Two days on the Rockpile
Early last week I saw that there might be a good weather window in the Presidentials come Friday (reasonable temps and clear skies after two nights of freeze-thaw) so I started asking around who might be able to get over there. I was not having much luck until Wednesday night, when I got word from Alex that he would in fact be free.
By that point the forecast was trending a little colder for Friday than it had been earlier in the week, so we opted for the shorter drive to the west side, planning to go up the ART and over to Oakes in the hopes that the more South facing aspects would be our best bet. Turns out that was a good call.
I’m not super familiar with the names of the lines over there, but we managed 3 good laps on that side, hitting some fairly mellow terrain in the center of the ravine, followed by Double Barrel, and then one of the tight steep lines on the other side (Funnel?), which were all awesome. After that we booted back up and over and traversed across to ride down Ammo South. Really nice turns in there (softening nicely by that time of day) until we had to make a somewhat sketchy snow bridge crossing (probably all gone by now), and then shwack back to the ART, which fortunately we could ride all the way back to the car.
There were a handful of other groups on that side, one of which was a group of Smuggs skiers and riders that my partner knew, and they invited us for a tailgate fiesta at the end of the day. We had a cooler of beverages and they had a bunch of extra meat, and good times were had by all.
Unsure of our plans for Saturday we had reserved the cheapest room we could find near the cog, which happened to be in Franconia. Not the best location since we ended up deciding to drive around to Pinkham Notch Saturday morning, but hard to beat $30 apiece for a shower and a decent bed.
We arose early Saturday morning, hoping to beat the crowds to the lot at Pinkham Notch, and managed to find one of the last spots in the lot around 7:15. Quite the different experience from the < 10 cars that were on the West side the day before (by the time we hit the road early afternoon cars were parked along Rt 16 all the way to Wildcat). We were unsure of our plans when first arriving (had thoughts of Dodge’s), but knew for sure that we wanted to avoid the crowds in Tuckerman. When we parked and looked up, Huntington was calling our names, so we decided to at least head there to get a closer look. Pretty pleasant skin up the TRT, but not exactly the sense of isolation I like to have in my backcountry adventures. So, in order to escapes the masses, we ducked off the first chance we got onto the HRT. That was pretty overgrown and had a few interesting water crossings, which slowed us down a bit, but it was nice to feel like we were in the wilderness again. We re-gained the road to Huntington and ascended the rest of the way into the bowl.
Once we got to HR we examined our options. Our initial idea of Diagonal looked out, but Central Gully was looking really nice with all snow in the choke. We skinned up as high as we could go before switching to crampons and breaking out the axes. After an exhausting, but not overly challenging climb, in which we passed a few other groups (all but one just climbing, not carrying skis), we got to the top and had a nice rest on the rocks. The snow seemed soft enough so after our legs were sufficiently rested we descended one at a time with axes in hand.
We both kept it pretty cautious above the choke, making lots of jump turns, but once we got below we were able to open it up a bit more all the way down the ravine. Central is really an awesome line: tight, steep, and super aesthetic. I feel quite lucky to be able to hit it in such perfect conditions, and enjoyed the relative isolation of Huntington.
We rode all the way back down to the TRT, and then ascended to Hermit Lake along with a surprisingly large number of other people just making their initial ascent after noon. We quickly skirted through the mob scene around HoJos and started our descent down the Sherby. Really nice snow there with bumps that were big but not overly so. I was itching to get back to the car and get my boots and pack off and drink my extra water, so I didn’t stop much, passing several others on the descent. The snow was still going all the way to the bottom at that point (from today’s avalanche bulletin I see that’s no longer the case), which made it all the sweeter.
Once back at the car we enjoyed the remaining couple of beverages in our cooler before packing up and hitting the road. We had been up there 2 days without really seeing much clouds, but by the time I got back to Chittenden County, rain was starting to fall from the sky.
All in all, an awesome two days of riding several new-to-me lines (Ammo was the only one I had done previously). Not sure if a return trip will be in the cards for me this year, but real glad I was able to spend a couple days up there at such a perfect time.
Stone Hut Memories
With the recent destruction of Mansfield’s Stone Hut, I decided to dig through my photos and see if I couldn’t put together a decent memorial.
Before anything else, I have to give a big thanks to Matt B and hutmaster Scott D. Without those guys I never would have had a chance to enjoy those awesome nights on top of Vermont.
I’m not going to do much writing. I just want to get these photos out there to share the memories.
There was food,
Some peaceful moments.
There was intergenerational fun,
and lots of shenanigans!
