Lock Down Release
After three months of not being able to travel more than 1km from my house the sense of freedom when France decided that we could move more freely and once more go into the mountains was amazing. The sense of being able to go into the mountains was a major step and like a kid in a sweat shop I wanted it all at once.
During my lock down runs I could see the Mettrier ridge on the North Face of the Dome de Miage most days, a sinuous 1000m of snow and ice that lead from the Glacier de Miage to the summit ridge of the Dome de Miage. A route without mechanical assistance and a long approach and descent but starting only 5 minutes from the house. An adventure that would tick all the boxes and with an opportunity to descend the Armancette glacier on skis rather than walk down a chance to use all the skills that had been lying dormant for the last three months.
With shorts on and heavy packs we started up the long path to the Chalet de Miage and onto the Plan Glacier Refuge an approach of about 5 hours. The approach was one of those great walks that starts in a forest and ends in high alpine terrain taking in all the classic vegetation zones on the way. We arrived just as the sun was setting over the Aravis which was spectacular with a great view of our route for the next day. Mugs of tea, food and a few hours’ sleep and we were away again at 0300. A descent onto the glacier with ski boots on our feet and skis on our packs found the glacier so well frozen we roped up and left skis on our packs.
Climbing the approach snow slopes we thought we would see some tracks but it wasn’t until we crossed the bergschrund that we found some old tracks. Moving together with 2 ice tools made for steady efficient climbing up the approach gully to gain the crest of the ridge just after dawn. The way ahead was as a clear as any route can be straight up the beautiful snow crest sometimes steep requiring 2 tools sometimes easier giving the calves a rest. A few rock steps had appeared out of the snow in the recent warm weather to break things up. A rest and a drink every hour allowed us to soak up the scenery and enjoy having the route, the mountain and I think this part of the Mont Blanc Massif all to ourselves. The final section onto the main ridge proved a bit steeper and the slowing of pace that always comes with moving on steeper terrain allowed us to enjoy the feeling of space that comes with being in the high mountains.
We had a good drink on the Col du Dome where the classic route from the Conscrits hut (not yet open) joins the ridge then we carried on along the classic traverse of the Domes with incredible views to the Mont Blanc Massif on one side and all the way to the Ecrins and La Grave on the other. We arrived on the summit at 09:30 and got the stove out to enjoy a cup of tea while we waited for the snow to soften, it was so pleasant I almost fell asleep lying on my pack.
As time ticked on we could see clouds building and with a forecast of an afternoon storm we made the decision to ski down, even by 1100 when the snow which had been in the sun would have normally started to soften was rock hard. What would normally have been a steepish but relaxed descent actually felt really serious with the consequences of a slip being a very long serious slide. We had to pay attention to every turn and skiing with toes locked on bindings was mandatory as losing a ski would have been unimaginable. In spite of the skiing conditions being suboptimal it was preferable to walking and when we reached 3000m the snow softened and we could enjoy spring turns all the way to the wild flowers.
After 3 months of confinement I can’t think of a better way to end the season.