Col des Cristaux

Another sunny day in the mountains with Alistair Hurst, this time we headed up the Argentiere basin with our aim being to ski the North-east Couloir of the Col des Cristaux. I headed up to attempt this two weeks ago but turned around about a third of the way up due to heavy snow and a lack of motivation to boot pack the whole thing on my own. Luckily today I had Ally to run up the thing before me with his long legs, he was at the top one hour before me!

Picture 1

Photo taken from google.

Getting first bin on the Grand Montet we were putting our skins on by 9:15 and started heading up the glacier with about 10/15 other people also going to ski some of the steeps up the basin.


It was hot from the word go with shells off straight away and still being too hot. After an hour of nice easy skinning we were at the bottom of the Col with three people who had just crossed the bergschrund in front of us. Ally thought the boot pack didn’t look that hard with there being some good steps in already when he said about 45 min to an hour I knew that wasn’t realistic for me but it was spot on for him.


Ally looking back down the Col after reaching the top with me just right of center just over half way. It looks a long way down from here and with rocks below you cant really afford a fall, we skied the left hand ridge and then half way down we traverse to the right of the boot pack, the first half was steeper probably closer to 50′ with it getting a little less steep on the lower right hand face.


Ally had a nice hour in the sun while waiting for me to get to the top so he took some nice pictures, this ridge line photo shows the steepness of the Col.

The guy on the right was hit by an avalanche on the lower half which took him about 100m and over the schrund, he skied away fine with his sunglasses on his head, lucky escape!


The view over the top looking towards Mont Blanc and the Grand Jorasses on the left. This was just after midday and the sun was belting down on us at this point which made the last few steps very hard!


Ally dropping in below the big cornice, I opted to rap the first 30m so I could avoid negotiating the rocks at the top.


After putting the rope back in my bag while trying to stay in one place on the face I had a look down at what I had to ski and the nerves set in!

Only making a half dozen turns in the top 200m of the Col my confidence came back just as the snow became very mixed. It was a combination of hard wind blown snow, deep heavy slush and wind slab which made for difficult slow going skiing.


Just after jumping the Bergschrund, carrying a lot of speed into the heavy slush which I still have not found a way to ski properly.

No great turn photos from today as we just wanted to get down and there was no deep powder for the classic fun day out ski photos, It was overall a really good tour which didnt require too much effort, and it is nice to have done another Chamonix steep.

Thanks to Alistair for some good photos.

Col Des Nantillons

Todays main objective was to ski the Spencer Couloir which is on the North face of the Aiguille de Blaitiere. I can see this ski line from my balcony and have had my eyes set on it since I changed to Skiing in January. It has only just come into condition as there are a couple of rock bands that have now have good snow cover.


Meting up with Alistair Hurst at the Midi at 8am there were some clouds over the face but the forecast was for clear skies so we headed up in the cool shade which was nice for the hour long skin to the start of the bootpack.


The snow was refrozen slush which was not to bad to climb and there was already a reasonable track in which made the going fast.

When we got to the bottom of the slope we saw some tracks going up the Contamine couloir so decided that would be our best line of accent, so  Alistair started the bootpack with his long old legs, which made it a breeze for me!


This was the start of what turned out to be a very long 800m bootpack that took nearly 4 hours, with me breaking trail for about 50m. Ally needs the training!


More boot packing, this time with me doing some of the hard work.


Getting closer to the top with an amazing view back down to the Valley floor, I can almost see my house from here!

As we got to just below the Spencer Couloir start we came across some windblown snow that had covered up some very big holes.

After Ally nearly lost a leg into one we decided to rope up and have another go at crossing the Bergschrund, this still led to Ally nearly going into a big hole. With time creeping up on us we decided to bail on the Spencer at 2:45pm and just enjoy the powder on the decent without any crevasse rescue.


There was a good covering of firm powder on the steeper slopes with glacial ice being uncovered when you put in the harder turns.


Nice to get some powder after 5 hours of climbing!


Ally putting in some nice quick jump turns on one of the steeper sections.


The good snow continued all the way back down the the bottom of the face, until you hit the slush on the moraine.


A short 15m rappel and we were off the face and started the long slushy traverse back to Plan D’Aiguille.


The traverse had a few surprises in store for us including a number of big holes below heating rocks and some very slushy snow.

This hole Ally fell in started a slide that went on for a good 100m and was about 1m deep, a close call at the end of a long day.


The hole above is at the top of this big slide.

Getting back to the mid station at 4:30pm we had 30mins before we would have had to walk down, so we were glad that we didnt push on trying to cross the Schrund.

A great decent that is well earned after the 1000m of climbing. Next time we just have to do the Spencer…

Cosmiques Couloir

Entering my 3rd month of skiing I thought it was about time to raise the stakes, so when ‘Cautious Tom’ Grant offered to take me down the Cosmiques Couloir  off the Aiguille Du Midi I jumped at the opportunity.

Having done a couple of Plan D’aiguille laps with Tom the day before I felt safe entering the high mountains with Cautious Tom of UK Climbing mag fame!


Toms lunch break was the only time we had so 12-4pm, so after some careful queue jumping at the midi station we were on our way by 12:10.

After a short traverse  and a 5 min bootpack we were at the start of the couloir. The rappel start was some 15m down and with the risk of a fall being almost certain death I opted to down climb to Tom who was setting up the rap.


I am not yet confident enough on skis to side slip 50′ slopes so Tom opted to save time by lowering me down the full 60m of the rope. Being lowered backwards down a seemingly endless couloir was one of the most intimidating things that I have ever done! But then when you get somewhere where you still don’t feel confident skiing freely and hearing “thats the end of the rope” was allot worse!

Picture 5

As Tom rapped the 30m down to the skiable slope I slowly but steadily side slipped down a further 10m before putting in my first turn on a 45-50′ slope. Which went well and boosted my confidence.


The snow on the top 400m was nice to ski and felt good under foot, then the second half was a little less tracked out and we found some nice patches of powder.


When the Bossons Glacier came close and into view I knew I was safe and I was chuffed I had skied the couloir with out having fallen.

Picture 6

Some traversing later and we had arrived at the top of the Para face with only a dozen tracks going down it, A nice Powder reward after an Epic afternoon.


A bit of bushwacking, skis on/ skis off and we were being chased out of the pikey camp by a bunch of dogs finding ourselves parting ways at the Grepon car park, Tom to go back to work for the evening and me to go and get a well deserved beer and to let that ski decent sink in. All together my best ski decent to date and an Epic afternoon.