of ropework. Lots of good input throughout the day from a very experienced group of Instructors. Sleet and rain showers in the afternoon on a Southerly wind.

Beinn Udlaidh

Nettle and I were looking for a quick climb before the forecast wind and rain arrived today, so we headed to Beinn Udlaidh. This worked really well and despite the thawing conditions we climbed Tinkerbell and Doctor’s Dilema and descended Central Gully.

Leading the lower pillar of Tinkerbell

Leading the lower pillar of Tinkerbell. Photo Credit: J.Foden

Nettle with Central Gully and Doctor's Dilema visible behind

Nettle with Central Gully and Doctor’s Dilema visible behind

Nettle took a very steep variation up an icey groove to the right on the second pitch of Doctor’s Dilema, which bumped the route up to what felt like a good, hard, fun Tech 5. I’m not sure if I’ve used a kneebar on Scottish ice before.

Nettle heading towards the steep groove

Nettle heading towards the steep groove

The routes in the coire to the left of Central Gully generally had large impending cornices over them and there were several sloughs as the day went on.

Cornices over the routes on the East of the coire

Cornices over the routes on the East of the coire. Photo Credit: J. Foden

The freezing level was well above the summit during the day and routes were dripping heavily and softening up. The forecast is for rain and the freezing level to go above the summits for some time, so the routes on Udlaidh are likely to suffer badly.

Making new friends on the walk out

Making new friends on the walk out. Photo Credit: J.Foden

Le Tour and Les Contamines

Andy, Chris, Colin and Paul arrived from the UK on Tuesday. The weather in the mountains was again pretty poor but this has the great advantage of putting down more fresh snow for skiing. We made the most of this by having a fun day at Le Tour on Wednesday off piste skiing. Spontaneous windslab avalanches were visible so care was required in the choice of line.

Coiln and Chris enjoying the sunshine at Le Tour.

Coiln and Chris enjoying the sunshine at Le Tour.

The weather was warm on Wednesday evening with rain at high levels in the mountains. We opted on Thursday to visit Les Contamines ski area. This area often clears of bad weather quicker than some of the higher resorts and this is what happened on Thursday. Following a number of on piste runs and a brilliant lunch (wild boar stewed in red wine) we had a great afternoon completing a short ski tour to a summit and off piste skiing.

Skinning towards our summit in Les Contamines.

Skinning towards our summit in Les Contamines.