Bel Oiseau, Switzerland, January 7, 2006
We decided we should do a day of ski touring. After initially making plans to drive down-valley to a unique limestone range, we changed plans when the weather report indicated better conditions to the east of Chamonix, so we loaded up the cars and headed over the border to Switzerland. Christian's girlfriend Karine, a willowy blonde with the aerobic fitness of an elite marathoner, decided to join us so it was "game on."
Kam, who has been strictly a tele skier for about the past six years, decided to rent a rando setup for the day and determined to give the locked heel a fair shake.
We drove through the beautiful small towns of Argentière and Valorcine, hit the Swiss border where of course the guards asked for passports (no other country in the EU seems to care anymore) and veered off the road to the left a few kilometers later. We ended up in some tiny, rustic town that seemed to have no name, where we followed the road to its conclusion and found perhaps twenty cars parked helter-skelter next to and even it the road. Christian told us the place where we parked was called Fin Haut, or End of the High.
The first fifteen minutes or so of the ascent was three abreast up a small road, then we headed up the slope on a well-defined skintrack.
Once we entered the upper bowl, there was a choice of two primary objectives - we opted for the more popular one, the col at center left in the large photo at top, which seemed to offer a wider variety of descents and less objective avalanche danger. The skintrack was smooth and hard, and as we neared the top became a problem in terms of skin traction, but we reached the top with efficient short strides and joined about a dozen other ski tourists.
After a lunch of baguettes and pâte de lapin washed down with Gatorade, Christian decided we needed a little more vertical and set off up the rocky ridge to the north. It later turned out that he had misread the map and thought we were on another peak, and the promising looking ski descents he had seen on the topo were actually to the south of us - after a bit of shaky climbing in ski boots, we arrived at the top and found no obvious good lines to ski, so we did a sketchy sideslip and traverse to regain the col, much to the amusement of the cheering skiers watching us (see middle two photos in the row above). Part way through this exercise, Christian released a good-sized slab of consolidated snow that rumbled into the valley below, precipitating a pivotal pre-marital moment with Karine, but we all arrived back at the col safely.
Being late in the afternoon, the ski down took place largely in the shade, but there were some good powder moments interspersed with heavily tracked skiing.
Lower down involved some thick sun crust and of course the icy ski down the road, but we were all glad to have experienced skiing in yet another country. Kam was impressed with the efficiency of the AT gear, both for uphill kick turns and no-fall descending, and decided to go back to the "dark side" at least part time . . .