The Vallee Blanche

April 5th, 2006

(post for Mon 4/3) ) They were doing avalanche demolition this morning. Loud, resounding booms echoed down out of the clouds. The sound of a helicopter bounced off the valley walls, reassuring in that it wouldn’t be flying if the clouds were thick. The rain probably wouldn’t last past noon.

The Argentiere hut was going to have to wait since the upper tram at the Grands Montets–our access to the Argentiere glacier–was closed because of the weather. It saves about 2500′ of climbing which doesn’t sound like so much to me but around here you only ski downhill. Plans were changed.

Rob was going to hang out in the valley but Colin, Camilla, and I were going to head back up to 12,000′ on the Aguille du Midi tram to ski the uber classic La Vallee Blanche, something like a 15 mile ski down a glacier. Actually, we were headed for a variation but we messed up our navigation, rounded a corner on a heavily loaded, convex slope with gaping crevasses below, and witnessed a couple of small point release avalanches in the warm late morning sun. So we backed up. They don’t do an avalanche control work on the glacier.

Our subsequent run took us between seracs, over thick snow bridges, around ragged crevasses, down and down into the thickening snow and into the masses of other skiers collecting on the flats where the glacier ice gently ripples around protruding granite boulders.

At the base of the glacier is a tourist stop, a hole carved into the edge of the ice. We hiked up flights of stairs to the tram, took the tram to a hotel where a heavy rail car grinds up and down a greasy track, winding through the forest on its way back to Chamonix. Ever the shutter bug, I started snapping away but some good shots were passed up because we weren’t ‘shooting.’ It’s difficult to get your friends to ‘work’ when you’re finishing a ski day–and they do have to work because you’re not simply documenting, your shaping images. They have to look this way, look that, rearrange their garments, walk toward, walk away. It’s tedious. But Camilla was a natural, much more so than Colin, but then again, she’s had a little training. During her teens she did catalog shoots, ads, and even the catwalk. But it wasn’t for her. “I don’t like to be looked at like I’m an alien if I eat a chocolate,” was the summary of her reason to quit. It seemed appropriate.

(Looking up the end of the glacier; to the left leads to the base of the Grand Jorass, to the right is the ski run in the Vallee Blanche)

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