The ride up to Chamonix from Geneva was filled with anticipation for the weekend ahead. The team was assembled for an introduction to ski touring. Some had done it before and others were new to the idea of going upwards on their on accord. The final destination, Arolla, Switzerland.
The initial plan was to have a warm up, short ski tour into one of our favourite places in the Alps, the Grand Saint Bernard Monastery, on the Swiss / Italian border. However, due to colossal winds up at altitude, it was deemed too unsafe to venture in on the Friday night. As a group, we decided to stay in Chamonix one more night and use the lifts to get a bit of downhill in. Oh and a mountain lunch to fuel us for the next few days. A special thanks goes to Anne-Marie for putting us up for the extra night at her home in Chamonix.
An early night for an early departure to Arolla in Switzerland, just under 2 hours from Chamonix. But worlds apart. This is when we met up with Ric, our mountain guide for the weekend, and the obligatory coffee and pork pie stop at the ski tourer’s petrol station cafe in Martigny. Things were getting exciting and we went through the route and expectations whilst letting the caffeine wake us up.
Arolla is a village in the French speaking part of the Valais. It is surrounded by peaks and glaciers. One of the biggest being the Aiguilles Rouges, and it was at from the base of this, in the middle of nowhere, that we set off. Our destination was a mountain hut just a mere 2841m above sea level. Easy!
The group consisted of Anne-Marie, Lorraine, Marjolein, Ed, Graham, Peter, Will and myself. Ric was our trusted front man and as always it seems, I took up the rear. With soaring temperatures and a whiff of sun lotion in the air, we climbed out of La Gouille and headed for our first check point, Lac Bleu. It was a pretty well trodden path and down low, the snow was sticky but as soon as we got out of the tree line we were in business. The 360 views were stunning and it was a great way for the group to get their ski touring legs. Mentally people were adjusting to the pace. Slow but steady, trying not to stop was the key. Will gave himself 50 step targets which helped. Peter explained that it was similar to his summer cycling in the alps - sprinting just does not work.
The first view of the Cabane is a little disheartening - it seems a long way away. But every step is one step closer and we plodded on. He must have seen us coming as Bernard had the beers ready and amazingly, rustled up a filling three course meal. On a personal note, the clear skies meant that my star gazing app on my phone would be tested to the max!
It would be an exagerration to say that we slept like babies, but we certainly rested up and the aim of day two was to ski some fresh powder from the Col des Ignes. This was a change of plan determined by looking at the aspect of the slope; it seemed to have the best snow. The heat got the better of us though and sapped our energy so it was decided to cut into the slope earlier without summiting. This meant that the descent had less of the good stuff but the challenge was still there. Traversing huge avalanche debris reminds us of how dangerous it can be if you are not sensible, and we manage to eek out a few fluffy turns before heading through the combat zone of the lower forest! Ed though seemed to be taking it into his stride, jumping everything in sight (including a dead chamois!)
The beer in Arolla never tasted better and everybody, although tired, was extremely statisfied with the adventure. I think it is safe to say that they have the bug! Thanks everyone for another great Traverse Away Day.