Serre Chevalier Mountain Blog
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Saturday 26th March - Chill Out Day, Briancon
Of course nothing to do with the late night at Mojo's on Friday, or the fact that the team were somewhat tired after their "big" day on Friday (see images in the Friday blog below).
I actually left Mojo's before everyone else to "walk" home on crutches, a mere mile, but felt and lasted ten times as long, think the beer and wine might have helped along with the pain killers!
Bing left early for the airport (Turin) to drop Andy off and collect Tracy & Loulou on the incoming flight. He left here at 08:00 and made it in an one hour 40 - so much faster than Grenoble though it's a similar distance.
Jes and Tim packed all their kit and loaded the van along with my bike & kit. Then we headed off for Tim's retail therapy.
He was after some All Mountain skis with touring bindings & skins for his son, and this is the time of year to buy kit as all the shops are offering discounts in the 30-40% range. First couple of shops didn't quite have the right gear and tried "selling" Tim some unsuitable kit, so we headed off to the big sports shop next to the Super Market in the Centre Commercial. In there was a really helpful & knowledgeable Swede (perfect English) who helped Tim in his quest. End of season deals galore and have to say I might go back and get some X-Country kit as that well might be all I'll be able to do next year!
From there went up to the old Town where you get a superb view of the "piste" coming back down into the center of town, not too sure how much longer it's going to survive with the rain that is forecast for this week.
Not too sure if I should be doing all this walking, but the splint / brace thing I wear is pretty rock solid, though you can't really see it from the photo, it's all very steep which made it even tougher, mind you suppose extreme walking is probably one of the other activities I'll only be able to do over the next 12 months or so!
We found a nice bar in the square and chilled in the hot sunshine. The others were none too fussed about going for an afternoon on the piste so we told Bing where we were and waited for them to arrive en route from Turin, as Loulou sort of remembered the old Town and where we were.
All back to the apartment and the Wootton was certainly chilled, even suggested he might want to take my bike for a quick cycle up to the Col du Lautaret, but he declined. After lunch in the apartment I was dropped off down at the Grotte whilst the others were all going to walk down.
Now a few days ago the Grotte was really "happening" with loads of people outside making the most of the warm weather, with a band playing and various ski / board bums building kickers and the like, so I had sort of "bigged" it up to Loulou. Only trouble was that it was a Saturday, which means change over day, so zero people and those that were there were inside watching the Wales / England match, not good, and did in a moment of panic think that Loulou might have thought it was a plan hatched all along so we could indeed watch the football!
Anyway by the time they turned up more people arrived and the terrace area became quite busy, then as the sun went in we decamped inside for quite a few more jugs of beer (happy hour). Elaine walked back to get the van to give me a lift home (Angel), though was none to pleased to get home and find out that I had the van key and she could not find the other one*. So Jes to the rescue, he went back with my key and Elaine came and gathered us all up, just as well as it was starting to get a wee bit messy, seem to recall seeing Bing dancing on a table.
Then a Baylis/Bing/Tracy joint cooking production, actually me getting him to chop all the meat & onions/garlic up for a sort of paella (frying pan not large enough for rice as well) which I think went down well.
*Key later found by Loulou in Elaine's ski jacket, so not guilty as previously charged
Hope to load more images up when I get to a WiFi bar later as this text is uploaded via Mobile.
Friday 25th March - Team on their way back
Team on their way back from three days in Gran Paradiso. Staying in Refuge at 2734ms and various climbs, with today peaking at the summit at 4062ms having to use rope, crampons.
Tim showing that it is indeed possible to work whilst being on top of the highest mountain in Italy - Prima Donna or what!
Gnarly traverse back from the summit!
Another sunny day! Went skiing this morning - all sorts of snow, from cold and cruddy to warm and slushy. Back at 12 noon down quite surpsingly nice spring snow before it turned to water to have tea with Himself at the appartment.
Just finishing off feature for next issue of Epicurean Life and arranging fashion show for April 17th. So quite a hard day, then, at the bar, I mean, office!
