Archive for January 2008

White Vallee Blanche (Part 2)

Couldn't resist a group photo... an image to capture an new VB's odd tale.

Dave Etherington came along this morning to rescue the team. It is now a good time to share the wild and the worst VB epics...

What a difference when you can see, you can actually ski into the crevasses!

People always ask me how good of a skier do they need to be. The fact that you are an intermediate skier on a red or black piste will not necessarily make you an accomplished skier for the VB. What you need to ask yourself is if can you ski all kinds of snow over 22km: powder, crust, icy sections... Can you side slip, ski bumps, ski in control through narrow passages in between crevasses.

Then you add up all the extra stress factors: rapid change in weather, no visibility, cold wind, etc. Plus being at altitude will also diminish your physical and technical ability.

The VB is an extraordinary accessible ski adventure. But my last two days made me realise that more info and preparations need to be shared to fully enjoy this unique experience en haute-montagne.

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White Vallee Blanche! (Part 1)

Pete and I meet the group at 10h00 and we were asked when and where would we have lunch...

What a glorious start of the day, being on top of the world, above the clouds.

The Midi arete provided a first serious challenge for our team. It is becoming very icy and crampons will soon be mandatory.

It took nearly an hour to get down to finally put our skis on. The weather was playing hide and seek but it was still all promising.

Monsieur Meteo was right: it would clear up mid-day...

Yes clearing but only for a short spell of 5 min! We ended up skiing "a la queue leu leu" in total whiteout. What a different game to ski with no visibility. We then heard voices... "help! help!"... Two black shapes emerged in the whiteness. I felt like we were adding wagon to our train. We made it to the Requin hut, it was now 15h30.

To late to catch the train. We had to make a difficult decision. It wasn't safe to continue with the entire group. Getting back to Cham involved more skiing in poor vis with tired folks.

Also meant to get to off the glacier which is getting very interesting at the moment! Then walking up to the buvette on an icy path. To finally ski down a very rocky track, taking skis on and off and finishing in the dark.

9 out of 12 are staying at the hut tonight, having a real mountaineering experience. I would have stayed overnight with them but I didn't know how I would do it for Alex as Rick is absent.

I will take the first lift up tomorrow morning and meet them at the hut to continue our journey down.

What time did we say we would have lunch?

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Femmes Guides sur France 2

Francoise Gendarme is the first woman to have been elected as the President of The French Guide's association.

Check du lundi 28 janvier

Here is the interview we made last week... Always very strange to see yourself on TV... and all those questions for a few seconds of broadcast!!!

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Guest Blog; Isa is amazing!


Ice climbing is Amazing and we have learnt so much over the last 3 days with Isa and we are looking forward to tomorrow with her  up on the Midi (weather permitting!) :)
We started with technique lessons on the Cremerie, then to Italy for some leading lessons. Yesterday we went back to Italy for some milage on step waterfall ice with fantastic views of Gran Paradiso (which is now on our to do list).
Isa has been an incredible guide and teacher. She has given us confidence to go out on our own which is exactly what we wanted after our time with her.
Dan and Georgie

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"Un p'tit salut à tous les gens de la Rue"

Enfin!!! Alex a retrouvé son appétit et sa bonne humeur!

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Full ON Full Moon!

The full moon has some bizarre influence on my life.

I seriously believe I have ditched Rick's car key in the poubelle and nop, we didn't have a double. The exhaust pipe of my car has decided to mutter like a racing car. Alex is seriously ill, need to see the doctor, need to get to the pharmacy, need to get to the garage as we have no transport. France 2 television wants to interview me ice climbing. There has been a misunderstanding with my bookings... I am starting work a day earlier. Mad rush to find a babysitter. Alex's diarrhoea is getting worst with no hope of going to nursery this week. I have not slept. This week is pretty full on full moon!

This morning I am back on the ice. And all my worries have lifted up. Being outside gives me lots of enery. I don't seem to be tired anymore. The glacier d'Argentière in the background always gives such dramatic ambiance to the Crèmerie.

France 2 in on the spot for an quick interview.
I am officially bad at talking in front of a camera. I just freeze!!!

Dan and Georgia are doing a workshop on footwork technique and body positions...

Confidence Confidence Confidence, that's what ice is all about. Leading with a slack top-rope as a back up is the best way to learn the art of placing ice scews without getting the shaky Elvis leg.

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Follow the guide!

Gloomy morning strong winds
PRECIPITATIONS : continuous in the morning - showers later, becoming scattered - rain-snow limit towards 1400 m dropping towards 800 m - expected snowfall: 20-30 cm

With this forecast, the options are limited to a) Staying in bed b) Shopping c) skiing in a white out or d) site seeing on skis

The c) journey "visite guidée" on skis started by jumping into the Mont-Blanc Express train. I quickly sneeked in a nearby hotel asking for Carte d'hôtes which would give us a free ride for the French side. I introduced myself as a mountain guide and as the weather was very poor, I didn't want to drive and wanted to take the train instead. Just a white snowy lie, as I didn't tell them the clients were actually not staying at their hotel.

