Couloir Rectiligne

Waking up to a beautiful sunrise in Chamonix is one of the many reasons people find it hard to leave here! Another reason is the fact that you have some of the best skiing available in the world right on your door step. Making the most of my last day off work I was heading to Allys house bright and early this morning to see what we were going to do. I had one thing in my mind, Cunningham Couloir on the Aiguille du Midi west face. This has been on my list for a while and its only now that I feel confident enough in my skiing ability to be able to get down it in one piece. Ally was less keen on this route. After speaking to his house mate, Dave Searle who skied the Glacier Rond and Rectiligne yesterday ( read about it here), he knew that it would be a shit storm trying to negotiate the Bossons Glacier if the clouds came in like the forecast said it would!

After much debate and a cup of tea I agreed to go and Ski the Couloir Rectiligne which is accessed from the top station of Les Grand Montets. I knew it would be tracked out but having not done it before I was still super keen. Heading up to Argentiere on a bus about 9:15 we were straight in the queue for top ticket which was only about 15/20 minutes, got to love quiet season!

I was first with my skis on and while Ally was sorting out his kit I headed down to try and find the entrance as we only had a rough idea of where we were going. Upon finding it I saw that it was a narrow side slip for about 20 meters before you enter into the couloir. I started the slip without Ally so it would be free when he got there. After we got home he said he didn’t know where I was when he was looking for the entrance, only to hear the sound of skis on firm snow and rocks then followed the scratching to find me!

We took turns leading, half each, so we could get a few photos. The snow was still pretty soft but well tracked out. There was the occasional area of untracked powder on the sides that was good fun. After completing the couloir we were both pleased to have skied it reasonably well and saw it as training for when conditions are not perfect. Its nice to know where it is now for future powder days, maybe one day we will get it like Dave did yesterday.

After exiting the couloir you are still in a reasonably dangerous place. The Dru is towering above you and there are hanging seracs pointing down on you so we had to move fast. The snow on the lower part of the Pas du Chevre was still soft and untracked but it did feel a bit wet. We had another few hundred meters of descent before joining the track to Montenvers. On this track is a short abseil,  there is some in-situ rope but it is not quite long enough to get you over the ice underneath, as one Swede found out climbing back up and asking us to use our rope! A quick 15m rap and your past this difficulty and heading down the rocky chutes towards the glacier. Another day and another 420 steps back up to the train! What a week it has been, 4 days and 4 amazing couloirs. More snow forecast for the weekend so lets see what next week brings!

Thanks to Big Man Ally Hurst for the company and photos, Maybe I can build up his Psych for Cunningham next week!

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Couloir Poubelle – Grand Montets

Skiing E.N.S.A and Bellim on sunday had me in the mood for more couloirs, and after some more snow on sunday night and a good powder day up Flegere on Monday I thought that the Poubelle could be a good choice. Easily accessed from the Bochard gondola at Les Grand Montets you ski the 50 m towards the obvious roped off couloir. It is possible to side slip in which someone had done already but with the ropes in the bag and our harnesses on we thought it would be quicker and definitely safer to rap. After a 30m rap we had our skis on and it looked good. Slightly choppy boot deep light powder on a firm base.

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After  a few initial turns the couloir became narrow and it was very icy.

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You could see that the people who skied it before side slipped it so we did the same until it opened back up and we could make some turns!

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There was a small rock step just after the dog leg, this was made tricky by the ice underfoot and the slight exposure below.

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Into the main straight of the couloir we could make some nice turns in the deep cold snow. Although it was well tracked it was still a great ski and gave me and Ally some practice in making quick jump turns in variable snow conditions! There was a lot of sluff that would follow you down and build up around you if you stopped, it was light snow so it didn’t really affect your balance.

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Ally making some nice turns down the main section of the couloir.

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Me mid turn. The last time I went down this couloir was last January on a snowboard and it was more filled in. Some more snow fall and it should be better.

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Skiing this aspect of Les Grand Montets offers some amazing views of the Mont Blanc Massif.

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The couloir opens up after a couple hundred meters and joins on to the Pas de Chevre. This huge open powder field gave us some great skiing before we hit the main route towards the moraine banks and the exit couloir to get to Montenvers.

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Another short rap from a tree on the way down but it is shaping up nicely for a ski to town, just need a little more snow.

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Below the Dru is an amazing place to be!

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The route is in red.

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What a great day, even with a hangover! Thanks to Ally for the company and Photos. Always good to have someone with the same idea of what a good days skiing is!! Couloirs all the way! Lets see what tomorrow brings. Maybe 4 Couloirs in 4 days.

E.N.S.A & Bellin Couloirs

With a morning off work and some visibility I was keen to go skiing and get something done. After seeing that Colin, Graham and a few others skied E.N.S.A yesterday and it looked good I was keen to go and give it a go. Reading through my Chamonix off-piste guide I knew roughly what I was going for and now just had to find a partner willing to ski it with me!

