Thursday, 29 March 2012

Silvretta Alps

With perfect blue skies across the Alps and temperatures remaining high, Emma, Matt and I decided to head off for a multi day ski tour knowing that we'd be spared any worries about navigation, cold etc.due to the good weather. We had originally planned to go to the Bernina area, but a number of factors (not least the fact that the huts aren't open yet) made us decide at the last minute to head for the Silvretta area of Austria. The touring in the Silvretta is known as being pretty straightforward, but we figured that by adding peaks and linking days we'd be able to come up with a decent tour, and so it proved. 

We started out in Ishgl, a place about which I'm struggling to say anything positive! The one thing I would say in it's favour is that there is a decent lift system to provide you with 1500m of height gain, and from there you can quickly escape the hungover German skiers hooning around the icy blue runs. 

Over the 4 days we were touring, we stayed at the Heidelberger, Weisbadener and Silvretta Huts, and climbed the Dreilanderspitzer, Piz Buin & Silvrettahorn (amongst others), so no shortage of action.

Overall we all felt that the tour took in some stunning scenery, and some superb peaks, as well as by far and away the best (and best value) huts we'd ever stayed in. The obvious problem  with the tour is that the relatively mellow ascents lead to pretty mellow descents too, so this isn't a tour for the hardcore skiers out there, but if you're looking for comfy huts, stunning scenery, easy but rewarding peaks, and a really enjoyable ski traverse, then look no further. Here's some photos to whet the appetite for a spring of touring - 

You can't go into the hills without a decent breakfast! Bratwurst all round in Ishgl.

Emma and Matt lost in the Ishgl lift sytem.

Emma - style personified.

Matt - too young to die, too fast to live.

The happy couple skiing together.

Matt with his supplies for the 4 days!

Matt nicknamed himself "The Alpine Clown". It's hard to argue.

Matt and Emma skinning up on day 2.

Me at the Zahnjoch, one of the many borders between Austria and Switzerland that we crossed.

Jamtal Hut. The only hut I've ever seen with electric doors!

No need for a helicopter resupply here, all the huts had their own piste basher.

On day 2 we climbed the Dreilanderspitze, which apparently required "moderate climbing skills". A slight understatement.

Matt arriving on top of the Dreilanderspitzer.

That's going to hurt!

Emma skinning up on day 3.

Final scramble to the summit of Piz Buin.

Absoluter Mega Klassiker!

Emma, Matt and I on top of Piz Buin.

It's amazing how much kit you can ditch when you nip up an extra peak at the end of the day.

Me on the summit of the Silvrettahorn.

Matt skiing the Silvrettahorn W face.

And again. Leaning back.....?

Nearly at the Silvretta Hut.

Skiing away from the Silvrettahorn.

Sunset from the Silvretta Hut.

Emma skinning up to the Rote Furkha on the final day.

Looking back across the Silvretta Lake, which we'd just skied across. Slightly worrying given that it was about 15 degrees!

Now that really is skiing back to the van.

One final thing - Germanic nations have the funniest signs and bus company names!!!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Mont de Grange, Chablais.

Looking to get out of the Valley for a day of touring, Peter and I decided on a whim to go and check out Mont de Grange (2432m) in the Chablais region. I'd been to try and ski the most famous run off the peak (the Pertuis Couloir) a few years back but got beaten back by bad weather, and had always been keen for a return. We were optimistic that the Pertuis would be good, but were happy to ski whichever line looked best.

The peak is accessed from the tiny ski area of Chapelle d'Abondance, part of the Portes du Soleil group of resorts, and inolves a chairlift and a ski tow which gain you 600 metres - always worth having. From the top of the drag you can skin directly towards the peak, or do what we did and take a more scenic option of heading up onto the NW ridge and following that all the way. Although slightly longer, the ridge takes in some awesome views, and still only involves 800m of ascent. 

Peaceful forests on the way up

The snowpack is melting fast in the Chablais so we were forced to take our skis off a couple of times due to lack of snow, but otherwise the skin up is incredibly aesthetic and pretty straightforward. The final climb to the summit is an unavoidable bootpack, but it should be easier now that I've put the track in! Most people seem to ski from where it's not possible to skin anymore, but it seemed a shame not to bag the top.  

Me skinning on the ridge. Pic Peter Riley.

 Looking up the ridge at the summit

Peter coming up the ridge

The summit from just below where we started bootpacking. The Pertuis Coulior is the line running down from the summit itself, and our line is the obvious gully from the col just right of the summit.

Views across to the Mont Blanc Massif from the summit.

Looking back at the ridge we'd just climbed.

You really do ski from the summit on this one! Pic Peter Riley.

I think Peter has found his next ski objective, hehe.

On the way up we'd seen that there were plenty of rocks showing in the Pertuis, and the snow looked pretty rubbish, so we decided to the ski the "Petit Pertuis", a wider, friendlier option with much better snow cover. The angle at the top is about 35 degrees, and this gradually mellows all the way until you reach the forests and finally the blue runs of the ski area. We enjoyed a combination of powder and spring snow, and generally had a very enjoyable time with no sign of anyone else on the mountain.  

Looking down our descent.

Peter loving the spring snow.

Me loving the powder. Pic Peter Riley.

My tracks on the lower section, with Peter just visible near the top of the bowl.

Me nearly back at the ski area, with Mont de Grange behind to the left. Pic Peter Riley.

The Chablais is definitely one of those areas which you never hear much about, but it clearly has a huge amount of hidden gems such as this. Add yet another load of ideas to the to-do list!