Off the beaten track
27th May 2010
PlanetSKI reporter, Christine Schams, completed a day’s ski tour from Chamonix in France to Champex in Switzerland at the end of last season. She took in The Col du Passon, Col SuperiÃ¨ure du Tour, and Col des Ecandies. All in one day.
Standing in line for the first cable car to the top of the Grand Montet, 3 275m, I felt a little underdressed with only a few carabiners and slings on my harness.
Most people had a lot of serious metal kit clanking on theirs; nothing like a bit of kit envy.
Setting off from the top at 9.30 am along the Glacier des Rognons we managed to ski some nice powder turns before heading over the Glacier d’Argentière to the start of the first climb, the Col du Passon.
I knew the drill: skis off, skins on, take some layers off, skis on, and eat while doing it.
We started traversing along and up in beautiful morning sunshine with fantastic views.
I had to keep my eyes focused on the track to keep my nerve as it was quite exposed.
In fact it was bloody steep!
The last 150m or so of the climb were too steep for skis which meant boot packing: skis off, skins off, crampons on, ice axe out, attach skis to rucksack, and eat while doing it.
There were at least 15 people in a tight spot doing the same thing and trying not to knock each other out but the atmosphere was very friendly.
Being a fast team of only two we managed to squeeze ahead of everybody else and trudged up the steep couloir.
Thankfully, the crampons and ice axe gripped well so it was not too nerve wracking.
As this was not a day for slackers we headed straight off.
You might have guessed, crampons off, skins on, skis on, eat while doing it, and head off for the traverse of the Glacier du Tour.
My heart sank when I saw the Col Superièure du Tour, 3 289 m,the second climb of the day, it looked steep and long and I was starting to get tired.
How on earth was I going to do a third climb after that?
Anyway, with the help of some power food and the spectacular scenery I made it to the top.
The view of the next stretch, the large Plateau du Trient, was a great reward.
It struck me that with this kind of travel the scenery changes dramatically every few hours as one enters a new valley.
Also, we had hardly seen anybody since we left the Col du Passon behind, we were off the beaten (ski-touring) track.
Then, some more of the usual routine, skis off, skins off, skis back on, eat and take a photo.
We continued with a long traverse over the large deep powder plateau to where the glacier flows over the edge and forms some very impressive crevasses.
A few more powder turns before we arrived at the last climb of the day, the Col des Ecandies, 2 796 m.
Thankfully, it involved only a relatively short, steep stretch of boot packing but also meant, skis off and attach to rucksack, crampons on, ice axe out and head up.
We reached the top at 3.30 pm, it felt good and it was only going to be downhill from here.
I tried to get some black crows (the birds) to sit on my Black Crows (the skis) but they were not interested in the photo opportunity, only in my salami!
The last run took us through the Val d’Arpettes to Champex in Switzerland.
The taxi we had called from the top of the col drove us the long and bendy road to the train station in Martigny.
We had just enough time for a well-deserved beer while waiting for the The Mont-Blanc Express.
The train followed a spectacular route back to Argentière and we were back at our car by 7 pm, eleven hours after we had started.
This was a strenuous tour but fantastic.
I enjoyed travelling under my own steam through four different valleys and from France to Switzerland.
In addition, once past the first col we hardly saw anybody else.
It is this solitude which which makes ski touring so special.
It can no longer be guaranteed on many of the classic ski touring routes like, for example, the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, Touring is becoming increasingly popular.
Verdict; hard, hard work but well, well worth it.
Cost of the guide €350/day; Grand Montet single ticket: €21; Taxi from Champex to Martigny: sFr 80; Train from Martigny to Argentière: sFr 27.