Archive for December 2007

Finhaut to Les Marécottes

Great to get a bit of a work out on boxing day! Rick and I decided to go skiing a loop from Finhaut to Les Marécottes.

It hasn't snowed
for two weeks now. There are tracks everywhere. Going uphill is getting very challenging. I wish I had brought my "couteaux".
We went on a bit of adventure checking out a patch we had spotted on the map. We were so thrilled to find an untracked perfect powder garden.

Another very entertaining icy section...

We ended up finishing on a sledging piste, at the bottom of Les Marecottes tiny ski resort. We missed the train by 3 min. What a good excuse to spend a little longer together!

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Champagne Powder!

Very unusual to start my skiing day with the visit of a wine cellar. Jonathan was very excited to show me his new Jacques Selosse champagne acquisitions. I was absolutely astouned by his enthousiasm and comparison with Christophe Profit...

Anselme Selosse, the present owner and winemaker of Jacques Selosse, who many regard as the Champagne region’s greatest producer, is based in Avize. His sometimes unusual methods of wine making have led some to call him the madman of Avize, but this really does not do justice to his brilliance. Indeed perhaps the best way of understanding just how good he is would be to liken him to Christophe Profit, one of Chamonix’s greatest climbers. He produces six different cuvees of Champagne, starting with “Initiale” – 30,000 bottles or so made each year, and culminating in “Substance” (of which a mere 3,000 bottles a year) is made of wines from every year dating back to 1986. His others are “Originale”, “Contraste”, a rose and individual year vintages. Don’t bother looking for his wine in Chamonix or indeed just about any other place – just remember his name in case you are lucky enough to get the chance to drink his elixir.

We skiied some champagne powder today. The secret garden behind the Posettes lift was a dream.

The snow was very crystalised and almost bubbly!

We finished the day with the descent of the Posettes gully. We chose a more radical line which made the skiing a touch more technical.

It got steep and narrow with a snow that was heavier which didn't give much margin for errors.

What a start to the season!

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Punta Jolanda, Gressoney, Italy

Una giornata fantastica climbing Punta Jolanda with Judy and Rob Greeves.

The conditions are ottimi. We were a bit surprised with the guidebook description which says a 50 m pitch. Maybe my Italian is not up to speed but it is more like 100m of amazing shaped ice.

We drove up this morning from Chamonix to Gressonney La Trinite. It is not the nearest venue I admit but well worth the journey. And the reward the short 15 min walk in.

Ice is very deceptive... From the cafe, it looks incredibly vertical and austere! From below at the belay stance, the angle eases off and it looks pretty much straight forward. Then when you are climbing it, the ice wall seems to move upright again and it feels much steeper than it did when setting off. It is all a matter of perspective and confidence...

As a second Judy is learning to save energy by using old axe placements and using open holes as hooks.

The end of a long steep pitch invariably reveals if we are right or left handed...

We continued up to the top and decided to walk down instead of abseiling. We follow some good mountain goat tracks. The walk down added a zest of adventure to the day. Thanks guys, it was una giornata indimenticabile!

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Cremerie, Argentiere

The car park of the Cremerie was full this morning, unbelievable! There was a cooporate events/team building event happening. All these people walking up with crampons in a plastic shopping bag. I was a little puzzled as how were would find a bit of ice to ourselves. Lost concentration, don't know how I did that but I drove off into a snowy ditch! Great, there was no alternative for now. We would squeeze in...

We ended up walking further in to an ice fall called Moby Dick and we were totally on our own. Judy has climbed before, she wanted an instructional day, a day to learn about all the little tips that make the big difference.

What comes to mind right at the start is to try to minimize the "faffing". A neat british word which has no equivalent in French nor American. It is about avoiding loosing unnecessary time. Like lacing up your boots before putting gaiters on.

The tip of the day for Judy was the fact that I use thethe end of the rope to remove the ice stuck inside the ice scew.

