It's Derby time.....let's get the heck out of here

Trip Start Oct 26, 2006
Trip End Aug 2007

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Flag of France  ,
Sunday, April 8, 2007

The biggest event of the year in La Grave is the Derby de La Meije.  The Derby is a race from the top of the telepherique to the bottom of the mountain.  This year there were almost 1000 competitors.  For days before and days after the town is a festival of music and parties, not to mention a mob scene.  Holly and I decided to do what any sane, mellow couple would do.....we got the heck out of town! 
Ptor, Mattieu, Holly & myself piled in the little Peugeot we are renting from our neighbor and drove to the town of La Berarde.  La Berarde is located south of La Meije in the heart of the Parc des Ecrins.  For most of the winter the road is covered with snow.  According Mattieu, the village's only year round resident is a retired farmer who now spends most of his time drinking.  When the road is finally cleared the farmer finally gets some company.  Climbers and skiers come to enjoy the area's glaciers and steep high peaks.
Day 1 - We didn't break the speed record getting to La Berarde.  Several times we had to put "Puggy" into 1st gear to get up some of the switchbacks to La Berarde.  I bet Puggy was more excited than we were to reach the trailhead.  While we left Puggy to rest for a few days we walked/skinned up the valley for about an hour and a half to Refuge du Carrelet located at 1910 meters.  This would be our home for the next 3 nights.  It was getting dark when we got there so we immediately unpacked and started cooking dinner.  That night we had the refuge all to ourselves.  We celebrated our trip with a bottle of wine.
Day 2 - The anti-cyclone (high pressure system) that was forecasted was delivered.  We awoke to a grand blue bird day.  Ptor and Mattieu were planning to ski the Glacier Long, a classic steep ski in the area.  This was a bit more than Team Holly and Seth wanted so we opted for more of a standard route.  Our route across the Glacier du Chardon and the Glacier des Rouies to the top of Les Rouies.  On our way to Les Rouies we got a little view of what this area was known for.  Across the valley we got to see a solo skier boot pack then make perfect tracks down a 500 meter 50 degree couloir.  It was fun TV to watch on our slog up to Les Rouies.  The top of Les Rouies was worth the trip.  At over 3500 meters it was a great vantage point to view the park.  We were also rewarded with some decent pow from the storm a couple days previous. 
Day 3 - Ptor had decided to hitch hike back to La Grave so Team Holly and Seth gained another member for this day.  Our destination this day was Mont Gioberney in the valley adjacent to the valley we skied the previous day.  The glacier below the peak was mostly east-facing so we decided to get an early start.  We got up at o-dark thirty, shoveled down some oatmeal and coffee, and were skinning as the birds were waking up.  This turned out to be a good thing as we were able to make it half way there before the sun hit us. Once the sun hit us it doesn't take long to bake in it.  The last 100 meters of the peak requires a boot pack.  Mattieu and I grunted out the last little bit while Holly relaxed in the sun at the col.  Mattieu liked the look of skiing on the other side so he left us from there.  I skied back down to Holly.  We had some bread, cheese, and sausage then cruised down back to the refuge.  Because of our early start we were back to the refuge by two.  The rest of the day we spent relaxing in the sun wearing little clothes. 
Day 4 - None of us felt excited when the alarm went off.  We decided to let the birds and sun tell us when to get up.  We followed our awakening with a nice slow breakfast.  The plan for today was to walk up the valley together, then Mattieu and I were going to ski a couloir off the Glacier du Petit Chardon.  As we skinned up to our intended couloir we noticed it had recently been skied.  This didn't help our enthusiasm but we continued.  Right before we got to the entrance to the couloir, we noticed another couloir that we didn't see on the map and decided to go for it.  The couloir was a 500 meter line that indirectly came down from the Pic du Says.  The good news:  it was filled with nice cold powder that was great skiing.  The bad news:  it took us 4 hours to boot pack up it and ski down.  This was longer than Holly was expecting and we definitely had her worried.  Unfortunately the big smiles we wore when we came back down didn't sufficiently show the sympathy we had for her. 
Upon our return to the trailhead we found Puggy fully recuperated and ready for the drive down the hill.  We were ready to take a shower.
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