Touring on telemarks, journey’s end
4th August 2010 | Philip Maddox
In the final part of the classic mountain top tours between Chamonix and Zermatt we hear of World War Two battles, some very hard touring and more altitude sickness.
Philip Maddox is leading a group of telemarkers on a ski mountaineering tour. They are taking in some of the high peaks around Chamonix and Zermatt.
For the final instalment then read on……..
Day 6 – The next day was a tour with an historical bent.
Sometime early on in World War Two the German Mountain Troops led an assault up hill.
From Courmayeur, on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massive, up to the Torino Hut that is balanced precariously on the edge of the Mer De Glace.
The glacier divides the mountain between Italy & France and during the war the Germans attempted to cross the glacier and invade France from high up in the Alps and down into Chamonix.
Communications issues, inherent to such terrain, urgent messages regarding equipment requirements, shortages of ammo and men, plus the lack of support for the initial assault up to Torino hut enabled the French time to amass their own Mountain Troops.
They arrived at the top of their side of the mountain, Aguille de Midi, before the Germans.
There was a hard fought battle on top of the Mer de Glace, resulting in the French keeping their side and the Germans retreating back down the hill to Courmayeur to re-think their next move.
So, with the scene set, we set out from the Torino hut to cross the glacier underneath famous routes such as the Tour Ronde North face and Rochefort Ridge.
Then further on, the Pyramide du Tacul, Mt Blanc du Tacul and the Cheri Couloir before hitting the Cosmique hut. We then circled round under the Cosmique Arete before coming up the very steep col just below the lift station of Aguille de Midi.
At over 3,800m this is a very noticeable point of interest within the Chamonix sky line and normally a very good target to get your bearings – unfortunately none of these points were visible as the cloud was in and it was a white-out most of the day.
Well I earned my money that day. It was uphill all day which had about 350m height gain and took about 5hrs and, although not a long tour, it was demanding due to the lack of visibility, poor weather and constant gradient.
We drove back from Chamonix to Les Contamines and discussed the next few days’ tours.
Although by now I had made the decision not to attempt the Haute Route I still, as was the case for the rest of the group, wanted to attempt some of the other famous summits in the Swiss Alps.
So, we planned to drive back over to Saas Grund, just below Saas Fee, and stay in a hotel and get up the hill early the next morning.
Day 7 – In the morning we took the Allalin Express lift and train to just below 3,600m and toured round and up the Allalinhorn.
At a little over 4,100m it is a very accessible and non technical 4,000’er.
With Nick fully recovered he joined the party again. We set off roped up all the way to the summit in just over 3hrs. Bob Lovett was still feeling the effects of altitude but was in fine form and made the summit with only a little difficulty.
An added bonus for ski mountaineers is the chance to ski acres of virgin powder snow below some of the fine summits they have just reached; this occasion was to be no exception, the ski descent was amazing.
We skied in really good powder snow all the way down to the middle lift station at “Furi” where we got the lift down to the Langfluh hut.
WOW, what a way to finish a days touring.
We were booked into the Langfluh hut and seeing as it was only 1pm we chilled out on the terrace, dried our kit, discussed repair kits, and what is in each other’s sacks before coffee and cake.
Day 8 – This day was to be our last day on the hill and to date the longest with most amount of height gain.
We were to attempt the Alphubel, at 4,207m this was a height gain and was a 1,335m up hill climb all the way from the hut to the summit.
‘Flippin heck’ I hear you say. Yes this summit was going to be a test piece for us all.
Bob Lovett made good his escape and had skied off the hill to fly home for an important meting back in the UK.
Only to be thwarted by the cancellations of all flights over Europe and mainland Britain due to the volcano eruptions spewing volcanic ashes all over the skies.
Bob got home about 2 days later after quite a lot of driving and train journeys.
So after a very lovely and hearty evening meal in the hut and a nice glass of wine with the hut warden to end the night it was off to bed nice and early, 10.45pm, and up again at 4.30am.
A simple breakfast, lashed down with hut tea and then outside to get roped up and we set off up the hill.
We got underway at 6.30am just as the sun breached the horizon, but not enough to heat the cool air.
We didn’t want that yet and with all the uphill climbing which followed we all wished the sun had stayed down a little longer.
Mid-morning we stopped for our 1st big break only to find out that one of our group, Si Tucker, had binding difficulties. It had worked loose and one of the main holding screws at the front had come out.
This made the ski almost un-skiable. What didn’t help was Si, weighing in at over 90kgs, was skiing on a pair of 165s. Thankfully it was not as bad as first anticipated and he continued for another 45 minutes.
The final steep ascent and 1.5 hours of climbing would have totally wrecked the binding and Si decided to continue on crampons and leave the skis ready to collect on the way down.
We all successfully summited at about 12.30pm after 6hrs of climbing, a long ascent by any standard.
The summit was sunny and also very windy but the outstanding views made up for it. One could see for hundreds of miles in every direction seeing all the previous summits to date – awesome.
We removed our skins and started the descent.It proved to be the best ski descent of all the expedition and was reward indeed for all our work.
We skied from 4,207m down to 1,990m all the way down to Saas Fee village with some of the best snow of the whole expedition.
The slope from the summit was, for some part, about 38-40 degrees, a pretty steep pitch and fantastic snow conditions all the way down to the village.
What a way to end the touring phase of the trip.
Even though we didn’t achieve the Haute Route that we’d planned we managed to get in some famous peaks and bag a few 4,000’ers that are usually conquered in summer by climbers on ropes and with ice axe and crampons.
All finished and all safely back down so it leaves me only to say: plan your trips meticulously and never underestimate the mountains.
Just because someone else has done it before you, it doesn’t mean you can do it too.
They may have more experience or more luck on their side. Plan and gain the relevant experience before attempting to tackle the big routes. Only then can you thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Oh, and I completed it all on my TELEMARK skis, and the whole experience was awesome.
Get on Telemark skis and ski the original way of skiing. It’s a whole better feeling of satisfaction doing it this way.
Free your heel, free your mind!
Telemarking The Haute Route, Part One
Telepmarking The Haute Route, Part Two.
Here at PlanetSKI we’d like to thank Philip Maddox for finding the time to write the article and share his epic adventure with the rest of us. Respect.
For the Sprit of the Mountains.