Last year I guided Pete and his friend up Mont Blanc on skis, and this year Pete got in touch as he was keen for another short two day adventure.
We kept an eye on the weather and hatched various plans, including a fast Haute Route and a traditional “purists Haute Route” but in the end we settled for the Domes du Miage which fitted our weather window nicely and also was firmly on Pete’s to do list (which is quite a long list…)
It had snowed quite a lot of the previous couple of days and we woke in Chamonix to blue skies, frosty cars and a surprising amount of snow on the lower slopes and trees that had been totally bare just two days before.
We started reasonably early to try and beat most of the heat that was due to build during the day, which was going to cook both us and the snow. It’s quite a long skin to the hut over around 1700m, but there’s the nicely positioned Tre la Tete refuge along the way where we had a quick stop to put on glacial gear and drink a coffee.
The sun was coming on to the notorious “Mauvais Pas” which is a short but exposed traverse above some cliffs and a gorge below. We put crampons on and dashed across the exposed section to avoid some small bits of ice that we’re starting to fall off the cliffs above. Not a place to hang around.
After that it was just a matter of skinning up the ever increasingly hot glacier, where we did indeed get pretty frazzled by the sun. It was a relief to get to the hut where we re-fueled on omelette, a gallon of water and a snooze.
The following day was looking pretty similar in terms of afternoon heat, so we got a five o’clock breakfast and were skinning away from the hut around six. Pete was fit and acclimatised from a winter’s skiing around Chamonix and so we made pretty quick progress up the glacier, soon passing the other teams. This was nice in terms of solitude but it did mean I had some pretty good trail breaking to do up the summit ridge. Mostly calf to knee deep snow that required booting up, with skis on our back at this stage.
The summit ridge really is a classic, and a well sought after summit photo. See below!
We didn’t hang around on the summit, and after some deliberation and poking of the snow we cautiously set off down the Armancette glacier hoping to complete this different descent rather than returning back the way we had come.
The snow was pretty good in the end, and yesterdays heat had helped to stabilise the snow pack a lot. Higher up the snow was a bit wind affected, but in the middle section of the descent we had some great powder turns through untracked snow. We had a team in front of us now, and so we could keep an eye on their tracks trying to work out if the snow was good or not.
Lower down the snow had quite a horrible crust on it, which made the skiing extremely difficult. In fact it was definitely the worst snow I’ve skied on all season, and in places it was better to stop and kick turn rather than try and turn conventionally. Especially as Pete was on his tele-mark setup and I was on my skinny skis and floppy boots.
Lower down still it had got a better freeze and we stayed on the surface, we were actually able to ski again! Soon we came to the edge of the snow and it was time to put the skis on the sacks again, and walk back through the spring woods to the car.
The Domes du Miage is a brilliant mountain tucked away in the corner of the Mont Blanc range. Stunning views and proper ski mountaineering. Thanks Pete for a good couple of days 🙂