First Tracks – Or the Snow Must Go On

Someone has to do it I suppose. Someone has to be mad enough to head out into the mountains unseasonably early and report back on the conditions. As we mentioned in an earlier story some plucky chaps from the website [url=][/url] tackled the 4000 meter Barre des Ecrins at the end of September but with the first real snows of the season over the last couple of days would it be possible, sensible even, to try out non-glaciated terrain[1].

Sept Laux Ski Area
Sept Laux Ski Area

With a national strike gripping France one thing was sure. The autoroutes would be free. So why not profit with a trip to the Col du Glandon. At around the same time last year the grassy slopes of the Ouillon had been practicable, skis on from the car. Maybe it would be the same? The western flanks of the Belledonne promised much. Snow down to 1600 meters in the Sept Laux ski area with 25cm posted at the top of the (closed) pistes.

Pulling up the Glandon valley things didn’t look quite so rosy. Certainly the juxtaposition of golden-brown woodland with the towering, snow blasted summits made for great photography but the snow looked thin, and high. Clearly the west-east airstream meant that this side of the mountain was in rain, or is that, snow shadow?

Pic de la Grand Valloire
Pic de la Grand Valloire, Belledonne Range

The Glandon itself was clear of snow and even the 2,400 meter Ouillon had only a dusting on its summit; like a sprinkling of icing powder on a chocolate pudding. I vacillated. Walking boots or randonnée boots? Well I could always dump the skis if I didn’t find snow and continue on foot I reasoned and the walk would be good for fitness. I left the Glandon heading for the Col de la Croix. A traverse on foot with what looked like snow at 2100 meters. Some 200 meters higher up. This was going to be more of a walk with skis than “le grand ski”.

At 2150 meters I did actually have to fit skins. The summer path had some 15cm of fresh but absolutely zero base. I looked around for how I would ski back without too much walking. On the north slopes the snow was already somewhat crusty and not especially thick. The southern aspects looked like the best plan. Here the fresh snow had fallen off the steeper slopes in the afternoon sun and built up some quite reasonable depth. I cut up a narrow gorge then swung left past the Lac de la Croix to the eponymous Col.

Lac de la Croix
Lac de la Croix

A bitter wind was blowing and I turned up my collar against the cold. The col had at least half a meter of snow on it and the slopes down to the Col de la Combe Madame were steep and deep. Not something I would want to test alone, even with the limited snow cover. I removed my skins, locked down my bindings and headed back down the slope. First tracks for the new season.

Thanks to Luc, the webmaster of [url=][/url] for suggesting the title of this piece.

[1]We should point out that glaciated terrain can be extremely dangerous in the autumn as crevasses will be poorly bridged.

Posted by davidof on Thursday, 06 October, 2005 at 04:26 PM

thank you for “the suggestion”.

Posted by luke on  Thursday, 27 October, 2005  at 01:52 AM
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