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TR: 2016 Vanoise Variations

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
TR: 2016 Vanoise Variations

After last year's instruction on glacier work I'd vague plans about putting it all into practice this time. Trouble was, circumstances meant I'd put off organising anything until it was nearly too late. Some of our group were a little 'skied out' after several Eagles trips and some were just plain tired so the vibe I got was 'nothing to taxing, please'. Fortunately, we'd already been to the Vanoise National Park several times before and know the area well so this became our fallback.

I threw together some suggestions starting out from Pralognan (Day1, Day2, Day3, Day4, Day5, Day6) and we quickly set about booking travel and accommodation.

Friday, 1 Apr 2016
Team VW set off from Meltham in the morning whilst team Peugeot (comprising all those having to work on Friday) departed Warrington soon after 5pm. Traffic was bad but not awful and we made the 23:20 Shuttle with time for a wee. On the other side we quickly made out way to the F1 Coquelles and crashed.

Saturday, 2 Apr 2016
Despite Mama Garmin wanting to send us through Paris, we took the usual Reims, Troyes, Dijon route. At home I'd used this handy website to track down some cheap diesel at an Intermarché near the inner autoroute by Lyon. Later, after Chambery, the outside temperature started to rise - peaking at 25°C just before Moûtiers. We started wondering if there was going to be any snow left - and why we'd bothered with winter tyres! It was still sunny (but not quite as warm) when we arrived at the apartment in Pralognan to find the others already ensconced. Alison soon heated up dinner which she'd prepared earlier.

Sunday, 3 Apr 2016
We usually spend a day in resort warming up but Pralognan is so small and the way up to the first hut so short that we planned to squeeze that all into one day - ski in the morning and press on up to the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise in the afternoon. However, the morning dawned wet and gloomy. We packed up ready for the week and drove up to the 'Bouquetin' car park near the lifts. It was raining properly now as we passed the finish line for the TransVanoise rando race. We looked at the meteo (not good news) then at the pistemap and the state of the pistes and decided to forgo the warm-up. We did a spot of window-shopping then lingered over coffee and then decided we might as well stop there for lunch too.

When, eventually, we went to buy our rando passes the cashier asked if we really wanted to go: "You know there are 100km/h winds up there". "Yes, we know". So we sat on the wet chairlift with our huge packs by our sides and found our way up the top of the pistes just after 2pm.

Our route was wet and gloomy but at least we could mostly see where we were going.

By 4:10 we'd reached our destination, the smart new hut at the Col de la Vanoise where the rain had turned to snow but, fortunately, there was very little of the predicted wind. Unfortunately, the water supply couldn't keep up with the number of guests so we were severely restricted - hot showers weren't an option and washbasins were 2 floors away from the dry toilets.

Our short route for our first day:

Monday, 4 Apr 2016
With a long way to go we managed to be up and on the road for 7:30. The snow across the big long Col de la Vanoise was wet and slow but we more-or-less managed to keep going downhill. We bore right along a shelf and then down the steep drop to the bridge over the river. A Spanish group were going in the opposite direction and the leader described the snow as "shite". I readily agreed.

At the tiny stone bridge we donned skins and then set off up the valley towards the Col de la Leisse. After about an hour - just as the Leisse refuge came into sight - we bore right and up towards the Col de Pierre Blanche.

This was unfinished business from 2011 when we had tried to cross it from the south. This time our route was far more obvious and the only difficulty we had was on the col where a bitter wind made getting the skins off and into bags tricky. Down the other side was mostly one long, fairly easy traverse. We just had to be careful picking a line so that we kept going downhill. It nearly worked:

By 3pm we'd arrived at the Refuge de la Femma where Claire greeted us like long lost friends - this was the fifth visit for some. We were the only guests that night and were treated to Rousette and Kir before the meal and Génépy after it.

Tuesday, 5 Apr 2016
Your correspondent was feeling very rough and spent nearly all day in bed. I'm not sure if it was the after effects of a stinking cold just before we set off or the something picked up at the Col de la Vanoise. It seems I chose a good day. The others just sat in the lounge doing puzzles and looking out of the window at the falling snow and thick clag. I got up in time for dinner and found that another group of perhaps 8 or 9 had arrived. I think they were Swiss.

Because of the lost day we decided to shuffle the others back by one - dropping the attempt on the Réchasse from the end.

Wednesday, 6 Apr 2016
An easy day was needed. Not only was I under the weather but the following day was going to be long too. The original plan had been to try for the easier of the Pointes du Châtelard but the map suggested the last bit would be steep and possibly tricky. Instead we plumped for the Col des Léschours which looked much more achievable so that we stood a good chance of being able to look over the other side.

It had stopped snowing but the weather was none too clear as we set off.

With no route programmed into Baby Garmin I was happy to let the others have a go at route finding while I bobbed back and forth taking photos. I was still under the influence of a virus or something as I kept feeling quite unbalanced and 'out-of-body'. As we got higher the visibility kept coming and going so that navigation was sometimes by intuition. But we still made a decent fist of it and left a deep trench in the new snow.

Of course, at the col we had no view to speak of and with a chill wind there was nothing to do but shed skins and get back down the way we had come.

Once out of the wind we stopped for some lunch. Afterwards, the snow was very heavy and the skiing was slow but safe.

Later, the weather even cleared up a bit and was almost sunny by the time we returned to the Femma at 2:45.

