Cunningham (Passerelle) Couloir 5.2 TD

Also known as the Passerelle Couloir, the Cunningham Couloir is accessed by a series of rappels from the bridge connecting the two needles of the Aiguille du Midi. It is just over 400m of 45′-55′. Anselm Baud skied the first probable descent in 1979 and described it as “not a very attractive route”, I could not see why. As far as steep couloirs go in Chamonix there are not many that have steep walls towering above you in a true north face environment, and that require three 60m rappels to get into, with the first one being free hanging.

 

After reaching an area where we could clip in to our skis on this 50’+ slope, I slowly side slipped a couple of meters to get a feel for the snow. At the top there was just under a foot of cold fresh powder on top of refrozen hard snow. This was the case for the first 50m of the couloir and it was definitely exciting jump turning on this variable snow. The snow then changed to a small section of wind crust before it opened up to deep cold powder for the last 200m before you hit the Glacier Rond. Here we could open up the turns before we hit the traverse line across the Rond to hit the exit couloir.

 

Side slipping the 10m into the exit couloir we had a little breather and knew that the main difficulties of the day were over and we were relatively safe, just the Bossons glacier to contend with!

The Rond exit couloir was as ever very enjoyable and the Bossons descent was also very good. One rappel over a serac and we were able to ski 500m below the tunnel when we had to change to walking for the last couple of miles back to Chamonix and a cold beer in Elevation.

Sitting in Elevation watching the clouds come in around the Midi we were glad to be safe back in town taking in the days skiing. Both of us had wanted to rappel off the Midi bridge for a while now and having skied the Cunningham in great conditions we knew it was worth the wait.

 

The day before I went to ski the Chevalier couloir on the Petit Aiguille Vert. Having a look in I was about to drop when I had an issue with my boot that left me side slipping the north face with one boot in walk mode. It was a huge disappointment as it looked very good. This more than made up for it!

 

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Aiguille d’Entreve, South East Face. 4.2 E2

Tuesday was spent in La Clusaz charging pistes and recovering from the Gervasutti and Paddys day. Heading into town early on wednesday I could already feel the heat at 7:45.  This was a good indication that we would have to move fast to ski something that wasn’t running water.

The South East face of the Aiguille d’Entreve is a beautiful line that works its way down from near the summit of the Entreve, towards the mid station of the helbronner cable car in Italy. Hoping for spring like conditions around midday we slowly plodded up and started traversing the ridge about 10:30. We were going to complete the traverse and return to our skis but after seeing a group drop in we knew we would have to ski it quickly to get the good snow.

The upper, 45′, section of the face was a little variable and chopped up but after a few turns it opened up to nice smooth spring snow all the way down to the bergschrund. Descending the glacier back to the station was a mixture of wind blown hard snow and deep thick slush that took strength to ski fast, especially on my skinny skis again!

Sitting with a good Italian coffee in the Torino refuge, over looking the face we just skied was a nice change to the coffee from the midi bakery I’m used to. Skiing the Valley Noir in perfect chalk down to the James Bond track we also had a little water skiing by Montenvers. Only taking skis off for the last 500m of the track before Plannards the James Bond is slowly going out of action. Lest hope for some much needed snow this weekend and make a few more powder turns before this season is out.

 

 

 

Gervasutti Couloir 5.2 E2

When I bought my first pair of skis last year I didn’t think I would be jump turning myself down one of the classic Chamonix ‘Steep’ lines 14 months later.

The Tour Ronde has been my favourite mountain in Chamonix ever since I first saw it while crossing the Panoramic 3 summers ago. Last summer I achieved my main climbing goal, which was its iconic North Face. Completing this route left me wanting more from this beautiful, stand-alone summit situated in the heart of the Mont Blanc Massif. Seeing people like Ben Briggs and Tom Grant ski the north face I knew it was too big a step for me to undertake so I had to look for other options.

