Saturday, 7 April 2012

L'Haute Route Premier Jour

From that first ducking of a rope at Hotham when knee-high to a wombat, ski-touring has always seemed like a natural progression for me. Untracked snow is always so much more appealing to the naked eye or ski. 
Relative to the Northern Hemisphere, resorts in Australia are constraining, yet we have no crevasses and minimal avalanche risk. And still our mountains are vast and exquisite once away from the noise, combustion and metal of the resorts. Our unique snow gums in particular lend our older weathered mountains an elegance and drama that is increasingly addictive to myself and a small but growing posse of friends. 
The astonishing evolution of lightweight touring equipment only abets our habits such that with a pair of skins, a pack and a little energy, we are finding that Australia offers a lifetime of alpine adventures beyond the ropes and crowds.
And yet, in an information age, it is impossible to ignore pictures and tales of ski-tours from abroad; including that most famous and coveted of them all, La Haute Route.
First traversed by British mountaineers in the 1860s, the High Level Route was first skied in 1911 by a French doctor. Many variations of this fabled tour connect a myriad of substantial peaks and huts over a distance of around 200km, usually taking seven days (but as few as two!), and with a maximum attained altitude of 3800m depending on seasonal snows, weather, fitness and courage.
I've been skiing with Darbs since our first days in med school. Morry and Hans have joined us in recent years, and its always good having a neurosurgeon and emergency physician as part of the team.
I'd been angling for this trip for the last half dozen years, however every window seemed to be thwarted by my wife either getting pregnant or actually having babies. We're very lucky to spend a decent part of every year in the Alps, and I find them creeping into my sinews as much as my own small hills back home. I'd done a few pretty significant summer ascents to gain some basic mountaineering skills, and felt that I was ready for the main course.
However five days before arriving in France our guide fell through with sundry excuses. We found out that the refuges hadn't been booked. And then it looked like the weather was going to conspire against us with the snowiest April for many years creating serious avalanche risk.
We spent a few days in rainy Chamonix shopping like chicks and generally feeling anxious about the whole ordeal whilst a new guide and plan was organised. My French was certainly getting a good workout.
On the last day before we could depart and still make it back to Paris for the marathon, a window appeared in the weather and our new guide Luc, reassured us that it was time to give it a crack.   

Mt Blanc (4810m) and the Aiguille du Midi (3842m) from our starting point of Grands Montets (3295m) from where we skied down the Rognons and then Argentiere Glaciers in powder, then up to the Refuge d’Argentiere (2771m) on skins to ditch our packs and climb up to the Col du Tour Noir (3535m) before skiing back down to the refuge.

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