The weekend just gone, myself and 7 other girls headed out into the wilderness for a dinner party with a difference! Throughout the winter season we have had a number of lovely girly dinner parties at various peoples houses, and then when it was my turn to host I thought I would do dinner in ‘my style’, in a small winter hut far from another soul at 2126m.
This micro adventure was also something I wanted to do for my lovely friend Katie P. I have only known Katie P for a year and a half, but she is like no one I have ever met before. She has such enthusiasm for life, an honest interest in everyone’s hobbies and lives, and her constant infectious smile is something I can only aspire to. On paper, our worlds and interests are very different, whilst I might get up for 5 am to go and explore the mountain and see the sunrise, it’s far more likely that Katie P will just be crawling into bed at 5 am after a night filming her DJ boyfriend spinning the decks. Despite our different lives, she always seems so interested in my adventures with lots of questions and will sit through my dvd’s/documentaries with genuine attentiveness rather than politeness. Therefore I really wanted the opportunity to share the experience of a little micro adventure with her. I then found out another wonderful friend, Alice had also not stayed in a winter refuge…so a refuge sleepover was calling!
For those of you who haven’t stayed in a refuge before, in summer they often have a Gardien (caretaker), are heated, have a hot three-course evening meal available, breakfast, sometimes a shower and occasionally a small bar! Winter huts, on the other hand, are quite different. They rarely have a guardian, are often very small, and designed predominantly to be a shelter from the elements in a storm for ski tourers or mountaineers. Refuge du Saut’s winter hut sits in a beautiful bowl of mountains, 6km from the ski resort of Mottaret through the stunning valley Réserve Naturelle du Plan de la Tuéda. The terrain to the refuge is fairly gradual making a ski tour to the hut defiantly not about the ski down. However, the valley is so beautiful that it doesn’t need to be about the ski, it’s about being away from the crowds, the peace and quiet, the views and the wildlife (Bouquetin). The hut is a small building which sleeps 8 in bunk beds on the top floor, and downstairs has a table and chairs, wood burner and small gas stove. There was no electricity, no toilet and on this particular occasion no gas!! No gas really isn’t ideal when you are hosting a dinner party. I had checked with the authorities who look after the hut and they assured me there would be plenty, but the bottle was empty.
Sadly a few lovely ladies couldn’t get away from work or had other commitments, but 8 of us were up for a night in the hut. We had various levels of fitness in the group, two using snowshoes while the other 6 were on ski touring kit (skis with a hairy skin stuck on the bottom to go uphill, the synthetic hairs stop the ski sliding backwards, then you pull off the skins from the skis to go downhill). We took our time on the walk up, taking lots of pictures, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife and just generally nattering and giggling as girls tend to do. With such heavy snowfall this winter, and now with the warm spring temperatures upon us, big avalanches are abundant. Most of us were working until lunch so we were quick to get away as soon as we could after lunch (as avalanches are more prominent in the afternoon). By 4 pm, as we neared the hut, a lot of avalanches were coming down around us. With one big one covering our path just minutes after we had crossed. We were all carrying avalanches equipment (transceiver, shovel and probe) and spread ourselves out when passing avalanches prone areas, constantly keeping our eyes and ears on alert.
On arrival at our sweet mountain hut, all the girls pretty much ran to get inside. They all had just one goal… to remove their boots, as blisters were ripe amongst the group (plus poor Jojo is suffering from a Morton’s Neuroma). I was very thankful that my boots are like slippers so I set about digging out the firewood. With well over 3 meters of snow this season, I had quite a tunnel to dig to get under the terrace to find the store of dry wood! Once the wood was inside it needed to be cut up and the log burner lite (great job chief fire lighter Anna). Next task was to collect lots of snow and get it melted for drinking water. It was at this point we were quick to find the gas bottle empty. No problem, always a solution. We got that fire stoked and put all the pans of snow on top of the wood burner. Dinner was going to take a while, but the pasta would cook eventually on the fire and the bolognese just had to heat through. Once all the chores were done, the evening was spent eating, playing cards, drinking wine, chatting… oh, and sharing funny stories of wild toileting of course! By 11 pm the candles were starting to burn out and with a number of us having to work the next morning it was time for us all to head up to bed. But not before a final wild pee. One of the best pee’s ever I might add, as I don’t recall ever seeing quite as many stars as there was that night. You first see lots of the big prominent stars, but then as your eyes adjust to the light you see another layer behind them, and then yet another layer behind them, thousands and thousands. If it wasn’t so cold I could have stayed there staring up at the sky for hours. Once snuggled up in our sleeping bags, and extra blankets supplied by the refuge, we chatted and giggled a little more. Then 30 mins of Steven Fry’s dulcet tones reading Harry Potter were put on, in a bid to send us all to sleep. We are soooooo Rock n’ Roll!!! Haha.
We were all up at first light the next morning, and with no gas to make tea or coffee, we all made a swift exit back down the valley. The world seemed so quiet and still as we retraced our steps back down the valley, it’s my favourite time of day, especially with the beautiful clear skies and the sun rising over the peaks. Once back in civilisation it was straight into Evo’s cafe for a cuppa and a massive breakfast before everyone had to head off to work or carry on with their day’s plans.
Everyone said they enjoyed themselves, and I hope they weren’t just being polite. As if they did have fun, then maybe they would like to join me in my happy place, the wild, more often.
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