End of November and there was actually some snowfall, enough to envisage a decent outing after our first test. Having heard that Courchevel was opening the lifts for free on Saturday, we soon had an ambitious plan. Starting from “Courch” we would gain enough height to start skiing and thus cross the mountain region separating us from the Modane valley. The objective: Dôme de Polset. Ambitious because the route we had found gave a three days timing, stopping at two different refuges before a very long third day, including summit and return.
So once again J., JB. and myself where up earlier than most sane people on a weekend. After parking, we were on the first lift up, taking us up past the skiers on the lower slopes, scraping their kit on the stones poking out of the groomed slopes. The view opened up before us, with the long, rounded shape of the Dômes de Vanoise on our left. Dead south was our objective, the Dôme de Polset rising out of the mountains in front. After a false start we started the traverse. Having made use of the lifts, meant we were actually further from the start than the normal route, a distance we had to make up as soon as possible. After a couple of hours we were able to leave slopes and the artificial constructions behind. Although very sunny there was irregular amounts powder, which we had to push through to make the tracks. Other animals had also been on there way, leaving multiple patterns in the soft snow.
As we descended into the first valley we came across bare patches of rock and grass. With some careful manoeuvring we were able to continue without damaging the skis too much. As the hours went by we crossed a long flattish plateau, before arriving at the Col de Chanrouge which gives access to the next section. As we cleared the top, we could see a fox jumping through the snow. This explained many of the tracks we had seen earlier. Following the animal, we skied down without taking our skins off before continuing forward. By this point we had left the first refuge far behind and were heading towards the refuge de Peclet-Polset. This meant that we would have managed to gain a day’s march on the scheduled route.
Arriving at the Col des Fonds, the last important obstacle between us and the refuge we looked down on the Lac Blanc. Up until this point all the north faces had been in quite good conditions, with untransformed light snow. It was quite another story for the south faces, which had bene in the sun for several days. This had translated into a hard crust on a layer of soft powder. Impossible to ski correctly on light, flimsy rando kit. Sweating from the effort we got down just as darkness fell, the sun setting behind the Dôme, high above now on our right. Bordering the lake in the dark, my bindings started to play up. When I finally got them working again it was pitch black. Meanwhile the others had been searching for the refuge. A quick map check and we headed out slightly south-east, our headlamps poking into the gloom. Suddenly the square shape of the refuge made itself apparent. Pleased with the progress made during the long day we soon got inside and made supper, bottle of red wine included. Discussing next day’s objective, we were of divided opinion about the possibility of getting to the summit and back to the car before nightfall…
Next morning we were out in the snow by 6, only to find the temperature had just kept rising since the previous day. With the mercury definitely above zero the powder had turned into thick slush. We headed out and it was soon apparent it was going to be a long march. As I checked my sole I found I already had several kilos of snow stuck to the skins. Going forward with this much weight was just impossible. Luckily we had a small candle, and by rubbing it vigorously along the skins managed to keep them almost snow free. This process had to be repeated every several hours to replace the wax as it wore off. Getting out of the valley via a slightly steeper slope we got to the choosing point: continue towards the Dôme, adding both distance and height, or cut across the Col du Soufre and start heading back. Decisions, decisions..! Although taking into account the terrible snow, the worsening weather and distance to get back, there was really only one sensible option.
Skiing down the Glacier de Gebroulaz we managed to make some headway before picking our way through an ever thinner snow cover. Finishing off by a riverbed, we criss-crossed, (and in some cases fell in the small stream) before getting back out into the open. Strapping into our bindings, all that was left was the ascent back up to Chanrouge, the traverse of the flat valley before making our way across the ski station. Easier said that done. With both light and snow fading away into nothing as we got the bottom the last grass covered slopes, we navigated out way through million euro chalets before getting to the car.
All in all a couple of days of beautiful mountains, terrible snow and a considerable amount of evil denivel, readying ourselves for the season (hopefully) to come.