Skiing is fun! With the additional snow that fell last week, off-piste skiing from 2000 meters has gotten real nice. We’ve had 3 events in the past month with good heat in-between to create a solid base. There’s not lots of snow, but above 2000, the wind has blown snow into depressions creating great descents on both the north and south side of the Alps.
Ski touring at mid-elevations now in November is not bad at all. That first sensation of g-forces, hips, knees and ankles, all working together to keep it all right, create such good feelings, as one links new winter turn after new winter turn.
A warm spell 3 days ago thawed the upper layer of the 60cm of snow we have at 2500 meters. Midday, spring skiing on south faces between 2000 and 3000 meters is excellent! With a thin base, one obviously needs to choose areas where the snow has blown into depressions. High winds associated with the last storm created large areas of deep snow and others of bare ground. At the moment, one is able to drive to 1700 meters, then skin a thousand to make a few fine turns.
TeleVerbier opens for weekends from tomorrow. Lac des Vaux is well covered, as is the terrain down to Ruinettes. Enjoy those fresh, first, few turns: there ain’t nothin’ like it!
Summer blends to autumn, now ripening to winter, and I gaze as the colors fall to the swelling white blanket outside, soft and inviting. As a full time guide, seasonal change gives me time to reflect on what my job, my life, entails. I sit in front of my screen now, remembering the ridges, the weather and people I encountered. My dreams, my fears, the anxious and joyous moments I’ve experienced whilst moving about these hills, burdened and enlightened with the task at bringing my clients safely up, over, and back down. What’s it like to live the life of a mountain guide? “You have such a perfect job,” or the tired cliché “You have lovely office.”
I get up, can’t sleep. Davos still has the avalanche risk at 3, two weeks after the snow storm, yet those signs of risk have not presented themselves to me these past three days as I slide in and out of valley after valley, mountain top to mountain top. Shall I stick to my plan for today? After 25 years of skiing together, Janet and Will follow flawlessly through risky terrain, waiting, traversing, skiing and climbing at just the right tempo to make our passage as safe as it possibly can be. After 25 years together, we know each other better than most of my friends. Indeed, we are very close friends, having shared so many extremely intense moments together, hours pushing ourselves up hill, arriving back down well after dark, cold, wet and tired, ready for the long drive back home to the warmth of our beds.
What’s it like to be a guide, to live this life. Sitting here reflecting, looking at my bank account and calculating my financial responsibilities. Who am I? Father, son, brother, guide, lover, friend, counselor, spiritual comrade… The conversations we have about life, while disappearing into the hills, naked before that spark, that power we all feel which binds us living beings together. I open my inner thoughts of fear of failing, of falling, of dying, of succeeding. Who am I. I am Hans and right now I am your friend and guide ready to share another fine experience in these hills. Who knows what the future will bring. Risk? Life?
We left the bivouac at 4:00 this morning. What a sunset that was! And the three of us, alone at altitude, surrounded by the 4000ers, cooking our supper by candle and head light. I slept so well, so open to today’s adventure, route. I slept so well, so cosy under my pile of (slightly) rat infested blankets, feeling me, just me, not concerned with whether or not I would succeed or fail on this new (for me) alpine route. And here I am now, happy. Yet we see how the rock on the leeward side is coated with rime ice, making foot placement slippery to say the least. Happy I am, yet my fingers are so cold, I don’t dare wear gloves for not feeling the holds. Happy I am, yet the rock is SO crumbly and loose, chunks falling 800 meters to the slopes below. The route description said nothing of this! Happy I am, to feel me, cosy inside, as I imagine the sun coming soon out of the mist to warm us. My two clients on my rope have such different levels of experience, one so slow and awkward, the other so competent and helpful to the other. Happy I am, repressing my urge to reach the summit quickly, but rather stay here and now, feeling each hold, sunny side warm, cold side still so cold and frozen.
What I’ve discovered about my life as a guide, my daily struggles to reach the top, is so much like life itself. Yes, it is my dream job, though I never for a moment, growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, where riding horses all day and catching a wave on the weekends, could have imagined I would someday be a Swiss Mountain Guide, sharing adventure every day with the most lovely people on this Earth.
And for that I am thankful.
Autumn is in the air with snow forecasted to 1800 meters Wednesday. I feel lucky to have squeezed in two superb alpine climbs this past week with Jason and Joe. ISM asked me to take this week for them, and I was super happy to work for this long time guide’s office.
The first route we did was the Arete de Salion, running up the west side of this big ridge, separating the Arolla valley from the Ferpecle basin in the Val d’Herens. Danielle has made the private Tsa hut quite cosy, giving one the feeling of being lodged in her own home. We left the hut at a leisurely 7:30AM to allow the rock to warm a little before touching it with our bare hands. What followed, was one of the finest climbs I have done, high on an alpine ridge, in these Pennine Alps. One normally “short-ropes” long sections of easy scrambling. But on this Arete de Salion, we climbed and climbed and climbed on great rock. I “pitched out” almost every 30 meters with my 37 meter long rope. Placing a few nuts and cams helped secure any of the moderate moves, with a handful of well placed bolts helping me “French Free” the most difficult moves. The bonus of this wonderful climb was the walk right off the top, onto a flat glacier, eventually leading to the Berthol hut, and another woman guardian’s touch to a homey atmosphere and great lasagna!
Our second route was the South Ridge on the Grand Cornier. We decided to traverse this not-quite-4000er. Packing a few edibles from the valley floor, we climbed 5 hours to the supremely isolated Bivouac de Dent Blanche at the foot of the monster Dent Blanche. What a fine evening we had, all alone in a high col, surrounded by some of the most majestic mountains around. We set off at 6:30AM the next morning, greeted with fresh surface hoar on all the westerly facing rocks on the ridge! Foot placement after fine inspection was a great idea to keep from slipping off. Half way along this 1 kilometer, alpine ridge, the sun was finally warming nooks and crannies, allowing us the fine moves to the dihedral on the fore summit. Finishing off the north ridge, we descended through perfectly white snow, still coated with last night’s surface hoar, down to the immense Moiry Hut. Yvan, with whom I finished my guide’s courses, is the guardian of this mountain hotel, catering to the heavy day traffic this hut sees, with his wife and two kids, home schooled by his wife Lidia. What fantastic views this hut has onto the wild Moiry Glacier.
A leisurely start the next day, took us over the Col de Couronne and down to Forclaz, where Ramond was nice enough to give me a lift back to my car at Ferpecle. Merci Ramond, for the lift, your awesome croute au fromage, and good stories of climbing with friends on the Douves Blanches.