Snowshoe Mountaineering 2003
This is the Dave Butcher photo diary of a snowshoe mountaineering trip to the Tour de Bavon area of Switzerland.
Black and white photography is used here to illustrate a 6 day snowshoe mountaineering trip. Based in Vallorcine, France and 1 night at the Grand St Bernard Pass Monastery in Switzerland.
This was our first full week of snowshoeing, having tried it for one day the year before. Our guide was Hilary Sharp (Trekking in the Alps) and we met in the second week of March 2003 in Vallorcine, France, where she lives.
Sunday 9th March 2003
The first day was an easy one to get us limbered up and used to the snowshoes. We started off boldly by crossing the hotel beer garden, which was covered with a couple of feet of firm snow, and went up through the woods on a wide track. We left this for a narrow airy path and eventually came out on an open snow slope near the Chalets de Loriaz. We stopped for lunch, sitting on the roofs of the chalets, the only bit above the snow. Then across to the Tete de Chavrette (2038 m) before running down through deep powder snow. Lots of black and white photo stops for shots of snowshoeing and the surrounding mountains.
Monday 10th March 2003
We headed over to Switzerland to the small ski area of Vicheres and started out from here at around 10 am. A chair lift soon whisked us upwards and then a walk uphill saw us looking across to the big peaks at the end of the Mont Blanc range, including the Grand Darrey, on the other side of the valley. A steady climb saw us on the lower slopes of the Tour de Bavon where we put on crampons for the last section of steep snow to the airy ridge. A narrow track led to the top of the Tour de Bavon (2476 m) which we reached at 12.15 pm. What a great little peak! We carefully made our way down the steep slopes, swapped back to snowshoes and went across to the end of the Bec Rond for the extensive views beyond. It was too much to include this peak as well so we turned around and made our way past the foot of the Tour de Bavon again. We saw some ski tourers come up from the valley below and start taking the climbing skins off their skis in preparation for their ski descent. I used a short telephoto (150 mm) to frame them against the snow of the Grand Darrey behind. I took a few as they moved around and it worked quite well. Just after this I once again I took some shots of hare tracks in the snow leading towards the Tour in the background. The lighting was better than in the morning and no chance of lens flare from the sun at this time of day. Then we headed down and caught the chair lift at 3.30 pm.
Tuesday 11th March 2003
should have ended with a night at the Bonatti Hut near Courmayeur but the guardian decided not to open because she didn’t have enough bookings to make it worthwhile. Instead we had a day trip, from Planpincieux car park (leaving at 10 am) along the valley floor to the track to the Bonatti Hut. Then up through the woods to the hut (2025 m) which we reached at 12.30 pm. After a short break we headed up beyond the hut into the large corrie above Malatra. Lots of black and white photo opportunities with the big mountains of the Mont Blanc range and the smaller ones around us. This was where the shot of Hilary snowshoeing towards the Grandes Jorasses was taken from. We headed back and reached the car at 5.20 pm after quite a leisurely stroll out.
Wednesday 12th March 2003
found us once more in Switzerland. We parked at Ravoire at 9.30 am and walked up through the trees. Lots of snow everywhere. From here we emerged onto the open hillside and soon found ourselves on the 2 summits of Mont de l’Arpille (2085 m) at 12.10 pm. The clouds were down on the big peaks and it was a bit of a grey day so no photos. We were back at the car by 2.30 pm.
Thursday 13th March 2003 – A 2 Day Trip to the Grand St Bernard Pass Monastery
We drove over to the large car park for the Grand St Bernard Pass ski area (1927 m). From here we snowshoed up the side of the track that was used as one of the link pistes for the ski area. This led towards the monastery. Part way up we headed left into the Combe de Barasson, under the unsightly electricity pylons to the Col Ouest de Barasson (2635 m). Great views ahead to Mont Blanc. We retraced our steps down the Combe to the track and then continued uphill to the monastery, a very busy place in winter! Not many monks but lots of people using it as a mountain refuge. We had the luxury of sharing a large room for just the 3 of us, with proper beds! We dumped our gear and headed up the slopes behind looking for black and white mountain pictures. Lots taken but none printed so far though! Then down to the monastery for the night.
Friday 14th March 2003
We were out early before the ski tourers set off en-masse. We were heading for Mont Fourchon. Snowshoes on at the door of the monastery then we started out by going across the frozen lake below. Then along the snow covered road before heading off to Mont Fourchon. The route wound steadily upwards until we were on the final shoulder of the peak. Here we took off snowshoes and made our way up the steep slope to the top of Mont Fourchon (2902 m). Great views and photos all around, especially to Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses. Then down to put on snowshoes just as the first ski tourers arrived, they must have had a lie in! From here we headed over to the Pain de Sucre a shapely peak close to Mont Fourchon. A steep climb on crampons found us on the final ridge. Then a short climb along the ridge to the airy summit of Pain de Sucre (2900 m). Again great views and lots of black and white mountain landscape photos. For the descent of the steep slope we roped up and carefully made our way down. I went first and took the shot back up the slope of Jan with the sun behind her head. Then down to the monastery for afternoon tea before heading down to the car to end the trip.
Mamiya 6 MF + 50 mm and 150 mm lenses
Ilford FP4 Plus 220