Pure Haute Route

~ Friday 3rd May 2013

 Last week was the "Pure" Haute Route with the Eagle ski club. The plan was to ski the classic Chamonix to Zermatt journey without using roads, which means traversing the Grand Lui and St Bernard passes on the way to Valsorey. The bad weather from the end of the previous week wasn't a promising start - there was 50cm fresh snow in La Fouly on Saturday morning. Happily the warm spring temperatures stabilise snow quickly, and Chamonix being Chamonix there's usually some brave types out trailbreaking the minute the clouds lift. Sure enough, by Monday there was a good track on the Col du Chardonnet and ski crampons were essential. 

Swiss side of the Col du Chardonnet.

After a whole day in the sun we dropped down into a surprisingly thick Swiss cloud, and spent an amusing few minutes trying to find the lovely Envers des Dorées hut - later it cleared to give us a grandstand view of the next day's stage. 

There's a hut there somewhere - and a sneaky cloud approaching.

The Grand Lui col.

The Col de la Grand Lui is wrongly marked on French maps and looks unlikely from a distance, even with a track leading to it! Reached by steep booting, it leads to a great perch above a 1900m descent, a fine spot for second breakfast. 

Skinning to the col

The final steep ascent

Col de la Grand Lui

If the descent is long enough there's bound to be some good snow somewhere...and so it turned out. First turns in pretty awful crust, then we reached some great spring snow, cruising big turns (and bracing for the inevitable sticky slush lower down!)

Great spring snow

 The Auberge des Glaciers in la Fouly deserves a special mention. Quality accommodation, great food and a sunny terrace. 

Next day, an early start for the long climb to St Bernard. This is deceptively easy on paper - low altitude, no glacier - but in fact it's a long and complex climb through tricky avalanche terrain. Happily we had well frozen snow and made quick progress. 

High up on the way to St Bernard

An irritating cloud had been following us all morning, catching up just before the col and spoiling the descent into Italy. Lunch at the monastery and a quick ski back into Switzerland saw us relaxing in the sun at Plan du Jeu. This is a great little hut in a lovely setting just out of site of the industrial mess of the St Bernard tunnel entrance and the sad remains of the "Super" St Bernard ski lifts! 

The next stage starts with a brutal climb straight from the hut - 800m of steep hard snow and a mix of skinning and cramponning. Over 2 small cols, then a great spring snow descent before the final climb to the Vélan hut, where we passed the afternoon on the terrace eating rosti and watching others slog to Valsorey in the sun. 

Crossing Col du Prox

Perfect spring snow

Cabane du Vélan

Sadly, after 4 days of blue skies (apart from our annoying little cloud) the weather turned at Vélan. All forecasts agreed, several days of bad weather were on the way. Being optimists, we pushed on to the Col de la Gouille in the morning, finding by far the best crust of the week on the descent! Then it was back to the valley and back to Argentiere (thanks to Alplinks for the taxi) Always disappointing to turn back, but we'd completed 5 days of great touring in some fantastic terrain - good skiing, good company and good touring!

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