Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

Final Patrouille des Glaciers preparation

~ Wednesday 30th April 2014

Just back from 2 nights up at the excellent Aiguilles Rouges hut, our last bit of training and acclimatising before the Patrouille des Glaciers. A last minute boot re-fit sorted some problems - thanks to Chevrier Sports in les Hauderes, who now have a boot stretching machine. Tactical faffing meant we had a track to follow to the hut, and were rewarded with a stunning day yesterday in deep fresh snow on the Pointe de Vouasson

With big skis and not roped up the skiing would have been great

Tuesday night we were the last visitors of the season at the hut, had a great meal, an entertaining night skiing session (roped, at night, in calf deep crust - nice) then a challenging ski down this morning. All set, we just need a weather window for the race...

Tete Blanche and Ferpecle Glacier

~ Wednesday 23rd April 2014

Back up to the Bertol hut and Tete Blanche again this morning, a great local ski tour made more complex than usual as you first have to find your way through the military base that's appeared in the Arolla car park in preparation for next week's Patrouille des Glaciers. Anyway, we sneaked through and soon were skinning...then walking up the dry footpath to Plan de Bertol.

Dry path with posts in place for the PDG safety nets.

Checkpoint tent at Plan de Bertol.

Nice ski off the top of the Tete Blanche, heading for the Dent Blanche hut

...then turning left and down beneath the Mota Rota

There was a clear winner in the "who can do the most turns" contest

Tricky exit down the stream bed

Then some combat walking down the Ferpecle road, which has suffered badly this winter!

Sex de Marinda Couloir

~ Tuesday 22nd April 2014

Maybe my last day of the season in Grimentz, but what a great way to finish. Really stable snow conditions with a bonus 10cm of fresh powder from yesterday's bad weather left the Sex de Marinda couloir in perfect condition to today.

Every good descent has some combat skiing!

Grimentz and Zinal Off piste

~ Sunday 20th April 2014

It's hard to get excited about skiing when it rains on the morning drive round to Grimentz, but we went out for a look and were rewarded with a great day yesterday. Almost better for being so unexpected, the skiing was good with 5-10cm of fresh snow on a firm base. Fresh tracks for miles down Orzival, the Chamois bowl and a final run off the top of the Roc d'Orzival, still totally untracked.

Today it was back to normal with cloudless blue skies, so we set off touring towards the Sassenaire. Nice spring snow below the Cabane des Becs de Bossons, then a hot climb to the little col above the Basset de Levron. From there perfect spring snow all the way down to the dam, with just enough snow cover to sneak along the track and ski all the way to Grimentz car park. The ski season isn't over yet!

Arolla to Verbier

~ Friday 18th April 2014

This is the "short" Patrouille des Glaciers course, with 2000m of ascent in 26km straight-line distance. Amazingly, with so little snow around, the course is actually in great condition and looking good for the race in 2 weeks time.

The piste from Arolla is steep and a bit like skinning up a sheet of glass in the early morning. Ski crampons helped. At the Col de Riedmatten it's a different story - the slope up to the col is almost dry and easy walking on the summer footpath.

Getting down the Dixence side will be equipped with ropes for the race, but at the moment it's steep cramponning on hard snow. Apparently it's already decided that the race transition will be right down on the glacier this year - there's barely enough snow to ski the lower slopes through the boulders.

Skiing down the Pas du Chat was fast on hard snow yesterday, with quite a few Haute Route teams skinning in the other direction. Snow was so hard low down that some were cramponning up from the lake.

From Pas du Chat to la Barmaz is flat, but surprisingly long...

Climbing up past la Barmaz.

The Rosablanche couloir has plenty of snow in it so we skinned the whole way.

Then there's a fast easy ski down the Rosablanche, a tiring skate to the col, more skiing (on nice spring snow at last) and a final quick climb to the Col de la Chaux before skiing slushy pistes to Verbier. The Verbier pistes are pretty thin but still complete all the way to Médran.

That's nearly 6 bottles of wine!

