Our road trip to La Grave was becoming a success defined by its failures.
In this most wild of locations it’s a fantastic place for skiers with ambition to test their abilities, yet commands they remain circumspect and humble, and much like Chamonix time and time again the mountain shows who’s boss.
As mentioned in my previous report, as we were dropping in to the Pan de Rideau a couple of French walkers were up there with a nice camera. I exchanged details with them and they have kindly sent through a folder of photos, of which I am extremely appreciative. Merci Claodio F!
This photo was taken the next day in clear conditions – you can see the traverse & exposure below in the middle of this frame:
My only regret is that we did not do these stunning photos justice when we reached the top steep face. But we lived to see another day & got to ski some lovely snow on the glacier below.
For second day in La Grave we had an ambitious objective, with a perfectly acceptable bailout Plan B. Our wish was to ski over the back of La Grave, skin about 900m vert around the backside, do a short rappel back onto the La Grave side and then ski a large glaciated line called Les Enfetchores. It was set to be a long climb at high altitude with some technical aspects, and if at any time we felt like it was time to bail out we could simply take off our skins and ski down to St Christophe & take a taxi back to La Grave. We had previously skied a couloir into this immense valley in 2011 & enjoyed it thoroughly so it was not a bad backup plan.
So we made our way up the byzantine lifts and poma system punctuated by a tow with a snowcat, and found our way to the top of La Grave where we inched over the Col into the Vallon de la Selle. This south facing bowl is exposed to the sun, but we had hit La Grave during an unseasonably cold period and the temps were approx -15C. This meant that the previously sun affected snow had frozen solid, and the north winds that were driving this cold snap had blown some snow over into this bowl, which had also made a thin crust. So we slid into the bowl with quite a bit of trepidation, and as we traversed from one side to the other to see if there was an aspect that was even remotely skiable, with dinner-tray sized slabs of crust breaking off under our skis it looked pretty grim. It wasn’t overly steep, about what you would expect from a decent black run in a ski resort, but the snow conditions made it damn near unskiable. After a couple of shaky stem christie turns we realised that a) it was quite unsafe getting to the point where we would start skinning b) our skin track would be in this impossible kind of snow, and c) our bailout ski to St Christophe would be on that same aspect & therefore snow conditions. So there was only one thing to do – put our skis on our back and head back to the frontside of La Grave. At this point we were feeling pretty defeated by La Grave, which actually felt pretty good.
Naturally we didn’t take any photos during the shit-show that was our shaky descent nor during the hike up. By the time we got to the top we were a bit buggered and also didn’t have enough time to begin another itinerary so we decided just to cruise around the ‘easier’ classic runs of Vallons and Chancel, have a nice lunch at Refuge Chancel, take some photos and just soak in the ambience of this majestic location.