Skiing 2000 meters down wild couloirs to bowls to more couloirs into a tiny primitive village in the middle of their annual celebration with everyone wearing outlandish costumes, was our last day of a 7 day ski Safari. Staying flexible to location, route and lodging was key again to our excellent little adventure. Not knowing which valley, which town or which isolated village we would arrive in the next day made it all that much more stimulating. Starting just across the Rhone Valley from Verbier, at Montana Crans, we headed up the wind scoured Wildstrubel, only to get blown off 200 m from the summit. With our tails between our legs, we headed south back into the Valais rather than our intended descent north into the Bernese Oberland. It was obvious the wind was hammering the high peaks, so we decided to had a fun day riding a little lift and skiing beautiful power through the forest on the other side of the Rhone valley. Then into the Loetschental next day, over the north ridge for an all-day-run down a lovely valley surrounded by huge rock walls to Wengen, where we met up with team Telluride who joined us for an epic descent the next day, after skinning then skiing then skinning then skiing then skinning into another remote valley, sliding up to the front door of a four-star hotel, served cheese fondue and then, them, team Telluride, skiing down and away in the dark full of white wine and cheese to make the train back to Zürich. Us three, we woke up to hot expresso and a delicious buffet breakfast, slapped on our skins, and headed to the pass 1'400 m above us. The descent down the other side to Kandersteg was the "valley of cliff bands" needing good route fighting or several hundred meter rappels if you got it wrong. With no rope in my backpack we opted for solid route finding. Not another soul in site, just us and the chamois, skiing powder through the last cliff band onto the Oeschinensee, surrounded by hundred-meter-tall-frozen-waterfalls and then sausage and soup in the restaurant on the other side. We found another cozy hotel in Kandersteg, then hopped on the train the next morning right behind the hotel, taking us back to our car in Loetschental and that fabulous last run into the valley celebration. My first ski Safari of the season and I want to go again tomorrow!
The driest December in this area since measurements began in 1864 created new challenges for a mountain guide like myself. I could have behaved like Chicken Little and believed the end was near, or rather taken advantage of those conditions. The foehn episode that dried the northern Alps in November, coated the southern Alps with a lovely layer of fresh powder. Living close to that main divide here in Verbier, my clients and I profited from the situation, ski touring and heliskiing in the south, and hiking and climbing in the north. For those who enjoy being outside no matter the weather and conditions, I've found it so rewarding to share these mini adventures with you. Thank you! The following 20 pictures show some of our days together on skis, skins and foot, enjoying what mother nature provides.
"This is real mountaineering," Ton says to me as we make our way up the final steep slope on the North Face of the Mont Dolent. I was at that moment reminding myself to make a good mental note of how fine our position looked. The fresh snow of last week was still perfectly white, unlike the older snows lower down, which have gotten brown and discoloured from weeks of summer weather. This white snow, now frozen and hard after a few days of melt/freeze, and with the tracks of a previous party, made while the snow was still soft, left us a perfect stairway, foot steps for relaxed feet, not having to front point or "French Technique pied plat." Conditions like these are rare indeed, nobody else on the mountain, great mixed climbing (some snow and some rock), all contributing to a stimulating experience. The mountain is asking for different skills from the climber, our brain and ego constantly infatuated with the different movements required, as we go up and up, above the clouds on towards the summit. We hiked to the Bivouac Dolent, "La Maye," Tuesday, getting there in 2.5 hours. The steep path was a virtual stairway to heaven, gaining elevation immediately. The fields of La Fouly were quickly left far below, and we reached this odd looking bivouac in no time, a submarine like structure placed in the scree slope below the mountain.It's a cosy little place inside, with all the cutlery and crockery from an elderly lady's kitchen. I'd brought a cook stove for our pasta and morning coffee. Wednesday morning's glacier was chaotic and convoluted, asking for creative route placement for the first couple of hours. Reaching over the gaping bergschrund at 3250, we mixed it up, with our right foot on rock and left on snow. After gaining the NE ridge, we found tiny holds for our crampons on the north side, then back onto the glacier, and back again onto the rocky ridge, then onto those pristine, final slopes, after yet another vertical bergshrund crossing. Looking into the Chamonix valley, with it's multitude of alpinists, we couldn't help but feel super lucky to be completely alone on a supreme alpine route. Thank you Ton! I'm always amazed, how you can come back here to Verbier, your little paradise away from home in Holland, working more than full time as a nephrologist/transplant physician, a research scientist on the cutting edge of new organ growth, and hospital manager in charge of thousands of employees, and climb so well with me to the top of all these peaks we have done together over the years. Bravo!!!
I'm back from three gorgeous weeks of sailing through the islands of Croatia. A nice jaunt to the top of Mt.Gele this morning will help me reacclimatise for upcoming trips into these beautiful hills around the Valais. We experienced all kids of sailing weather this summer. The Bora hit hard for three days, forcing us to sit out 2 days in Rogoznica. Day 3, we headed out towards Vis, looking at a 6 hour sail. The winds had kicked up some large waves and it was still pushing 25 knots. So half way across, we jibed and sailed to the Island of Brac, dropping anchor in an idilic, protected bay with a typical tiny family run restaurant ashore. Another week of great winds blowing 10-20 knots sent us to Hvar, Vis, the Kornati Islands and many other tiny islands and bays. We revisited the little port of Zlatan Otok at Seta Nedilja and managed a few more fun sport climbs. Cruising these islands of Croatia takes one to so many different settings. From isolated bay, each one a bit different, to big historical ports, each day seemed so varied. And the fun part was not knowing where the winds would blow us the following day. Sailing according to the winds was an analogy of going with the flow in life, easing downwind with the storm-force pressure on reefed sails, and upwinds when the pressure was agreeable. I'll be heading to Greece this fall to sail and climb, and am looking for company. The price will be around €1'300/person. Hope to see you on the water or in the hills.