Spending the night up there also provided the opportunity to take in some cool sights
especially if you put in a bit of effort.
Oh, and it also provided damn good access for skiing!
Both at night
and first thing in the morning
RIP Stone Hut.
Some Sunday Steeps
Busy times. Still, I need at least 1 day/week to step away from the computer and go be in nature.
There hasn’t been much in the way of new snow, but at least the snowpack is stable (1 out of 5 avy danger in all of CH). So, we decided to take advantage of the condtions to get up something steep.
It was a really fun day of enjoyable suffering, huffing our way up this high alpine cooler: http://www.camptocamp.org/routes/45929/fr/pointe-d-orny-couloir-du-glacier-d-arpette 1
Thanks to Sam, Lucas, and Victor for hanging tough and making the climb with me… “just 10 more minutes to the top”, I swear2!!
I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.
From a distance, the line is just visible left of center:
Now, getting a bit closer:
A couple hours later, we finally top out:
And, for the descent?
It’s got a decent pitch:
Fairly variable conditions over all, but there were some pretty nice spots. Just nice to be able to get out on a line like this and enjoy a beautiful day in les hautes montagnes.
And, finally a little bit of artistic license to portray the ride out of the valley:
#vterinthealps part 3 (adventures in the haute montagne)
A ski/ride TR being posted in the middle of summer? Yep!
It’s taken me almost 4 months to finally finish composing this. But, as we round the bend of summer and the Earth starts tilting in a more winterly direction thoughts begin to return to snow, so here goes.
If you didn’t see the first two parts, you can check them out here:
Or the tl;dr summary: Waud, Chung, and Kappe came over from Vermont at the start of April. We took in some culture, we shredded some pow, and we ate some really good food. Then it was time to head up into the high alpine for some more technical adventures.
In writing the bulk of this instalment several months after it happened, I am grateful that our guide Arnaud wrote up his own TR right away. You can read that here: http://arnaud-bayol.over-blog.com/2015/04/raid-en-ski-autour-de-chamonix.html It’s in French, but you can get a passable (if at times hilarious) translation from Google: here.
Tuesday, April 7
I, for one, crashed super early Monday and woke up Tuesday morning still needing to finish some preparations for the next few days. We would be staying in alpine huts the next two nights and so had to take a pack for 3 days in the haute montagne and load the rest of our stuff into the car. We got it all loaded, and we made it to the Grand Montets lot just early enough to meet Arnaud and catch the first box up1.
However, the tram to the top was not running due to high winds so we took the Herse chairlift followed by a brain chattering ride down some icy moguls, while cutting hard skiers right, before finally putting skins on the planks and roping up to cross the Glacier d’Argentière.
After making our way across the glacier we were able to de-rope and make our way up the couloir to the Col du Passon.
We eventually made it up, transitioned, descended a bit and then made a long side hilling traverse around. We were all feeling fatigued, but somehow dug deep in our energy tanks to make another small climb to catch a bit more turns from the Col Supérieur du Tour before finishing with a long traversing descent down to the Refuge d’Albert 1er.
The hut was rather quiet, with just two other groups there, and we were able to have a peaceful evening, catch a breathtaking sunset over the Aiguiles Rouges and enjoy some delicious stew and couscous before calling it a night.
It was a hard day of touring and the ride conditions were not great, but it was a beautiful day and we were all glad to be living life up high in the mountains.
Wednesday, April 8
Up again in the morning at a fairly reasonable time2, ate some breakfast got ready for the day and then stepped outside to put on the skins and begin our day’s adventure: les 3 Cols.
Arnaud set a slow but steady pace and we made good time up le glacier du Tour and finally up to the col. The final part was a bit steep, but we managed ok and the snow stayed in place.
We then made our way around to la fenêtre de Saleinaz where a short but steep and fun slope awaited us on the other side. It wasn’t really necessary, but Arnaud had us practice a bit of ski rappel here in case we’d need it in the days to come. We each descended a bit with the rope before letting it go and making some turns on the firm but edgeable surface.
Next up we put the skins back on and went around to the base of the couloir heading up to the Col du Chardonnet. Here we had to wait a bit for some other parties, but then Araud was able to climb up using the fixed line before dropping us a belay and we proceeded to climb with the boards on our backs. When we finally got to the top we saw a gnarly pencil thin couloir across the way with 2 skiers descending.
By that point it was getting into the afternoon and we were starting to get some decent spring snow. We had a pretty fun, if tricky, decent 3 before getting down to the Glacier d’Argentière, putting skins on once more and making our way to the Refuge d’Argentière where we’d be spending the night.
