Saturday, May 12, 2012

Haute Route, not to be.

Trient Hut
The Haute route is a popular ski mountaineering route from Chamonix France to Zermat Switzerland, with most of the route being in Switzerland. It travels through some of the most accessible high alpine environments in Europe, and for that matter the world. I can't think of many other places that have the sharp, beautiful glaciated peaks, that have lift access approaches and 4 course meals. Due to it's popularity, its also rather busy. When we arrived in Geneva Switzerland after some 20 hours of travel, we got in a small van filled to the brim with other ski and mountain enthousiasts and started the drive to Chamonix. Geneva itself is a nice town and has a good number of large limestone cliff bands, which the van driver wrote off as choss piles. A good start for realizing what the alps have, and the snobbery that it breads. (Snobbery in this case is NOT derogatory)
Day 1: Chamonix to Trient

 When we arrived in the town itself it was far from impressive. In fact it was a bit annoying. Modern stuctures mixed with classic french and swiss architechure is not well juxtaposed; rather, it more resembles a unbridaled capitalistic growth spurt. The good news is that our hostel that was out of town was fabulous. Truly the highlight of our in town stays. La Tapia run by Maria was clean, had no locks on the doors, and the best breakfast around, all for a great price.

 After warnings about aclimatizing and going guidless, we left the next morning up to the Argentiere glacier via a short tram ride. We bought 1 ride's on the Grand Montets tram which we where told would get us to the highest point, which was not the top of the resort. But a few hundred meters below the normal drop off point. On our second lift ride, we had a pretty funny hold up at the automatic ticket gates which our one ride tickets wouldn't open. So when everyone was watching we attempted to climb over them with our ski's on. It was much more difficult than it seemed, and with axes, skis, poles, a gate, and that fish net fencing, we where almost entangled forever. Thankfully the lifty didn't care at all. Stupid Americans. After finally gettin off the last lift we got back into our comfort zones with skins on and heals released.
Day 2: Trient-Champex

 The trip to the Angentiere glacier was a bit of an eye opener. No trees, and no good size landmarks make the glacier basin seem normal sized, but after close evaluation you realized its massive. Like as big as Little Cottonwood Canyon. The only way to tell was to look to the bottom at the little tiny ants crossing in lines... f They where people, some 4000ft below. Pretty cool. So we skied the not quite wonderful refrozen powder down to the bottom between ice fall and the rocks to the glacier. After some chat we decided which canyon was the Chardonnet glacier and headed for it. The morning was late but luckily the clouds protected us from excess heating, especially since we where on the 40 degree section. Hours later, after finally dealling with some excessive bread in the diet, we reached the top of the Col du Chardonnet--the techical crux of the route. Just a week earlier it had been a steep dicey rock decent followed by a large bergshrund crossing. Fortunately for us it was filled in nicely and reasonably skiable. We rapped(absel) the top section and hung the second rap but chose to do the body rap for the second as the consiquences receded and the slope angle lessened. 300 meters later we where in a new glacier for a beautiful lunch spot.
Chamonix: La Tapia Hostel
Chamonix: The bakery 1 block
from the hostel

 We then proceeded towards the Trient glacier via a long traverse through the Glacier de Saleina

to a inevitable boot pack. The guide book read something like 'no skins heal lifter travers.' Which if your a skinning enthusiast like us, you have no idea what that means. I have never seen or done a no skin's heal lifter traverse, but I can't wait to see it! Next was the col to the trient glacier which was labelled as 'you will inevitably boot' so as any good Cottonwood Ninnis would do, we skinned. It was rather humours and likely more difficult than booting, but we felt obliged to hold to our heritage. Crossing over the top we reached the Trient glacier and way off in the distance had a view of the Trient hut, or I think I would insert the word lodge, except made of stone. 

Look back to the Argentierre glacier

 One of the things we had said before going on this trip was that if we get lost, or something goes wrong, you can always just ski down to some random swiss village... We quickly learned that unlike the Wasatch, or most other places we had skied this was not the case. most glaciers ended in large scarey icefalls that would take at least a day to pass, and may not be passable. The good news was that in the good weather, it was reasonably easy route finding. 

 We reached the Trient hut at somewhere around 6:15 and carefully read all the signs on how to comply with the rules. First of all, skis go in the ski shed, outside. Second, Ice axes go in the ice axe rack in the breezeway along with boots and climbing gear. I pitty the man that walks into the hut with skis, boots and ice axes. I think they may be burned at the stake. (Again, not derogatory since only a stupid american would even think of such a thing) Once we had properly packed away our gear, we got to experience what all the rules protected. A warm, beautiful, dry hut, free from ice axe holes and soiled rugs. Dinner was at 7:00pm and we where sure to be on time. Turned out to be a 4 course meal with a white wine starter... If only all my meals where so wonderful. With the windows of the hut, we had a 180 degree view of the top of the trient glacier. I spent probably a good hour sitting and looking outside. Likely one of the best dining views in the world in my opinion. 

Col du Chardonnet

 The next morning we where 21 minutes late for breakfast, due to a misread breakfast time. We thought we where nine minutes early. The gardian nicely, but sturnly told us in broken English 'Breakfast is at 6 or 7, not 21.' Graciously he still aloud us to have a tasty bread, cheeze, butter and jam breakfast. On the way out, I of course left my ice axe in the ice axe rack where it will remain for eternity. 

 We skied the wind scared refrozen hardpack with sections of breakable death crust to the icefall where we entered the wind tunnel. SO windy in fact that you could side slip on the flat ground towards the abyss. After skiing the mogels down the icefall we traversed to yet another booter up the Col du Escandies then skied out to Champex, Switzerland via the Val de Arpette.  Yet another amazing and large basin that had suffered from massive wet slides. By massive its hard to represent because we don't see many that size in Utah. Think of the South face of Superior sliding over the road, and then and 5 or 6 more of those size slides all in the same drainage. Pretty cool, however very difficult to ski over basketball size frozen rollers. 

Glacier de Saleina

Col du Escandies

 After being anoyed with the guided american group for a while I got over my oversized head and enjoyed a nice slushy spring ski out to the town of Champex. This would unfortunately be the end of our skiing for the trip, but we didn't know it yet. The plan was to catch a ride to Borg-st.-Pierre for the night and do the 4300ft climb back up to the Valsorey hut on the other side the next morning. However when we awoke the next morning it was raining, and raining hard. We spent the whole next day planning and figuring out how to get back into the mountains and complete the traverse. After calling some of the huts and getting the response 'the weather is very bad' we tried to go around to a more easterly location to avoid some of the more difficult and commiting sections and access the Vignettes or Cabane des dix. This also was a failure as we couldn't find a place to stay and the weather was also 'very bad' at the huts on this side. We calculated our time availabe, how long the storm was to stay, and distance traveled and concluded that we would have to bail... so sad. 

  What I didn't tell you was that most of the others had already flushed out of the mountains and where on the way home. Such is the life of big goals in the mountains. Another day? I hope so. In review, the scenery was stunning, the food was fabulous, and the skinning/skiing/mountaineering was moderate. An excellent trip I would recommend to anyone with the skill set and the strength. I think the average is 5000ft a day. The only down sides are maybe the diffulty in getting the information on the route (thankfully I had a team of well dedicated friends that pretty much did ALL the research) and the high prices of everything from food to gas, to taxi rides. You can quickly drain the budget when things get off the plan... Oh and did I mention take the train out of Paris? I can't say I recommend air france, unless you get the refundable ticket.  Special thanks to my partners for providing pretty much all the hard prep work, digital maps, photos, money, entertainment, and generosity.  Oh and lots of good red wine.

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