Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

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Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Feb 01, 2018 4:36 pm

By the time we left the Monterosa region Jan. 26 we knew clear weather was forecast through at least Jan. 30, so we decided to go to Chamonix after Cervinia and reserved a guide for the Vallee Blanche. Liz and I had both taken our first ski trips to the Alps to Chamonix, she in 2001 and I in 2004. viewtopic.php?f=5&t=5549 Liz had been skunked by the weather in 2001 so I was eager to show her the real Chamonix skiing she missed last time. We were in a guided group from Evolution 2 http://www.evolution2-chamonix.com/ that included two British skiers, Ian and his daughter Hannah.

The upper Aiguille du Midi tram climbs 5,000 feet in a single span.
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When we exit the tram we have this view of Mont Blanc.
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We also see the ridge we must descend with ropes and crampons before we start skiing.
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But first we took the elevator 200 feet up to the top observation deck at 12,600 feet. Here is the view of Grands Jurasses, the Vallee Blanche and at distance the Matterhorn, the sharp point to the right of the high mountain at left.
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The ridge descent seemed more difficult than in 2004. I’m sure it varies by season depending upon snow and wind deposition. The other issue was that I was sick, and as I’ve observed before altitude sensitivity goes way up when you’re not feeling well. The rope descent requires one step at a time concentration, but when it was over I was completely exhausted. View back up to the Aiguille de Midi tram and observation deck:
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Liz is ready to start skiing now.
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Fortunately in my dazed condition the initial skiing is quite mellow.
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There was some fresh snow up high and I tried to stay in it to minimize effort.

About 2,000 feet down we get closer to glacial features.
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Liz and our guide Pascal with view to Point Helbronner:
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The two trams suspended at upper right connect Point Helbronner to the Aiguille de Midi but only operate in summer. But you can take another tram up from Italy in winter and ski the Vallee Blanche from Point Helbronner.

The middle section of the Vallee Blanche Classic Route occasionally steepens to a more intermediate pitch.
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The Refuge du Requin where our NASJA group had lunch in 2004 is circled in red.

Here I’m on the steepest part of the Classic Route.
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The Classic Route comes in from the left of the big rock while the Envers du Plan routes join it from the right.

Another group here is skiing closer to the ice formations.
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Soon we move closer to the ice too.
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We ski over the start of a new crevasse.
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We stopped for lunch at a small rock outcropping. I hadn’t read that we were supposed to bring lunch. Ian gave me a candy bar which probably helped raise my energy level along with the decreasing altitude.
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The local crows liked to hang out in this area too.
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They are smaller than our mountain crows in the Sierra and have yellow beaks and red feet instead of being 100% black.

Refuge du Requin is circled in red as viewed from our lunch stop. To the right of the refuge are some steeper skiable lines.
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Zoomed view of some skiers:
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Shortly after lunch we skied through some small ice formations.
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We are now on the Mer du Glace where two glaciers join, looking back up Vallee Blanche.
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Skiing the Mer du Glace:
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There were many more rock and ice outcroppings here in 2004, presumably buried in this season’s deep snowpack.

We see more ice as we approach the toe of the glacier.
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Skiing normally ends with the glacier. You walk up a 200 foot metal stairway to a gondola.
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From the top of the gondola you take the Montenvers train back to Chamonix.

But this is one of the rare years you can ski to town. In 2004, Patrick said this is possible in about 15% of seasons. Looking back up, the lower part of the metal stairway is visible at right.
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Down here we get a better view of the Dru than in 2004.
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There is a catch to skiing into town. We only ski about 500 feet lower in the valley below Mer du Glace.
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At center and slightly left you can see a line of people clustered. They are removing skis and putting them on packs. We have to ascend a 500 vertical bootpack, fairly similar to ascending Baldy from Sugarloaf at Alta. Fortunately in my ill condition the hike is at a manageable altitude of 4,500 – 5,000 feet.

Top of the bootpack:
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Refreshments are conveniently available here.
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The final 2,000 vertical into town is along a forest road. Here I cross the Montenvers train track.
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Total vertical was 9,000. Of that 7,100 was continuous to where we hiked up to the forest road.
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby jasoncapecod » Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:35 pm

So far my favorite report..the pics are fantastic.. That's a hell of a run when you don't feel well..
My daughter circumnavigated Mt Blanc this past summer , she can't wait to go back to ski...
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:33 am

This was the toughest report to edit down pictures since hiking to The Wave in 2012. In both cases I still ended up with over 30.

With my illness it was indeed fortunate that the Vallee Blanche is very mellow skiing. Plus we stopped so frequently to take pictures. I was a little worried about that bootpack at the end, but I felt I was at about 50% energy level down there vs. 10% during the higher altitude skiing before lunch.
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Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby jamesdeluxe » Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:49 am

Looked like a perfect day for it, other than that you were sick. I assume that it's a bad cold rather than the flu?

