Journey through the Alps



Val D’Isère (1842m) to Ref Mario Bezzi (2284m)F21

09 Mar 2015

Stage: F21

Maps: French IGN 1:25,000 3633ET Tignes / Val D’Isère / Ht Maurienne, and French IGN 1:25,000 3532ET Les Arcs / La Plagne, and Italian IGC 1:25,000 102 Valsavarenche / Val di Rhêmes / Valgrisenche

Time: 11.12hrs (dept 05.53 / arrive 17.05)

Distance: 22.4km (ascent 1862m / descent 1367m)

Weather: clear, sunny & hot

Notes: This is a long day crossing three passes. It is essential to get an early start from Val D’Isère and hike the 3km along the road to Le Fornet before dawn. The ascent to the Col de la Bailletta (2852m) is not particularly straightforward. The rising traverse from Le Fornet is unlikely to be viable. Instead take the ski route shown leaving the D902 road at pt 2030m. The gully of the Ruisseau du Couart is steep. It may be best to break out right around pt 2431m and follow the line of the summer path, however this is not obvious from within the gully. The top of Col de la Bailletta (2852m) is open and straightforward. Descend north to join the main valley at pt 2519m then turn NE and climb to the easy Col de Rhêmes Golette (3112m). Descend directly north to approx 2900m before turning sharply SW to ascend Colle Bassac Dere (3082m). The best ski descent route does not hold the high traverse line of the summer path but follows the (skier’s) right edge of the glacier to the valley floor. This glacier is popular with heli-skiers and is often heavily tracked.

Accommodation: Despite being a private hut the Mario Bezzi has a comfortable small winter room with a good stove and supply of wood. The main hut is open later in the ski season.

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Ref Mario Bezzi (2284m) to Bonne (1810m)F22

10 Mar 2015

Stage: F22

Maps: Italian IGC 1:25,000 102 Valsavarenche / Val di Rhêmes / Valgrisenche

Time: 3.02hrs (dept 08.45 / arrive 11.47)

Distance: 11.7km (ascent 259m / descent 696m)

Weather: clear, sunny & hot

Notes: This is a short day without technical difficulties, however it is not without hazards. The narrow valley from the Mario Bezzi hut to Surier is swept by large avalanches. These can bury the summer road under several meters of debris. From Surier (1800m) take the summer road on the west side of the lake to Bonne.

Accommodation: The Hotel Perret in Bonne is a firm favouite with ski mountaineers, but it is used by large heli ski groups and can be fully booked in busy periods.

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Bonne (1810m) to La Thuile (1450m)F23

11 Mar 2015

Stage: F23

Maps: Italian IGC 1:25,000 102 Valsavarenche / Val di Rhêmes / Valgrisenche, and Italian IGC 1:25,000 107 Monte Bianco / Courmayeur / La Thuile

Time: 13.48hrs (dept 05.01 / arrive 18.49)

Distance: 26.7km (ascent 1836m / descent 2166m)

Weather: clear, sunny & hot

Notes: This is one of the longest and toughest days of the French Alps crossing, particularly if attempted late in the season in hot weather. The day starts with a steep 1600m climb up a south-facing slope. An early start is essential to avoid dangerous snow conditions on the upper slopes. This is a popular area with ski-mo racers and heli skiers so there could be many confusing tracks. The final section of the climb to the Col del Rutor (3373m) requires careful navigating. The descent as far as the Rif Deffeyes (2494m) is pleasant and simple. But be aware of deceptive heli ski tracks leading to ‘pick up points’ with no obvious ski exits. The descent from Rif Deffeyes to the start of the road at 1650m involves difficult micro navigation through thick forest. If you are on the summer footpath it is possible to make slow progress, however if you lose this path progress becomes very difficult. This is possibly the most difficult and frustrating section of the entire French Alps journey. Good Luck!

Accommodation and supplies: There are several hotels and shops in La Thuile.

Alternate Accommodation option: There is a good winter room at the Rif Deffeyes CAI (2494m).

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La Thuile (1450m) to Courmayeur (1200m)F24

12 Mar 2015

Stage: F24

Maps: Italian IGC 1:25,000 107 Monte Bianco / Courmayeur / La Thuile, and French IGN 1:25,000 3531 ET St Gervais Les Bains / Mt Blanc

Time: 8.03hrs (dept 05.51 / arrive 13.54)

Distance: 24km (ascent 1410m / descent 1651m)

Weather: clear, sunny & hot

Notes: The summer footpath (No 13) shown on the Italian map between La Thuile and Montagnole (1590m) is unlikely to be safe or attractive in winter. It is preferable to hike along the SS26 road (beware of tunnels) to la Balme (1309m) and climb the pleasant Vallone di Youla. We chose to cross the Colle di Youla (2661m) and descend into the Val Veny. This was an obvious line but resulted in a long and tedious journey down the valley.  The single advantage being that it led into the Val d’Aosta north of Courmayeur giving a short hike to Entrève and the onward route. With detailed knowledge of the layout of the Courmayeur ski resort it may be possible to plan a faster and more efficient route into the Val d’Aosta either by the Colle d’Arp (2570m) and Vallone d’Arp, or by climbing to the top lift station and following the ski runs down to Courmayeur.

Accommodation and supplies: There are several hotels and shops in Courmayeur and the surrounding villages.

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What happened next?

On 12 March 2015, 32 days after leaving the Mediterranean coast we reached Courmayeur at the foot of Mt Blanc. The intention had been to continue the journey over the summit of Mt Blanc and descend to Chamonix. The fact that we had lost several days to bad weather early in the journey meant that I had run out of time and it was not possible to complete this journey in 2015. On 12 March I drove to Chamonix and spent the night with friends, and on 13 March travelled to Geneva airport and flew to Tromso in Arctic Norway. On 14 March I was guiding a ski group in the Lyngen Alps

Courmayeur to Chamonix route options

There are several ways of continuing the route eastwards into Switzerland. It is not necessary to travel via Chamonix but this is makes a good logistics base and is a convenient place to end one section of the Alpine traverse and start the next.

1: Courmayeur (Entrève) – Rifugio Torino – Chamonix

A long steep climb on a south facing slope that is likely to be devoid of snow on the lower section. The Rifugio is open year round and the descent of the ‘Italian Vallee Blanche’ is certain to be well tracked.

2: Courmayeur (Entrève) – Rifugio Torino – Refuge des Cosmiques – Mt Blanc summit – Chamonix

A fine way to complete the ski journey from the Mediterranean. The climb to the Torino hut is certain to be unpleasant. The traverse to the Cosmiques hut is straightforward. The ascent of Mt Blanc by the ‘3 monts route’ requires stable snow conditions. Descent can be made by the same route or via the Gds Mulets route. It is worth bearing in mind that this ascent will probably require more climbing equipment and warmer clothing than the preceding sections of the journey.

3: Courmayeur (Entrève) – La Fouly - Bivouac de l'Envers des DoréesChamonix

This is probably the simplest way of getting between Courmayeur and Chamonix on skis in winter. Two of the three days are long and the total ascent is over 4,000m. Estimated times and distances are: Day 1, 9hrs, 23km, 1400m ascent. Day 2, 9hrs, 14km, 2150m ascent. Day 3, 8hrs, 25km, 600m ascent.

4: Courmayeur (Entrève) – Gd St Bernard Monastery (via Col di Malatrà)

This can be accomplished in a single, very long, day. The route can then be continued eastwards to the Cabane Valsorey SAC




David Hamilton
High Adventure
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