Midsummer Ski Mountaineering / by Natalie Segal

Photos care of Heather Swift, Women's Mountain Collective.

It's been raining a lot lately. The other day I woke up and in my grogginess thought it was winter and that it had just snowed. When I looked out the window and felt the temperature I was jolted back to reality. It's the middle of summer and that heavy rain falling down.

After two months of summer I'm starting to pine for cold days, snowfall and skiing. I miss skiing, I miss the floaty feeling, going fast and jumping off things while not fearing for my life like I did yesterday while trying to mountain bike.

When I first arrived in the Alps this summer a little part of me had a secret goal to try and ski every month of the year. However, with the warm temps and my plans to head to New Zealand on my home having fallen through, I have only realised that this little goal may have to wait for another time.

This did, however, leave me to reminisce about my last summer skiing adventure, where Heather Swift, Rich Southcott and I managed to bridge a ski trip over June and July.

Hot hot hot skiing slush off Breithorn. 

Hot hot hot skiing slush off Breithorn. 

June 30th.

I woke up groggy on the couch, after working until the early hours of the morning I snuck into Heather's place for small nap before waking up around 5:30am up to head to Italy.

6:30am - We're running a little behind schedule, partly due to my tiredness and other small factors. Car is getting packed with skis, glacier kit and extra gear, just in case.

Sometime around 8-9:00am - Arrived at the carpark of Cervina. Were excited to see other skiers until we realised they were going to ski at the resort and not ski tour up mountains and glaciers. After some mismatching of gear, giggles about skiing when it was so warm and finally gearing up we jumped in the lift and put our skins on.

11:00am- Important moment at the refuge involving me cleaning the chocolate milk that leaked through my backpack, that managed to inundate my avalanche rescue gear, eating creamy pastries, buying lunch and sipping coffees. Left with a cleaner bag and full stomachs towards Kleine Matterhorn, dodging alpine racers and park rats. After making it to the top we slipped off to the side towards Breithorn.

12pm- Starting to feel the altitude as we skin out of the resort towards Breithorn (4100m). There are lots of mountaineering parties but no one else has skis. Feel a little outnumbered here.

Breithorn- my first 4000m summit with Castor in the background. 

Breithorn- my first 4000m summit with Castor in the background. 

Sometime early afternoon - On top of Breithorn. What a view, the Matterhorn lurks just to the left, while Pollux and Castor, our goals for tomorrow stare us straight in the eye to the right.

Heather Swift stoked on life, soaking in the view of the Matterhorn.

Heather Swift stoked on life, soaking in the view of the Matterhorn.

Slogging up wet snow for an hour at altitude was worth it. The corn and smoo that we skied to the bergschrund was just what the doctor ordered for this ski-sick little girl. I only wish that it was longer! However, that wasn't the end of the day.

Our game plan was to ski Breithorn and descend down to the Rifugio Guide della Val D'Ayas. On paper it seemed simple enough. Descend from Breithorn, keep on going, traverse across the glacier and then make your way to the hut. Yes simple on paper but sketchy on wet, summer snow.

It began ok but after a few soggy crevasse lips we began to realise that and earlier descent would have put us in much better stead for a safe descent. The consistent calving on the lower flanks of the glacier only heightened our feelings of anxiety.

After several hours and too many crossings we made it to the final traverse to the hut, the crux of our descent.

Sunset from the hut with Heather Swift.

Sunset from the hut with Heather Swift.

After a good refuel, a beautiful sunset and a sleep we were ready for the next day. Unfortunately were decided not push forward with our plan to attempt both Pollux and Castor in the same day as a result of the poor conditions on Castor and the exponential warming that we had experienced during the day- we still need to make it home before the close of the lifts.

July 1st

Woke up to an incredible sunrise and a cracking morning. After an interesting breakfast of dry bread and nutella (not sufficient for this ladies breakfast needs), we started back up towards Pollux.

Hiking up towards Pollux, Photo: Rich Southcott

Hiking up towards Pollux, Photo: Rich Southcott

I knew that the route up to Pollux involved a little more rock climbing in ski boots than I was used to but halfway up when the route turned to straight rock, my skis and I started shaking in our boots.

Belaying Heather on the mixed rock route up to the summit of Pollux after a little ski tour and a boot pack.

Belaying Heather on the mixed rock route up to the summit of Pollux after a little ski tour and a boot pack.

However, with a strong leader we make it up, albeit slightly awkwardly with our skis, to the top of the rock route, ready to attack the snowy ridge to the summit.

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We made it to the summit around noon and despite concerns that the snow may have already transformed, we found the opposite on the descent. One could almost call the top section boilerplate (really icy). Nevertheless with was a super fun, steep descent with just a few creamy turns at the bottom.

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To date, these two days were some of the best I have spent in Europe this summer. We had a great crew, a super interesting route planned and two fun descents. It's crazy how much you can learn in two days but spending the time on the glacier like this helped me to consolidate so many things I have learnt over the past three years. I can't wait for winter!