How many people do the Vallee Blanche on a typical day? How many skiers per group?
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:55 pm

I do not know how many skiers are there each day. Maximum group size is 8 as we had for the NASJA day in 2004. We had only 4 this time. If you want to do one of the more challenging Plan du Envers routes, the maximum group size is 4.

I had a cold the week before I came to Europe. I suspect I got some kind of secondary infection a week into the trip. I got six prescriptions from a doctor in Annecy yesterday and I'm definitely improving, out seeing some tourist sites today after sleeping half of yesterday.
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Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby lono » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:44 pm

Great report Tony , fantastic pictures, it's always been on my list.
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby baldyskier » Sat Feb 03, 2018 9:29 pm

Nice report, Tony, with great pics and added details; thanks for sharing.
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby EMSC » Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:47 pm

Totally want to still do this one.

Didn't get a chance the last time as La Grave was the focus of the trip with some "get acclimated to the region" days at places like Grand Montets.
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby ChrisC » Wed Feb 14, 2018 2:23 pm

Small world - I was skiing the Vallee Blanche a day after you - one of the more advanced variants. Need to get around to uploading photos/report soon.

Tony Crocker wrote: Liz had been skunked by the weather in 2001 so I was eager to show her the real Chamonix skiing she missed last time. We were in a guided group from Evolution 2 http://www.evolution2-chamonix.com/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; that included two British skiers, Ian and his daughter Hannah.

Very weather dependent. My brother and I hired a guide from Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix to do advanced variants.

Refuge du Requin is circled in red as viewed from our lunch stop. To the right of the refuge are some steeper skiable lines.
The attachment IMG_3889.JPG is no longer available


Zoomed view of some skiers:
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I added the line I skied with brother and guide. Petit Envers. I had wanted to ski Gran Envers but the guide said there was more powder on this variant. Why argue? Conditions win. We skied the final couloir of Gran Envers after lunch.

InkedIMG_3889_LI.jpg
Our route


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Various options


Tony Crocker wrote:Skiing normally ends with the glacier. You walk up a 200 foot metal stairway to a gondola.
The attachment IMG_3889.JPG is no longer available

From the top of the gondola you take the Montenvers train back to Chamonix.

But this is one of the rare years you can ski to town. In 2004, Patrick said this is possible in about 15% of seasons. Looking back up, the lower part of the metal stairway is visible at right.
The attachment IMG_3889.JPG is no longer available



I have always skied into the Chamonix valley on my 3 trips. From the resorts in 2005. From Vallee Blanche: 2006 - early Feb. 2018 - late Jan. Our guide was saying the Vallee Blanche is not really consistently open until Feb 1st. Also, they are booked every weekend from mid Feb till April 1st. Specifically, the lift company allocates 20% of tram capacity to Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix. http://www.chamonix-guides.eu/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; So most skiers are skiing the Vallee Blanche when it's likely to be melter off - since it's not open almost to the spring.


Tony Crocker wrote:There is a catch to skiing into town. We only ski about 500 feet lower in the valley below Mer du Glace.
The attachment IMG_3889.JPG is no longer available

At center and slightly left you can see a line of people clustered. They are removing skis and putting them on packs. We have to ascend a 500 vertical bootpack, fairly similar to ascending Baldy from Sugarloaf at Alta. Fortunately in my ill condition the hike is at a manageable altitude of 4,500 – 5,000 feet.


Our guide said in the late 1990s when he started in Chamonix...the hike was 5 minutes since the glacier was 100s of feet higher. Yikes! When I did this in 2006 - I do not recall the hike - or it was negligible (10 min?).

We could have done 2 runs - but there was a longer drive to Zermatt with the passes to Verbier closed.
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Feb 14, 2018 3:58 pm

Nice maps posted by ChrisC. We skied a Petit Envers variant with NASJA in 2004. I wanted to ski one of those chutes behind the refuge but the guide said no. I'm sure they are required to keep all members of their group in sight, which means skiing within the ability range of slowest skier.

I'm guessing that in 2004 that the metal stairway climb was in the 10 minute range. I wonder when that gondola was installed at the top of the stairs. The bootpack this year was well over half an hour but would have been less if I had been in better health.

Did they get Hohtalli and Stockhorn open by the time you got to Zermatt?
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Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby kingslug » Tue Feb 20, 2018 9:07 am

On the list. My one time at Cham conditions were bad.
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Feb 20, 2018 9:46 am

Here's a pretty extensive photo TR from Alpinforum in 2006; I'm curious if Tony can see snowpack changes between then and his recent visit:
http://www.alpinforum.com/forum/viewtop ... &p=5151598

Put it through Google Translate if interested in the comments.
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Re: Vallee Blanche, France, Jan. 29, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:08 am

The Alpinforum TR has fabulous powder conditions but they did take the gondola to the train at the end. Remember I skied Vallee Blanche in 2004 and the snowpack was definitely deeper this year.

It is very difficult to assess the status of glaciers when they are covered by the current year’s snowpack. That was also true when we were in Glacier National Park in June 2013.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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