We spent the afternoon lounging in the sun on the balcony. We realised that we could just see our ski lines from earlier and our trench up to the col was easily visible. Then Claire brought us a chocolate cake - much to the chagrin of the Swiss. Later, we saw a large group approaching from the west. We all dashed for the showers to beat the rush. Turned out they were a group of nearly 20 on a Mountain Tracks tour. They had just come along the valley from the Col de la Vanoise and some were a bit miffed at not ticking off some of their planned itinerary. The weather does what it does and you just have to adapt. Anyway we'd had a good day.

The sudden influx of numbers didn't phase Claire at all but it took its toll on the hut. During dinner the water ran out upstairs and by the time we were clearing up there was none to be had anywhere. Understandably, Claire was losing her cool at this point so we just tried to do what we could and then went to bed.

Thursday, 7 Apr 2016
The Mountain Tracks group started crashing around soon after five but at least water was restored. There were people everywhere but, finally, just on 7 o'clock said farewell to Claire while she gave us a piece of fruit each.

Early starts are often cold so we were glad when we finally climbed up into the sun.

We'd been this way several times before but, instead of using our usual route, we decided to follow the tracks of the Swiss group from the previous day. This is steeper and, judging by the large snowballs, is obviously risky later in the day but it save us most of the downhill section that we usually boot pack.

At the Col des Balmes de l'Ours we shed skins, had a bite to eat and rearranged clothing. The snow down the Glacier des Balmes de l'Ours started out as hard crust which quickly turned to breakable crust and finally, with a few meters to go, some decent spring skiing. In all it was hard work and not a pretty sight. Sadly, I have no pictures of the run down - I was concentrating on trying to stay upright!

At about 11:30 we donned skins again and headed north, across country towards the Pointe du Grand Pré. It was getting warm now and avalanche debris was everywhere down the wall to our left. At one point we were squeezed by a lake to our right so proceeded one at a time until we were safely at another break stop. As we sat we could hear the lifts clanking and the people shouting from the pistes of Val d'Isere far below.

Then onwards and upwards and finally to Col Sans Nom. Well, there's no name on the map but it's near the Grand Pré. The next photo is looking back. The big mountain in the middle is the Pointe de la Sana and if you follow the ridge to the left you'll get to the Col des Balmes de l'Ours where we crossed three hours earlier. It's great when you can see where you've been like this.

The col was remarkably wind-free and we enjoyed sitting around for a while taking in the view of the Grand Motte and Tignes on one side and Val d'Isere on the other. More hoots and screams from those on Piste Génépy far below. It's fun to hear everybody but also slightly disappointing to be out in the wilderness but still surrounded by people.

The drop off the top was 'interesting' particularly with the breakable crust but it quickly turned into a long, easy traverse.

Time for some action shots as we approach the Refuge de la Leisse just after 4pm.

On our previous visit the hut was unmanned. It has a warden now but Celine was away having a baby so she was replaced by Elsa who was very sparky and great fun. It must be a tough job when the weather is bad and no one else is around. Fortunately, the weather couldn't have been better for us.

It was a long but very enjoyable day.

The most dangerous part of the trip turned out to be these few steps to the toilet. Fine while the sun was shining but lethal after dark in hut slippers. Several of us went flying - with full bladders too!

Friday, 8 Apr 2016
Elsa warned us that there was snow forecast at 2pm but we weren't too fussed as we were just going out via the valley.

Viz wasn't good but at least navigation wasn't a problem as we were just following the valley floor. At least that's what I thought until I realised that we'd missed the bridge and had to skin back - fortunately, not very far.

It's the same bridge we crossed on our second day but this time with significantly more snow - it was 50/50 grass and snow on the other side before. This is quite a steep pitch but, fortunately, short and it only took an hour to get up to the shelf that leads to the col proper.

Another stop to eat and then along the seemingly endless col keeping away from the lakes but trying to avoid the temptation to climb up the sides.

Then back to the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise in time for lunch.

Sure enough, just as we left at 2pm, it started to snow and, more importantly, the visibility dropped to virtually nothing. It took a tense hour and a half over rock hard snow to get the short way down to Pralognan. On the way we kept passing skiers and snow shoe-ers on their way up. Sometimes we could only hear them the viz was so bad. Suddenly we were crossing the same bridge as we'd used at the start of the trip. Then on down the pistes which felt smooth and very easy.

It looks a long day but much of it was downhill.

Back at the car park I had to empty my whole rucksack until I found the car keys hidden in a rolled up jacket pocket. We showered and got changed and then walked back into town for our customary end-of-trip celebration meal. I had the Savoie speciality diots in polenta - not to everyone's taste but it was fine for me.

Saturday, 9 Apr 2016
We packed and cleaned and tidied and set off for home about 9am. Back to Lyon for cheap diesel (only €0.999 now) and on to the F1 in Arras. We had hoped to go out for a meal but it was late and we were tired so we stayed in and just polished off the last of the food and wine.

Sunday, 10 Apr 2016
A leisurely breakfast and then on to Calais for the 10:45 with P&O. I was a bit nervous as we'd booked through Aferry and had no tickets. All went swimmingly. The ferry wasn't busy at all and offers more seating than with DFDS. Lots of traffic about but finally home soon after 5pm. I don't usually work on Mondays but I said 'yes' to an early morning text. By the afternoon I was wishing I hadn't.

Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Sun 1-05-16 18:10; edited 2 times in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Great report there @altis, - Haute Maurienne next year then ?? snowHead
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Top of the notch.

Cheers Smile
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Excellent work, cheers for posting
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