Fischer Transalp 2017 - Tour Diary

The adventure for the Transalp group 2017 including mountain guides and Fischer support team members started in Chamonix, France. It is from there that they crossed the Alps in six stages on touring skis. The final destination of this year’s Transalp: Torino, Italy.

Day 1: On the road to Chamonix

The Fischer Transalp Crew made their way to Chamonix with the help of the Fischer Jeep® fleet.
From now on it’s up to the participants to make their way across the Alps to Turin under their own steam.

Day 2: Argentiere (FR) – Champex (CH)

And at last they're off! In their excitement at beginning the Transalp 2017 the participants forget the weariness they felt following the more than 20 hours it took some of them to reach the start. The weather gods appear to be smiling on the crew, and so the day begins in brilliant sunshine under a cloudless sky — in fact, on some slopes one or two find themselves thinking of a visit to the sauna.

What’s more, the high temperatures mean there can be no hanging about: speed is of the essence to prevent the risk of coming down in deep mushy snow, or worse, on foot. The first 800 metres up to the Col du Chardonnet (3323 m) are quickly climbed, and here the team face their first test: abseiling on skis down the over 50° gradient of the gulley to the Saleina glacier.

Some of the participants have probably never done anything like this before, but with the aid of the experienced mountain guides the descent goes swiftly and smoothly.
The ascents to the other passes, the Fenêtre de Saleina and Col des Escandies, are partly steep and roped, and are crossed with the skis fixed to backpacks. These ascents may be taxing, but the reward is a firn descent or two.
The first stage has been successfully completed! If it carries on like this, the sunscreen supplies will soon be exhausted — but then, it could be worse for the crew. 

Day 3: Lac de Toules (SUI) – Mont Fourchon - Saint Rhemy (ITA)

Perfect spring weather means an early start so that firn conditions can be enjoyed on the descent. That’s why the Fischer Jeep® fleet is already ready to go at 7am to take the Transalp crew to the departure point near Lac de Toules. On the hard, frozen snow the ascent is gentle but speedy up to the Saint Bernard hospice.
Foils off – a short, swift descent – foils on, and it’s already time for the climb up to Mont Fourchon (2902 m), again in brilliant sunshine. The mountain on the border between Switzerland and Italy rewards the team with a colossal view of Mont Blanc, Grand Combin and many other giants of the western Alps.
But what they like even more than the panorama is the view of the broad sweep of the firn slopes before them.

It’s another one of those days that prompts the discussion of whether a perfect firn day or a perfect powder one is more enjoyable. Left to their own devices, the group would climb up again to enjoy the firn slopes a second time. But there are still some days to go, and apart from that the sun is working through the snow. So it’s back into the valley towards Saint Rhemy. The Transalp participants have had another dream day — as far they’re concerned it can continue like this — off towards Aosta and Pila.

Transalp Day 4: Pila (IT) – Col Tsa Setsé (2815 m) – Arpisson - Epinel (IT)

Many question marks hang over the start of the third stage: Will the weather hold? Will the snow freeze overnight? Will any skiing be possible on the route at all? Even the locals disagree about the answer to that one — it’s going to be interesting! In the morning, two things are already clear: firstly, there has been a slight freeze; and secondly, the weather is okay. Although the day is slightly overcast, visibility is good enough. The team climbs quickly towards Col Tsa Setsé — but evidently not quickly enough: the cloud and the resulting poor visibility make a 30-minute breather necessary.

As soon as the cloud breaks, the descent begins, initially on hard, frozen snow that’s fast but mushy, and it’s not long before the first participants are going head over heels.

On the south side towards Valle de Cognes the snow has all but vanished. Following a reconnaissance by drone, the planned ascent is abandoned: there is no snow on the slope that the team plan to ski down.

There’s still damp snow for a few metres, but then it’s skis on rucksacks for the 700 m down to Epinel. The mood is still buoyant, though, and descending in Fischer Travers boots is almost like going down in running shoes. What’s more, there’s Italian coffee waiting at the bottom, and that certainly helps to lengthen a stride or two. From Epinel, the Fischer Jeep® fleet takes the team to Lillaz – and from there they’ll hopefully be able to hit the heights again tomorrow!

Day 5: Adapting to the conditions is part of the adventure

Hope, they say, springs eternal. That’s why we decided we just wouldn’t believe the forecast for bad weather for stage four. But a look out of the window in the morning does rather dent our optimism: a mixture of rain and snow from thick clouds overhead. But the mood after the past few days is nevertheless fantastic, and so the team sets off for Col di Teleccio. Maybe there’ll be a change in the weather on the way through the 8-kilometre-long valley, or a break in the clouds that would make it possible to cross the glacier.

Sadly, the opposite happens. The snowfall intensifies, the tracks get deeper and the snow that fell overnight starts to come down from the steep mountain faces. There’s just no chance, and it’s much too dangerous to risk this kind of crossing in conditions like these.

“Imagine what you’d do if you were at home on a day like this,” say Peter Perhab, one of the two mountain guides. “Most people wouldn’t even venture out of the house in this weather. Safety first also applies on the Transalp, and you have to adapt to the vagaries of nature and respond as best you can."

Before the climb to the glacier begins the tour is abandoned. After a brief discussion the team turns back and skis back down into the valley as fast as possible, using Profoils on the skis owing to the sparse snow cover. It’s a shame because this challenging and rarely used route would undoubtedly have been a highlight of this year’s Transalp.

The last stage is coming up, but for the next stop in Noasca the weather forecast is unfortunately even worse than it was for today. But that too is part and parcel of an adventure like this: you have to be able to adapt to the prevailing conditions. The planned route is impassable, so the group turns back towards Chamonix without further ado. The Mont Blanc massif seems to be holding the front of bad weather from the south in check, so maybe there’ll be a perfect conclusion to the 2017 Fischer Transalp after all.

Day 6: Chamonix – Mont Buet (3096m)

After five days on touring skis, the participants have clicked into a morning rhythm they can almost perform in their sleep. Everything goes like clockwork. As always, the first thoughts concern the weather – especially today following yesterday’s lengthy discussion of how to proceed from here. It seems that what was agreed is the right decision: it may be that the mountains in Chamonix are also under cloud, but it’s very high and the day’s goal — the summit of Mont Buet — keeps appearing to the watchers in the valley. As usual, the mountain guides set off at such a speed that you’d think it was the first day of the Transalp. Metres are climbed swiftly, and the higher the altitude, the harder the snow and the more biting the cold.

Just under the summit the wind whips up to gusts of up to 100 km/h. But none of that can dampen the spirits of the Transalp group who joke about getting a free facial scrub from the horizontally flying snow grains. Despite that, the weather means that their stay on the summit is not a long one. Just in time for the descent visibility improves, and the route back down takes the team through narrow gulleys. As if to mark the finish, an ibex crosses their path and watches the group’s descent from a safe distance.

That was the 2017 Transalp: sun and firn, cold wind and sleet accompanied the participants on their way across the Alps. There were breathtaking panoramas, a wide variety of ascents, spectacular descents and a large number of surprises. No one will forget this week in a hurry. What remains is new friendships and fantastic days that will stay long in the memory.