We arrived in the village of La Fouly, still in Switzerland, about midday on Monday 14 April. This place has a very dramatic backdrop of Alpine peaks and glaciers scraping the sky 2.2km above the town.
Since we were going to spend a night in the mountains on the Italian side we set off with heavier packs than previous days..and we made things a little more difficult for ourselves by not finding the right path out of La Fouly. Anyway we soon began to work our way up the Swiss Val Ferret towards the Petit Col Ferret where we would cross over to Italy.
The sun began to hit as the afternoon wore on..and we began to sweat, but we reached the Petit Col Ferret around 5 in the evening and entered Italy.
After crossing the col to the Italian side we then had a slightly exposed traverse on soft snow to get over the rocky ridge which gives access to the higher slopes of the glaciated valley lying below the South-East of Mont Dolent, the peak where Italy, Switzerland and France meet.
The evening quickly grew colder now, i could feel the snow refreezing beneath my skis..but fortunately we soon arrived at our accomodation for the night. Bivacco Fiorio is a small unguarded hut at 2700m with wonderful views over the Southern Val Ferret.
This simple wooden structure lined with metal sheeting offers rudimentary comfort for up to twenty people..though a full house might feel a little claustrophobic. Fortunately we were spared the “sleeping in a WWII submarine experience” as we only had to share the space with three others.
Next morning, after a very comfortable night’s sleep despite strong winds buffeting the hut, we set off towards Mont Dolent, the 3823m peak where three Alpine countries come together. The morning was cold and though the wind seemed to have abated it hadn’t disappeared.
As we edged up the mountain the wind came and went but was never far away..the forecast had spoken of days of la bise, the cold North wind that blows in the Alps. The higher we got, the more we could feel it..
..and despite the strong sun the day didn’t warm up much, in fact we continued with zipped-up jackets all the way. By the time we reached the small col before the summit ridge, close to 3700m, the wind was blowing strong and steady, with powerful gusts every now and then..and i have to admit i was feeling a little tired.
We discussed whether to continue to the summit which was now quite close..there remained a short steep section and then the narrow summit ridge, relatively exposed terrain and with a very serious wind blowing. Our decision was to ski down from where we were..a snowhole that other climbers had dug to get some shelter from the wind.
So down we went, making careful turns on snow which was still hard despite the sun shining all morning – ça c’est la bise – particularly in the steep ‘headwall’ section below the col..here the slope attained 46-47º..not extreme but certainly serious ski on hard snow. After this part the slopes mellowed somewhat and also the snow surface began to soften up a little.
Further down the snow was considerably softer and great to ski so we could begin to let the big boards run. There can be few things like fluent ski off a big mountain..and even more so when you have the place all to yourself.
When we reached the hut we stopped to collect some gear we had left there and have a bite to eat..then continued on down. I wasn’t really looking forward to the lower valley part back into Switzerland after the Petit Col Ferret as i expected there would be seriously soft, slushy snow by mid-afternoon. Was i wrong! Just below the col there was a section of hard-frozen snow complete with ruts from multiple ski descents in previous days..tough to ski. Thereafter it softened up a bit to offer something like good piste conditions.
We were able to ski down very close to where we had left the car..the importance of finding the right path! However, it was almost 5 in the evening by the time we got back to La Fouly – we had somewhat optimistically calculated that we would be down by midday! – so we went to look for a place to spend the night before heading over to the French side the next day.
Next up: The Alps III – France!