Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A day in Chamonix

My ski touring over the past two months has been hampered by a few minor nagging injuries and atypically long work weeks. Sadly this appears to be a recurring theme for me every Feb/March, with a busy work schedule preventing me from skiing as much as I'd like just when the conditions are getting in their prime. So it was with a mix of mild trepidation over my lack of recent training volume and pure excitement I headed down to the French Alps last week to compete in the Pierra Menta with Micke.

Starting out from Narvik at 4am on Monday morning we had three connecting flights to Genève and picked up the rental car before the short drive to Chamonix. This was my first time in the Cham valley and it delivered on all expectations. In fact it is kinda tricky not to speak about the region in superlatives, with magnificent and wild peaks jutting up against a crowded and tourist oriented village.

The following day we met with Andreas, an expat Swede who has been living with his family in the Chamonix valley for the past few years, for an outing starting from Argentiere. Two cable cars whisked us up to the Grand Montets at 3300 metres and we feigned euro sophistication with a cup of strong coffee before setting out on our skis.

Stairway down from the Grand Montet cable car.
We skied down the icy piste for a few hundred metres, ducked a rope and traversed over towards the glacier. This was the first time in my life seeing moguls on a glacier just beside crevasses, and it seams like a pretty apt metaphor for Chamonix in general. Once on the valley floor we booted up the moraine and started on skins up towards Col du Passon. This is a very popular outing and we passed a few guided groups on the way up. It was refreshing to have an established skintrack which stayed at a moderate angle the whole way rather than the usual ultra steep skinners which are the norm in Norway.

On the way up to Col du Passon

It was a warm, sunny day with no wind- beautiful weather to be sure and not being accustomed to such things I had neglected to put on any sunscreen. I felt myself roasting in the heat, but it felt kinda good after the past few dark months in the north. We booted up the 40° couloir and reached the mellow upper section of the Le Tour glacier. Rather than skiing straight down from here we traversed across the glacier and up towards the Aiguille du Tour.

On the way we watched a pair of ski planes practicing landings repeatedly on a short slope.

 We passed another big group as we skinned up a wide bowl to a small pass near the Aiguille du Tour where we stopped for a long lunch and admired the views.

The skiing down was wildly variable with a firm suncrust in shadier aspects and over ripe corn in sunny places and some breakable windboard in between. We cruised down the broad glacier Le Tour, saw some immense seracs and finished in the small hamlet of Le Tour.

Micke skiing like he isn't on skinny race skis




Micke and Andreas

Back at Andreas' we enjoyed a cool beer before packing our gear back into the rental car and driving to Arêches-Beaufort. The Chamonix area was in many ways just like I expected it to be but also so much more and I was left wondering why I had waited so long to get there. Our stay was far too brief, only a taste test really, but one which left me more excited than ever to get back there and explore the mountains in more detail.

A post on the Pierra Menta is in the pipeline...

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