P1070618tour ski comb edit1-2Laurent Soyis carving down the Glacier du Tour (click images to enlarge!)

There has been a lot of new snow high up, yet with the Aiguille du Midi lift closed good options for early season ski touring in the Chamonix area are limited. Nevertheless with my imminent move back to Scotland to train for the British Mountain Guides winter test, I am rather keen to get out sliding while I can. Over this weekend inordinate amounts of snow have fallen right down to the valley floor. So today, like many others we skinned up to the Tête de Balme above La Tour in gale force winds. Last thursday however was a different story, and the snow-line was somewhat higher at 1800m, and so a great option seemed to get up onto the Tour Glacier and see what the snow was like up there.

P1070019laurent skinning-3Laurent skinning up the Glacier du Tour under the morning sun

Laurent and I left the car at dawn and hiked up the steep summer path in trainers, with the skis, boots and other equipment on our backs. It wasn’t far before we were into the snow, scrambling up the steeper gully section then traversing to the base of the moraine which forms the right bank of the Glacier du Tour. We carried on up in trainers another hundred metres or so, punching through hollow yet deep snow to the rocky trail beneath. Soon we got skis on and skinned awkwardly up steep hard snow on the side of the moraine. Only when we got to below the Albert 1er refuge did we finally get onto softer snow and into the sunshine!

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Laurent on the Glacier du Tour with the Aiguilles Rouges in the background

It had been much windier than I had expected and once we got out onto the glacier, in exposed places the snow had been beaten down into a stiff layer of sastrugi, yet in the shelter of ridges of cliffs there remained a good layer of softer snow. Travelling up the glacier was easy on the hard snow and we soon got to the Col du Midi des Grands and the Swiss border. Here there was a brief section of scrambling with skis off, and we took the opportunity for a scenic lunch stop. Also from this vantage point we could see there was a blustery wind up on the Plateau du Trient, so it seemed a good opportunity to take a break in the shelter.

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Laurent skinning above seracs on the Plateau du Trient

The wind died down  a bit and we traversed round onto the Plateau, which affords stunning views across much of upland Switzerland. By this point however Laurent was starting to look a little worse for wear, probably as he wasn’t acclimatised and we were up at 3300m.

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Laurent have a bit of a sufferfest…

We carried on to the base of the Aiguille du Tour and Laurent hung out with a groggy head while I scrambled up. At the summit I didn’t pause long as it was windy. It took a little longer than expected as the rocky ridge was plastered with loose aerated snow, making it difficult to know where one was on solid ground.

P1070552ben summitOn the Aiguille du Tour. 

Laurent was looking much better when I got back down to him. The hard packed snow was beginning to soften in the sun. Although it had a curious texture it was a delight to ski. We dropped back down though the Col Supérieur du Tour into France and Laurent was skiing like a weapon so I took the time to snap away some shots.

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Laurent charging down to the Col du Tour

We weaved a gorgeous line back down the through the glacier on varied snow, past the hut and back down to our trainers…. only to find they had gone! There was only one set of footprints other than ours, and we could see a group of three folk only ten minutes below us. Laurent charged on down on his skis on heather, rock and a bit of wet snow to accost them. They turned out to be Italian and after some gesticulation relinquished their booty. Bizarre. We were pretty pleased to have trainers back on our feet and scuttled back on down the path in the afternoon sun.