Wednesday 30 April 2008

On top of the world...

...well, on top of the highest mountain in western Europe at least. I had a call from Nick at Mountaintracks late on Saturday afternoon, asking if I wanted to climb Mont Blanc and then ski down it... on Sunday. So that's what I did, with guides Farmer & Stuart, plus Rick, Tom and James.

The helicopter from Courmayeur got us to about 3800m - roughly the same height as the top of the Aiguille du Midi lift above Chamonix - leaving 1000m to climb, mainly along snowy ridges. We had hoped to skin some of it but in the end just carried our skis due to the conditions. The ski down is immense, through spectacular scenery and in our case through some very deep, very wet snow, following the Bosson glacier, then the river, into the forest and out to the tunnel entrance above Chamonix. A long day, and I'd have preferred a bit of acclimatisation, but a great way to end the season. Though of course you can never be sure when you might get a phone call...

"Now is fog, is not high..."

Those words preceeded a series of ascents in bad weather, all in the cause of a bit of ski touring at the end of a wonderful winter.

We were lucky to be in the able hands of Klemen, our local Slovenian guide for some interesting routes to the top of Triglav and elsewhere. He's not a man to let a storm stop play but be warned that once you have to remove skis and climb on foot, anyone under 2 metres tall won't have a chance of following his footsteps through deep snow.

The weather didn't let up over in the Sudtirol in Italy. Hannes took us through thick fog to the top of Col Bechei (actually a peak, not a col) where we had fleeting glimpses straight down to the valley floor 1800m below, as well as a magical view of Tofane silhouetted against blue sky for a few seconds. Staying in the luxurious Fanes Hutte makes everything all right and short days out meant we managed to squeeze lunch in, as well as tea and supper. And of course we have to go back next year in better weather, to see the scenery - which is some of the Dolomites' finest.