Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tour around Dents du Midi **

Continuing on our skiing spree, we spent two days around Dents du Midi, on the other side of Rhone valley from Dent de Morcles. We started at the Marecottes ski station, another three-lift swiss-style wonder, with an impressive access road from Martigny and beautiful ice lines in the valley en face. One has to be motivated to visit all the skiing villages in this country - small or big, commercial or family-type, there is no end in sight, at least for my limited possibilities.
First, we went up the prominent col in front of the lifts near the Luisin. We traversed to the col on the other side without going for the summit (S4 descent). From there we saw the col de Fontanabran on the opposite side of the valley and a beautiful, virgin of ski traces yet, descent we'd follow the next day. Not to mention Mont Blanc and Grand Combin in the distance.

Here is Renaud with our next objective of the day - col de Susanfe on the right of the picture:

The descent was in good snow and practically alone. That was the sign of things to come on this surprisingly lonely tour. Afterwards, unfortunately, we had to go up col de Susanfe - just after the traverse of the frozen Lac de Sanenfe (no i don't know what love affair these people have with the 'nfe' sound there...). Not difficult, but long in the end of the day, the col lead us to the Cabane de Susanfe, a lonely refuge in the middle of the valley. The mountains reminded me of the Rockies with their limestone faces half covered with snow and hanging glaciers.

This time we were completely alone at the refuge, not a bad thing for once, except for the old smoking Stanley stove. Weren't that Stanley stove legs used as protection in Yosemite? (Salathe wall? not sure, my memory is failing here) They looked nicely curved and pretty solid to me one way or another.

The next day saw us up that hanging Ruan glacier, an unpleasant going up, using ski crampons most of the way, sometimes carrying skis through the rock passages and making our laborious progress without traces and just a map - not always that clear. Finally up the col between Grand Mont Ruan and Tour Saliere and out of the North face, we didn't go up the summit of Saliere either, thinking more about the descent and another col we'd have to go up that day. To our surpise, the big Lac d'Emosson was far from frozen. Our itinirary mentioned a crossing of that lake, which prompted us to change a bit our plan and traverse higher up instead of going down all the way to the lake and than up our col. Lac d'Emosson and Mont Blanc in the distance.

The only problem with that plan were the very South-facing slopes all around. Not exactly a place you want to be at 2 pm...There are things you have to do while ski touring or when in the mountains in general that make the heart beat go up a bit. That was one of those times. Going down an avalanche couloir to get to the normal ascent way of our col was the culmination of that. The ascent to Fontanabran was thanksfully much easier, simple ski touring diagonal curve way up affair. Due to our subterfuge traverse we gained a couple hundred meters in the ascent and respected the timing if not the avalanche safety on this one. Renaud in front, at the start of the long traverse...

The descent on the virgin slopes was the recompense for having survived the traverse and all other pains of the day. Good powder and first traces, what could be better? Nice valley d'Emaney, with limestone towers reminding of Tre Cime in many more replicas of smaller caliber made up for the rest.

After a not so bad descent all the way to the car, we finished the outing with a drink in the ever-present Cham in a swedish bar with Olov and Magnus. Even the bar-tenders spoke Swedish - soon Cham will totally forget its french origins among the chique boutiques, exhorbitant hotels, and tourist crowds - with skis in winter, or expensive hiking boots in summer. Thanks god they stay in Cham only and leave all the other small villages alone for most of them. Let's keep the secret places secret!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Marteau in Giffre Valley and the Fiz ***

Done with ice, it's time to get back on skis again! Flaine is a station i haven't been to yet, we leave the car at Samoens and go up all the way to the top of Flaine. Panorama on the Mont Blanc and the desert of Plate is worth the visit to this ski station created in the 60ies from scratch. The tour of the desert is marvelous, after five minutes we are in a different world - no sign of people or ski lifts, only rock and snow around. Here is Renaud at the beginning of the traverse from top of Flaine:

Our program is up the Pointe de Marteau, another not too difficult day with a view on the Fiz chain and Mont Blanc, the big father always present in the background. The last couple of meters up the Marteau double my heart beat as the snow is hardly attached to the rock. Going down is joyful, perfect for my limited powder skiing skills - and only two other traces on the whole face - i do enjoy ski touring more and more! If it were not for the avalanche danger, it could be a perfect sport.

The second part concerns skiing down to the Salvagny village through the Giffre Valley in the pristine Sixt Passy natural reserve. It is not exactly easy with a traverse to accomplish with skis over a 30m drop-off that the description qualifies of an S4. For me it's a rappel with skis on my back, longer but safer. I am getting old - and i don't feel that comfortable on skis yet; maybe one day...

