Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Summer 2013

It's hard to believe that it is October already and after a very
busy season we have now time to reflect on the trials and tribulations of this
June Winter remains!
Col des Chaux from the Cabane du Mont Fort, July 2013
June is always a tricky time to undertake any of the high level
trekking routes in the Alps, for example, people presume the Tour du Mont Blanc
will be fine by mid June but in reality that is often not the case, depending
on the amount of snow during the winter and the weather and temperatures during
the spring therefore with the snow abundant winter of 2013 and the extremely
cold spring the start of the season was a challenge. After spending some time
recceing the route mid June and passing this information on to our self-guided
clients starting later in the month we found that there were three main areas
of concern... Day 3 Col du Bonhomme, Col de la Criox du Bonhomme & Col des
Fours, day 4 via the Col du Seigne & the Mont Fauvre Spur and day 6 via the
Grand Col Ferret. Self guided clients who started towards the end of June had a
challenge on their hands and were advised to hire crampons and walking roles to
aid balance on steep slopes where a slip or fall could be problematic. On a
recce to the Col du Bonhomme on the xx June it was still snowing at 2000m just
making the problem a whole lot worse, when would spring and summer finally
Col du Bonhomme, 27 June 2013

July, Straight into Summer
The start of July brought a total change to the weather, it was as
though someone had flicked a switch bypassing spring and going directly into
summer with temperatures of 28 degrees. This made the routes more achievable
however the amount of snow would take sometime to abate on the more sheltered
shady slops and high Cols.

Swiss Valais from Bovine
Our self-guided treks
Both our Tour du Mont and Walkers Haute Route proved popular again
this year and during late June and July we had many groups undertaking each
trek, with or without crampons!! During summer 2013 in addition to our own
clients we also provided self guided TMB treks for Macs Adventure providing
accommodation, self guided packs (daily route cards, maps and important trek
information), bag transfers and on hand support during the trek for all
Our guided treks
Walkers Haute Route July 7- 21 July, excellent weather and snow
abundant cols.
Walkers Haute Route group July 2013
After a recce of the high sections of the Walkers Haute Route we
realised that it really wasn't advisable to take our guided group over the
Fenetre d'Arpette and on the section between Cabane du Mont Fort and Arolla.
The week before we amended the route by taking the Bovine route from Trient to
Champex and arranging a minibus from Le Chable to Arolla then adding an extra
night in Grimentz which created an additional day of walking. The rest of the
trek remained unchanged although the group came across large amounts of snow on
the on and around all of the high Cols en-route. The Europaweg (high level
route from Grachen to Zermatt) continued to be a problem throughout the season,
the section between Europa Hutte remained closed and new stone fall between
Taschalp and Ottanwen made this section impassable. This meant that the low
route had to be taken for the majority of the season.

Tour du Mont Blanc,11-26 July & 28 July- 4 August, always be prepared!

TMB group July 2013
Descent from the Col des Fours July 2013
You would have through that by mid July that we would manage to get
around the tour du Mont Blanc without seeing that much snow, how wrong! Our
group that departed 7 July had fabulous weather and a great deal of residual
snow to deal with especially on day 3 from Contamines to Refuge Mottets. The
descent from the Col des Fours was epic and clients perfected the art of glissading
for the best part of 600m, this of course made that section of the descent
quicker than usual! Our only bad weather day was day 4 via the Col de Seigne
where wind, rain and low temperatures prevailed, this was a timely reminder
that having good kit with you at all times is essential and some of the group
who had decided to travel lightweight were cold and damp! Thanks to LaBet and
here sparkling wit we laughed our way through most of the day!

August and September to be continued....

For more info on our guided & self guided treks visit

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tour du Mont Blanc curent conditions 27 June 2013

It is hard to believe the amount of snow that persists above 2000m when you are in the valley bottom, which is free of snow, lush and green. However this situation is very different away from the safety of the valley bottom the spring has continued to be cold and the snow persists on the high ground making passage slow, difficult and potentially dangerous. We have continued to monitor the conditions over the past few weeks and have made a recce of each section of the route as this year's residual snow is exceptional and alarming.

Although we have had warmer weather over the past two weeks, which has improved the situation but many problems still persist in key areas. We envisage the snow being on the route well into the season.

This week we have seen the return of cooler weather, Monday 24th June saw more snow down to 1800m with temperatures in the valley of 6 degrees. The forecast is still unsettled and we have more snow forecast down to 2000m on Thursday 27th & Friday 28th June.

