Wednesday 6 March 2013

Queyras, La Grave and a foray into alpinism...

For the first time this winter, we finally got a prolonged spell of sunshine here in the Alps over the last week. Unfortunately I managed to make a complete mess of it, and accomplished very little but had a great time in the process of repeatedly failing on everything I tried. 

I started out the week by heading down south with Lindsay Caldwell to do a hut to hut ski tour in the Queyras region. Although little known, this area just south of Briancon is said to be an amazing little playground full of north facing bowls and acres of early season powder and we were keen to check it out. 

Starting from the tiny village of St Veran, we headed up to the Refuge de le Blanche and then (after a very generous lunch and a beer) up to the Col Blanchettes. Unfortunately the weather wasn't great, but we found some good snow and the occasional patch of blue sky.

Lindsay on the way up to the Refuge de la Blanche

Me about as close as I ever get to a church (the Chapel on the way to the hut). Probably should have prayed a bit harder given how the weather turned out!

AWESOME views from the Col Blanchette!

Nice snow though :)

Despite a good forecast for the coming days, we woke to another blizzard, and so rechecked the forecast.(thank god for 3G and smartphones). It turned out that the weather man had changed his mind, and that the outlook was actually not very good. It didn't take long to work out that a new plan was needed, so we decided to get back in the car and head for La Grave. 

On our way over we stopped for a great tour over the Cretes de Chailloud above the Col du Lauteret in some brutally cold weather, and patted ourselves on the back for getting something done despite having no map or any information (I only know what it's called because I looked it up when I got home). 
You can't beat a "that looks good, let's do it" idea every now and then!

Cretes de Chailloud from the Col du Lauteret

Col du Lauteret - not a warm place

Kite skiing above the Col. It was pretty impressive to see how far these guys went - made my arms tired just watching.

Heading up from the col

Bootpacking after the snow got too firm.

Final climb to the summit

Lindsay skiing down with the Meije and the peaks above La Grave in the background.

The following day we skied the lifts at La Grave, and it has really got me psyched to get back. La Grave is one of those legendary places that you hear about in the world of skiing, but I've somehow never managed to get there before. It really is a pretty funny place, with one tiny and antiquated telepherique, a flat bit where you get pulled by a piste basher, and a drag lift taking you to the only piste in the whole "resort" (a 300m red run on a glacier), and some of the best lift-served skiing anywhere in the World. 

It is obvious that you really need some local knowledge to make the most of the place, but even on the tiny bits that we did we found some superb skiing and plenty of "adventure" (ie. bootpacking out having dropped into something that cliffed out...) Next time we go we're going to recruit someone who knows it well, and go armed with ropes, harnesses and all that jazz (we had none of that stuff as we weren't expecting to need it in the Queyras). Let's hope they get another dump of snow before the winter is out - Lindsay and I have got the La Grave psyche!!!!

Getting a tow!

Looking out of the telepherique at the mystical Meije. I'm ashamed to report that Matt summitted this peak in a Hawaiian shirt when we climbed it a couple of years back. 

Typical La Grave terrain. I want more!

Thanks Lindsay for a few random but really fun days, and thanks for taking my constant abuse regarding  your Aussie heritage!

Having had only one night back in Cham I was back into the mountains, this time with axes, crampons and a very psyched Pete. We had our eye on the Carrington/Rouse route on the Aiguilles des Pelerins and settled into the Plan de L'Aiguille hut for a good night's kip. All was going to plan until we realised that the dreaded foehn wind had arrived a day early and brought with it high temperatures and a warm wind as it always does. Not keen to be climbing an ice route in those conditions (plus 2 degrees at 6am!!!), we had a quick chat and decided to go and climb something up the Midi. Unfortunately we couldn't ab off the Midi bridge as planned due to construction work going on up there, and eventually settled for abbing into the Burnier Vogler route from the Cosmiques Arete and doing the final section. That was good, and doing the Cosmiques with no-one else on it was great too - it's such a fun route when it's quiet. Overall, not a very successful day but one filled with banter and stunning views, so hard to be too disappointed.

Stunning view of Cham at night - piste bashers working hard at Brevent Flegere

Pete finishing the Burnier Vogler. I told him that he'd blown the onsight by going in from above, but he got over it quickly.

So there we go, a week of very good weather, and very little to show for it. That said, I had a lot of fun, and that really is point of all this mountain stuff so who cares about ticking things. Thanks Lindsay and Pete!