On the final approach to the hut, walking across the moraine, Roger and I were lagging behind a bit and had a little too close for comfort interaction with a late day wet-slide coming down from above. Fortunately we heard the “attention!” call from some folks at the hut in time to stay in a safe location as it slid by, but it was a good reminder to always be on your game in these big mountains.
After resting on the deck , drying out our gear and rehydrating with some beers we went inside for another tasty dinner4. Hanging about inside were a huge contingent of mountain rescue folks preparing for a night time training exercise. Hard to believe that these guys were going back out into the gnarly terrain surrounding the hut after the snow had refrozen, but these guys were the real deal.
Thursday, April 9
Shortly after we arrived at the hut the previous day we were joined by Antoine, another guide de haute montagne who Arnaud had recruited to accompany us the next two days for the real steep stuff. So on Thursday morning the 6 of us: 2 guides and 4 clients began what was to be our most ambitious day of the trip: a climb and descent of the Aiguille d’Argentière by way of the Glacier de Milieu.
The snow was quite firm and we had to traverse several old avy debris piles which made for some interesting and challenging skinning. Still we were making good time and even got a bit ahead of schedule at one point. Finally we skinned as high as we could go and switched over to crampons.
Moving in two rope teams of 3 we climbed the steep top section slowly but with purpose. This was tiring stuff, especially after all we’d already done that week.
Finally after only a few moments of doubt, and with Antoine and Arnaud’s encouragement, we made it to the top of the skiable section, ditched our board and made a final push to the summit. What a site to behold after one of the bigger climbs of our lives… simply breathtaking.
We carefully made our way back to where our gear was, took our time changing over and fueling up before beginning what was to be a 2700m descent all the way down to the base of Grand Montets.
The top was steep and hairy with the snow still slightly firm. We carefully made our way down keeping in control as a fall up there could have some bad consequences.
As we got a little lower we entered the money zone of perfect corn harvest on a steep high alpine glacier. The guides really knew what they were doing, timing things perfectly for us to maximize the good conditions. Wow was that awesome, we could begin to open things up and really take the fun up 11. Still we had to be at full attention as this was some technical terrain with many hazards around5.
Things were definitely getting mushy as we got lower, but we were having a blast on this epically long descent. Eventually we were back on the Glacier d’Argentière and making our way along the normal route back to the ski area. As we returned to the piste it was a full on spring bump fest going on and our tired legs managed to keep us our feet all the way back to the car at the valley’s floor.
After three days in the high alpine we were all quite spent, but still some celebratory beverages were in order. A short drive down the road to a spot that Arnaud recommended and we all toasted to an amazing day before retiring back to a gite for the night and grabbing some local cuisine on what would be our final night in the Cham Valley.
That’s it for now. Maybe I’ll come back sometime with the final instalment of the trip, including one more high/steep couloir the next day + a descent down the vallée noire, before crossing over to Italy for a bit of rest, and then a final couple days in the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. We’ll see… maybe I’ll get around to it in October when I am really itching to be on snow 🙂
TR: #vterinthealps, part 2 (culture, pow, and one seriously decadent meal)
If you missed part 1 of the story, click here
words by J. Auerbach
Saturday April 4
We had been planning on riding Saturday and taking Sunday as a rest day so that we’d be fresh when we met up with Arnaud on Monday. But, the weather on Saturday looked pretty shitty with nair up fairly high, and thick clouds above that. It really did not seem to be the day to be up in the mountains.
After hemming and hawing about what to do, we decided to turn it into a “cultural day”. We got ourselves some coffee and breakfast, moved rooms1, and then hit the road.
First we took a trip to the picturesque village of Gruyères and paid a visit to the H.R. Giger museum where we saw some, ah-hem, interesting pieces of art2.
Next, we continued past Bern and down around to Thun. Why go to Thun? To see some professional soccer3, of course….it happened to be the site of the closest match we could find: FC Thun playing host to FC St Gallen in the Swiss Super League, and les supporters de football among us really wanted to see some live football4 while in Europe, so why not?
We consumed some delicious sausages and beverages outside the stadium, and then headed in to our seats. The stands were pretty empty, but at least they were covered5 and the match was an entertaining win for the home team6.
The day is summed up nicely by this photo montage from Mr. Stephen Waud
and this photo from Mr. Jason Chung
After the game, we made the long drive back to Martigny7. When we got back to the hotel, I took a look at the weather and it seemed that there would be a decent amount of snow coming fairly low that night. Some of the crew really wanted to make sure not to tire themselves out before the intense week that we had ahead of us, but with the prospect of fresh snow and clearing skies we finally came to a compromise to go hit Les Marecottes in the morning for some pow laps before driving across the border to Chamonix later that day.