We made our way to Les Marécottes, a very authentic family ski resort in Switzerland. We skinned up the summer path venturing into the white wilderness. 700 m of ascent which got us at the bottom of a chairlift. Took rapidly our skins off and jumped on... Yahoo! We were scamming our way up to get to the restaurant. We couldn't believe it: we were the only ones on the lift and the pistes were totally deserted. We had the entire resort to ourselves.

We raced back down the sledging piste. What a great safe tour on a foul weather day!

Had a bit a spare time before catching our train and went to do some repérage, checking the Zoo out!

Not joking, I'm going there next summer, it has a heated outdoor swimming pool built into the rock.

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Sunday Val Ferret

Walking in the Val Ferret is like being in a postcard. Always a great feeling to walk at the foot of the Grandes-Jorasses......

Jade was such a great nurse looking after Alex who is sick with a gastro.......

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Photo du Jour

Great tracks on the Pas de Chèvre

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Extreme intro!

Julian and Piers wanted to learn about ski touring with the ultimate goal of doing the Haute-Route next year.

The Crochu-Bérard tour would offer them a varied terrain, ideal to practice all the skills involved with long ski touring adventures.

Hum... Hum... The skinning up was extremely technical with all this fresh snow. The kick turns were tricky to complete, the tips kept getting caught in big banks of snow. What a great opportunity to test the Polka turn.
We were then wading/swimming our way up a couloir on the right handside of the normal route. The assistance of a rope was needed for a rock section. Du jamais vu! It probably took us 3 hours to get to the Col Crochu. Pretty extreme conditions!

"... but this is the real stuff..."

Skiing down from the Col towards the long traverse was exceptionally beautiful. So much so that Julian was not paying enough attention and took a tumble on the steepest part of the traverse. He managed to self-arrest with style before taking speed and risking a long base jump off the cliffs. Adrenaline was flowing high...

When we finally arrived at the Col Bérard, we were contemplating our descent with excitment. OOOOOPS! WRONG! I have never skied that much windblown crust in my life. It was real combat/survival skiing. It got worst and worst. It was then covered with an icy layer. I was seriously concerned that one of us might get injured. Skiing on avalanche debris was the only turns I could safely afford. I even enjoyed my turns down the final James Bond exit. That tells you how bad the whole descent was!
I know you don't believe me guys but ski touring is fun!

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Impatiently waiting to indulge ourselves in powder

The Vallorcine cable car didn't open before 10h00! The whole of the Chamonix Valley would have signatures all over the mountains by now.

Well worth the EXTRA wait. We found some great untracked terrain, with surreal views.

It is so hard to make everybody stop to take pictures when it is heaven. Piers is giving us a great technical lesson.

I became greedy and wanted to tick all of the secret spots. We ventured down towards Trient and the snow became "slightly" inconsistent... Short, thin, lightweight touring skis were not paying homage to this immaculate-looking fresh snow!

Back finding some real light sugar to finish off the day...

Who has time to call on a powder day?

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Blanc de Blanc

Big wet snowy flakes and it is mayhem in town. The ski lifts would be running late. Perfect, I had time to have a chat with Hiroshi and ask some advice on ski touring bindings.

The shop was totally empty, I felt priviledged to share some quiet, undisturbed time with the most experienced ski tech in this valley. And what a novelty for me... I am interested in learning how to look after my skis...

I prefered sticking to trees as it was still all very blanc de blanc out there. Les Houches is such a great venue when there is zero visibility.

Sorry Nat for leaving you a little bit behind for a while. I needed to feel those endorphines kicking in.

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Photo du Jour

On their skin up toward La Floria above the Index, Kin and Dick almost got hit by a skier straight lining down
at probably 80km an hour!
Great news: it snowed another good 30 cm of fresh snow yesterday.
And no wind this time, that is a novelty...

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Col de Beugeant

High winds have destroyed the powder dream at high altitude. This past weekend, Le Toule glacier and les Pentes de la Vierge were virtually inskiable, the Vallee Blanche was atrocious and the Grands-Montets just OK. There is a lot of cardboard out there. But thank God for creating the Aiguilles Rouges... The Col de Beugeant was the only ski tour Roger 76 years old hadn't done. We had our doubts about the snow conditions but hey, the best way to know was to check it out.

You don't really see the ramp to cross until you are half way up. It is an obvious diagonal line, bang on at 2970m.

Looking up at the traverse seems relatively easy. Is is really necessary to use the ropes? During my formation as a guide, a teacher gave me this advice: "if you ask yourself the question it means there is certainly a good chance you might need it. "
I teamed up with Roger who ost his crampons twice. Roger wicked at me in complicity. Dick and kin were following securing the rope around rocks.

900m of uphill for 1600m of untracked knee deep powder!

The weather closed in, I felt swallowed by whiteness. It was getting difficult to guess the terrain. But the snow being so good, we just let our skis navigate us down to the Vallee de Berard.

The exit to Buet is in excellent James Bond conditions at the moment!

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