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TR: Tour du Mont Thabor

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Because of adverse weather in 2010, we had some unfinished business in the Maurienne. Mrs A had walked the Tour du Mont Thabor that summer, and she and I had been this year at half-term for a spot of downhill. But we all still wanted to have a crack at a circuit of Mont Thabor on skis that offpisteskiing had planned for us.

Our deliberations took so long that, by the time we tried to book flights to Chambery, they were over £300 return! Bridget had dropped out because of the plate still in her arm from last year's escapade so we were down to four. Why don't we go by car I suggested. So that's what we did - only it didn't quite work out so simple. We lost B but later gained Gilly which made us five again. She had to teach on Friday and Mrs A had to on Friday morning. So Andy came up with an intricate plan suitable for a military expedition.

Thursday, 29th March 2012
I drove to Andy's near Holmfirth in Yorkshire.

Friday, 30th March
We were to travel in his estate car leaving soon after 9 o'clock, but when Andy turned the ignition key and there was barely a click! We tried hard not to panic. The dashboard wouldn't even light up so the car was nowhere near starting. After borrowing a set up hefty jump leads we finally managed to get it going and, with some trepidation, set off for Lincoln. There we picked up John and his gear and drove straight to an auto-centre for a new battery. Then on to Ashford to pick up Mrs A who had caught us up by train and then on via the tunnel all the way to the F1 in Reims. Entertainment on the way was provided by the Aire d'Urvillers near St Quentin where the ridiculous layout meant we did 4 complete circuits before we found our way to the right bit of the car park.

Saturday, 31st March
Next, on to Chambery to pick up Gilly who was flying out. Somewhere after Dijon we detoured off the autoroute along what was, on the map, a scenic route. It turned out to be more of a wine buying route but we did pass a museum to Niepce (the inventor of photography) and ended up in Tournus for lunch. Setting off again we noticed an ominous bumping and grating from one of the back wheels. We stopped to check it out but couldn't do much so pressed on to Chambery where Gilly arrived about ½ hour late. The bumping and grinding continued but we made it to Termignon where we had booked an apartment at €400 (+ Taxe de Séjour) for eight days.

Sunday, 1st April
There was no chance of getting the car fixed on a Sunday so we had to do something else instead. Time for a leisurely warm up with a day trip to Val Cenis. Although there is a link from Termignon, we chose to drive to Lanselvillard where we were too late for the car park so ended up by the road. Not much snow on the south-facing slopes it seems:

Still, there was plenty of off-piste to go at - even if it had been tracked out - and we had it mostly to ourselves:

There seemed to be less snow than when we had visited previously and, ominously, the big lake at 2000m was mostly unfrozen. Still we had a good bat about and lingered until the end:

Monday, 2nd April
Time to set off. We had a long day ahead so we arrived early at Valfrejus in time to buy our Rando pass (now €12.50) and a coffee:

After a couple of lifts and some rattling around on very hard corduroy we set off over the back down the nice - but firmly shut - blue called Le Jeu:

This soon offered a fine view of our objective for the week. The large mountain near the middle is Mont Thabor which we planned to circuit and then summit:

Then came our first bit of uphill. At least there was some snow left for us but we had to pick our line to begin with:

We made it to the Col de la Vallée Étroit (2434m) for a late lunch. By now we were well into the clag and it felt quite warm - unnerving:

We knew that the day's destination was low but it was still disappointing to find out quite how far we had to walk. It took 1½ hours of on and off skiing. The last ¾ hour was just on foot - fortunately, mostly on a path and not as steep as this bit:

We travelled over 19km in the day including some lift-assisted:

Tuesday, 3rd April
We were the only group in the Refuge Tre Alpini (1790m) so we ended up with apéritifs and an extra course. Mrs A reckons it's better than the Refuge Re Magi over the road where she stayed before. We all took advantage of the shower at €1 a pop. However, the morning brought even more cloud and dampness:

Then, after a couple of hours of slog, the clouds cleared briefly in time for a snack:

But, by the time we stopped for lunch on the Col des Muandes (2828m), we were back in the thick of it. Fortunately, there was very little wind though. Primula anyone?

Dropping down the other side the snow was still sketchy but it wasn't too difficult to find a line.