We finished the day by top roping numerous times a very thin wall of ice. I have watched Judy improve her body positionning and her technique in no time.

I had sent a text to Rick asking him to get Alex at the nursery as I would be a little late... being in double trouble: no battery and in the ditch. A few hours later, I recieved a text saying: Blue job done!

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Antares, Valsavaranche

ANTARES is one of my favorite venues for ice climbing. It is the whole experience that makes a real WOW day! The drive up into the Valsavaranche valley is truely beautiful. The remote feel of not seeing a soul around just bouquetins dancing in the snow is just wild. Getting ready, putting boots on in a warm cafe sipping a cappucino is very civilized. The 10 min walk in even better!

The first pitch is covered in snow with just a little step of ice before the 1st belay on the right. Then the second pitch is a real calf muscle burner! Not steep enough to be standing up right, but tricky enough to be wanting to use both axes. Louise has her own technique...

The third pitch is a full on 50 m of vertical ice of grade 4/4+, well formed, very "fat ice" but also very hard ice. I got a real pump working my way up "dinner plating"placements. OK fair enough this is my first outing of the season. Isn't strange how your mind can block out the simplest usful information... like breathing, not gripping manically tight on to the axes, shaking out, body positioning...

I left the car park with only 6 ice screws. I soon discoverd that the extra confidence ice screws can provide is essential. I used my first ice screw to protect the belay. I was then down to 5. When I tried to place my second and I discovered it was totally blunt and impossible to use. I was down to 4. Then I suddenly looked at my rack and with one very short ice screw I was litterally climbing with only 3 1/2... Oh la la my imagination was playing tricks on me...

I got the hot aches, hands and feet. I forgot that ice climbing can be painful and very scary. I belayed from this niche standing under the ice-curtain of the final pitch admiring the great view out to the valley, right in front of the Grand Paradiso. I just can't help it. It is so good to be out on ice again.

The final pitch is a very short traverse and the ice is all much softer, it felt much easier.

Quick abseils and we were back at the car in no time. What a way to start the winter!

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Col de Fenestral

Our original plan was to skin up to Bel Oiseau, a stunning peak, which predominates the view when driving up the Col des Montets. It is just on the Swiss border above this isolated high perched village called Finhault.

Very chilled start, I know I have too many layers on and I will need to start peeling off in only a few minutes. I can't help it I like this feeling of getting this warm rush of blood circulating through my body. I am skinning just behind Mim and we have found this chatting rhythm. being each other life coaches...

We made our way up to an amazing amphitheater where we changed objective. Bel Oiseau on the left looked like an intimidating skin up, where as the straight forward zig-zag track up to the Col de Fenestral was too inviting. Plus, the prospect of traversing back into the combe Rossa and entering into an untouched ground was very exciting.

Fantastic last bit of uphill with the Tour Saliere in the background. And then the rewarding views from the summit of the Weisshorn, Dent Blanche, Grand Combin so incredibly plasted in fresh white!

The entrance into our magic combe was a little steeper that expected. It added a little zest of adrenaline to Mim who loves down climbing!
The snow was very disconcerting...It looked so immaculate from the summit. It looked like the dream powder descent. Dommage! I am struggling with my little light weigh kit. I just seem to be able to break the crust and sink down to bottomless powder. Mim described it as skiing on "crème brulée"!
We chose to ignore the map and get further into adding a bit of adventure. We knew we would reach the forestery trails but the last thing expected was to poll our way down. Good for the abs!

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Croise Baulet

Yet another perfect powder filled day!

Powder dream!

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Oh La la!~!!!!

Difficult to keep the excitement level down with around a metre of fresh in just a few days. Yesterday was a day for digging but today the skies cleared. With crisp temperatures and pristine snow... in a word breathtaking.

Driving over the col des montets it's amazing to see how the snow has stuck to even the steepest of the rock slabs. Is this really the Haute Savoie or Alaska.

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The Big White Week!