The Dog's Blag
Been playing with my new friends at the Aigle - barman gave me some very strange tennis balls to play with - which They called a lemon and a lime. Made me pucker up and suck in my whiskers! A bottle of Sol would have been nice!!
Thursday 24th March - Vallouise / La Grotte 25 degrees!
Different type of touring today, by van!
Went up the Pelvoux Valley below Puy St Vincent for a Mountain Salade. Weather really warm, and quite depressing seeing loads of cyclists out making the most of the warm weather. Once again bringing the bike out here has seen me only get one ride in, as Elaine has so kindly reminded me!
Sussing out various Mountain Races that I will not be doing!
Then back to La Grotte where people were chilling in the afternoon sunshine, building some kickers and listening to some live music, all very nice, but I'd rather be with my mates skinning up to 4,000ms
In La Grotte where two people were hitting a small white ball on a table. When it dropped off, yay, I could pick it up and run as fast as i could up the slushy snowy slope with everyone chasing after. Good game!
Haven't found any scrap metal today so not very profitable but did come across this small hairy thing that I tried to chase. It ran, then stopped and just looked at me so I felt sorry for it and let it go. Honest!
Tuesday 22nd March - Helicopter to Briancon Hospital
Quite tough writing the blog, stuck here in the apartment (for the next two and a bit weeks) whilst my mates are over in Itlay ski touirng Gran Paradiso hoping to get a 4,000ms summit.
So what was the sequence of events that happened yesterday to see me once more "fecked" in the Mountains.
Seem to recall that the original plan when we were over in La Grave on Monday was that we were going to get the lift up all the way to the top of the Glacier then drop down as if we were going to St Christophe but then put the skins on climb up to Col du Replat then ski down pass Refuge Chatelleret finishing up in La Berarde and a taxi home, however as often happens in the Mountains plans do not always work out!
First thing in the morning Per, our guide contacted us to say the weather over there (La Grave) was really bad with strong winds and low cloud so would not be a good option, we dismissed various other options due to the weather. In fact at one point it was looking like a day of skiing here in Serre Chevallier without Per guiding us. However the weather this side of the Col du Lautaret as is so often the case was not too bad, and we decided on a ski tour up a big North facing mountain further up the valley that none of us had done before, and hopefully score some more powder!
We left the vans just below the village of Le Lauzet at 1600m and started on our way at 09:30. We climbed at a steady pace up the Fontenil Valley having frequent stops averaging around 330m per hour. We had a picnic break at 2,500, just below a Col (Pointe de l'Etenard) that a couple of skiers then came over and skied down pass us which whetted our appetities for what lay in store for us.
We then had a further 400m to climb to reach a ridge above a superb powder field, and that will go down as one of the toughest climbs ever, as it was deep powder, steep and narrow so as you can see we had a fair few kick turns to put in which at times was really demanding.
Jes on his splitboard found it really hard going and had to admit defeat as the steep traverse and subsequent kick turns were just not splitboard friendly. Then Phil packed in as conditions became ever tougher, though he did well as he readily admits to not being in the best of condition, but still did over 1,000ms vertical, not bad for a first day warm up as he only joined us the night before!
So that left Per out ahead breaking a track, with Andy, Tim, Bing and I attempting to follow. We finally reached the ridge at 2960 so 1,350ms - a big day.
Into downhill mode for what turned out to be a memorable descent, and not just for the powder. First incident was not far from the top with Andy ripping up the slope and taking his inevitable fall but this time his ski came off and the brakes jammed so it started to hurtle down the slope. Per was a fair distance below so he lept into action and skied across the slope to a point where hopefully he could intercept the ski, which by now was a lethal weapon picking up speed all the time. Timing it to perfection, he used his poles to flip the ski over as it shot past him, thereby saving Andy a very very tough descent on one ski, though knowing Per he would have given Andy his ski and skied down on one just as well!
Bing meanwhile had shot down the face skiing it full on like the stuff you see on extreme freeride videos. And that's what it's all about skiing deep steep powder you just have to have total confidence, ski the fall line hard & fast, speed is your friend, something Tim too has sussed over the last couple of days.
Bing in full flight!