The Gervasutti Couloir is a west facing 200m line that has a relatively constant gradient of 50’. My first 5.2. I had been hearing reports of people skiing it and getting good conditions despite the severe lack of snow we are having here in Chamonix. Skiing a lot recently with James Sleigh he was my first choice of partner for this classic steep descent. Stopping at his house at 7:30 he was not feeling good and decided he wasn’t going to come. Whether you call it stupidity, commitment or a just a massive love of skiing I headed into the mountains alone, aware of the risks and seeking the rewards.

My first point of call on the day was the Breche du Carabinier, after seeing Dave Searles solo mission there last week I thought it could be a good warm up for something steep. Getting my topo reading all wrong I started up the Couloir Aiguillette which is just lookers left of the Carabinier. Getting about 200m up the couloir the strong spring sun started to warm up the near by rocks and the mountain started to come alive. Being alone with no helmet I quickly put my skis on and enjoyed the steep spring snow descent. Back on the flat I started skinning again, heading below the Tour Ronde north face towards the Aiguille d’Entreve to traverse its east ridge. Getting around the corner I could see a group of people going up the Tour Ronde east face and there was a good boot pack in. Deciding quickly in my head I started moving towards the face, soon enough I was on the summit again looking down the Gervasutti, It looked not just ski able but pretty good considering.

Traversing under the north face of the summit on black ice was a little daunting and seeing a couple of British climbers who just came up the north face looking exhausted was a strong reminder of my climb last summer. After a little chat and them telling me ‘Your Nuts’ I started the 10/15m down climb through the rocks to find somewhere to put my skis on.

With my skis on I felt a little safer and started to realise what I was about to do. The first turn took about 5 attempts; Building up the strength and courage on steep exposed lines is different for everyone. For me turning from right to left is strongest but I had no option here. Making that first turn was a big moment for me, my tiny little 82mm Dynastars gripping the very firm upper section and reassuring me that I was not going to slide down this couloir upside down. A few more turns came and went before I came into a rocky section that had been side slipped before. Taking the axe back out for a little safety I was clear of the obvious rocks and had over 150m of nice spring chalk to enjoy. I put one headphone back in, turned up Sultans of Swing and linked some of the best fast jump turns I have ever made and was over the schrund in what felt like a few minutes. Looking back up at the couloir with my body still in one piece I let out a huge roar, I had done it and I loved every minute of it. The smile on my face was still as big as ever as I made my way down the horribly hard and wind blown valley blanche to the James bond track.

This was the realisation of a dream that has only been around for a year. A massive stepping-stone in knowing what I can ski and the process I can now go about skiing these iconic steep lines.

Bring on the next one…

Glacier Mort & Col du Belvédère

Glacier Mort & Col du Belvédère

When your aiming to do two Aiguille Rouge tours in one day you need everything to fall into place. Getting to Brevent at 8:45 without my ski pass was not a good start. Running to Cham sud for a lift home and back to Brevent I caught up with the boys at the top of Floria drag just before 10am.

We were quick up the first col and then the Mort bootpack was also dealt with in 25 mins. The snow on the descent was variable. Chalky snow at the top with some nice powder pockets, some wind slab and nice spring snow. Flying down through the trees we caught the 12:18 bus back to Argentiere and after getting some food we were back at Flegere about 13:30.

Heading back up the Floria drag lift and traversing to where you start the skin to the Col things were starting to get very hot.

We started the 1 hour skin to Belvedere in roasting hot sun. We were feeling pretty good at the start but the sun took its toll on James and I and we started to slow down falling behind Tim who was cruising off in the distance. When we reached the top we saw the side slipped entrance and wished we had brought a rope and a harness. Using the fixed 60m rope we slowly made our way down the icy gully and just about managed to ski from where that ended. Nice chalky snow again down the north face and similar snow as the Mort descent. We made it back to Buet for the 16:18 bus. Very sweaty, very smelly and very tired. A massive day touring in the Rouge. Thanks to the boys for more fun in the sun.

Midi conditions update.

On wednesday Me and Sleigh skied over 11,000m descent and about 70km off the midi. He had to ski 4 midi laps for a bet and I had nothing better to do. Valley Blanche, Petit Envers, Grand Envers and Gros Rognon. The conditions were all the same. Hard snow and wind blown. Deep mogles by the requin and a slushy James Bond track. All good fun and a real test of the legs.

