Mairi and I recently had a great ski mountaineering trip to the alps. Our aim for the trip had been the super classic Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt . Unfortunately the weather didn't play ball so we didn't complete the route but had some fun on the first part to Verbier. The biggest challenge of a multi-day hut-to-hut ski tour in the European Alps is the weather, combined with hut bookings!
At the start of the trip we warmed up by skiing the Valle Blanche, a 20km off piste glacier run from the top of the Aiguille du Midi back down to Chamonix. The next day looked perfect for starting the Haute Route but I couldn't re-arrange all of our huts so we opted for a shake down day checking all our touring kit by doing a day tour up the Col du Chardonet.
Day 1 of the Haute Route goes from the Grand Montets, down across the Argentierre Glacier, up over the Col du Passon, across the Glacier du Tour, Over the Col du Tour and finally across the Trient Glacier and up to the Trient Hut. The final stretch of the day was in a complete white out and called for some good navigation to lead us to the warmth of the Trient Hut.
Day 2 was downhill almost all of the way! Out of the Trient hut we skiied down to the base of the Col des Ecandies, swapped skis for crampons and climbed the short distance over the col. From this point it's downhill the whole way through the Val d'Arpette to Champex. The most popular variation of the Haute Route involves transportation from Champex to Le Chable and then making use of the Verbier lift system to get back on track and ski on to the Prafleuri hut. The weather forecast was starting to look less than ideal so another quick ring around of some of the huts and we booked in to an intermittent night at the Mont Fort refuge at the top of the lift system in Verbier. The next day was a right off for continuing on the route so we had a day on the piste in Verbier with the aim being to continue the following day.
We had an early start the next day but when we woke the weather was way worse than forecast and the outlook for the next few days was also sub-optimal. It was a shame but sadly we were forced to give up on the Haute Route or accept that we would probably have to spend several days waiting for weather further on.
After making the call to bail from the Haute Route we began the process of chasing the pockets of good weather around the Alps - first stop Courmayer for some lift accessed off piste powder runs! We then spotted a bit of a weather window further South in Italy in the Gran Paradiso National Park. Gran Paradiso is the only 4000m peak solely in Italy and being relatively non technical makes a great ski mountaineering peak. We opted to break the ascent up with a night at the Chabod Refuge which is in a brilliant location and as you would expect in Italy serves amazing food!
Summit day on the Gran Paradiso was mixed with a really cold wind high up and some clouds coming and going over the top. The final rocky section of the peak can't be done on skis so we cached them before roping up and continuing on foot. Sadly no views from the top but by the time we got back to our skis the clouds had opened up a bit to give good contrast for the ski down via the Vittorio Emanuelle Hut.
After some more head scratching and obsessive trawling of various weather forecasts the next venue we settled on was Breuil-Cervinia on the Italian/Swiss border. The Breithorn is another 4000m peak which makes a great ski mountaineering objective. Friends Tom and Lucy joined us for the ascent of the Breithorn and then an incredible off piste day around Cervinia. It was such a good day but unfortunately I got a bit carried away and smashed myself up in a wee crash on the final run! A slow limp back to the car was followed by a trip to A&E in Aosta where thankfully the x-rays showed that I didn't have any broken bones, but I do have ligament damage to both my knee and ankle :(
I'm going a little crazy sitting in the house at the moment but my leg does seem to be improving each day. I have a flight booked back out to the Alps on the 17th of April so I'm (perhaps optimistically!) hoping that I might be fit by then!