Photoshoot at the Albert Premiere Refuge 2002

Mikes TV series on Gourmet cooking in the Alps has been doing very well in the ratings so he and John Whittle (a mountain guide) decided to make a sequel for fun! At very short notice, ten of us met in the Argentière super market to buy the ingredients to cook a "first" - a gourmet dinner in the winter quarters of the Albert Premiere refuge. Our party consisted of John Whittle and Rory Gregory who are both guides, Me (Alan), Mike, Jan & Burton Schrader, Chrissy Harte-Davis, Chrissy Barnes, Jane Hedger & Megan. I was in exalted company, these guys are some of the best skiers in the valley - they are also all very fit (and with a few years on their side)!

The refuge is pretty basic and of course is situated way up on the side of Glacier du Tour at an altitude of 2702m. We had visited the place last November so knew what was in store. On that occasion we had walked up but this time we would have to "skin" up to and then climb over the Col du Passon at 3050m. We would also have to carry all the food that Mike was intent on buying.


Who is going to carry all this?

We seem to have collected an immense amount of food. 12 bottles of wine, a bottle of Ricard and some Madeira for the pudding! We also had 2k of potatoes and 1.5k of leeks plus eggs, milk, bread, flour and many other assorted heavy bits and pieces.

At this point we are all gathered around it in the car park of the Grands Montets wondering if we will ever make it up the hill.

Jane, who knows a thing or two went ahead and managed to arrange for us to bypass the massive queue for the top cable car.



At the top of the Grands Montets

At last we found ourselves at the top of the Grands Montets (3293m). Gilly came with us to take the last photo before we left civilisation behind.

This is the line up from left to right:
Mike,Rory,Jane,Megan,Bingo,Jan,Burton,Alan,Chrissy and John.

Behind us is the Aiguille du Chardonnet and after we have skiied 600m down to the Argentière glacier we will put the skins on our skis and trudge up the other side to the left of the Chardonnet, (that's the pointed one above Mike's head).


Skins on for the long haul

The descent was fantastic, beautiful snow conditions, with John filming us as we went. In order to get some good scenes, he seemed to have the unfortunate desire to have us ski as close as possible to yawning crevasses!!

We crossed the glacier at a slight angle so that we could delay putting on our skins until we reached the other side of the valley. This is where we stopped for lunch and to put the skins on our skis.


View down

The Col du Passon is quite steep and after an hour and a half of strenuous skinning up snow slopes, you do begin to feel a bit tired! Eventually you come to a grinding halt and are faced with cliffs with a gully running up through them at what looks like an impossibly severe angle. At this point you begin to question what you are doing here, especially with a rucksack filled with potatoes and bottles of wine!

It's now time to put on the crampons. These look like some mediaeval battlefield implements with 12 sharp points strapped to your boots. Skis are strapped on to the rucksack and with ice axe in hand, you start to scramble up the gully, with precipice below looking more and more awesome! 

This was my first time with crampons and Rory very kindly put me on the end of a rope.  You can just make us out!



Chrissy going for the top!

I thought I was doing OK until at one point I took a step up and came to an abrupt halt as my head met the underside of an overhanging rock with a resounding "crump". Feeling somewhat light headed, I carried on rather more cautiously.



Jane on top!

Eventually there seemed to be no more snow and rocks in front of my face, just open air and we were at the top. John had been there for some time and had even lowered himself some way back down on the end of rope in order to film the agonised expressions of the rest of us.


At the top of the Col du Passon

The view from the top was stunning. We could look right across the Argentière glacier to the Aiguille Verte. I have to admit to feeling somewhat amazed that we had made it without breaking the eggs!

From here we could ski a few kilometres downhill to the Albert Premiere refuge. Unfortunately, the snow wasn't particularly easy, being a bit crusty in places and I had a couple of tumbles. Burton very kindly brought up the rear and kept an eye on me!

At on point he said to me, "really let it go here and get up some speed in order to get up the other side". I did and it was terrifying, hurtling downhill over windblown crusty snow (sastrugi). Fortunately I didn't fall over and made most of the way up the slope towards the hut.


