Deciding on a ski touring venue is always tricky, and with the forecast this week it was proving particularly difficult. The forecast seemed to change every day, and it was suggesting both fresh snow and high winds. Luckily we weren’t committed to a specific tour or route, and so we could pick and choose at the last minute.
We ended up picking the Conscrits Refuge as a base for our two nights, as it fitted our ski mountaineering plans and there would be a variety of tours we could have a go at from the hut. So after some kit faff and bakery stops, we walked up through the woods above Les Contamines for an hour before using the skis to reach the Tre la Tete Refuge for a stop and a drink.
There was plenty of snow on the Mauvais Pas, the “bad step” that blocks access to the glacier. We skied across this section before skinning up again through the glacier and into the strong Foehn wind below the hut. As we gained height it really was blowing pretty hard, and we had to lean into the wind to stop ourselves being blown down the firm slope. The Conscrits Refuge was a very welcome sight after 1400m of ascent from the valley, and the wind was now really howling. A bowl of tea, a slice of cake (for me) and then a chance to relax before dinner. It had taken around seven hours in the end, with some stops along the way.
After a solid nights sleep in the quiet hut we woke to find pretty clear weather, but unfortunately it was still very windy. The snow was getting swirled around the hut and down onto the glacier in gusts that would be approaching 80km/hr. And so we played the waiting game, book reading, coffee drinking and chatting. It’s strangely relaxing to be forced into just chilling out, especially when there’s no phone signal and therefore no outside distractions. After a bowl of soup for an early lunch, we went out “for a look” hoping we’d get a little way up to the Berangere. Sometimes it’s good to go out just to see how bad it really is. After about two minutes all three of us were blown flat, and we then struggled on for another few minutes. We could of undoubtably kept going, but the chances of someone getting blown over and then hurt were high. We were soon back in the hut.
The forecast was for much lighter winds for our last day, and so it was a relief to see the Nepalese prayer flags outside the hut hanging limply, rather than fluttering in the wind again. We were skinning by seven thirty and soon put on ski crampons as the wind had bashed the snow on the initial traverse and it was now rock solid.
It was easier going on the glacier itself, which is a truly spectacular place where you feel hemmed in by the mountains on both sides. We made our way up to the ridge of the Domes du Miage, where thankfully the wind was light enough for us to walk up to the summit itself along the narrow (and famous) ridge to the top.
Our original plan of skiing the north facing glacier back down to Les Contamines directly was put on hold as the slopes looked like they had received a lot of wind blown snow recently and would be a potential avalanche hazard. But skiing back down our original route was excellent, we had fresh tracks top to bottom and kept our skis on through the “combat woods” lower down, only taking them off for the last five minutes of walking down through the woods to the valley floor.
A great three days out in this adventurous area, despite the weather. You can read more about the Domes du Miage here.