Katy’s Blog: Vallee Blanche… finally!
It would be almost a crime to live in Chamonix and not ski the Vallée Blanche. I was beginning to despair that this would be a crime I was about to commit… but I’ve now managed to ski three different routes this April. I held back from attempting it previously as you really want to a sunny day to enjoy the spectacular views and I didn’t want to pay for a guide as the skiing isn’t that hard – but you need to avoid the crevasses and know how to rescue someone from one. The bit most people fear is the descent from the top of the Aiguille de Midi though, though this didn’t really worry me too much having done plenty of climbing.
Earlier this year I’d met up with some friends from the British Mountaineering Council, and they introduced me to George Taylor who lives here too and is organising the Chamonix Mountain Festival this June. George has already skied the Vallée Blanche on several occasions and invited me to come along with him and some experienced friends. He knew his stuff and he also had plenty of kit for me to borrow; crampons, shovel probe etc so I happily agreed.
Mocked for not appreciating the 7.30am start, I turned up to see why – after a fairly big snow dump the previous day, the queues for a ski pass and cabin number were huge already. We got a ticket for number 14 and waited till nearly 9am. At the top I strapped my crampons to my ski boots and tied my skis to my new Osprey backpack, which is designed for ski touring/mountaineering , and we began our descent to the plateau where you can begin to ski down.
There are different ways to do this, depending on nerves and experience. We opted to just hold the rope handrail and walk down. Others with guides will normally rope up, but may not wear crampons. I guess it’s down to personal preference.
The views were simply stunning however. It was warm with blue skies and sunshine. George decided we would do the hardest route down – a variant of the Envers de Plan route – so we headed off left, with steeper sections to negotiate. Surprisingly the snow felt a bit like frozen shaving foam, but as we got lower and lower down we soon sniffed out the fresh powder and made some great fresh lines in the snow. I decided to opt out the jumps which George’s mates were having a go at, and after a long flat section and a bit of a natural halfpipe down a frozen river, we reached the end of the skiable area and sat down for lunch in the blazing sunshine, listening to the sound of rocks falling around the Dru and the Pass de Chevre. Then we climbed up and skied through the trees back down to town. Sadly the signs that spring was on its way were already there as the rocks scraped our skis.
A few days later I was at a mountaineering awards ceremony, the Piolet d’Or or golden ice axe, where we interviewed the British nominees for the BMC. You can read the interview with Sandy and Rick Allen here. Sandy just happened to be staying in Chamonix for a few weeks to finish writing his book and we went skiing on the Vallée Blanche again. There had been a bit of a heat wave with temperatures up to nearly 20C, yet I didn’t manage the advisable early start, making it up for around midday. It was so warm I was skiing in my T shirt. The snow had got pretty slushy by then making it hard work to ski, but again, the views were a more than adequate reward. We took the easy line, no cornice jumping or crevasse hopping and headed to the Montenvers railway at about 3pm for a nice chilled beer.
A final jaunt came this week – with a bit of skinning thrown in this time. Another friend of a friend from the BMC was in town- and I’d told him how I’d learned to ski tour, so we headed off down the Col d’Entreves, then skinned up to Hellbronner before skiing the Vallée Blanche. After being used to fat powder skis, touring skis felt like being a beginner again. The skis felt so flimsy I must have fallen over about 15 times, but then it didn’t help that I’d Ieft my boots in walk mode either! Anyhow – another great day in the mountains, although I’m now suffering from a bit of sunburn…