11th February 2023
The powder snow may not be there at the moment but a day out with a mountain guide is always a special experience. And so it proved to be. NEW
What is your image of a mountain guide?
Perhaps a monosyllabic man of the mountains with wrinkles as deep as the crevasses he is trying to avoid.
Step forward 36-year old Fleur Fouque, a mother of two toddlers.
She was fully qualified in 2017 and is one of only five women working for the 150-strong Bureau de Guides in Chamonix.
“Hi James, lets skin up to the Col des Rachasses at 3,037m and then drop into the Argentiere glacier.
“We’ll go via the Rognons glacier route.
“There won’t be so many people as there is no powder snow anymore, but it will be a day in the high mountains.
“I know you like all the mountain experiences from what I am told,” she said as we chatted on the phone the night before.
“Don’t forget your ski crampons as it will be rather icy on the way up.”
At 08.30 the next morning I was at my favourite ski shop in the area – the Hurycana that is part of the Intersport network on the way into Argentiere.
I always use it when I am in this part of the Alps.
We picked up the necessary gear.
I stressed the ski crampon element.
Fleur gave us harnesses when we met up as we were going on to glaciated terrain.
They are needed in the unlikely event of falling into a crevasse as a rope can be hooked on to get you out.
Before you could say “I’m not sure I want to fall into a crevasse thank you very much”, we were heading up.
Some people may wonder why I am choosing to walk uphill, when I have an all-area Ikon lift pass for Chamonix.
Lets just say skinning up is a pleasure in itself for those who appreciate it.
Now, lets make no bones about it to go on a climb with skins and crampons and then on to a glacier you need to be a good skier with some experience.
This is not for the faint-hearted holiday skier, and a head for heights is useful.
First it was skins and crampons on.
We set off for the Col des Rachasses.
It is a fairly simple affair, though all done at altitudes of up to 3,000m.
The goal is the small building on the left.
Then there is there is the last section, with an icy traverse ahead of the top.
Kick turns are needed and then a traverse to the Col itself.
It is not difficult, but you absolutely do not want to fall.
It is steep and if you go then a cliff drop awaits.
“I have seen one person fall. They were not in my group but they fell a long way and over rocks, but fortunately they were OK,” said Fleur.
I am pleased to say she told me this piece of information after we reached the top
Lets just say I didn’t get my camera out to capture an image of the drop and I was delighted to arrive – as were others.
I don’t often celebrate things with water, but this was the sweetest drink I had supped in a while.
Then the views up in the high mountains.
Next it was the ski down.
There was no real powder, but no matter.
This was all about the adventure.
Every adventurous day in the mountains needs ‘an incident’ and today did not disappoint.
I was with two family members, my 28-year son Alex and his partner Marie.
Alex is a Canadian-qualified Level 3 ski instructor, and Marie an experienced Canadian back country skier.
On a steep downhill section, Marie fell as Alex and I looked on from above.
It wasn’t a no-fall zone, but it was best not to take a tumble.
It looked benign to begin with as Marie just lost an edge and slipped.
Then she picked up speed and lost both skis.
“Stop yourself, stop yourself get your feet underneath you!” shouted Fleur.
I am sure Marie couldn’t hear a word of it, but as I mentioned she is an accomplished back-country skier from Canada and her experience took over.
She arrested her fall superbly after doing several rag doll turns.
We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
I set off to collect her skis and was told in no uncertain terms by Fleur to continue down the slope.
Alex is by far the better skier of the two of us and Fleur did not want to compound the situation with me getting into any difficulties trying to pick up Marie’s skis and get down.
Alex went off to collect her skis without incident.
It was a long and steep slope.
“Marie took the first turn too quickly. One must always be able to stop immediately on a glacier or steep terrain. I was not worried when her skis came off, I just wanted her to stop her fall and she did so very well,” commented Fleur.
Marie was none the worse for her ordeal and bounced straight back into it.
Canadian backcountry skiers are made of strong stuff.
We moved on and enjoyed the wonders of this part of the high mountains.
All too soon the glacier ended – that’s global warming for you – and we lunched on a mountain terrace.
“It is so good to be outside in nature in the fresh air and to discover new places,” said Fleur.
“After a day in the high mountains you appreciate everything in life more and understand your place in the grand scheme of things.
“You need to put the effort in to get the reward.
“It is my happy place.”
I could only nod in total and utter agreement.
A day out with a Chamonix mountain guide – another great experience ticked off on my current extended alpine road trip.
It’s been a ball.