Samoens Skiing and Climbing

After coming back from China (and with Jiajia and Peter still in China) I had a chance to go to Samoens to do some skiing and climbing. On Sunday on the way there I collected Matej in Lausanne. He’s already been skiing for a week and hence in top shape. Lucky as we are, we could borrow a pair of axes from Helena who’s near Martigny. There was a lot of new snow as it snowed at least the whole of Sunday.

On Monday we’ve been a bit stupid / keen and we went skinning up one of the valleys above Samoens. The avalanche report said level 3 and in that was from Saturday afternoon so after a whole day of snow on Sunday it could have only been 4 or worse. No matter a lot of nice snow and mostly sun we broke trail to about 1500 (from about 1000), practiced finding the avalanche transceivers for a while and then carried on breaking trail for another 200-300 hundred meters until we saw a small avalanche run across our path. At that point we decided that we’re not going to try to make it to the col and we skied down, now in the cloud. On Tuesday we went skiing on Grand Massiff using the lifts and that was pretty good with all the new snow. Wednesday was rest / work / give the snow some time to settle down day.

On Thursday we walked, first on foot then on skis to some ice falls above refuge de la Folly

The guidebook said turn right after the refuge de la Folly, but in fact it’s better to turn right as soon as one can see it. That’s the way we’ve come down later.

At about 3pm we’ve finally made it to where the falls are (about 1900 meters starting from about 900, breaking trail a big part of the way).

The climbing didn’t quite go as planned, because with 5 screws and no decent rock to belay on, we only climbed one ~30 meter pitch and then abseiled down.

The failure on ice has been compensated by absolutely great powder to ski on on the way down. The whole slope is in the shade of Les Avoudrues ridge the whole day. In fact this is easily the best downhill of any ski touring that I’ve done around Samoens. At 7:30pm we were back home.

On Friday, we’ve met Helena in Argentiere, got the Grand Montets telepherique to Col des Grand Montents, left our sleeping stuff there and started walking up to Petite Aiguille Verte.

In the morning the weather was not so great; cloudy on the peaks, bit of snow and windy (80km/h at 4000m, our summit being 3512m). Despite that there were 3 other groups going up. One we never caught, one overtook us after the bergschrund (and turned to be Helena’s friends) and finally a guide with two clients (and Helena knew the guide as well; good score).

No one else tried to drag the skies up. In fact no one took them further then col des Grand Montents. We should have left them before we crossed the bergshrund, but no we took them further up for no good reason (the slope was about 60-75 degrees) so not skiable.

The way up was fairly straight forward (up to the shoulder on the right, then left under the crest for a while, up to the crest and then tiny bit of climbing around and up a couple of towers. All done moving together with few bits of protection. Anyway, we were happy to get to the top.

The cloud cleared and the views were stunning. Here we have the Drus (I think).

The way back was the same as the way we’ve come up. Climbing down perhaps a bit trickier.

Then all that remained to do was to ski back down tol col des Grand Montents, collect our things from the station, repack, ski down to Argentiere glacier and walk up to refuge Argentiere. The final slope from the glacier to the hut was icy and generally not fun after the whole day.

The hut was in a funny state: I tried calling many times before we went to make a reservation, but there was no answer despite the guidebook saying it’s open from 15th February. Then I found on some website that it opens 10th March. So I was surprised to get to the hut and to find the guardians there. In fact the hut was open but the phone line broken so we couldn’t get trough (and clearly no-one else) as there were no other guests. Since we had our own sleeping bags etc. the guardian kindly let us stay in the winter room without having to pay. But as they were there we could buy some tea and didn’t have to spend hours melting snow.

On Saturday we skinned up to Col du Tour Noir, skied down to Argentiere hut, collected our stuff and skied down to Argentiere (click on the photo above for all the pictures from Saturday).

On Sunday we went ice climbing near to Lac du Montroid (close to Avoriaz and Morzine). The ice falls are super easy to reach. Go to the bottom Ardent gondola station, walk up the ski slope till it turns left and where you turn right into the forest and after 5 minutes reach the falls. You can see some from the station car park (click on the photo above for all the pictures from Sunday). Sadly Helena had to go back to work on Sunday evening so we didn’t do any more climbing with her.

On Monday we stayed in Samoens and rested. We had a big plan for Tuesday: go up Aiguille du Midi, climb Cosmique’s Ridge and ski down Vallee Blanche. Hence on Tuesday morning we were in Chamonix at 8am and at Aiguille du Midi at 8:30am. The ride itself cost 40 euros so we were really hoping we manage to carry out our plans. We walked down from the station already roped up and carrying our skis. What apparently used to be a scary ridge with crowds of skiers going to ski Vallee Blanche was a nice path down with ropes to hold onto. So far so easy. We left our skis at the place where the skiers put them on and carried on to the right to Abri Simond hut on foot. There we put our kit on, tightened our shoes and set off up the ridge itself (time 9:30am).

The first part of the ridge was an easy walk / scramble up some hard snow and around some rocks. We moved together and put few pieces in to protect harder moves (Matej said it wasn’t really needed… and indeed a couple of climbers did this part unroped, saving some time for the abseil that comes next).

Two short (< 30 meters) equipped abseils later and after dropping my food down the mountain we were ready to carry on on more easy snow climbing around few towers.

Finally we’ve arrived to what should have been a grade IV rock pitch. But some people drilled a few footholds for crampons in the granite (I guess guides who were fed up waiting for their clients to get up and keeping them away from their afternoon tea). So the climbing was very easy (on a warm sunny, windless day anyway).

This is at the belay of the grade “IV” pitch. The amusing part is that the tourists can see you from the observation platforms of the Midi station. And you can see the pointing at you… it gets better later though.

The views were great all along. Here is Mont Blanc in the background.

The final part is a snow and rock couloir / chimney looking down couple of thousand meters into the Chamonix valley. Matej decided it’s easy (it was) so we moved together and he’s put in good protection.

Finally you climb a ladder to one of the observation platforms of the Midi station and the route is over. The tourists take pictures and applaud (do they think we’ve climbed from the valley?). The tourist groups spend about 10 minutes and so on a busy day each group of tourists get their own fresh climbers finishing the route. We’ve had our lunch and so we’ve seen the reception of another climbing party… you don’t get that in many places. And anyway the view of Mont Blanc is great.

Now all that was left to do is get our skis, take a picture of the route and ski down Vallee Blanche.

On a sunny day and after a week of no fresh snow, Vallee Blanche is an easy ski down following other tracks. I wouldn’t want to do it in bad weather while it’s snowing.

We missed one train from Montreverts by a few places and so we had to wait for 30 minutes for another. The last train is at 16:30 and we were glad to be there at 2:30pm, because the way down would have been a pain.

Finally a view of the Midi station (and the route) from Chamonix.

On Wednesday we still had time to do a couple of routes each on the local crag and then to start driving back to Nuremberg (from where Matej was getting a coach to Prague). I got to Bielefeld at 3:40am on Thursday.


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