The Sun Rules

Trip Start Oct 26, 2006
Trip End Aug 2007

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The brown fields turned back to white as a storm came through the valley a couple weeks ago.  Then, as what we found happens frequently in the Southern Alps, the sun came back to rule the weather.  Snowpack has now gone back to its previous level.  More snow would be nice, but sun filled days are a nice change of pace from our typical weather in the northwest.  The sun is powerful here.  Many of the south side of ridges are brown, while ten meters away on the north side of the slope there is half a meter of snow.  Included in our daily morning regiment is slathering our faces with our Vichy 60 sun cream (Suitable for infants) to protect our Seattle skin.
Three events have highlighted our last few weeks.  A Himalayan film festival came into town that we volunteered to help with.  We spent a night during the last full moon with Colin in the Promontoire Refuge located at 3082 meters on the south side of La Meije.  We also went with Mathieu on a memorable ski tour to ski a couloir on the south side of Pic Est de Combeynot.
The Himalayan film festival is an annual event that comes to La Grave.  It is 3 days of films, slide shows, and lectures about climbing.  This year's focus was on women in climbing.  Niels, who we met at the Christmas Eve festivities we went to, puts on the event in La Grave every year.  We figured volunteering for the event would be a great way to be involved in the community, so we asked Niels if we could help out.  Except for us, everyone volunteering for the event were French natives.  Holly loved this.  She spoke a lot of French for those three days and got to meet many people.  I did a lot of manual labor accompanied by nodding and smiling with a bit of charades.  Other than setting up and taking down for the event our main job was being in charge of the "Coin de Feu" (corner of fire).  The Coin de Feu was a tent set up adjacent to the community pavilion.  It was where the smaller presentations were held.  The "corner of fire" was powered by two 3.5 KW heaters.  The McKinstry people reading this blog would probably guess our corner of fire was barely above freezing when the tent was full of people.  In a typical French manner everyone that visited our room, took a second glance at the name Coin de Feu, laughed, put a coat on, and dealt with it.  Our job was to "heat up" the room before the presentations, and make sure the presenters had all they needed (projector, computer, etc).  Everything went pretty smoothly.  The main presentations were held in a large circus-type tent outside the community pavilion.  Between the main presenters on Saturday night of the event there was to be a sit down dinner for the audience.  So after the first presenter was done an announcement was made for everyone to leave the tent for 15 minutes.  In that time all of us volunteers scrambled to move all the chairs, bring in tables, and set up the food.  Then the audience came back in and the volunteers served a nice dinner of chili, rice, bread, apple bread, spiced wine, and of course boxed wine (see we aren't crazy).  When everyone was full and satisfied there was another announcement for everyone to leave the tent again for 15 minutes.  In that time it was another mad rush to clean up and transform the room back for the last presentation.  Halfway through the last presentation my brain had enough not understanding the words as I saw the same sequence of photos starting with pictures of Katmandu,  trekking through beautiful lush valleys with sherpas carrying more than half their bodyweight on their heads, followed by bundled up people on white jagged peaks.  Holly nudged me as I started snoring and suggested we head home.  So we walked out and hitchhiked back up the hill to Les Terrasses.
February's full moon came during a period of clear, calm weather.  Several sunsets leading up to the full moon were spent on the ridge drinking a cup of tea as we watched the sun disappear and the moon rise before we skied home for dinner.  So when Colin suggested we spent the night of the full moon in a refuge we didn't hesitate to bug him enough to make sure it happened.  Friday afternoon we took the telepherique and poma lift to the Glacier de la Girose and dropped down a wide couloir following the common route that leads to the village of St Christophe.  Halfway down we took a left and skinned toward the Brèche du Rateau.  The Brèche du Rateau had a small rock section that we needed to get over so Holly and I roped up for this section.  As we reached the brèche we saw the beautiful 500 meter couloir that would bring us down to the valley below.  Unfortunately the snow wasn't as beautiful as the couloir.  Being thin and crusty we carefully made our way down.  At the bottom we threw our skins back on and climbed another 600 meters to the Refuge du Promontoire located on the south side of La Meije.  With glaciers surrounding this area the only place to put a refuge is on the side of  the steep rock.  That is exactly what they did.  Not a great place for sleep walkers to visit.  When we got to the refuge it was apparent that no person had been there since the last snow storm which was now approaching two weeks previous.  We had the whole place to ourselves.  We spent the early evening drying our clothes, eating dinner, drinking tea, and talking as we waited for the moon to rise over La Meije.  When it did it lit up the whole valley enough to see the details of the rock formations and snow drifts far way.  Before we went to bed we hollowed at the moon a couple times to hear our voices echo back and forth across the valley 2....3....4....5 times before it faded away.  Good thing the refuge was empty because we used the blankets from all twenty beds to keep ourselves warm.  The next morning we ate some breakfast then packed up and climbed to the Brèche de la Meije to see the valley in which we had come the day before.  Les Terrasses looked small.  Colin decided he had wanted to ski down the Enfetchore back to La Grave (the most direct, and steep/exposed, route).  Unsure of the conditions we decided to ski back down the valley toward la Berarde.  Our ski down was pleasant.  The snow in the valley had transformed into some nice corn.  When we reached la Berarde we skied the road toward St Christophe until we ran out of snow, then quickly snagged a ride with a couple from Grenoble.  Holly is becoming a pro at hitchhiking.  I've been luckily riding her coat-tails.  Colin safely made it down to La Grave.  He was the first person to ski the Enfetchore this season.
Well this blog is getting long now so I'll sum up our last tour with Mathieu as a very memorable one.  Mathieu is a sheep herder by summer and a ski bum by winter who lives in Les Terrasses with his partner Charlotte.  They are good people to learn from about keeping life simple.  We have been bugging him to go ski touring so he took us to ski a couloir on the south side of Pic Est de Combeynot in an area by the Col du Lautaret he had spotted on a tour the day before.  Pictures are attached.  The day was filled with a lot of laughs, smiles, and a greater appreciation for crampons and an ice axe.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading.
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