TR: Chamonix 2013 – Glacier de Toule & Combe de la Vierge

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Richard skiing by seracs - Combe de la Vierge
Richard skiing by seracs - Combe de la Vierge

My first few days in Chamonix have been somewhat monochromatic. The first two days were basic piste skiing which isn’t worth writing about but it served the purpose of getting the legs moving, having not skied since October. Clouds and flat light had dominated these days – and Chamonix with its dramatic peaks overhead is quite the melancholy place in poor visibility. It makes you feel like the mountains towering over you go forever & you can’t quite imagine the delights they permit in better weather.

But on Saturday it was go time. Through most of Friday there had been rain in the village and snow above about 1500m so we decided to go high and check it out. Our initial plan was to ride the Aiguille du Midi, skin across the Vallee Blanche to the Helbronner and assess whether we would drop into Italy or if the weather was deteriorating just ski the Vallee Noire back to Chamonix. I had never done the Vallee Noire, which is the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche, and skiing the Glacier de Toule is always a great option

However it was a zoo at the Aiguille du Midi with a late opening so Jerome got on the phone and found a friend with a couple of spare seats in their car to Courmayeur. Fortunately when we arrived there was barely a soul at the lift, and more importantly a superb coffee at the cafe next to the lift station. So a run of the Toule and then skiing to Chamonix didn’t seem like too much of an effort, until I found out that the third section of the Cable Car is out of action while the new lift is built, and we would have to do that section on foot. In and of itself the ascent wasn’t overly onerous, apart from the fact it was at 3300m and I had not done any exertion over 1800m for one year! Fortunately there was a goods lift to transport our skis and packs, and we huffed our way up there. While taking a breather I was passed by local pros Nate Wallace and Andreas Fransson, which was a pretty good tip we were in the right place.

Goods Lift by Helbronner Stairs
Goods Lift by Helbronner Stairs
Toule Headwall & Mont Blanc in Background
Toule Headwall & Mont Blanc in Background
Pro Skiers Nate Wallace & Andreas Fransson off Adventuring
Pro Skiers Nate Wallace & Andreas Fransson off Adventuring

What made things worse was that as well as the lack of stairs, we now exited to outside much lower which meant it was quite a walk to get to the Toule rather than the small usual sidestep. This bloody place makes you earn everything. Which is kind of awesome.

Slogging to the Toule
Slogging to the Toule

Looking across at Courmayeur from the top of the Toule.

Courmayeur
Courmayeur

The snow on the Toule was really rather nice, the first section was just over knee-deep and a joy to ski. I have somewhat downsized my skis this year to facilitate better touring so it was a bit of work to keep the tips up but overall it was lovely to be skiing powder again. The Toule is a 1200m descent to the Pavillion mid-station and we had fresh snow and seldom crossed a track the entire way.

Due to the flat light the photos are terrible so I haven’t posted any but you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was really rather pleasant.

So then we rode up the second stage again, and dealt with the stairs, and then headed in the other direction to the Combe de la Vierge. We could have just dropped straight in from the Helbronner but Jerome had a good theory that if we put on our skins and made a modest climb we would get into the line from the top and the snow would be great. He was right.

It was a pretty mild skin but again the whole exertion above 3000m thing popped up again but we were in no rush so I took my time and didn’t push things as I didn’t really want an Asthma attack.

Aiguille du Midi from Helbronner
Aiguille du Midi from Helbronner
Richard Skinning to Combe de la Vierge
Richard Skinning to Combe de la Vierge
Richard Skinning to Combe de la Vierge
Richard Skinning to Combe de la Vierge
Richard Skinning to Combe de la Vierge
Richard Skinning to Combe de la Vierge
Jerome Skinning to Combe de la Vierge
Jerome Skinning to Combe de la Vierge

We then dropped into a lovely steep bowl filled with light powder. We were what felt like kilometres from the nearest person, and skied for at least 1000m vertical before we saw so much as another track. Lower down we started feeling the bottom a little bit

Combe de la Vierge
Combe de la Vierge
Our Tracks - Combe de la Vierge
Our Tracks – Combe de la Vierge
Our Tracks - Combe de la Vierge
Our Tracks – Combe de la Vierge
Richard with Seracs - Combe de la Vierge
Richard with Seracs – Combe de la Vierge
Richard skiing by seracs - Combe de la Vierge
Richard skiing by seracs – Combe de la Vierge

All good things must come to an end and we reached the inevitable combat skiing that is a requisite part of the day in Chamonix, then we finally reached the Mer de Glace glacier and made the serene multi-kilometre ski to the stairs up to the Montenvers station where we took the train down to Chamonix to end a pretty epic day. The extra walking that I didn’t anticipate definitely took some energy out of me and I was pretty shattered by the end of the day, but thrilled with having done two fantastic descents, that even though the flat light makes it hard to present them in a good way, were absolutely epic.

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