It is snowing "Pizza flakes"!
It is all very exciting, but we still need to be patient as not much is opened. The Grands-Montets is opening with style for this great snowy weekend with ... its main ski lift Bochard being broken down...

Mim and Kin have just arrived yesterday from Boston. They coulnd't have timed it more perfectly.
It took me about an hour to get up to Grands-Montets. There were abandoned cars all the way along the road. YES! It is time to put winter tires on!

We went skinning up some knee deep powder. Excellent tactic to try and beat the jet lag! The descent was fabulous: the piste was like skiing on velvet and "next-to-the-piste" we would sink to our waist. This is starting to become surreal!

Big White Day!

It is still snowing. Very social morning in the neighborhood. Everyone is out having a chat, giving their predictions for the winter. Apparently big berries and rounded potatoes = lots of snow....

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Big White

Tuesday - Isabelle needed to care for Alex today, so Kin and I needed to go out into the BIG WHITE without her.

There was another 30 cm of snow this morning. Roger, our neighbor, was out early clearing the driveway. Kin and I decided to go up to Le Tour (1K above our chalet) to see if we could skin up under the lift. We were lucky in that the snow cats had been working hard and had made a beautiful highway up the mountain. There were only two other skiers ahead of us going up (and one big dog). We skinned up about 750 meters (about 1:45, we went slowly). It was snowing lightly. We stop at the top, removed our skins, had a snack and then headed down the mountain. There was so so so much snow. At times the snow was up to the tops of your thighs! I wish that Le Tour were a bit steeper, but it was so much fun. We just wish that Isabelle could have been with us!

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To Bed or not to Bed?

8h00 in the morning and I am ready to go back to bed!

I have been up since 4am. Alex must be teething… Yet again… How long do babies teeth for? How many teeth do we have…?

Sleep deprivation is definitely my worst enemy. It just drains me. I seem to live on caffeine to keep alive during the day. And if I don’t go outside, I feel sick, become easily irritable, “À Fleur de Peau” we say in French.

I have no energy to brave this gloomy morning mist. My bed is much more inviting and the prospect of catching up on some sleep is tormenting me. We are playing tag with Rick, he is taking over the parental duties. So I have a choice:
To Bed or not to Bed?

I decided to make a break for it and getting out into the fresh air. I didn’t expect to find myself in the middle of winter! I was amazed to see so much fresh white around me. My energy is resuscitated. I am all thrilled to go skinning up the "Pierre a Ric".

A good 30cm of fresh snow. Finding my own pace through this dazzling powder, admiring this fairy scenery, I am thinking how great it is to be on my own, alone at the bottom of this soon-to-be manic ski resort.

I was thankful to follow a fresh track up to Lognan. The track carried on. I couldn’t resist this dream powder, I had to ski it before the Piste bashers finished their pisting job. Yes, good choice, unforgettable descent!

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A Ski Touring Procession!

It seems like the whole of Chamonix is staggering up on a procession ski touring ascent of Tête de Balme. If you are looking to bump into a good friend, Le Tour has been the top spot for the last 2 weeks.

There is this infectious fever about getting ready for the winter. A strange itchy feeling about wanting to suffer the uphill, with weak legs and a heart that is grasping for oxygen. I keep telling myself it is all about the afterward feeling.

What I found most amusing is that everyone is checking out on each other. There is this sort of self-consciousness about style. You surely would not want to find yourself going backwards on your skins or showing some hesitation on your kick-turns. Same for skiing down, it was classic to watch people having to stop after a few out-of-control-turns. Everyone has the same reaction…staring back at the slope blaming the quality of snow…

I think everyone I observed starts off looking at their watch… like if on the 1st day out they would beat some amazing personal record. I tell you there is some secret training going on… The “pros” are already training in their bright sexy lycra suits.

Quel plaisir to be back on skis! There isn’t much snow but well worth it. And the magnificent summit views fill me with a true anticipation for the winter.

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