Once again, I am witness to one of my favourite scenes of Chamonix: the Aiguilles Rouges coming to life under a rising sun, from dark to dawn to daylight. The wind blowing across the mouth of the light aluminium ice axe strapped to my backpack whistles its hollow tune, and the raucous bellow of rutting ibex drifts up from the cliffs below me.
One of the many unpleasant things about being a trail runner is the sudden shock of a heavy backpack at the end of summer, as the trainers and tights are hurled into the cupboard and replaced by skis, boots, and glacier gear. This year I’ve decided to ease the transition by taking more weight out with me a little earlier on, and following a thermos-weight jog up Mont Buet, armed with tea and binoculars, it was a joy to see that summer had softened its warm, sweaty grasp on the mountaintops, allowing a nice thick layer of snow to accumulate on the north-facing side of the Aiguilles Rouges. The glacier under the Col du Belvedere started calling out to me, begging me to hike up to it with my heaviest bag yet.
Upon reaching the col, freezing winds send screaming billows of cloud up the narrow north-facing couloir, and the glacier far below lies hidden from sight. Wearing every item of clothing I’ve brought and dancing maniacally to fight off the cold, I bemoan the prospect of having to retrace my steps and trudging back down to Argentiere, but after an hour of waiting, the clouds split, the raging dawn winds abate, and a crevasse-scarred but pristine-white glacier appears through the mist.
If we’re being completely honest, it wasn’t a very fair trade: over 1500m of ascent in return for not even 10% of that on skis for the descent, followed by a few kilometres of heavy-footed yomping over moraine, scree, and finally the well-worn but technical trail down the Berard Valley, to the amused but, frankly, pitying laughter from the matriarch of the Hotel du Buet.
In short, it might not have been the best snow the Aiguilles Rouges has ever seen, but it was certainly the best that could be found on that day, and a pleasant-enough morning spent outside.
This is a short video documentary about ski-running the Col du Belvedere in September. Pretty poor camera work for the actual skiing, but hey ho. It didn’t last long anyway.