So while the first couple of weeks blessed us with clear skies, mild temperatures, low winds and a couple of snowfalls, our third week was proving a little tougher. A persistent foehn in the valley was making things quite unpleasant, and while it was being driven by snowfall on the Italian slope, high cloud meant that visibility was compromised. And as we were now heading into Spring of what had so far been a pretty ordinary season, there wasn’t the snowpack down low to ski below the clouds.
Jerome had done an absolutely superb job in moving us around to make the most of the conditions and the weather, but it was becoming a difficult task. The disappointing aspect of this was that after 2 weeks we were now ski fit, with strong legs and lungs, all the earlier niggles were now dialled in, and we were a lot more mobile having progressed with our touring techniques.
Grey skies in spring, especially after a warm period, are a recipe for persistent firm snow, which stymied our requests to get into the steeps that the Chamonix area was famous for. Lines that we had earlier skied under blue skies and in corn snow like the Couloirs Rama and Marbrées would now be death traps.
As well as not being good for serious descents, we were about to learn about ascending in the hard snow. Jerome had wanted us to take the popular Col du Passon ski tour, as well as being one of the classics in Chamonix, it is also increasingly being used in preference to the Col du Chardonnet as the first leg of the Haute Route. But with the top cable car of Les Grands Montets being closed due to wind we needed to make an alternate arrangement, so we decided to ski tour from Le Tour to Trient with an ascent of Les Grandes Autannes, a 2700m peak on the French/Swiss border. In a regular season and softer snow it would have been a pretty pedestrian 500m ascent, however firm snow and exposed grass made things a little different.
We rode up a gondola and chair at Le Tour, fixed our skins & ski crampons and started climbing:
After a couple of precarious kick turns on the steep ice it was time to rope up and switch to crampons. My baggy Rip Curl pants are not particularly suited to this kind of activity and the legs are now sporting some crampon holes from a couple of missed steps!
It was pretty slow progress alternating between the crusty snow and frozen grassy patches as we learned new techniques – while the rope was obviously very useful for safety it was also quite restrictive, doing it on ones own with a piolet in hand would be a much more comfortable proposition.
Straddling the border:
Once we reached the top we were in the full force of the foehn, but noticed that it was also blowing some nice soft snow into the valley. So we dropped into the Swiss side of the ridgeline, alternating between fresh and windpacked snow:
Great views of the Glacier des Grandes and Glacier du Trient as we descended:
Alta skiers get around:
We then reached the valley and skied alongside the farms to the small town of Trient:
Jerome had planned to catch an earlier bus from Trient and come back around to ski another couloir, but we were a lot slower than anticipated on the ascent due to the trying conditions for rookie climbers, so we had an hour to kill and found ourselves a nice lunch:
This was followed by a bus around to Vallorcine, where we took a couple of lifts to ski back to the car at Le Tour. While we had spent much of our trip up high and on glaciers, the lower reaches were looking like Australia in a bad season: