As of last Wednesday, Rifugio Boccalatte is officially open for the climbing season on the Grandes Jorasses. Luci made a convincing argument to open by helicopter. We came up to Valle díAosta on Monday and stayed with our friend Matteo at his campsite in Val Veny. We traveled with Matteo in New Zealand back in February.
On Tuesday we did our big shopping to initiate the season. The guy that usually transports our supplies up to Val Ferret, where we stage our airlift, was unavailable which was potentially disastrous for us. We talked to the owner of the wholesale warehouse where we get our supplies and he set us up with a new driver. He has a much larger truck which barely fit up the narrow road in the upper reaches of Val Ferret. The nice thing was that it has a lift on the back which make for much less work for us. This way we can build our helo loads right at the store checkout down in Aosta city and load them pre-made into the transport. The morning of our flight we just have to wheel the two helo-bags out of the back of the truck and weíre ready to go. It saves having to build a palette only to break it down and build the sling load the next day.
Wednesday was the big opening day. We still had one glitch in the plan though. We needed someone to empty our garbage bags. The Region of Valle díAosta reimburses us for half our flight minutes if we are flying down garbage. This helps to discourage hut keepers from starting their own little dumps around their huts.
Two weeks ago I was up at Boccalatte with some friends from Antarctica. Meg I know from my days with the Appalachian Mountain Club. She met her friend Kirk at the South Pole about the time Luci and I were looking into working in Antarctica. We stayed with Kirkís parents in Denver when we went to the RPSC job fair. Andy was the head of the Science Support division when we starting working in the field at Siple Dome, and I met Guillaume via his website when he was doing the first winter-over at Concordia; the joint Franco-Italian base on the south-polar plateau. Meg and Kirk were in Europe on vacation visiting a friend in Switzerland and they came over to see the hut. Andy happened to be in Europe at the same time. He keeps a motorcycle in storage in Heidelberg, Germany and comes over every year to ride for a few weeks. Guillaume lives nearby in the French town of Briancion with his Italian wife. Since we were all going to be in the same area at the same time I figured it would be a good excuse to get together a bunch of Antarcticans to play around in the snow.
There was still a bunch of snow on the hike up to the hut so we got equipped with axes and crampons; none of which we used in the end. We were able to kick steps up to the hut with out any problems. Once up at the hut, we all got to work digging it out of the snow and airing it out from the long winter. There was no major damage over the winter so we got right to work getting the place ready for the summer. With everyoneís help we got the railing and gutters up and two helo-bags of waste staged on the porch. We also put together a great sausage grilling for dinner.
So, for the flight on Wednesday we already had the trash staged on the porch but, since we were flying up first we needed someone to empty the trash when it arrived in the valley. Usually our truck driver takes care of it but the new guy had other work to do elsewhere. We talked with one of the other hut managers in the valley who was also doing sling-loads at the same time. She agreed to help us with the trash. To make it easier on them we did our air-lift from the same pad they do theirís from. This adds about 3 minutes to our rotation but it was worthwhile for their help.
We are using a new helicopter company this year organized by the hut keepers association. The company, Pelissier Helicopters, was founded recently by a well-known Valdotain helicopter pilot and his sons. He knows the area well and has flown for us before when he worked for a different company. He was a couple of hours late through no fault of his own (the clouds rolled in at a hut in another valley) but when he finally arrived the air-lift went off without a hitch. Luci and I flew up and he dropped us on the roof of the hut. We lashed together our two bags of trash that were still on the porch from the week before and waited for our 1000kg of shopping to arrive. It still amazes me how they can drop a 500kg bag on our front porch that is only a few centimeters wider than the bag itself, as if they were putting a carton of milk in the refrigerator door.
We spent the better part of two days trying to find space for everything in this tiny hut. We managed, as always. We are still fine tuning but are, for the most part, up and running. We have had a steady stream of guests including our old guide friend Christophe Profit who came up a grand total of 7 times in 2004. He made an effortless ascent with two clients up to Point Walker and back leaving a good track in the snow for successive climbers who will inevitably be arriving throughout the summer. We also have a steady stream of water which is a great boon to running a foodservice operation.
I am going to try to keep updated every Sunday throughout the summer so stay tuned.