Sunday April 5
We packed the car and drove up to Les Marecottes for what would be our second and last real lift served day of the trip. As we arrived at the base of the télécabine8, things were looking pretty socked in. But we were there, so we bought the ticket, took the ride, so to speak, and we headed up. Just as we approached the top of the télécabine9 the skies above us were looking surprisingly clear. As we got to the top of the télésiège10, it was looking really nice, and we were getting stoked.
The place was absolutely empty and we were able to get some fluffy first tracks. Some small slides that we were able to release right under the lift reminded us to proceed with caution, but we were still able to get in
Then with the snow starting to get warm, visibility sporadic, and us wanting to save our legs for the next 5 days, we decided to call it quits.
We took the télécabine back down, got in the car and headed for France.
When we got to Chamonix we were able to check into our hotel early and then go into town to do a bit of laundry, eat some food11, and get some skis waxed. Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for the next day, rest up, and get ready for dinner.
Besides our days with Arnaud, the only other thing that we had planned well in advance was one seriously heady meal. Jason had made reservations at the 2-Michelin Star Albert 1er12 for that evening.
We ate some amazing food, drank some amazing wine13, and really enjoyed the gluttony of the thing.
I probably won’t have a meal like this again for quite some time, but it was a damn enjoyable experience, and a great way to prepare for the next 5 days of intense physical activity in the high mountains!
Monday April 6
Feeling a bit groggy from all the wining and dining, we still managed to get in the car, make a quick stop for espressos and croissants, and be in the Flégère lot in time to meet Arnaud before the first tram14.
While the weather was calling for clear skies, there was a North wind shutting down many of the other lifts in the area. This caused Flégère to be quite a busy spot that morning.
Arnaud evaluated our original plan of Le Col de la Floria as too risky given the fresh snow, and so we, as well as many other people, climbed up to Le Col des Crochues
AJ was pretty stoked to get to the top.
From there we descended a bit, traversed over, and put skins back on for a climb up the couloir to La Pointe Alphonse Favre.
The couloir was definitely getting some sun and we witnessed one good release come past us as we were putting our skis on our backs. We did not linger long and quickly climbed up and out of the colouir,
and then made our way up the ridge.
We got to the top, climbed down a bit, and found a good, safe spot to change over and have some snacks. I think everyone was pretty happy to be there.
When we are all set, Arnaud headed off across the slope to lead the way down the Glacier du Mort.
He brought us to a small drop15
after which we were really able to open it up through the cold, dry powder.
Yep, that was fun. Just look at the smiles on these guys
From there we got some more nice turns, but the snow was starting to turn. Eventually we got below tree line where it was getting quite hot.
We then had to maneuver and shimmy our way through a bob-sled track with questionable coverage, many stream crossings, and several hesitant skiers. Quite the adventure16, but after a total descent of about 1500m17, we at last made it to Le Buet. Too bad there was no train back to Chamonix for two more hours. Guess we’ll just have to hang out and have beers in the sun18.
Eventually we packed 5 people into a tiny automobile and managed to get back to Chamonix. No big dinner plans that night, just some pub food at the MBC19 and early to bed, because the next day we’d be heading up into la haute montagne for several days and nights of adventure….
to be continued.
TR: #vterinthealps, part 1
words by J. Auerbach
Since I moved to Europe two summers ago, I’ve been trying to get some Vermont folks to come over to ski and ride in the Alps. I never had any success with it last winter, but this fall it seemed like I had finally gotten Roger, Steve, and Jason to commit to making the trip. Due to other responsibilities, and them not wanting to miss midwinter back in VT1, we planned the trip for the beginning of April… perfect time to do some big mountain touring. The fact that my students would be on spring break at the same time made it work out pretty well for me as well.
We weren’t exactly sure what we wanted to do except some vague notions of going hut to hut and doing some “real ski-mountaineering”, and so I, as the “local”, was put in charge of figuring it out. Many different ideas of places to go were bandied about, but in the end we decided the best was to stay as flexible as possible to whims of weather and snow. Still, we decided it would probably be good to get a guide for some bigger objectives. While all strong skiers/riders, we admittedly could still learn a lot about mountaineering and high alpine terrain management. So, I got in touch with Arnaud, a guide de haute montagne in Chamonix who I had been out with last season. We got some dates booked with him and eventually (after a couple months of discussing different ideas) settled on 5 days around Chamonix with a couple nights up in huts, and a few objectives that would be pushing our limits a bit.
