Chèré Couloir & Cosmiques Arete

With no real ski objectives in mind James and I headed to the Tacul triangle so he could try his hand at a bit of ice climbing on the Chere Couloir. This is where I first learned the skill just one year ago with Ally (Read Here). The approach to the route took no time with our skis on, compared to over 2 hours last year in deep snow!. Once at the bottom of the route we roped up and crossed the Schrund. It consists of 4 pitches of ice and a small section of mixed, with the difficulty increasing as you climb higher. Last year I led the final pitch but this year it was good for my confidence and gear placement skills as I led all the pitches. James had no problems despite this being his first time with two axes on anything steeper than a snow slope. It was in perfect condition with its usual kicked in steps full of neve. back down safely and the clouds had come in. Leaving the clouds by the Gros Rognon we had a slushy afternoon descent to Montenvers. Perfect day out.

 

After a couple of days drinking and getting sunburnt I needed to do something. Not feeling skiing I headed up the midi with a Cosmiques speed solo in mind. Running down the arete and around to the start of the route the altitude was hitting me after a few days off! Making good progress to the first rap I was caught up by 3 Germans who had not roped up yet and they used my rope for the two raps. After this I offered them to go ahead and break the trail through the 8″ of fresh wind blown snow, but they didn’t know the way so off I went again! I have done this route 5 or 6 times before but never alone and never with fresh snow on it. The rock section was not too bad but the traverse to the exit chimney and the chimney itself was very daunting and I was treading very carefully as a slip here would have meant the end and They would have found this picture on my iPhone somewhere down the Cunningham couloir…

Nearly home! Love going solo

Nearly home! Love going solo

At the top of the chimney there was a lot of fresh snow, It was hard to get a good footing and at this point I just wanted to be on the platform. Digging deep I buried my axe in and pushed off a tiny front point and reached the safety of the ridge and the ladder was in sight. Getting over the ladder the 2 minutes to next bin alert rang out as I started sprinting to the lift. Puffing and panting in the cable car I got some funny looks and a few “are you OK?’s”. Maybe I will wait for the snow to go before I try that again! 1:08 was my time from Ice tunnel to the viewing platform. Maybe a sub 1 hour next?

 

 

 

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Arête de Flèche Rousse – Milieu Glacier, Aiguille d’Argentière 3901m

The idea of link ups has interested me ever since completing my first one on Mont Blanc du Tacul last year, Climbing the Contamine-Grisolle and skiing it’s north face. I knew Ally had been wanting to climb the Arête de Flèche Rousse for a while and given the near perfect weather we had been having I was keen for a full day in the mountains. It was also a new peak for me so I was all the more ready.

First bin up and we were heading across to the start of the route within no time. Making our way through the moraine and hard early morning spring snow. Arriving at the climb just after 11am we were convinced we would be on the summit before 4 for a nice corn descent. We were not! The initial ridge was fun, with some tricky climbs along the way. We covered this ground quickly soloing and put on a rope as we encountered a narrow snow ridge and the climbing intensified. Roughly following the guide book instructions we found ourselves doubting the route but just carried along following the faint footprints left ahead of us. Coming to a dead end at one point the only option was to squeeze through a narrow gap and passing our bags through one by one, its harder maneuvering  with 178 skis on your pack!

After a short rap we were back on the south face and out of the cold. More came across more mixed ground before a short traverse onto the snow slopes leading to the harder mixed climbing. I found myself really struggling at altitude and we slowed down a little before I could take a break as Ally assessed the 20/30m last mixed pitch. The climbing would normally be not to difficult but coupled with fatigue and skis it took a while. After coming up second I was so pleased to be back in the sun and warm up my hands. The summit was in sight. Traversing the ridge heading into the sun was amazing. It was about 4:30pm and we didn’t have far to go. A couple of short rappels and some more ridge traversing and we took our bags off and got ready to ski just about 5:30pm! It was getting late. We had initial fears that the snow might have re-frozen but the upper section was really good and the only bad snow we encountered was deep slush that was not easy skiing on small skis! 2700m of skiing later and we were back in Argentiere waiting for a bus.

A long day out but it was just what I wanted. Alpine Adventures resulting in a huge thirst for beer. Tidy

 

Capucin Couloir

Eager to start my two months off work with a good ski I teamed up with Tim to ski the Capucin Couloir. Getting first bin at the midi we were heading to the Italian side of the vallee blanche. Using this approach to the Col du Tacul you save a good half hour climb than if you were to ski the VB.

We were quick on the climb and the 1000m of ascent allowed me to break in my new boots. With my La Sportiva Spectres giving me nothing but problems all winter I managed to get some Spitfires and just in time for spring touring and climbing. They look like there is less that can go wrong on them compared to the spectres and they are so light!

Arriving at the col we saw that we could do two 30m raps then side slip a small crux to start the skiing. The snow was a mix of chalk, powder and some icy re-frozen snow that was a bit of a struggle to ski smoothly. After a short while we were over the massive bergschrund and onto the mellow open glacier below heading towards Montenvers.

It was nice to ski another new couloir and a great test for the new boots. Fingers crossed for some new spring snow soon and maybe some big ski/climbing mission soon. got to make the most of no work.

 

Grassi Marone Stratta, Petit Mont Blanc

Monday. A relentless day boot packing on the Nantillions Glacier, failing once again to ski the Spencer Couloir. But at least I came away with one good photo.

 

Sleigh on the Nantillions

Sleigh on the Nantillions

Living with Tom Grant I often hear tales of great skiing around Chamonix. On Tuesday, while I was looking through many guide books and reading conditions updates on the web, he spoke of his recent adventure with Caroline Gleich and Liz Daley in Italy on the North Face of Petit Mont Blanc. They had skied a little known couloir over there and reported great conditions.

Armed with this information and a desire to explore every corner of the Mont Blanc Massif I found myself in a van with James Sleigh and Ally Hurst making our way through 11.5km of tunnel with Courmayeur in our sights.

Starting in Val Veny you take five lifts finishing on the Arp before you can start the traverse to the foot of the Miage Glacier. Arriving here at 10:20 we started the skin to the base of the couloir and reached it within 45 minutes. Stashing unneeded gear at the base we started the long and monotonous boot pack up this beautiful, atmospheric and steep couloir. With every step we took up it we knew we would soon be enjoying every turn down it.

 

The snow was perfect despite the last 100m being a little crap. I stopped a little below the boys who continued to very near to where the couloir tops out. Perfect chalky powder awaited us and after a couple of jump turns we got a good feel of the conditions and we made some quick tight turns in the narrow sections and we opened up some fast aggressive ‘freeride’ turns where it widened. 700m of steep couloir later and we were back on the Miage. Some of the best, most enjoyable and atmospheric skiing I have ever done. The spring snow descent down Val Veny to catch the lift back to the car was good fun, but the few miles of skating on the flat was less than enjoyable but the smile on my face from the couloir was still evident! The couloir is graded 5.3 but it didn’t feel like it should be given the perfect conditions. Maybe with firm snow or icy hard pack it could be justified!

 

Sitting with a Pie and a Pint back in Chamonix we were discussing camping on the Miage to fully explore every little couloir this magnificent North Face has to offer. Petit Mont Blanc I will be back, Watch this space…

Thanks to James and Ally for some great company, a memorable days skiing and some out of focus photos.