So has the fat lady finally sung on the 2007 ski touring season? Last weekend we headed up to the Croix de Fer road pass with the aim of tackling the long 1400 meter climb to the Pic de l’Etendard.
I managed to persuade Pierre for a late start, 4.30am at the peage de Crolles then the 100km drive to the col via the Maurienne. Pierre thought we were leaving things late and when we arrived at the car park it was nearly full with a long line of skiers tramping up the slopes.
The late spring route follows the track to the refuge de l’Etandart then joins the new ski piste from St Sorlin. Until recently this was the last undeveloped high mountain pass in the Savoie. Not anymore. A deal meant that this preserved terrain was given over to the Sybelles ski domain with the agreement that the St Sorlin glacier was preserved from development. However, having built their ski lifts and runs the local council are now havering about preserving the glacier. A link with l’Alpe d’Huez is in their thoughts.
We climbed up to 2400m then had to ski down 100 meters to the first of a series of damned lakes. The water was still deep frozen and it proved feasible to traverse directly over the lakes rather than the longer trip round the banks. There then followed well over an hour of rolling terrain which gained us just 300 meters altitude. Finally we were confronted with the large face of the Etendard. It is impressive, not through its steepness, apart from the summit it averages around 30 degrees, but its length. A massive 700 meters. I began to get into my pace and passed a number of other skiers towards the summit. Pierre, on heavier gear, was pacing himself in the thin mountain air.
At the summit there was almost an “end of term party” atmosphere with around 30 skiers standing around, recovering and chatting. The view was spectacular. This was my first time above 3000 meters this season and would be a fitting way to end the ski touring year. There were a lot of female tourers and even one guy who had climbed on snow shoes and was preparing to board down. The long traverse at the end would not be fun for him, at least on skis we could pole.
Finally Pierre arrived and we prepared to head down. The top was old powder from the week before. This gave way to some very humid snow before moving on to perfectly transformed snow down to the lakes. The terrain, although glaciated, is relatively safe but there are crevasses. We noticed a number of skiers heading way off the beaten track and wondered if this was prudent.
By staying high above the lakes we managed to traverse without much poling to the refuge de l’Etendard then a shallow 100 m climb before skiing down to the car. Only 1500 meters but it seemed much longer and in terms of km travelled it was.