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This morning I also went up and climbed the Cosmiques Arete. Perfect conditions. Firm consolidated snow and very well filled in. Think climbing season might be upon us if we don’t get any new snow!

Col des Cristaux

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James and Luke skiing the Col des Cristaux.

Rappelling the top 15 meters of this face last April I was determined to come back and complete the line. After a few recent outings with James and Luke they were keen to come and have a go at this with me on Monday morning. Taking the high right hand traverse down to the Argentiere glacier it was already getting warm, thankfully there was a nice breeze when we started skinning so things didn’t get to hot.

The bootpack was well established and reconsolidated by three climbers who were heading up just 50m ahead of me, we made good time up the face. The gentle breeze that cooled us on the valley floor had slowly grown in to constant wind with strong gusts that would catch you off guard  if you were not paying attention. The winds coupled with loose snow resulted in constant spin drifts and powder avalanches, which convinced Luke and James they should think about heading down. After they made up their minds they shouted up to me and I didn’t take much convincing to turn around about 100m below the top of the 600m face. Making a platform to put my skis on was a long drawn out affair with the wind filling it back in with snow and things getting very cold. Making my first few turns on the 45′-50′ slope in 6-8 inch high sastrugi was very daunting and it wasn’t too long before I opted to side slip the wind blown snow and neve down to James and Luke who were taking shelter under a cliff.

After a quick stop with the boys I headed down skiers left trying to find some skiable snow. There was some snow that had not been too affected by the wind but turns were seldom as it was so variable and unpredictable. Making my way down with a dozen or so turns and some fast side slipping I was down and over the bergschrund. After picking up all the skins and ropes we left at the bottom I headed towards the sun in an attempt to warm my hands up after only bringing soft shell gloves for this ‘spring’ ski.

Sitting in the sun I waited for James and Luke to get down, they contemplated down climbing but soon changed their mind when they saw that I skied it. Upon their arrival to my sunny spot we headed straight back to Grands Montets to grab a beer in the sun, where surprisingly there was not a breath of wind. A huge change from the face a few kilometers up the Glacier.

Col de Beugeant

There are two things needed for a great days touring, Sunshine and snow, and on Wednesday we had them both. Coupled with a new route in the Aiguille Rouge, Col de Beugeant, Me, Tim, James and Hunter headed up to Brevent at 8:30am looking forward to a day in the sun. With high hopes of nice powder on the north facing slopes down to Buet we made quick progress over to Flegere and were on the Floria traverse passing the crowds at 9:30, and skins on before 10am. Hunter had a bit of a faff with his split board as it was his first time out with it, but once he finally got it together we headed up to the col a few people behind the trail breakers!

Me and Tim were about 30 minutes ahead of James and Hunter when we reached the start of the mixed scramble and with the south facing slopes starting to come alive we decided to push on over the climb and wait at the col. Moving around a group roped together to get to the start, I went first and found the climb quite easy and told Tim it was easy too. It might have been too easy for Tim because when he arrived at the top he didn’t even notice he had lost a crampon on the short climb, which James picked up half hour later! Reaching the top we could see that two people had skied it and not wanting to wait for 10 others to ski it before James and Hunter arrived we dropped in and waited in the sun and out of the wind. The top section was really good and quite steep at above 40′. By the time James and Hunter got there it was chopped up and they down climbed the initial 5 meters.

We all met up at our snow hole/ bench seat and had a little lunch before setting off down the right hand descent path.

The first 50m of skiing was wind affected but then as we came around the corner and into the sun it was perfect boot deep powder. Skiing in a group of four was good fun and there was snow going everywhere and smiles all round. Trying to find our own exit down to the valley we found ourselves boot packing back up for ten minutes. Then following the right hand traverse to get to the safety of the valley floor and starting the long, fun rat run back to Le Buet.

Arriving just after 2:15 at Hotel le Buet we got straight on the bus which was thankfully a few minutes late. A nice tour with some great skiing and accessible to most. Thanks to Tim , James and Hunter for a sun filled Wednesday.