Northern Mountain Sport / Blog / Ski Touring in the Beaufortain, Grand Saint Bernard Pass, Valais and Chamonix Alpinism

Ski Touring in the Beaufortain, Grand Saint Bernard Pass, Valais and Chamonix Alpinism

The last couple of weeks have been a really productive time with both clients and friends. I've continued to 'go down the valley' to explore some of the resorts and ski touring in the area and in particular Les Contamines. By using a couple of lifts here you can access some really wild terrain and in effect tour in the Beaufortain area of France. I've toured the Col de Cicle and Col de Fenetre here recently but went with Michelle, Bet and Emily to the slightly less frequented Col des Chasseurs. This is a slightly steeper offering and also includes a bit of bootpacking to access the col (after skiing to the Col de Cicle). We found great snow amongst great scenery with good company - all the right ingredients for a great day!

I've also managed to get out for a bit of alpinism as the snowpack's stabilised. The word was out that there was a track in above the Requin Hut to the climbs there (and I'd seen them come into condition whilst skiing underneath during Vallee Blanche descents). Tamsin and I set out from 'nearly' the first lift and skied a Gros Rognan variant to the hut. Skiing chopped up powder with winter weight rucksacks was entertaining but soon enough we were starting the long skin up to the routes on the Glacier d'Envers de Blaitiere. The routes here are in really good condition with some of the rarer ones looking good to me (near the Requin North face). We climbed the Beaudoin/Parkin route 'Ice is Nice' which is IV 5 in modern money and 550m to the top. Good, steep ice with some mixed near the top were the hallmarks of this route; what I'll remember though were the occasional 'snow bombs' coming down and smothering us and a nightime descent (lit by moonlight and Iphone) before arriving at the hut somewhat later than planned.

Lastly, I've been ski touring in Switzerland with Al, Wilson and Tim. The brief was a hut based trip but with temperatures plummeting and some wind affected snow up high my original thoughts of glacial touring shifted to the area of the Grand Saint Bernard Pass on the Swiss/Italian border. This pass is steeped in history and is made unique for ski touring because of the Monastary which dates back to something like the 10th Century. I had a nice chat with Raphael (one of the monks) who cheerfully told me that Bernard (or at least his followers) destroyed an existing Roman temple to Jupiter (hence Mont Joux) to construct the existing one. Religion's a funny old game.

The area is a Mecca (to throw a third allusion in) however for ski touring with a great spread of technical difficulty for all abilities. The only downside that I've noticed is that the border ridge there does seem to attract cloud and wind can howl down the 'combe des Morts' sometimes creating windslab and associated avalanche conditions. It was howling somewhat as we approached from the roadhead and we headed into a misty Combe de Barasson; As sometimes happens things cleared a bit and we were able to skin to our objective of the col Ouest de Barasson before enjoying a slighly 'flat' but good powder descent back to the junction with the combe des Morts and a last uphill to the hospice.

After a pleasant night's sleep (the lads attended mass the previous evening) and being awakened by Ravel's 'Bolero' (the Monks blast out a tune each morning on tannoy to get you roused) we set forth for Mont Fourchon 2902m. I think this is probably the 'classic' day tour from the hospice with something like 550 metres of ascent on mostly reasonably angled slopes. We put a track in (seeing off the oposition) and gained the final ridge. Because we had them we popped boot crampons on and roped up and enjoyed our first peak of the day. It has to be said though that the most photogenic peak of the area is the Pain de Sucre (well photogrphed from the pass) and I would estimate that for every 100 people who climb Fourchon perhaps only 1 climbs the Pain de Sucre. We skied over to the base and made a ski depot before mountaineering to the top at something like F+ to enjoy a real eyrie of a summit. The descent started with a 35/40 degree broad coulouir and then opened out to 25 degree powder slopes and finally a steep spring ski back to the pass.

The next day dawned clear again which boded well as we wanted to ski the classic 3 cols of Fenetre d'en Haut (I'd crossed this before), col de L'Arpalle and col du Neve de la Rousse before the long descent of the Combe de L'A. This is a long and varied traverse which needs stable snow snow conditions, particularly in the later stages of the tour. The first two cols were crossed in good time with both giving short, but untracked powder in descent. The rising traverse to the col du Neve de la Rousse is in 'big country' and there are some potentially big cornices and slopes above you - safe travel is the way to go. We all arrived safely soon enough and looked down the completely untracked combe de l'A which stretches down for some 9km to Liddes 1500m below. The first descent of the col was sublime and we whooped it up for a while before schussing the valley floor before a final meadow ski on surface hoar to the second car. It's not very often you get perfect snow top to bottom.

After a night in the fleshpot of Bourg Saint Pierre we drove round to the neighbouring valley of Val de Bagnes (the Grand Saint Bernard pass is at the head of the Val de Entremont) of Verbier fame. We went to the opposite side of the valley though and ascended to the delightful Cabane Brunet 2103m after a two hour or so skin through pine woods. After a quick break we headed onwards to Les capucins, a gendarmed rocky ridge at about 2800m. I had spoken to the guardian and he had pointed out some lines that he thought may be good so we poked our nosed over the 'quiet' side and realised that in fact it was totally unskied. A really interesting descent followed on powder but unsettling faceting near the ridgeline made for a cautious section before again gaining easy untracked slopes to ther hut.

Our final objective after a wine and poire fuelled evening was Mont Rogneux 3083m. This is a great objective for ski mountaineers. The ascent slowly narrows to a ridge which can be skinned (with couteaux) sometimes but if you are skiing the NE face you need to boot a small section. We skinned for about 3 hours then climbed over the summit and following ridge before enjoying a great descent, again on powder. The only downside was the lower section through the trees which had been tracked out by a ski randonee race the week earlier. It was a very tired but happy team that skied in to Lourtier some 2000m+ later to end a fantastic week of ski touring.

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