But by the time we rolled into the Refuge des Drayères (2180m) at 14:20 the snow was getting very soft:

Wednesday, 4th April
Perhaps 4cm of snow fell in the night and there was even more cloud in the morning. We abandoned the idea of a summit bid on Roche Château and instead planned to suss out the route to the Col de Névache. We knew we had a long day on Thursday so were keen to get any advantage. All were reluctant to leave in the morning:

The clag was relentless and we were navigating almost solely by GPS:

Be warned! The blue line (ski route) on the map is getting on for 100m West of where it should be. We ended up skinning up a rather steep, narrow couloir with much swearing and cursing from the back of the group. Still, we all made it safely to the top where found we could walk along to the 'real' Col (2800m):

The ski back to Drayères was uneventful and we were home before 2 o'clock for more showers - €2 this time:

Thursday, 5th April
More snow fell in the night but the next morning things turned out better than we had hoped. Team Red & Black were soon under way:

At the Col de Névache we went straight up the ramp we had created for ourselves the day before. Meanwhile, the guide from Chamonix led his party of six french novices the long way round:

From the col we had a half-descent panorama of the Ecrins:

The North side of the col was steep and soft but we were soon into undulating terrain past the West face of Mt Thabor rising towards the Passage du Pic du Thabor (2952m):

Then round the Pic du Thabor, down a nice little pitch and then skins on for the third time:

We arrived at the Refuge du Mont Thabor (2502m) at 3 o'clock - earlier than we'd dare hope - and ahead of the French team Wink

Friday, 6th April
Most of the party had already summited Mont Thabor (Mrs A, twice) but Gilly hadn't been up and the weather promised some fine views so we stuck to the plan. Once again we were mixed up with the French group and their guide:

But as we got higher there seemed to be a cast of thousands - which added a little pressure to me putting in the route at the front:

The French guide had his honour to keep so took on the mantle at one of our catch-up stops. I'm sure his lungs are more used to it since the altitude of our front door is only 12m. Still, amongst the French and Italians, us Brits put on a descent show. (Good job there weren't a few Germans too to start a snowball fight Wink )

The cloud came and went but we still had a good view from the summit (3178m):

We basked in the sun eating our lunch and spent well over an hour near the summit but still we were the first group to descend. We had some fantastic snow until we dropped to the low point at 2350m where it was like porridge. Here's Mrs A and La Girafe:

We were back to the refuge by 14:30. During the winter there is no running water so punters are expected to fetch it from the lake some 200m and a fair bit of slope away. Gilly keeps an eye out for polar bears and Andy for tiger sharks while John fills the Jerry can:

A grand day out:

Saturday, 7th April
Our last day - and one to which we hadn't paid much attention. Although we had a route planned, I think we all expected to be exhausted and wanting to head straight down. Instead the weather was fine and we were all rearing for more as first light showed during breakfast:

More snow had fallen in the night, some of it horizontally, but the morning was cold and crisp as we set off:

The warming rays of the sun were welcome when they arrived:

We reached the Col des Bataillères (2782m) by 8:30 and were soon descending towards the Lac of the same name with some of the best 30 minutes of skiing that I can remember. Gilly is more used to shepherding school parties but she can follow a line:

Andy and Mrs A:

Mrs A:

We stopped at the foot of the lake and by 9:30 had finished our snack and were heading across country towards the Col des Sarrasins. The 1:25K IGN maps have blue dashed lines to mark recognised ski routes. Sometimes these become blue dots when the going is serious. But we were feeling bold now and decided to follow our noses instead. It turned out to be fairly easy but the intermittent visibility made picking our way around the lumps and hollows awkward:

By 12:30 we were on the Col des Sarrasins (2844m) where the snow was a bit thin. It was also cold and windy so getting the skins back in their bag was the more usual struggle. On the other side we had to walk down the summer path a way before we reached a patch of snow. Andy picked his own way through the drumlins and there was a slightly amusing 'Doctor Livingston' moment as we herringboned towards each other up a rise. Time to eek out the last of the Primula.