Albert Premiere winter refuge

This is a picture taken last October, so it doesn't show the conditions as they were. We actually approached the hut on a traverse over the rocks in the foreground.

We arrived to find four Dutch guys there. One of them was 6ft 10" tall and their guide, Robert, was one of only two guides in Holland. Well, they don't have many mountains in Holland!


Whats for supper tonight Mum










The geyser didn't seem to serve any useful purpose
 as there is no water!!

We quickly started cutting firewood for the stove and sank a glass or two of Pastis while we watched the sun go down.

We had an immense amount of snow to collect and melt for both the cooking and the washing up.

Mike soon got down to cooking and there was much amusement from the Dutch when they discovered what we were at. They agreed to let us video their meal - pasta, and we invited them to join us provided they agree to do the washing up.

We eventually sat down to dinner at around 9:15pm.It consisted of a caramelised shallot tart made with puff pastry as a starter.

The main course was pan fried breast of chicken stuffed with a leek and lardon mix and wrapped in smoked ham, accompanied by real mashed potatoes and fennel.


Did we forget the table cloth?

Mike had cooked some real bread - a bit of a problem with an oven that didn't get very hot, so he cooked it on the top of the stove.

For dessert we had a wonderful tiramasu and the whole meal was washed down with copious amounts of red and white wine.

Everyone agreed that there had never ever been a meal of such splendour served in this or any other hut.

Because there weren't very many residents we could grab a large number of blankets each. Jan told me that she was very warm with nine of them!


The way we had come

Jan and Burton had elected to sleep in the "married quarters", a small room a the top of the stairs. I had accidentally crawled in with the Dutch and the other seven had piled into the remaining dormitory.

The night was fairly chilly and the Dutch guys set off at 6:00am so it was a little disturbed. However the noise they made was nothing compared with the din from the dormitory next door. There was raucous laughter and much story telling until the early hours.

Next morning was bright and clear and we all surfaced at around 09:00am. We had bacon omelette with bread and honey.


Johngetting nready to flim us at Col du Midi

It was then on with the skins and "couteaux" - ski crampons for a long climb up to the next col, the col du Midi avoiding the crevassed areas. John suggested that we might perhaps like to climb the Aiguille du Tour while we were passing it but we didn't take up the challenge.

John had amazing energy. He would rush on ahead, stop and film as as we passed, then catch up and do the same again.

This view is approaching the col du Midi (3235m). There is another steep climb up snow covered rocks here, so back on went the crampons and the skis were lashed to the rucksacks again


Skiiing down the glacier du Triente

The view of the glacier du Triente from the top was familiar to me, as we had crossed it a couple of times on the Haute Route. We skiied some long curving turns down to the left side of the glacier followed by a monstrously long traverse of half a mile or so with hat looked to be a very long drop off to our right.

After that, we headed down thousands of feet of mixed snow conditions, making for the town of Triente in Switzerland where Gilly and Katie were due to pick us up.

Megan, who is a world class extreme skier, gave us some stunning demonstrations swooping down the bowls while John tried to catch it all on video.

Towards the lower end of the glacier, there were some very unpleasant avalanche runouts, where the debris had set into blocks of ice. I found it quite difficult to ski over them as by this time my legs were alternating between burning and feeling like jelly.


The end of the trail

Our exit from the valley followed a track which had only occasional snow and ice cover, so the skis kept coming on and off. At one point, I had just taken my skis off and was gingerly picking my way across some very hard ice with my skis over my shoulder, when my feet slipped from under me. As I fell over, I promptly launched my skis off the side of the trail into the forest. Rory very kindly climbed down and retrieved them for me. I was half inclined to tell him to leave them where they were!

Gilly and Katie appeared bang on schedule and drove us back across the border to Chamonix where we gathered for a large beer.


You'd have to melt an awful lot snow for a bath like this!

While we were drinking our beer, Jan and Burton very kindly invited us all around that evening for a hot tub and to watch the video footage that John had taken.

It was a splendid way to end a memorable 24hrs. We could sit in hot water, our aching limbs being gently massaged by the water jets, a glass of wine in our hands and watch the full moon across the valley glinting on the ice and glaciers of Mont Blanc.