A Great Way to Kill 5 Days...


I had five days off after exams ended and headed out to get the most out of France.  A french buddy of mine-Benoit Passot-suggested that we head down to La Grave/La Meije in the Alps to do some backcountry skiing.

This place is one of the most incredible ski resorts I’ve even been to.  First of all, it is high: top lift goes to 3500m.  Second of all, it’s rugged: 1 gondola, 2 t-bars and no patrollers.  Use at your own risk.  Finally, the people there are nuts.  They ski everywhere-I’ve never seen a mountain where the most extreme, obscure and insane pistes have been carved up.

It also turned out that Benoit was something of an alpine superman.  His words in going there were “bring everything you’ve got.”  And so we set out for our first day with full avalanche gear and climbing harnesses on.  After a few hours we’d reached the snowline and at 3500 metres I could barely breathe.  With each step I’d sweat and my head would rock back and forth as I saw stars-I don’t think I’d ever done exercise at such high an altitude.

So what next?  Benoit suggests we try and summit the peak.  We put on ropes and have to make our way across this lovely 12 foot cornice.  It’s a 500 foot vertical drop on one side and a nice 60 degree slide onto rocks on the other.  I hate heights, so the first thing I do is look down and almost faint with terror.  Every step was a nightmare and basically involved me swaying back and forth from a unique combination of vertigo, panic and altitude sickness.  All the while all I could think was “boy, if I fall there I’ll have a long time to think about it on the way down.”

We made it across the cornice, but about 20 vertical metres later we had to turn back as I couldn’t really breathe anymore.  How underwhelming is that?  Made it almost to the peak of a mountain and had to turn back during the last 100 metres!

Anyways, the rest of the trip was great too.  We skied one of the best backcountry tours I’ve done; we found a mountain with a huge wide-open face that had some of the nicest snow I skied all season.  And then on the last day we did some crevasse rescue with a guide.  Best part of it was when the guide said “alright, now you’re going to rope up to each other and one of you is going to ski into the crevasse so that the other can feel what it’s like and practice a rescue.”  You get a great internal monologue between the left and right side of your brain when you stand on the edge of a crevasse knowing that you have to ski into it...

All in all, an amazing place to ski that everyone who wants to do some great skiing should do.  I also spent a day in Paris and the countryside, but that’s pretty boring compared to climbing mountains and jumping into crevasses.  You can see all the gory photos here.

Monday, May 8, 2006

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