We had gotten off to a bad start.
“Honey,” I whined, rapping on the driver’s side window with my knuckles. “I forgot my ski boots.” Back we go.
Twenty minutes later, we’re off, the dog and I, striding through the dusk into the Berard Valley. The rain clouds that plagued the longest day have parted, leaving a warm night filled with stars and a nearly-full moon in their stead.
We reach the top of Mont Buet, shocked to find the rude stone shelter in which we had planned to grab a few hours of kip, the Abri Pictet, covered and completely hidden by huge quantities of recent-but-transformed snow. We’ll just have to hunker down beside the summit cairn, half-buried as it is, and dwarfed by the accumulated dome of snow to the south east, the true summit, which must be at least three metres higher than usual. The wind-blown cornices standing guard over the north east face are twice as large as I’ve ever seen them, and a second line of the house-sized blocks of snow hang precariously under the first. I daren’t go within shouting distance of the edge.
The plan changes: we weren’t going to ski the north face proper, of course, but we wanted to take the cheat’s access to the Tre-les-eaux glacier via the col between Buet and Mont Oreb, followed by another skin up to the Pointe de la Terrasse and a ski down the Veudale to the Emosson Dam. But with those monstrous cornices hanging over us? Sod that.
I kick out a foxhole in the lee of the summit cairn and empty the contents of my bag so that Baldric, dressed in his bivvy jacket, can use it as a bed, then I lay down on my upturned skis. We sit and shiver for a few hours, waiting for sunrise.
Dawn comes, and after sharing a sausage sandwich with the dog, we enjoy twelve-hundred metres of day-late solstice skiing down to the Pierre a Berard refuge; first brittle caramel, then perfect creamed corn, then gritty hummus. Boots off, trainers on, and now there’s nothing left but the long slog home to Argentiere, under a forest of confused glances from trail runners and hikers.
With the passing of the summer solstice, the nights are getting longer and winter draws near. As the 2016 ski season finally, unbelievably, grinds to a halt, we can turn our thoughts to next year.
Long live winter!