Saturday, 11 June 2016

Midi to Helbronner, a revised adventure...

How many times do you visit a single ski resort? Once? Twice? Return every season? I have visited a fair few resorts in my 2 years of skiing, but there is one that I keep returning to, with out fail: Chamonix.

But why? 

That's the question I get asked at work as the season nears. There is no 'ski in, ski out'. You have to catch a bus to get to the lifts. It's extortionately expensive. There's not that many Kilometres of piste in comparison to other big resorts. And the town itself is at an altitude lower than most Scottish Munros. It sounds like something you would find in Bulgaria. But here's the thing. Chamonix is not a ski resort. It is a Mountain Town. For climbers and ski mountaineers. The pistes are there to keep the 'more money than sense' punters happy. The real skiing comes when you leave the safety of the groomed runs. When you duck under that rope. When you step out onto that ridge.

There is only so far you can venture in the mountains with the help of mechanical uplifts, gravity and a well waxed pair of skis. But for those out of reach places to become accessible, you need to work for it. Hard. 

For those of us that use Chamonix as a base for our adventures in the high mountains, the Aiguille du Midi lift is our mothership. Taking us Home. Looking up at the spire from town, 2800m above you, many would be unaware of the beauty that it masks. A life time of adventure, only accessible by man's very own 'stairway to heaven'. I savor every minute once I step out of the ice tunnel. But this time was different. I wasn't just up here to blindly follow the crowds down the Vallee Blanche, I was here to research. I have heard stories from other skiers. But none had depth or detail. They were just reciting what they had heard from others. The story in question refers to Chamonix during World War Two: The battle of the Vallee Blanche.

Strong winds on the Midi

Stairway to heaven

But I am going to leave you hanging here. This exciting and interesting article will come to light on my blog very soon. For now though, here's how my day went.

The Midi station was...well (excuse my language) fucking rammed! It opened late due to strong winds up high and we didn't book a reservation the night before. We managed to get a reservation, along with every man and his dog in Chamonix that morning, and headed to a cafe for breakfast while we waited. I have never seen the Midi so busy. The ridge was jammed. We got half way down and decided we would ski from there. We ducked under the ropes, much to the amazement of some people and skied lovely knee deep powder down to the Col du Midi. From here, we kept our speed across the flat and headed down the classic VB variation, heading to the Cirque Maudit.

Mug shot!

We had the best weather that we have had all week. Clear blue skies after several days of snow and not too cold. Perfect for a tour in the high mountains. Our objective was to skin to Helbronner and then make it up from there. But due to our late start, we opted to have a coffee and a bit to eat at the Torino hut, then ski back down the Combe de la Viage an the Vallee Noire. I have already skied the Toula glacier and it was getting late in the day to attempt it. Especially after my last descent where rock fall was nearly quite literally on our minds.

We had the Combe de la Viage to ourselves. Fresh tracks down a wide open powder bowl. What a great end to my short hit to Cham. And it turned out to be my last run of the season too. Several weeks later, I was on my way to Bristol airport once again. My flight the day before had been cancelled due to french ATC strikes. I frantically looked around online for an alternative flight and the only one I could find was via Brussels Airlines for the next day, flying Bristol to Brussels then Brussels to Geneva. Bags already packed from the day before, I left my village in the early morning. Half an hour into the journey I had a phone call. It was from my Nan. "There has been an explosion at Brussels airport".

So that was that. My season had come to a premature end. With no other way of getting to Chamonix besides a stupidly expensive and long train journey, I headed home. I count myself lucky really. I very nearly caught the earlier flight which would have put me in Brussels airport at the time of the bombing. But I couldn't feel sorry for myself having missed my holiday. Not after so many families now are missing their loved ones. I couldn't, wouldn't be so selfish. The mountains will be there next year and my thoughts go out to those in Brussels.

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