Day 1 Val To Val- Kit Test and Training Run.
Friday 24th April arrived and the start of our challenge with a training run up the ‘Glacier du Borgne’, above Meribel (in the 3 valleys), with our guide Zoe Hart. This was Zoe’s first outing with the team, the purpose of the day was to ensure that all our kit was in working order and of course that we knew how to use it! Zoe is an extremely accomplished Alpinist who’s knowledge and skills would help us through the next couple of days. Fully qualified female guides are rare and this was very evident from the apparent confusion at the Motteret lift pass office, it took about twenty minutes for the lady behind the desk to study Zoe’s credentials and make several phone calls before she would give her a guides lift pass. However the most amusing incident of the morning was to occur in the Mont Vallon Telecabine.
Four girls enter the lift with one male ‘securitie de piste’ guard, we had all the gear for a tough mountain expedition, with ice axes hanging from our packs we looked like real mountain explorers. It was clear to us that Zoe knows her job well, but obviously the pisteur was confused by her gender. Fluent in French Zoe was asking all the usual safety questions gaining local knowledge of the best way to navigate to the glacier from the top of the mountain. The pisteur was insisting we should descend down the piste 300 meters and hike up from there, as the way in from the top was steep and difficult. I didn’t understand everything Zoe was saying,but grasped the places and the odd word. It was clear to me she was politely explaining that she was sponsored by Patagonia and Black Diamond and was heavily involved in testing their equipment, often going on expeditions to places he would never dream of skiing & that even though she was female she was more than capable of guiding 3 girls down some difficult terrain safely. Her CV was obviously impressive as by the time we reached the top he had explained the direct way in down a steep couloir and invited us all into his hut for a cup of tea before we set off on our adventure. We declined but all felt good that he’d been put in his place and after hearing of her adventures we felt safe in Zoe’s hands and set off on our training run. The decent to the glacier was down a very steep bumpy couloir which was a test with 10kg of equipment on our backs, but our confidence was running high. However It soon became all too clear that the snow conditions had deteriorated over the week, as freezing levels had fallen dramatically and although we climbed to 2950 meters above sea level the snow was still like thick sludge and very difficult to turn in. We were now more worried about the down than the up and safety was going to be an issue as the avalanche risk was very high. We witnessed two avalanches just on our training run, the rumble they make is unmistakable and frightening.