In March we had temperatures of 23 degrees down in the valley, and gorgeous sun for most of the month. The huge snows melted quickly, flowers started poking out their heads, the birds sang and it seemed like that was the end of the winter. Wrong! It’s often the way over here that we get a stable warm period of weather around March, with winter reasserting itself in April and that’s exactly what’s happened this year.
For the past three weeks it has snowed nearly every day/night to around 1200m, and though at lower levels the snow’s typically melted off by the end of the day, at altitude there are once again huge accumulations. Yves and I have just been out into the high mountains from Arolla for 3 days to get acclimatized for the big race, and every day we’ve had to break trail in fresh snow up to 40cm deep. The tracks get laid during the day by people touring from hut to hut, and overnight they’re getting completely covered by large dumps of snow. We had temperatures of -19 degrees C during the day at 3700m with a wind of 50-60 km/h making the windchill around -30 degrees C. And we were starting to think Spring had sprung!
All this fresh snow and associated cloud and wind is making the army’s preparation for the Patrouille des Glaciers very tough. First there’s the avalanche danger: large accumulations of snow are building up on steep faces, often with wind slab. This has to be cleared (using explosives) to secure the areas below. Then there’s the simple fact that without visibility the army hasn’t been able to helicopter the tonnes of equipment they need into the high mountains. Things like generators, transportable mobile phone masts (to create mobile coverage over the course for the duration of the event), large tents to shelter all the stewards and emergency rescue teams, huge water containers and so on. There are 1800 soldiers and 28 Mountain Guides involved in preparing the course, so it’s quite an operation.
On the odd occasion we’ve had a clear spell or two the helicopters have been working overtime to get the gear up high. As Yves and I went up the Pas de Chèvres early Friday morning, the cloud base lifted up above 3000m and a train of helicopters headed out along the lower parts of the course, carrying loads dangling beneath them. They were in a rush to get the gear up high before the cloud closed in again!
The forecast is for snow showers every day up to the start of the first race on 26th April, so here’s hoping the army can make all their preparations safely. It can’t be easy for them. We’re taking part in the second race departing on Friday 27th April and it looks like Spring will truly spring on the Thursday, with temperatures suddenly shooting up the scale: 23-25 degrees C forecast in the bottom of the valley, and ‘only’ -7 degrees C at 4000m during the day. That’s roasting hot after what we’ve been experiencing!