Really was skiing at it's best and as I was on the final run out the snow became a little heavy as the gradient flattened off, I caught my tip and the ski dug in and with me going forward, the momentum twisted my leg, I howled in pain as I flet my knee go then I ended up in a heap. I knew I'd done my knee badly but I also had the additional problem of a lost ski (again).
Tim still coming down joined me as Andy ripped past oblivious to what was going on. We got the shovels out and started digging, down below the others were jeering their voices of encouragement, and Per, ever patient put his skins on and started the climb back up to us. There was then a shout from Per, he'd spotted my ski a fair way below me on the surface. So walked back down to it, feeling that my knee was not too good.
Once with Per I explained that I'd done my knee, but I felt I could stll go on down if I took it slowly. I weakly skied for three or four minutes and I felt the knee go again on a turn, and that was that, I knew I was "fecked".
Per being Per attempted to get me off the Mountain, first method involved me sitting on my shovel with me being roped to him and he skiing behind me, but that was never really going to work as at times I'd have to dig my leg in. We then thought about using Jes's snowboard, but I knew we were still a fair way up and it was a long way down, so I more or less insisted that we call the Helicopter.
This time, unlike last year, I knew I was insured for the worse, plus I was with a guide and I had bomb proof insurance. Though Per did explain that the Heli is an emergency rescue service and like our own UK Mountain rescue, one does not get charged as we were in the Mountains and not in a ski resort area where you would be charged.
I rang Elaine up as she was back in the apartment to ask if she's heard / seen the Heli flying up the valley, she said no, so I then advised her that the one she would see / hear coming back down would have me in it!
I've been up close to a Heli rescue before, so knew what to expect, it comes in and drops two medics off who assess the situation and then backs off whilst the injured party is prepared by the medics. In our case the two medics also asked how good the powder was that we'd done as like all the Police Mountain rescue guys they appreciated what we'd been doing.
As the heli came back in to collect me, like the first time the wind kicked up by the rota baldes along with the snow & ice was like being in the strongest blizzard you could just about survive. The rest of the guys were well away off to the side and were taking video and pictures with their phones & cameras.
The heli flew me the ten minutes or so back down the valley landing on the helipad atop Briancon Hospital. From there I was stretchered off and down into A&E. I had all the right cards and docs (E111 & Insurance details) with me so they could see I was covered. Then had a wait while a skier was brought in after me but was in a much worse condition after a collision on the piste..
Eventually I was taken up to X-ray and then the Doctor had a quick look only to advise me of what I'd already diagnosed that I'd broken various crucial ligaments and that I'd eventually need surgery. But in the meantime they have to wait 15 days for the trauma to receed before an MRI scan to see what has actually happened in the knee. I'm still out here for another 18 days so I did touch base with my insurance company to see what will happen, and they are not sure that I would be covered for that, so have forwarded them on the various paper work which says I need one in 15 days. I'm thinking best to get it done here as in the UK I might have to wait etc
So that's the end of my skiing for this year, and I'm not going to get to use the bike either! I know I'm now in for a long and arduous process to get fit again and will be lucky if I can even ski "hard n'fast" this time next year after surgery / rehab etc and after two years of being crocked on the trot here what would next year have in store for me?
Bing is still out here next week with his Tracy and Loulou (Twin one) who arrive on Saturday and the week after Siggy (Twin Two) arrives with her boyfriend Carl, so at least Elaine will have some company on the Mountain and I'll have someone to help pack all the kit in the van!
What can I say? Here we go again?
Guess it'll be ME driving all the way back (and it'll be ME cleaning the apartment and bringing everything down 100 steps for packing up the van)? And dealing with a gumpy Le Gav again for a few months. Again! Remembering the Cliff jump last year and the broken leg in Andorra, a few years before that..
Ho bloody hum.
But better than being wiped out in an avalanche.....If shit has to happen it could be worse!!
Meanwhile, it is soooo hot here, been sunbathing on the balcony after taking Le Kiki for a long walk and shopping. Now need to catch up on some work at The Aigle (Cross Channel Ferry) Bar. Not fussed re skiing on my own as we have done a lot up to now. But looking forward to Lou and Tracy coming, then Sigs and Carl. Oh and three course Masterchef dinners cooked by Himself with nothing else to do!