But, before we get to that part of the trip, we need to go to the beginning… Those guys planned to arrive Wed, April 1 and we had no concrete plans from then until Sunday the 5th. A few days before they arrived the weather models started calling for significant snow that week.
But, as often seems to be the issue in the Alps2, it was uncertain how low the snow line would drop. When they arrived on the 1st, things were gloomy looking in town and it seemed like the snow had stayed solidly above 2000m. That meant no trees3, and a critical avalanche situation in many upper elevation locales.
What to do? What to do?
Wednesday, April 1
When they arrived, everything was still up in the air. After putzing around town a bit, eating lunch, looking at maps and forecasts
and cramming all our gear into the “minivan” that we rented
we decide to head into the Valais, and post up in Martigny for a couple nights, figuring that we’d at least be in striking distance of several areas where we’d be able to ride fresh snow.
Along the way, I suggested we use the afternoon for these guys to see a little Swiss history, and so we stopped at the Chateau de Chillon.
I’d say everyone was impressed4.
We got to Martigny, settled into our hotels and figured out where to have an early dinner before the three jetlagged amigos passed out. Why not go for the full Swiss experience on the first day?5
After dinner, we retired back to our quadruple-singled bed hotel room6, still unsure of where to ride the next day. Those guys, having spent the previous night on a plane, were out pretty quick. I still had some work that I hadn’t finished up before I left for vacation, and so went down to the lobby for a while before getting to be at a more typical hour.
The next morning, I tried to get as much conditions beta as I could7. It didn’t look like the snow had come that low, so I decided we should go to Verbier/4 vallées, where we might not be able to see very well8, but at least we’d have some options to be on fresh snow and not rain crust or glop. Plus, it’s the resort that I’ve had the most total days at around here, so I at least have a decent familiarity navigating the place.
Thursday, April 2
We drove up to Le Chable, parked the car and started making our way up the lift system. The tram to Mont Gelé was not running, and the first run down to La Chaux was not too promising–questionable visibility and a hard snow surface. We took the jumbo up to Col des Gentianes hoping to go to Mont Fort, but it looked completely socked in. So far, not having much luck.
We decided to head down to Tortin where the visibility looked decent, and I know a few spots that tend to hold snow. After a lot of traversing we found some nice snow in that bowl, and started to enjoy ourselves.
Next run we took the gondola up and traversed out into the Col des Mouches. Here we found some nice fresh lines that we could open up on a bit and have some fun.
After being met with bad weather and mediocre conditions while heading towards Thyon we went back for seconds in the Col des Mouches. Not quite as fresh as before, but still good turns to be had.
Back up at the top of Col des Gentianes, Mont Fort was still socked in and the visibility was getting worse lower down as we took a big traverse. We decided to use a break in the clouds to get a short stretch of fresh turns before catching the surface lift back up and trying to make our way down the other side in what had become near 0 visibility. Following the dayglo piste markers9, we got low enough that we started to be able to see again. One more lift ride up and then we rode all the way down to Verbier where there was some pretty sloppy snow towards the bottom. We headed over to the Pub Mont Fort just before happy hour and settled in for some food and drinks.
All in all, not the best day ever, but it definitely didn’t suck.
Friday April 3
Friday was looking like more questionable weather, possibly with periods of sunshine and a bit of snow overnight. Steve and Jason having come with only their touring skis were really keen on doing some skinning rather than banging out laps all day. I came up with the suggestion of going to Champex where we could ride some north facing trees if the snow had come that low and/or go for a tour up the Val d’Arpette. We bought a single ride up, which seemed like a good idea from the base and was confirmed when the piste-accessed terrain10 seemed to be dust on crust.
Ride the piste deep into the valley. Skins on
and here we go.
So up the Val d’Arpette we went sticking to a very mellow line that would be safe in most conditions. Turns out we got some sunshine as we were skinning and boy was it getting warm.
Saw another party heading up one of the Couloirs looker’s left, but that seemed like maybe not the best idea on that day.
I was going a bit too fast for those low landers 😉
but we eventually made it to the Col des Écandies, being careful and spreading out on the few steeper pitches towards the top. Rest up a bit, have something to eat and drink, snap some photos
and then time to go.
Boy was the snow nice up high. We got to make some really big, fun turns as we slowly worked our way skiers right and down the valley enjoying the nice coat of fresh snow. Lower down things got a bit stickier and challenging, but we made it all the way deep into the valley and with a bit of skating eventually rejoined the piste and descended back to the car. All in all a successful day that exceeded expectations. Some of us may have gotten a bit much sun, but everyone had fun.
stay tuned for part 2….