Renaud catches a ride and brings the car back to pick me up at Salvagny and off we go to another family dinner in Lucinges. How nice to have both worlds - family dinner and ski touring all in one - that's what one gets for living in the mountains. One day, one day maybe...

Ice in Aravis - Reposoir

For the first ice outing this season we choose the site of Reposoir, near Col de la Colombiere. Only 2 other guys are around on this Crhistmas Eve day, and they take up the more beautiful fall to the left. We go for the one on the right, only 3 for 2 long rope lengths, but that's good enough. The valley is wonderful, a generous setting for a winter-tale - picture taking is in order! Winter is fun, especially with snow. Here is one of the Aravis landscapes:

Dent de Morcles **

Finally skiing this year, and snow is at rendez-vous in the Alps, at least much better than last year. We start the ski touring season in Ovronnaz, a small ski station in Switzerland with a thermal pool being its biggest attraction. For us, it's the ski touring destination to get to the Dent de Morcles. We take it easy skiing with lifts and than approaching the very comfy refuge Fenestral for the night. It's 100% swiss, with wine, beer, milk, snickers at free service, plenty of wood and almost full comfort. 2 other skiers show up later and we spend a nice evening near the fire.

The second day sees us up Dent de Morcles, an easy way up and down by Tete Noire for some more good snow. Beautiful scenery on Mont Blanc, Cervin, and Lac Leman. Done by 12, we spend the afternoon in the pool, not bad for a vacation!

On the picture below you can see Rhone down below from the summit of Dent de Morcles, beautiful, Canadian Rockies blue.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fonti and Hot Wine

This cold w-end finally saw some traveling. Despite the freezing temps, i got hot wine mix in the shop, gathered around friends and made it to fonti with the team - Renaud, Paolo and Dave. Several european nations were represented, such as Belgium, Italy and England - not counting Scappi and Kangoo.

Climbing was also good - as long as we stayed in the sun. Here is Renaud working at a rather photogenic problem at Gorges des Chats (for chataignes trees, not the animal), just in front of the famous Rubis sur Ongle - which the boys also tried to not much avail this time.

And here is Paolo, the first day, at Roche aux Sabots. Can you tell the Italians aren't used to the cold? :
and Dave finally getting this 6b at Gorges des Chats:

Good times, will do again - and thanks to the team!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bihzad or Persian Miniatures

Climbing down - culture up, that's december in four words for me. Anyway, islam does not allow to paint faces, isn't that one of those overwhelming stereotypes out there? Or at least that's what I took from St Sophia's visit in Istanbul. Calligraphy is sacred, images are profane. And what about this?

For me, it's talent, and an incredible one. I got wind of Bihzad, the 16th century master from Herat, in "My name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk creates strong images of the master that forces blindness upon himself in the end of his life as he refuses to paint for new rulers of the land. But he did paint during several years before. Even though few of his original works remain, his following was great during the flourishing years of the miniature art, in Persia, India and the Ottoman empire.

Concerning the above painting of a scene in a hamam, notice composition and color style, diagonal lines that a little bit later Rubens will also introduce in his paintings when he brings action back from Italy to the Flanders. Decoration is realized precisely to the pixel, Matisse would have been proud to introduce these textiles in his paintings. No wonder it is said that the biggest glory for a miniature painter in those days was to go blind before dying.

Incredible execution again, each leaf is painted separately and has a different color pattern. It is also interesting to note how Chinese painting has been blended with arab inspiration to create these gems. To start with, paper came from china - and than ink and ink paintings - and calligraphy as well. Thanks again to Pamuk and his books that unveiled these paintings - at least to me. Another website with more information on Bihzad and his work here.

Interesting to note that Persan miniature never discovered perspective despite Venice being just a sea-journey away. But the theory behind it is that miniaturists tried to paint the world as God would see it and not as we, humans, do. That is one of the reasons why individual features never really made it into the miniature world, and why this art was tolerated and even adored for a time by muslim elite.

Here is one last miniature, probably by Aqa Mirak:

Notice how the tree integrates the frame and how there are several pictures in the picture here. Composition, that almost resembles an altar painting by Van Dyck, and japanese-style spring flowers, white on the right, and rose-red on the left.

Each miniature was supposed to accompany a text and a story. During wars and conquests, miniatures would be torn out of books and recomposed into new volumes, with new owners sometimes painted over old sheik or sultan representations. That is one of the reasons why it is very difficult to find who/when/why painted a specific piece. In conclusion i'd love to visit soon a miniature exposition to see at least some of these in real as internet pictures do even less justice to these works than more usual western paintings.