“You are a bunch of lunatics” shouted the wife as I flitted out the door into the pitch black of night. Well at least she seemed to have finally grasped the idea. I certainly did not have much trouble convincing members of the Bivouak.net ski mountaineering forum to accompany me on a 750 meter climb of the Moucherotte in the Vercors mountains. They even brought their own refreshments.
Now to a lot of folk skiing at night would seem like lunacy but you would be surprised just how much you can see by the light of a silvery moon. Climbing first also gives your eyes plenty of time to get accustomed to the stygian gloom before the moon raises its head above the mountains. The ambiance is sublime. So much so that some more lycanthropic ski mountaineers only come out by the light of a full moon, covering four or five mountains over the course of a week.
Grenoble and the Belledonne range
With the avalanche risk at Considerable (3/5) and an accident involving a group of guides at Serre Chevalier a bit earlier in the day we deliberately chose a low risk route. Saint-Nizier du Moucherotte was the scene of the 1968 Grenoble Olympics ski jump. Highly criticized at the time as an enormous waste of public money the ski jump has long since disappeared. I remember the station as once being a busy spot, especially for beginners but today, by the eery moonlight only the vestiges of the ski resort remain, shut down as part of the department’s “winter sport plan” to move away from downhill skiing. It seems a shame; the snow in the Vercors has been superb for the last two winters.
Chamrousse, les Deux Alpes and le Grand Serre
The climbing was better, certain less icy, than we imagined. The route had been well trodden by snowshoers and ski tourers out for their Sunday constitutional. We climbed the 750 meters to the summit in a shade under 1h30. Sylv had brought two thermos of Vin Chaude and home made cake, I had a bottle of Poire William and a thermos of Irish Coffee, Hervé had some devilishly alcoholic concoction he called “Savoyard Tea”. We even had enough to share with a group from rival’s SkiTour.fr who were to attempt a moonlight descent of the extreme east face (they had figured without an evil layer of sun crust).
Below us the 10 Megawatts of lighting of the Grenoble conurbation radiated out into the night. The inhabitants blissfully unawares of nocturnal rituals some 1700 meters above. At one time the Moucherotte had a hotel complex at the summit and a cable car to bring guests to and fro. It went bust sometime in the 1970s and had been heavily vandalized. The cable car and hotel were removed and all that remains is a building housing a powerful telephone relay.
For the descent we headed down the north side of the mountain. A series of chutes and powder fields which eventually rejoin the summit track. The driver’s below must have wondered what the series of head lamps dancing amongst the trees were… glowworms perhaps? We made it back to the car a little into the next day. Chance to grab a few hours sleep before the next trip.
Ben on the descent
More photos at Bivouak.net: Moucherotte plein lune