I recently organised a private four day walk in the Vanoise National Park for an extended family from Kenya. They wanted to spend three nights in more comfortable mountain refuges with walks that weren’t too taxing. The youngest child was nine years old and grandfather eighty years old. Quite a challenging requirement. It was particular interesting for me to chat about Kenya a country where I worked on two occasions for over six months and where my mother grew up.
We met at the station in Modane in the heart of the Maurienne valley with close links to Italy thanks to the Frejus tunnel and parallel rail tunnel. The weather had been extremely hot, in the mid-30’s, and the forecast threatened thunderstorms for the late afternoon. With this in mind and the fact that we couldn’t leave until lunch time I decided that it was a wise move to adjust the starting point to give more flexibility should the storms arrive.
We spent our first night at the welcoming Refuge l’Aiguille Doran close the the valley d’Orgere where Fabienne the guardienne made us at home. Dinner, as I’ve come to expect, was excellent and you would be happy to eat as well in a restaurant.
The following morning the forecast was so far correct with thunderstorms dying out. The forecast indicated that residual showers would die out by midday and the forecast for the afternoon was for the weather to continue to improve with blue skies forecast the following day.
We set off with light rain falling as we passed the L’Orgere refuge, a ?gateway refuge? to the Vanoise National Park. Climbing in zig-zags in the pine woods a rumble of thunder announced it’s presence. Clearing the tree line faint glimmers in the sky looked promising and as we started the rising traverse towards the Lac de la Partie big blue patches of sky developed. It appeared that the forecast was spot on.
Reaching the path junction with the variation that drops down to the hamlet of Polset at about 2500m clould rolled in again with light rain falling. It seemed it was simply the valley clouds rising up and dispersing.
We could just still make out the Col de la Chaviere at 2796m, and the highest col on a GR in France with some large patches of neve (old consolidated snow) beneath. We moved on at a slow but steady pace. At about 2600m the ?rain? started to become ?lumpy? and soon it was snowing!
Given that we were only a short distance below the col and the Refuge Peclet-Polset an hours downhill walk beyond it was clear that the quickest option was to get over the col and start losing height. I took the children and Mum on, kicking steps in the snow. We got to the col and I got out my ?Bothy Bag? (like a tent without poles) to provide shelter from the cooling wind and increased warmth. If you’ve never used one they really are a God-send in poor weather. I glissaded (skiing on the soles of my boots) back down to help Dad and father on the final snow slope.
The descent on the Peclet-Polset side of the col is quite steep and on relatively loose and unstable ground, made more so with the recent overnight rain and snow. I guided Mum and the children down to where the ground eased and got out the ?Bothy Bag? again whilst I climbed back up to help guided Dad & father down too.
Despite all being well clothed the children were feeling cold and I moved on with them to generate some warmth and to reach relatively warmer altitudes.
Finally we arrived at the Refuge Peclet-Polset and I order hot chocolates and some crepes with Nutella for the children and honey for myself.
I reflected on the day and how the weather forecast and how the observed weather led us on into a situation that could have been potentially have turned out less favourably. As I say to people, ?There’s a fine line between adventure and mis-adventure?. Clearly, as a professional guide / leader it’s a judgement.
The following day dawned with blue skies and a dusting of snow on the Pointe de l’Echelle (3442m). Today’s itinerary was an easy one as we were booked into the 5***** Refuge Roc de la Peche complete with steam room and jacuzzi! It’s a ?Courchevel? refuge that caters for ski instructors and mountain guides in the winter who arrive off-piste from the ski resorts of the 3 Valleys and notably Courchevel; the ?Disneyland des Alpes?.
Leaving our sacks at the refuge we made a short detour to see the spectacular blue-turquoise waters of the Lac Blanc below the Col du Souffre. Marmottes were out warming themselves in the early morning sun but sadly I couldn’t make out any chamois or ibex that often frequent some of the slopes.
On our way down the valley we stopped off at the Alpage de Ritord where the farm makes cheese using a huge copper cauldron heated by a wood fire beneath. I explained the process and how Beaufort d’Alpage is made. We enjoyed a drink before heading on to the Roc de la Peche. Naturally I made full use of the steam room and jacuzzi!
Our last day took us on down the valley to the hamlet of Prioux where I’d arranged for a taxi to take us to Moutiers for our onward journeys, the family to Geneva for their flights and me to Albertville to pick up my car again.