One of my oldest mates decided to get married in southern Italy this June, so I took skis to the wedding (they weren't a present).
There was an after party of sorts in St Tropez, and Marie-Laure and I then drove north up through the Alps, staying in the less-often visited Queyras with several hikes up in to Italy and the Monte Viso area: amazing and remote (maybe another blog if I get around to it).
We drove several of the Tour de France's most famous cols, with exceptional views of Les Ecrins from the col Galibier. Then on to Courchevel where ML's parents had been looking after our kids.
I'd emailed Roland a few weeks back, and even though this winter past in the Alps had been a little feeble, it was still winter above 3000m.
After a day of playing with the wombats, Roland picked me up and we drove over the Col du Petite St Bernard with crazy views of the Mt Blanc massif. Then down the Aosta Valley before hooking north up the Val Lys to Gressoney, which is a most impressive BC set-up relative to the smallish size up the place. The entire Lys valley itself is exquisite.
With the clouds occasionally lifting, we got glimpses of the massive peaks above, and my first butterflies. It also felt weird putting on ski boots in 27 degree heat.
The gondolas run twice a day for mountaineers, as it is probably one of the most popular ascent routes in the entire Alps: the second highest peak after Mont Blanc, but safer.
The telpheriques take you up to just under 3000m, and then we set off skinning and fixed-rope climbing in the mist up to the Refugio Mantova at 3500m.
The clouds cleared on our arrival and we had the most amazing sunset over the Mont Blanc massif to the west, and Gran Paradiso and the southern chain of the Alps all the way to the Mediterranean.
We got treated to a superb piano concert by a guide from Chamonix who hauls his giant Hammond up mountains to entertain his clients.
Whereas the MB alpine start had been a scary 0100, the next day we were allowed to sleep in a little and were breakfasting by 0400. Because the solstice had just past, we didn't need our head torches for long. Although everything had iced up, it was fairly easy skinning. Soon dawn was breaking in to sunlight, with Gran Paradiso the first illuminated - over Mt Blanc which was still in our shadow.
I would have taken more photos (not that I didn't take enough), however my cameras started playing up (it was freezing!), and we had entered a vast field of crevasses which required a lot of attention.
We made the Col Lys (4250) in a couple of hours, and then continued on under the Parrot and Gnifetti with the crazy Refugio Margherita perched on top.
To climb Point Zumstein we roped up and donned crampons as it was windy and a free-fall into Italy would not have ended well.
The views were astonishing, particularly of Lyskamm and the Matterhorn.
In fact Dufour to the the north is the true second highest peak in the Alps after MB (with Lyskamm the 3rd), however it is technical and un-skiable, so I was prepared to just touch the Madonna and descend back to where my skis were.
We had a nice ski descent of about 500m through fresh wind packed snow, and then climbed back up to the Margherita, which is the highest (4554m) and most crazy refuge in the Alps. The Aussie occupational health and safety nuts would just about have heart attacks after their initial conniptions.
It also contains the world's highest coffee machine, although at this altitude the espresso wasn't exactly hot.
And my, the views from the balcony... 2000 vertical metres of void.
We skied back down to the Col Lys, and debated climbing the Pyramide Vincent. However we had already climbed 1500m for the day, which is a challenge above 4000m - and so opted for a gentle 1300m descent back down to the telepherique which was due to fire up again for a short period at midday.
We carefully picked our way back down through the crevasse field which was a little unnerving, and then struck some beautiful corn below about 3800m.
A final steep couloir and then about a kilometre of exceptional corn back to the lift.
My photos are in no particular order as I had an SLR, PAS and iPhone, all of which played up, and all obviously set on slightly different dates. Apologies.
(Season vertical = 3.5km)
(Season vertical = 3.5km)