The main problem areas:
  • Contamines to Chapieux & Ville des Glaciers via the Col du Bonhomme (2443m) & the Col de la Croix Bonhomme (2483m) & Col des Fours (2665m) if going to Ville des Glaciers.
  • Chapieux & Ville des Glaciers to Courmayeur via the Col de Seigne (2516m) & Vielle d’Arp and the Mont Fauvre spur. 
  • Refuge Bonatti to La Fouly via the Grand Col Ferret (2537m)Champex to Trient via the Fenetre d’Arpette (2665m)
There are less people on the route that normal although groups are now getting through and completing the circuit however not with out difficulty.

Aiguillette des Houches from the Brevent

For your own safety please take notice of our advice where the route is not advisable and change your route accordingly.

The itinerary in brief

Day 1: Chamonix to Les Houches: ok if a lower route is taken, the Col de Brevent is not advisable as the ladder section is banked out with snow and the steep ground could be potentially dangerous if you were to slip or fall.

Day 2: Les Houches to Contamines: The route over the Col du Tricot is passable with care. Route via Bionnassay & Chapel no problems.

Day 3: Contamines to Chapieux or Ville des Glaciers: A great deal of snow above 2000m, this section is not advisable without the correct equipment (see below). As you ascend above 2000m you will be on snow for many hours, the snow is deep 2m in places. Great care needs to be taken from the Chalets des Jovets to the descent into Chapieux. Do not attempt the Col des Fours, this is extremely steep at the top with the snow a slip or fall could be fatal. If staying at the Refuge Mottets descend to Chapieux and walk up the road to Ville des Glaciers and on to the refuge.

Traverse from Col du Bonhomme to Croix du Bonhomme
Col du Bonhomme
Day 4: Chapieux or Ville des Glaciers to Courmayeur: A great deal of snow above 2000m, this section is not advisable without the correct equipment (see below). Great care needs to be taken on the snow traverses. Do not attempt the Vielle d’Arp as this has some seriously steep ground that is banked out with snow when traversing round from the Mont Fauvre spur a slip or fall at this point could be fatal. Instead from Lac Combal descend to La Visaille and walk or take the navette into Courmayeur.

Day 5: Courmayeur to Refuge Bonatti: ok if a lower route is taken. Do not take the high options as outlined in the guidebook.

Day 6: Refuge Bonatti to La Fouly: Contamines to Chapieux or Ville des Glaciers: A great deal of snow above 2000m, this section is not advisable not advisable without the correct equipment (see below). From Arnuva walk up the 4x4 track to the refuge Elena, do not attempt to take the TMB route up the gully, the bridge over the gully has not been re-instated as yet and crossing the snow bridge could be dangerous. Great care needs to be taken when ascending to the Grand Col Ferret and descending on the other side as there is still a massive amount of snow.

Day 7: La Fouly to Champex: No problems, route as normal.

Day 8: Champex to Trient: The Bovine route is free of snow and is fine. Do not attempt the variant via Fenetre d’Arpette, as with the Col des Fours the route is steep on both sides of the Col and when banked out with snow, as it is at the moment a slip of fall here could be fatal.

Day 9: Trient to Argentiere: Take the route direct from Trient to the Col du Blame, these is a great deal of snow on the north easterly side of the Col so care needs to be taken here, the westerly side of the col is free of snow. The rest of the route is passable.

Day 10: Argentiere to Chamonix: The Aiguille Rouges nature reserve still has a lot of snow, Lac Blanc is completely covered with snow and remains frozen. Therefore we advise to remain on the lower balcony to Flegere and do not ascend to Lac Cheserys and Lac Blanc, the route from Flegere to Brevent has no problems.

Essential kit:
  • All kit outlined on our kit list not forgetting good waterproof boots, gloves, warm hat, warm layers, waterproof outer layers, sun cream & sunglasses to protect against snow glare.  
  • Light weight crampons, walking ice axe & walking poles x 2 per person to aid balance, lightweight walking crampons can be hired locally in Chamonix or Les Houches.
  • Gaiters to keep you dry when walking through snow.
Important to remember
Walking on snow can be very tiring and time consuming, you will need a good level of fitness in order to be able to cope with this additional challenge. You will also need to allow more time each day to get to your destination.

Snow and bad weather also make navigation difficult as you cannot see the designated path and route markets and signage will be covered with snow. Good navigational skills are essential, the ability to read a map, use a compass and altimeter are a pre-requisite of this self-guided trek.

