Sunday 16 March 2014

Grand Montets to Champex

It seems that winter is on hold right now, with soaring temperatures and sunshine from sunrise to sunset. At times like this it's easy to lose heart but ultimately the whole point of mountain sports is to have fun so once you forget about powder hunting and just go out looking for views and some good times with friends, there's still plenty to go at.

With this in mind, Sharon, Matt, Sophie and I decided to do a 2 day ski tour over the weekend, starting with the Col du Chardonnet, Fenetre de Saleina and Col des Ecandies to a night in Champex and then a bus ride and a skin up and over the Col Grand Ferret and into Courmayeur. We weren't expecting much good snow but some nice views, a decent workout and a big dinner in Champex sounded like a good plan by any standards.

The Grand Montets on Saturday morning was crowded, slow and generally a good reminder of why I don't ski there between January and mid April but we managed to get the 4th bin and were away from the top station by just before 10.

North faces of Les Droites and the Verte. Conditions on these faces look awful - tons of black ice and many of the classic lines are barely formed. Stay away!

The skin up the Col du Chardonnet passed quickly enough as we soaked up the sun and the awesome views.

A nice spot for a drinks stop.

Once at the Col du Chardonnet, we were treated to one of the most inept displays of mountaineering that I've ever seen, from 2 large French teams. In these situations, patience is overrated so we just got ourselves down surrounded by a chaotic mess of useless and poorly chosen equipment, shouting, panicking and spectacular incompetence. It never ceases to amaze me that someone would take on something as serious as glaciated ski mountaineering without even a slight grasp of the basic skills required for it, but there you go. 

Matt surveying the incompetence at the Col du Chardonnet, no doubt plotting what he'd be saying if he saw a scene like this at work on an oil rig!

Once down from the Chardonnet the weather really turned and we skied down in some savage wind.

Matt in the wind, under the N face of the Aiguille d'Argentiere.

Worried about crossing the Trient plateau in bad visibility, we shot up to the Fenetre de Saleina as fast as possible.

Random Frenchman headed for the Fenetre de Saleina.

Sophie and Matt under the Aiguille Dorees.

Sharon at the Fenetre de Saleina.

Luckily for us, the bad weather held off long enough for us to scoot across the Trient Plateau and down to the Col des Ecandies.

Matt, Sharon and Sophie dwarfed by the scale of the Trient Plateau.

Sophie and Sharon on the plateau.

Sharon heading down to the Col des Ecandies.

Sophie and me with the Trient glacier behind.

Matt pulling up the fixed ropes to the Col des Ecandies.

Once at the Col des Ecandies we had a quick bite to eat and then skied down to Champex, finding some really fun snow on the way.

Skiing the Val d'Arpette, under the Col des Ecandies.

Sharon and Matt on the final run into Champex.

Having checked into our hotel, things just got better and better. It started well when the 6 nations was on the big screen and only improved when the owner asked if we'd prefer a huge meat fondue instead of the plat du jour. As if that wasn't enough, the wine list was long and reasonably priced and the beer was good German stuff, not the fizzy rubbish we get in Cham. With stomachs full of meat, wine, beer and genepi, we staggered to bed at 11.

An excellent evening.

The next morning saw a few thick heads (must have been the altitude) but we made it to the bus stop on time for 8.20, only to figure out that the immensely complicated bus timetable was saying that the bus we needed didn't run on a Sunday. Oops! With a couple of hours until the next bus we went through various ideas before deciding that a leisurely journey back to Cham, using the excellent Swiss train network would be a good idea, with lunch in Martigny on the way.

Clowning at Orsieres railway station.

We found this clochard at the train station.

The journey went smoothly and we were soon in Vallorcine, riding the cable car up into the Le Tour lift system.

Sharon and Sophie at Le Tour.

We talked about skiing around Le Tour but it was baking hot so we just skied down and headed home.

So, a big ski touring day followed by vast quantities of food and booze and then a day of sitting on trains, looking at the view and drinking coffee. A superb weekend!