Nick and Sandy were keen but both had to work (or so Nick thought) so It looked like I was going solo. Carrying two 30m ropes for the entrance I had a bigger pack but minus the shovel and probe it didn’t feel that bad.

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Topo from http://forums.ski.com.au/xf/threads/tr-two-days-in-chamonix.35760/

E.N.S.A in Blue, Bellin in Red

Getting a 9am bubble at Brevent I was at top of Brevent about 9:30 and headed skiers left from the piste following the obvious ridge, staying well away from the cornices! After watching a video of the boys skiing it yesterday I knew there was a small drop just before the entrance so decided to down climb it as I didn’t fancy dropping onto some slightly covered rocks. The down climb was fine and as I got down I saw a guy from Evo2 setting up a belay to lower his clients over the drop. So I knew I had to be quick to get to the rap 1st.

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Starting the rap and the snow was deep!

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It is possible to ski into this couloir when there is good snow but I heard there was a rap needed to get over the first 5m drop, then a small down climb before you can safely put your skis on.

Skis on and I was looking down hundreds of meters of fresh knee deep untracked snow! Alone, Nervous but very excited!

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The snow was fresh and light and after a few initial turns I was being chased by some slow moving sluff so cut off to the side of the couloir to let it pass. Being alone I couldn’t afford any mistakes so I continued this process of 5/6 big fast turns then stopping to the side as a lot of snow passed down the couloir.

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looking back up the couloir at my starting point and first few turns.

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The great snow continued all the way down to where it opened up to the main Brevent bowl. Nice fast turns in deep snow, what a great start to a Work day!

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The couloir opens slightly then narrows before tightening again before the main bowl.

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Following the main snow strip down to the zig zack track I followed this back to the Savoy slope and was back at the Brevent lift before 10:30 heading back up for another look!

On the Brevent cable car I stood where I could see the Bellim couloir and got a good look at it and saw one track going down. This was next!

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Heading around the front piste then cutting under the ropes you follow the summer route towards the start of the frison roche.  This had 2 tracks down it by the time I got to it but it still looked great and there was still lots of fresh to be had, just watch out for the occasional rock!

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This couloir was lightly less steep and a bit more open in parts.

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It closed in again before turning back into a bit of bush wacking to avoid the crusty, icy and rocky exit couloir. Back onto the zig zags down to Brevent and I had my trainers on by 11:45. What a morning! With more snow forecast these could be an option on bad visibility days!

One of the best days I have spent on my own in the Mountains and two huge ticks of my ski checklist!

Winter is here

Winter feels like it has finally come to Chamonix. After 3 great days skiing I can now have a morning off and relax and let my body heal.

It started Tuesday morning with heavy snow still falling and early bins at Grand Montets. There was about 30-40cm of fresh snow and it was nice and light at the start, Lapping the forrest we had great fun, then it started to get windy and there was more snow! I rode with about 20 different people as I was not in the mood for any waiting, this was a good move because I rode most of the lower section of GM where the best visibility could be found.

Roll on Wednesday… Meeting at LocalCHX at 8am I got my hands on a pair of DPS Wailer 112. I know of a few people who use this ski and judging by the masses of tip rocker I knew they would be good in the powder. There were about 8 of us that were riding together in the first Midi bin and we were quick down the arete, Just behind the likes of Andreas Fransson and Seth Morrison. Cruising over to the Petit Envers we were digging trenches through waist deep snow, taking our turns to blast down the track and get a little further. The lower pitches to skiers left of Petit Rognon were superb. Open powder field with no tracks and bottomless powder, What more can you ask for. Meeting back up with the crowds breaking trail down on the flat we knew we had montenvers stairs to battle with but then we were on the train and back at the Midi ready for lap number 2.

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Angus, Deep in it.

The weather had closed in around the arete and everyones goggles froze which made keeping your speed up to get to Gros Rognon very hard. At the top of the Gros Rognon we all lined up and rode it together, not ideal on a glacier but we were having too much fun, and could see a fari few tracks, so we could avoid the holes.

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Dave Searle Charging the Gros Rognon.

Taking the same exit down the steep couloirs just after the Requin we were back at the train again, this time too destroyed to do another lap but with the biggest smiles on all of our faces!

Check out the Video Here.

Then Thursday came and I still wanted to go skiing. Heading up Brevent then straight across to Flegere I met up with Mike and Started skinning up the Col above Floria, With the intention of skiing it back down. Half way up I noticed this steep narrow couloir lookers left of the col about half way up. The snow was still soft and we had to break trail up but we had our skis on after 20mins of effort. Mike chose to ski down the open face putting in some nice big turns in the untracked snow.

