Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route with Mont Vélan • April 23 – 30, 2008

For years, during our many Plateau du Couloir Haute Routes, we have gazed across from the sunny terrace of the Valsorey hut at the beautiful north side of Mont Vélan. Watching distant skiers trace tantalizing tracks down a long, steep north-facing gully to the Valsorey Glacier, we've said to ourselves, "someday we've got to do that". Well, this year we decided it was time to incorporate Mont Vélan into our itinerary. It made for a quite strenuous trip, but was well worth it. John Lashbrook was keen before we even talked to him about it, and 5 British buddies also decided it was a challenge worth taking on. Unfortunately one of them had to drop out due to a poorly timed work issue, but the other four joined us on this big adventure.

Other Recent Trips

The crew, from left to right: John Lashbrook, Robert Lumley, James Daly, Roger Weatherby, and Hugo Upton. We mentally fill in the gap between Roger and Hugo, with their friend Simon Daglish, sadly missing but present in our minds (and pestered by frequent cell phone calls after the hard bits, to curse him for missing out on the "fun").


On our first day's Vallee Blanche descent, we enjoyed a perfect moment of now-you-see-it, now-you-don't soft fresh snow. I wouldn't call it powder, as it was quite moist, but it was deep and soft! Had to be quick though to enjoy it at its best before the hot spring sunshine got too active on it. The "best before" label read 11am!


So here we all are at 11am sharp, at the Requin hut for an early lunch.


Descending from the Grands Montets toward the Argentière glacier on day 2, I have to confess this snow looks better than it was! James makes it look easy.


Our obligatory kick-turn practice pays off on the icy track, as we pirouette through the first few steep zig-zags up the slopes toward the Col du Chardonnet.


However, nothing really prepared us for this! Kicking steps up toward the higher shoulder of the Col du Chardonnet, to avoid the hurly-burly of the main couloir, we got some good mountaineering bits in.


Getting through the Col in good time, we march ever onward toward the Fenêtre de Saleina.


Ta heck with those pesky kick-turns! We normally boot the upper section of this climb, and were even more inclined that way after seeing another hapless skier lose about 20 minutes of his precious time sliding back down this slope.


We enjoy the usual fine dinner at the Trient hut, along with friend and fellow traveler Michael Silitch (far left) and Julie Geng (at the end of the table).


The following morning, day 3 of our trip, dawned beautiful and sunny on the HARD FROZEN snow!


The silence of the alpine morning is broken by the deafening TCHSSSSSS of skis on icy snow.


Readying for the long descent down the Val d'Arpette.


Ditto, Michael tells a story as we click in.


Here we gooooooooo. (Weisshorn on the horizon).


Skipping our customary night in Bourg St. Pierre, we carry on through to the Vélan hut the same afternoon. Carrying our skis from the road, we have about an hour and a half's hiking in boots before we regain the snow.


A welcome sight at the end of a rather long, hot day, the Vélan hut looks as impressive close up as it always has from a distance.


The dining room is as warm as the welcome from hutkeepers Karine and Yvan. Killer pie, too!


The Vélan hut, looking especially space-shuttle-like in the evening light.


Our first hour of skinning passes in meditative silence as we approach the "crux" section of ridge to cross to the upper glacier.


A technical section of fixed chains and belayed mixed rock and ice/snow climbing, leads us over the ridge into the sunshine. We are just in time to miss a bit of a log-jam, which clears as we approach a belay station for the steep down-climb to easier ground below.


On the summit! Team England celebrates, beaten but un-bowed. Magnificent views make the long climb worthwhile.


And then there's the descent! Rob pauses to savor the prospect of a steep descent on great chalk-like firm snow.


Here the group approaches that steep couloir that had been calling to us all these years. It was steep alright, and lived up to its promise. The soft, fluffy and not-too-tracked snow made it lots of fun.


After the ecstacy, the laundry, as the Zen masters say. We sought a Zen-like equanimity (or, failing that, a mind-numbing trance?) to get us through the sweat-fest of the 2000 foot plod in the hot mid-afternoon sun, to the Valsorey hut.


The next morning of course we fondly remembered each drop of sweat, as we froze for the first few minutes of our climb toward the Plateau du Couloir. But the views! Mon Dieu!


Thar she blows, Mont Vélan, the scene of yesterday's pleasure as we near the upper slopes of the Plateau.


Ah, the sunshine! Heading down toward the Sonadon Glacier.


Exiting the Glacier du Mont Durand with the Pointe d'Otemma in the background.


A beautiful corn snow run down to La Barme, then an early arrival at the Chanrion hut where at last we have time for a little R and R in the sunshine. The toes appreciate it.


They don't call this ski mountaineering for nuthin'. The next day (day 5) sees us scrambling up and over the Col Nord des Portons, hurrying to beat the incoming weather.


A snowy afternoon and evening in the Vignettes hut only sets us up for great snow conditions (and almost no company!) on our last day into Zermatt. Here Michael breaks trail toward the Col de l'Evêque.


After enjoying first tracks in great snow all morning, we set off up the long slopes of the Tsa de Tsan Glacier to the Col de Valpelline, our last climb of the trip!


Hail to the Matterhorn! We made it.


Oh, and what timing. The snow was great on the descent of the Stockji Glacier.


Unseasonably good snow cover allowed us to arrive fairly early at the edge of the pistes, and the end of our big adventure. Just in time too, as this was the last we saw of that blue sky for a couple of days!