Val d'Arpette to Trient, Switzerland, April 5, 2008
There was no particular hurry getting up from our comfortable beds at the Relais d'Arpette, since we were the only guests that night and hence there was no competition for breakfast tables. We ate our fill and geared up, aiming at the obvious notch at the far end of the Val d'Arpette that was plainly visible from the dining room.
The weather was perfect for touring, and we shed most of our layers on the skin up to the Col des Escandies. I was trying to keep pace with Lowell, who with his long legs and high level of fitness required me to increase my turnover rate about 15 percent and who still would drop me whenever he got excited, but we got to the top of the col in what seemed like no time. One unfortunate aspect of touring in Switzerland, at least in this part of the Alps, is that helicopter and skid plane skiing is permitted, and on a bluebird day like this there were plenty of aircraft - probably one every fifteen minutes or so. Christian had, as usual, a strong sentiment about air approaches - "If they get too close, they will get my ice axe between their eyes . . . " but we came to understand his bias pretty quickly. It really kills the vibe to have planes and helis circling over you constantly in such a beautiful spot.
The west side of the Col des Escandies was really boney, so we booted it down to a nice traverse which led us around the Petite Point d'Ornay. Then it was a quick but steep skin up to the Plateau du Trient, the smooth upper part of the Trient Glacier. Skid planes were making repeated landings on this part of the plateau, approaching from lower down on the glacier and landing uphill until their speed was reasonable, then making a U-turn and dropping of their passengers. We continued around the larger Point d'Ornay proper to the Cabane de Trient, where many Haute Route skiers spend night 1 of their trip.
The Trient Hut was pretty much deserted except for the staff, with all the skiers out somewhere along the route, so we kicked it and ordered up a storm - sandwiches, rösti (hash brown potatoes with onion), drinks and more. We took our time eating and just wandering around the hut, which would come to life later in the afternoon when the guests showed up.
After skiing down to the Plateau du Trient, where Pierre and Elena were relaxing in the sun, we broke trail due west toward the Col du Pissoir (yes, the Piss Pass of Europe!) which is right on the border between France and Switzerland. Rounding the corner, we looked upon a huge expanse that is the Glacier des Grands, easily half a mile wide and a steady 30-35 degrees for an uninterupted 1,000 meters - over 3,000 vertical feet! It was a wonder the heli crowd hadn't thrashed it, but only two tracks marred the pristine powder field, and we could hardly contain ourselves. The ski down was, well, EPIC. No one in our group could recall seeing such a run in our years of skiing experience.
When we emerged at the bottom of the run and looked back at the snout of the Trient Glacier, all we could do was shake our heads. We again dodged rocks and running water until we arrived at the small but obviously wealthy village of Trient. Most of the homes appeared to be only sporadically used, but had been built in the typical alpine style (stone foundations that extend to most of the first level, topped with massive wood beams and natural wood paneling for the uppper stories) with obvious care. We walked by a couple of workmen putting in an exquisite bit of waterfall landscaping of natural stones and couldn't help wish WE lived there.
Another cell phone call to the cab, which was again a bus large enough to accomodate all of us, and we were (after a drink) off to Chamonix. Except there is some weird law against taking more than 10 passengers over the border in a car-for-hire, so we had to let two people off just out of sight of the border guards, drive over into France a kilometer or so, let two more people off to wait by the side of the road, then go back for the first two . . .