We were back on a blue line now but what we hadn't paid attention to was the short dotted section that we were about to arrive at. It's clearly the best way through but it's steep. After clambering over rocks you have to put your skis back on while standing on a slope that's a smidge under 30° (I had time to measure it while waiting for some to collect their thoughts). The slope is convex too so you can't see the runout - which all adds to the tension. Eventually, everyone was moving. The nervous took the easier gradient to the skier's right. Unfortunately, this led to some very soft snow which caused a good deal of floundering. At least it was a good surface for Gilly's crash course in sit turns! The better snow was on the steeper ground (perhaps 40°+) on the skier's left but this still led to rocks - which I avoided - and soft snow - which I didn't! Still, we all made it down in one piece:

Then it was onwards and downwards over some fairly heavy porridge to the track we had skinned up on day one where there was new avalanche debris filling the stream:

Then down the track back to the resort and the car for 3 o'clock. The snow came and went so we must have walked the last 20 minutes. Another great day, and memorable too!

We spread everything out to dry in the sun then loaded the car and drove - bumping and grinding - back to Termignon. We had plenty of time to shower and tidy up before a celebration meal in Le Sabot de Vénus:

Sunday, 8th April
Easter Sunday and no chance to get the car fixed so we just crossed our fingers and headed to Chambery to drop off Gilly. There were even more bumps and groans but we made it in plenty of time. The bearing seemed happier just cruising in a straight line so we stuck to the autoroute all the way back to another F1 in Cambrai.

Monday, 9th April
We made good time to the tunnel and then to Lincoln to drop off John. Our fingers must have been crossed enough because the car made it back to Holmfirth without any further problem. We transferred our gear to my van and drove back to Warrington, picking up the cats on the way. We were home by 7:30, rather tired but probably not as tired and certainly more relaxed than if we had flown.

Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Sat 14-04-12 18:25; edited 1 time in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I keep meaning to investigate Mt Thabor - thanks for posting
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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?
Great trip, some very nice pics... Thanks for taking time to share Very Happy
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You need to Login to know who's really who.
The numbers are now in and so for completeness...

The total cost of travel, meals, drinks and accommodation etc was shared equally between us and works out at £617 each (including a contribution to the new bearing fund). The only things extra were any personal spends and a lift pass for some at Val Cenis. Quite reasonable for a week's holiday I think.

The car covered 1918 miles using 233.11 litres of fuel at a sterling equivalent cost of £329.11. That’s 37.4 mpg and a cost per mile of just over 17p. The total cost of french tolls was €169.10.

Our route:

Edit: Forgot balance on apartment which we paid in cash.

Last edited by You need to Login to know who's really who. on Thu 19-04-12 14:21; edited 2 times in total
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
altis, you didn't add in the cost of the team red jackets Wink

Nice TR Smile

Last edited by Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do. on Wed 18-04-12 18:01; edited 1 time in total
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 You'll need to Register first of course.
You'll need to Register first of course.
altis, sweet Happy
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
There's a twist to the end of this tail...

Last year, Summit (the BMC's in-house magazine) ran an article on ski touring. 'Escape the crowds: our top ten ski tours' proclaimed the cover.

We ripped off the plastic and eagerly started flipping through. Yay - number four is Mont Thabor! And Andy Perkins has even come up with a picture like mine... very much like mine... in fact, hang on a minute!

Emails were batted back and forth and the editor, Alex Messenger, apologised saying they'd just used the image as a placeholder and had intended to replace it with another. Then, because of lack of time and pressing deadlines it slipped though.

Funny then that they had enough time to go Googling for a suitable image and then crop off the copyright notice round the edge! They can't have been expecting another photo from Andy Perkins - he's never been to Mont Thabor - so how or why it was attributed to him I can only speculate.

For our trouble we won a guide book and an instructional DVD from the BMC shop and the promise of an apology in the next issue. Of course, said apology never appeared.

I used to hold the BMC in high regard with respect for the work they do for British mountaineering but this episode has left a nasty taste.

Next time I'll just slap in a bill for £500 for unauthorised use.

Last edited by Then you can post your own questions or snow reports... on Fri 31-01-14 14:23; edited 2 times in total
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!

Bill them now - or better yet sue them.

I'd love to see the BMC editor / CEO pop up on here and try to talk her way out of this one...
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 You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
red 27 wrote:

I'd love to see the BMC editor / CEO pop up on here and try to talk her way out of this one...

Maybe he'll do what a well known ex-BBC stringer did when I found he'd copied an article of mine - he'll accuse you of stealing HIS photograph!

Shocking but these people have no shame.
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