Haute Route Variations

~ Sunday 13th April 2014

It was nice to have last year's Pure Haute Route team re-united this year for round 2. We'd abandoned in bad weather last year at the Cabane du Vélan, so this year we re-started from there. It's a lovely, quiet hut with friendly guardians and great food.

On day 2 we did a fairly tough "warm-up" ski on Mont Vélan. It's a long ascent, with a technical bit through the Col de la Gouille and a steep skiing section on the descent.

The chains on the Col de la Gouille

Day 3 was an early start for the long climb to Valsorey and the Plateau du Couloir. It's nice to start from the comfort of the Vélan hut instead of Valsorey, but it means rattly ski down in the dark before a long climb in the early hours. The weather slowly deteriorated as we climbed...and it was cloudy and snowing at the top. Nice. Happily after a nervy start down the Chanrion side the sun broke through and meant we could enjoy some proper powder skiing. Superb.

Skins on in the dark below Vélan

The long haul up to the Plateau du Couloir, hoping the weather improves

Day 4 and another early start for the climb up the Serpentine glacier. This is a long and scenic ascent up the wild side of the Pigne d'Arolla, but by the time we reached the col one of our team was suffering badly from a "mystery illness" and we beat a hasty retreat to Arolla. Sorry to the Cabane des Vignettes for cancelling last minute! Still got some great skiing down the Dix side of the Pigne. Fresh tracks!

Great skiing on the Pigne d'Arolla

Day 5 and now minus 1 person, we made the long climb back to the Bertol hut having been very lucky to get a last minute booking. It's a great place to stay, with entertainment provided by the Scandinavian team drinking competition. The girls won, but regretted it later that night.

In the dark, all ladders are long

Day 6 dawned sunny but cold. We skinned to Tete Blanche, which was cold, skied down and then up the Tete de Valpelline, warming up slightly...This is a fine viewpoint, only 45 minutes up from the Col and well worth visiting. Fresh powder turns down to the col and good cold snow all the way down the Stockji glacier before it turned to amazing sandy spring lower down. Despite the heat the piste to Zermatt is complete, and we skied all the way. A fine end to a great week.

Sun peaks over the edge of Tete Blanche

Matterhorn and Dent d'Hérens

team on the top of Tete de Valpelline

the view back to Mont Vélan from tete de Valpelline

Arolla News

~ Friday 4th April 2014

There's a great little news/blog here for Arolla updates. Sometimes it feels very nuch like the end of the road in Arolla, but it's pretty lively at the moment with ski touring season in full swing and the imminent Patrouille des Glaciers race.

This morning at the Bertol hut it was a bit different to the last time I was there on the Winter room Haute Route.

Above, freezing and windy as we leave the hut back in February.

Below, busy, and comfortable in T-shirts at the col today.

The guardienne is looking for helpers for the Monday morning re-stock - give her a ring if you can be there at 9.30am to unload helicopters!

Futher down the valley the invasion - ooops, I mean the PDG preparation - has begun.

Just 1 brand new digger and a generator for now, but Satarma is about to become a military base again.

Swiss Military tactics summarised in 1 neat sign?

Further down the road again - is this a "zone dangéreuse"? - this rock landed in the night. It's Friday so the council have put a fence around it until...

Éveque/Pigne d'Arolla traverse

~ Tuesday 1st April 2014

Setting off in the early morning from Arolla aiming for the Éveque - I've been up to Col des Vignettes a few times recently and the snow isn't getting any softer - ski crampons are handy! A quick rattle down to the col de Chermontane and it's skins on again for the climb to the Éveque. The last steep bit is really windblown with patches of bare ice - you'd have to be very keen to want to ski down it, so we left our skis and cramponed up to the summit.

Top of the Éveque. No water bottle!

Best to keep the rope tight when belaying...

Then someone suggested going up the Pigne. It could have been an April Fool, but...sometime later we reached the top. More rattly skiing down the Dix side and a final hot slog up the Pas de Chevre finished the day off nicely.

Top of the Pigne. Hooray, water bottle is back! Where are my gloves?

Calf deep powder all the way

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