The Dog's Blag
Been taking what I likey, looking for scrap metal that I can use for trading. Yesterday, scrounged a two Euro piece which I exchanged for half a Pringle. Good deal, no? Been surrounded by testerone-fueled Himselfs (six of them) and have been trying to keep up dogfully. Managed two licks out of a pint glass, last night, and fell asleep sitting up. Bow wowzer!!
PS: I'm really in the Man House now, something to do with me chewing a blue piece of paper with the number 20 on it and the words Euro?
Monday 21st March - La Grave
Great to be back in La Grave in the winter, last summer when up on the glacier on a climb up to Le Rateau the Glacier de la Girose was looking like a piste, nearly all the crevasses were filled. I was keen to find out if the snow at altitude had escaped the damage of the poor winter snowfall.
Up to P3, followed by the T - bar drag up to the top and then down the glacier and in to lightly tracked powder, great to let the board run straight in the powder, head over to Chancel and down the Partou Couloir. Friday's slide had stripped the fresh snow, however, the couloir rarely sees the sun and the snow was firm and hard with plenty of grip. The steep rock sides of the couloir make it quite spectacular with the frozen lake part covered in the avalanche debris. The rescuers excavation sites could clearly be seen, a sobering reminder of the mountains awesome power.
Chancel meant one thing, the traverse back to P1, Per commented that it was a bad as it gets and on a board I have to agree, it's been a few years since I last 'enjoyed' the
traverses in such poor condition, hard frozen snow with bumps, it didn't disapoint!
Back up to P3 and across the Girose Glacier, skins on, split board working well, transition routine getting tweaked and quicker. A powder run across the glacier awaited.
Per reminded us the terrace of the P3 restaurant would be watching our tracks, if we screwed up, we'd have to hang a left and head back down to Chancel and skip lunch. The photos should confirm the team performed and we checked in to the restaurant for a late lunch.
After lunch it was back down Vallon to P2 and up again to P3 for a shorter version of our earlier skin up, more powder..... down across the glacier and take the lower col from Chancel to Vallons and back along the higher traverse to P2 and back down to Castillian for a apres ski beer.
All in all another hard (great) day in the office!
Photos one day will follow - but too tired to go out to WIFI bars etc
Sunday 20th March - Serre Off Piste
So the "Team" have arrived, and a few members were a wee bit lent over this morning after staying on to watch both rugby matches. And did we find some powder........
Few piste runs to warm up then a twenty five minute hike to find a couple of pitches, then back down to the new Vallons chair to hike up Cucumelle, plan being wait and see at the top to determine if North or South face, as sun was doing its stuff so could be good spring snow.
Once at the top we decided on the North face and that was a good call. As ever various snow pack, but on the whole very good.
Once we'd gone about 500ms vertical we looked back to see what we'd done and what we'd missed (see photo below) so on with the skins to skin up to do that.
And great lines were had!
Day one for me as a new client, of Another Hard Day In The Office Alpine Tours. Our Aspirant 'guide' Le Gav, sensibly retired early last night along with me and Bing. The other two members of the crew returned early this morning from bar duty, woke us up, etc.
Le Gav had a plan, i'll let one of the other correspondents tell you about the snow etc
As always it's about preparation and getting bladdered is not always the best preparation, As the morning wore on it was clear one of the two stalwarts from last nights victuals was a little off the pace!
As I type this I am under threat of a defamation action if I publish my version, so I'll leave it there!
For me the new split touring snowboard worked well, the skins are much better than my old Burton split board and going uphill was a treat, just need to tweak the transition skills from board to skins and back to board.
We found a variety of snow that came close to covering the whole spectrum of snow conditions, powder, crust, etc
All in all a great first day in the office of 'Le Gav'!
BING - retired early last night as knackered after long drive, tooka beating from Tim and Andy when they returned in the early hours of the morning, especially as I never unloaded and walked Andys Bags from the car upto the apt....
Scored some great snow and looking forward to the next few days as sure there is more fun to be had......
Bed early for us ALL TONIGHT as big day tom.
Peace and love Bing x