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As I stared down the steep narrow couloir contemplating the best way in, I could see that the snow was heavily wind packed and would be hard work to ski. With the big opening below and Mike there waiting I gave it a go.

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Looking down the steep entrance.

Side slipping in the first steep 10 meters I set off the avalanche that I knew would come. It cleared most of the hard wind affected snow down the couloir and left a soft heavy cover for me to ski.

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Half way down the 100m couloir it got very narrow.

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Making a half dozen slow turns I was out the bottom and was satisfied with my skiing, This was a small training couloir for the Rectiligne Couloir at Grand Montets that I really want to ski this winter.

So, 3 fantastic days skiing with great people. More snow forecast for the weekend. Fingers crossed for 3 more of the same next week!

Col d’Argentière 3552m

After the recent snowfall in Chamonix I was keen to get up skiing on Monday after finishing a weekend of work. We rushed to the Hotel face at Brevent just to find some heavy untracked spring snow. Moving along the Aiguille Rouge towards Flegere we found more of the same. I knew I would have to go touring if I wanted to ski something nice.

John Vincent and his friend Francesco were keen and had suggested the Col d’Argentiere, Not having done it before I was ready and because of its west facing aspect the snow had a better chance of being less affected and more stable.

Jumping on an early bin at Grand Montets and meeting Francesco at the mid station after he opted to skin the homerun, we then took top ticket and skied down to the glacier. The snow of the back side was well tracked but still nice and cold.

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John heading to towards the Col d”argentiere, marked in red. The weather on tuesday was quite mild in the sun with some cloud passing over, when you hit the higher slopes it became windy and it was quite cold in the shade.

There was a track in across the glacier as many people had headed towards the Toir Noir and the right bank of the Col d’Argentiere so we made quick progress to the start of the climb.

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John set up the glacier first breaking trail through some boot deep powder and we followed up behind.

Just over half way up the glacier we noticed some nice looking couloirs off to the left so we decided to go and have a look at the snow conditions with the intention of skiing them.

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Skinning up to the narrow exit we then changed to boot pack and after about 1 meter of trying to climb the deep heavy snow we changed back to our original plan of the col! They are now on my tick list for the future.

Back on track to the Col we topped out after a few hours on the move. The wind on the Col was pretty strong and John was quick to help us get ready after sitting up there for 5/10 minutes alone. Skipping the summit lunch we headed down to find some shelter from the wind.

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We made it!

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Looking back down the Col towards Aiguille Vert and the Argentiere basin.

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The windy summit ridge.

The decent was quite varied with the first 100m being very wind affected. It then opened up into huge powder fields with only one track on, the skin track. The snow was firm but still deep and rip-able.

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One by one we enjoyed some big turns down the perfect angle slope. I opened it with no hesitation! John v photo.

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Francesco was next with some big Tele turns.

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The only photo I have of John and there was water on the lens!

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Half way down and there were only 3 tracks behind us, that doesn’t happen often in Chamonix!

The lower slopes were a bit heavier but you were still able to open it up.

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Getting the knee down!

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Enjoying the moment, soft snow and smiles.

Back down the glacier in about 20 minutes and we started the flat ski back to the mid station. after stopping for some lunch in the sun we had a quick blast down the home run to finnish a great day up the mountain with some superb skiing!

Many thanks to John and Francesco for the photos and company.

Courmayeur and Petit Envers

Not added a new post for a few weeks. Mainly I have been busy with work but when the snow has been good I have been taking full advantage of it.

A couple of nice day trips over to Courmayeur before Christmas to ski some nice couple of day old powder. The resort has a good amount of snow now and it is all open.

A short hike from the Cresta D’arp cable car and you can access some nice north facing couloirs.

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They had been skied but were still really good.

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There are a few more couloirs below the cable car below that that were also good.

New Years eve saw my first trip skiing up the Aiguille du Midi since October!

With fresh snow falling a couple of days before we knew it would be good. Reports coming in from friends said that it was possible to ski out to Montenvers but there were some big holes so we had to watch out.

Heading down the Arete with Seb and Tyler, Both had never worn crampons and there was no rope, took a while but we made it down safe.

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We then headed towards the Petit Envers as it looked like we could get some nice snow in the shade of the Petit Rognon.

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Some great pitches of skiing before we got to the shaded part and we all had smiles on our faces!

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We were then rewarded with some amazing cold powder in the shade skiers left of the Rognon. there was a few tracks but loads of fresh still to be had.

The going was fine after that until we had to cross over below the seracs du Geant.

There were some big holes and narrow snow bridges. It was fine for skiers but the three boarders in our group had to rope up and ride one footed for a short distance, going very close to danger!!

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It was fine to ski to Montenvers and get pretty close to the ice caves.  A great first ski of the Midi for 2014.