Snow on high ground this can make the route difficult and dangerous in places. A great deal of care needs to be taken when moving on Neve (Snow), depending on the weather this can be frozen solid or slush and without crampons can be impossible to cross without slipping. It is essential that you make a risk assessment before crossing snow, look below and ask yourself if you slipped how far would you slide & fall? Could a slip or fall cause injury? If in doubt retreat back and descend.

Please contact Mont Blanc Treks for further information and advise on current conditions.

Monday, March 25, 2013

3 days in the Jura

January came with sub zero temperatures.. We left the frozen Chamonix valley and expected something a few degrees warmer... Little did we know that the Jura is renowned for it Siberian climate during the winter months!

We arrived in Les Rousses in -14 temperatures set for a 3 day expedition on the Grand Traverse of the Jura. Having never been to the Jura in winter before we really didn't know what to expect and we pleasantly surprised at the contrast from the jagged skyline if the Chamonix to the vast rolling valleys and tree lined ridges of the Jura. And what's more we had the place to ourselves, kilometer after kilometer of deserted terrain.

Ready to start at Les Rousses
Day 1: Setting off from Les Rousses we headed for Chapelle des Bois a 28 k stage passing Bois d'Armont with 400m of ascent over Les Combettes having never skied that distance before cross country with a back pack with 3 days worth of gear it was tough going. We finally dropped down in to the xx valley and completed the day with a further 8 kilometres on flat terrain until we reached the village of Chapelle des Bois and our hotel for the night. Tiered and hungry we made good use of the hotels sauna, downed a cold beer and tucked into a great meal before crashing out!

The final stretch to Chapelle des Bois as the sun goes down
Day 2: Wow another cold day -15 at best, from Chapelle des Bois we headed on flat terrain down the never ending Combe des Cives valley which seemed to go on for miles a short climb took us to the Le Pre Poncert and on to Chaux Neuve. We covered another 24k before arriving back at Chapelle des Bois and the Hotel Melezes.

Combe des Cives
Gite Combe des Cives
In the woods just before Le Pre Poncet
Day 3: For our final day we retraced our tracks back to Les Rousses on a similar route to day 1 with a couple of added variations over the Combe du Vert. With warmer temperatures (-5) and snow forecast during the afternoon this gave us the incentive to make progress and avoid the worst of the weather. We returned to our car by 3pm, cold wet and tried and contemplated our snowy drive back to the Chamonix valley.

80 kilometres in 3 days on skinny skis with overnight kit, madness yet weirdly addictive! A really worth while experience though a real wilderness with miles upon miles of cross country ski trails, we would definitely plan another stage of the GTJ next winter.

Dee trying to generate some heat as her hands went numb!

Monday, January 28, 2013

New Year Aussie Snowshoe

There is a first time for everything and a fabulous family from Australia decided after a Christmas of over indulgence there is nothing better than getting out in the mountains to burn off those extra kg's!

On holiday from down under they opted for mountains of the snowy variety as a complete contrast to the weather they normally get in January in Sidney.

We proposed something a little different and suggested a overnight stop in a mountain refuge so after there arrival in Les Houches we set off early morning to the Italian Val Ferret. Kitted up and ready to go we left the minibus in Palud and took the Navette (bus) to Planpinceaux. A cold start at -6 and an easy start on flat terrain which was good for them as they had never seen snowshoes before let alone used them, by the time we reached Lavachey we were in the sun, see the deck chairs and could smell the coffee!

After suitable refreshments we headed on up to the Refuge Bonatti, a beautiful refuge built & run in the memory of Walter Bonatti the iconic Italian climber & explorer. The refuge is situated at 2025m high above the Val Ferret with the most spectacular views of Mont Blanc and the Grand Jorassess. The refuge is modern, comfortable and has great facilities, food & drink and is open all year round & is very popular in the summer months for those doing the Tour du Mont Blanc.

After a climb of 400m we reached the refuge in time to enjoy the last of the sun and get inside where it was cosy & warm as the late afternoon temperatures dropped dramatically.

Unfortunately some of the group felt under the weather to say the least, a bug picked up whilst travelling through Europe or maybe a dodgy burger the night before in Les Houches who knows? They retired early and missed out on the excellent food & drink offered by the guardian.

The following day the group were back fighting fit and were determined to make a real day of it after missing out the evening before.

We had the most fabulous descent from the hut, surfing through the fresh snow and bum sliding through the trees. After another refreshments stop at Lavachey for coffee & paninis we headed back to the minibus through the beautiful Val Ferret.

Many thanks to the Aussies Scott, Justine & family (great kids) you were a pleasure to guide and had such a fantastic outlook on life 'glass half full' even in the face of illness at 2025m!

More information on snowshoe treks contact: or view our website: