This day will stick in my memory as an example of finding brilliant adventures right on your doorstep. All you need is a plan, good company, and some interesting weather!
On the penultimate day of the ski season, I was invited ski touring with a few people I knew, although not know hugely well (but well enough to trust). Not one to say no to a day out and with the end of the season arriving, there was nothing to lose. If my foot hurt I would be able to rest it the next day. The plan was to drive over to Val Thorens, clip our skis on, head to the top, skin up and over on to the Gebrula glacier and ski down into Motteret/Meribel. I have always wanted to do this particular route and the end of the season is the perfect time to tick some boxes. The weather forecast seemed ok so off we went. I was a little apprehensive about how my foot would fair on a longer ski tour but the guys I was going with assured me we weren’t in a rush so I could take my time. I was nervous all the same. The first priority was coffee; o good! First disaster – discovering my water bottle had leaked all over the driver’s jacket. I didn’t know this chap at all so not a good start; luckily by the end of the day, he wanted to book lessons with me for his daughter, thank goodness. Caffeine fix sorted, off we went; three lifts up, a small decent, and we were at the base of what looked like a fairly easy skin. Second disaster; my transceiver didn’t seem to be working and I had no batteries. Now I really looked like a muppet and not particularly professional despite my job as an “all singing all dancing” ski instructor. Anyway, disaster quickly averted, off we went. Skis sliding one in front of the other, my foot felt good. I resumed my normal position at the back of the pack to take photos; everyone knows I love a good photo!
It was scorching hot and the sun was beaming down through the clouds on us and still, my foot felt ok; what a relief. I have to be careful in the heat not to walk too fast as temperature change and friction is when it can get really painful. The sky was bright blue, the sun shone, and big white fluffy clouds shaded us a little from the heat. Now if you know anything about clouds these particular ones, Cumulus, are often full of small water droplets, so actually we couldn’t really take our time after all! About two-thirds of the way up a fairly easy-going skin the gradient whacked up pretty swiftly – this was not a place for beginner ski tourers – noted for future clients. Likewise, the snow was still pretty darn hard-packed so crampons would have been quite useful. Without them it is quite easy to lose your footing, you almost have to keep moving in order not to slip. At one point, mid kick turn, I was awkwardly straddling the mountain, one leg pointing one way, and one leg the other; with Al (my friend’s boyfriend) basically holding my bottom to stop me slipping backwards down looking like a drunk starfish. So yep, crampons would definitely have been useful! We actually decided it was more sensible to boot pack the last section. So whilst precariously balancing with our ski boots lodged as firmly as possible into the mountain we attached our skis to our backpacks and scampered up the remaining couple of hundred meters to the top. Once up there we were faced with a beautiful vista of vast open gentle planes of the glacier. We had a quick rest, de-sweat and snack stop and then got on our way. The ski down was fabulous. We stuck to the right because we knew there were more crevasses to the left. After the initial pitch what followed was a beautiful gentle rolling ski, and we were the only people there. I felt totally out in the wilderness and it was a real lesson that you really don’t have to stray far to find completely untouched beauty. There were a few rockfalls and avalanches around us due to the day’s increasing temperature – nothing worrying – but enough to really appreciate the power of nature all the same. Heading down into the valley I got my bearings and quickly realized we were heading towards the Refuge du Saut where I had stayed with the girls earlier in the month – approaching it from another angle was really cool. I also quickly realized that after the refuge, was a very long, very flat section, and at this late time in the day would require a lot of walking and pole pushing, dam! Here is when the adventure really took a turn. Nearing the end of the long push out the bright blue sky was rather too quickly being replaced by a somewhat overcast grey ominous-looking one. Gentle raindrops began to speckle on my sunnies, then those raindrops started to come down a little more quickly until we were very much right underneath a thunderstorm! Planning ahead I had packed my trainers because of my foot, which I was grateful for because we had a good hour and a half walkout after the snow line.
Walking in a thunderstorm, feet totally drenched, skis on my rucksack and boots dangling off my shoulders filling up with water! The four of us continued to chatter and take photos and laugh at the amusement of the situation. And also congratulate ourselves on not stopping at the top for too long! I was rather grateful that we weren’t too much out in the wilderness at this stage; as amusing as it was nature can be so powerful compared to us wee human beings and once cold and wet things could have got a little more serious.
As it happened we were all in good spirits knowing we weren’t too far from civilization. We eventually got back to the car absolutely sodden. Loading our skis quickly onto the ski rack, we piled into the car – four drowned rats safe and sound, still smiling; another micro-adventure ticked, lots of laughter and a few friends gained. And what better way to finish a day like that than in the pub with some warming vin chaud!