A few days up high

With no work and plenty of good weather days I have been spending a lot of my time wandering about up high off the Midi. Starting to work on my climbing strength for the long summer ahead I went into the hills with Nick  for the first time. We were aiming to climb the Tour Ronde north face, which I climbed last summer, and then ski the Gervasutti couloir, which I skied a couple months back. I thought this would be a good link up and with Nick not having done either the climb or ski he was keen. After a short skin we were at the bottom of the north face. Down climbing from the schrund to retrieve my jacket I was back at the start and we were off before 10am. Making reasonably quick progress up the 45/50′ snow slope we hit the ice and saw what we had to climb. Thin, brittle black ice. Nevertheless we started on up over placing screws as we didn’t trust what little protection the ice would give us. Topping out of the difficulties we noticed big fat clouds coming in from the south. Not wanting to get stuck on this mountain we turned back and rapped the ice. We enjoyed good skiing on the steep lower half of the north face just before clouds engulfed the upper face. We made it down to a beer, job done.

 

Summer freeride camp started the next day with James, Dave Searle, Tim and Davide De Masi. Making big turns down the north face of the Gros Rognon in good powder. I managed to find the only patch of bare ice on the whole face and after setting off first was last to enjoy the pow.

 

Next objective. Midi-Plan traverse. This is one of the Chamonix ‘Classics’ and it lives up to its reputation as one to remember. Me and Tim opted to take skis so that we could approach it quicker then ski the Envers du Plan glacier back to Montenvers so we didn’t have to return to the Midi. Quick to the start on skis I could still see my tracks down the Col du Plan as we started the highly exposed traverse on the north face. Placing a few bits of gear as we didn’t trust the wind affected snow we made it to the rognon du plan with no difficulties. From here it all went tits up! Wandering off route I headed up to the highest ridge on the rognon and thought I knew where I was going. We knew there were a couple of raps somewhere so finding a good piece of Tat I thought it would be it, or we could at least get down. I was wrong. At the bottom of one 30m rap I found a good spike to start the next rap. After 30mins of trying to free a stuck rope and Tim failing to climb the impossible slab to retrieve it we were very close to a PGHM call until I gave it one last whip and wiggle and it dropped to our feet. What to do now? Tim led round on a spicy traverse to find a lone piton, where were we? Thinking that it was left from a climbing route we backed it up with a wire and made another 30m rap down to some cord that was looking very old but still strong. Maybe one more 30 could get us to the glacier, if it didn’t we were going to make the call. As Tim went over the edge and out of sight I heard a cheer as he saw the ropes sitting piled on the glacier floor, the end was near. By this time it was too late to push for the summit despite it being in view for 3 hours and so close. I was gutted but just wanted to go home. We had to then negotiate the horribly crevased glacier to work our way down to Montenvers. Wet slides met us after every turn and it was one of the most gripping descents I have made. Two foot crowns and huge avalanches came and went as we finally made it to the safety of the flat glacier floor. We made the last train by 5 mins, that would have been a long walk down if we left it any later.

After these few days up high I have taken away a lot of lessons. Knowing when to bail with approaching weather. Taking a topo of the route and asking people who have done it before. Getting off a wet dangerous glacier before 4pm and generally if I’m going to go up high everyday eat more food and have more energy.  Going back to Wales for a few weeks now which probably means the end of skiing for this winter. Maybe there will be some snow, otherwise it will be full swing climbing season when I return. Watch this space. Thanks for reading, What a winter.

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Rond- West couloir, Aiguille du Midi

Early doors at the Midi with James and Tim off on another adventure. Skiing down the south face and traversing to the Rond we had a few people for company but it was quiet for a bluebird day up high. The top of the Rond was its usual icy side slip but once you traversed the blue ice sections at speed using the softer snow on the right bank to slow down, it was nice skiing all the way over the bergschrund. After waiting for Tim to pull himself out of it we carried on past the usual exit point and headed for the short boot pack up to the West couloir. We were alone. A short boot pack and a couple of rappels later and we were putting our skis on deep in this atmospheric couloir, there was no going back now.

After skiing some 50m we encountered the crux of the descent. A narrowing that was unskiable for the likes of us. A couple of meters wide with a foot deep three foot wide icy runnel right in the middle of it. I managed to get some tat on a nice flake and set up a rap down the first section of it but then the rope ran out, and we had no more anchors. Problem solving time. I started the ski using the last 5m of rope hanging below us. After coming to the end of the rope on the left side of the runnel It was axe and side slip for 10m before I had to figure out a way of crossing the ice. At this point James and Tim had already opted for down climbing but I was not in the best place for a safe transition. Using James and Tim as my anchor I traversed over the ice and managed to ski my way out of it. James and Tim downclimbed to me and then we could enjoy some more skiing. The snow in the lower section was a mix of old powder, neve and hard snow. Some enjoyable skiing but mostly just getting down! One by one we made our way down, extremely exposed to the gigantic serac hanging above us. No time to stop for lunch. We initially wanted to ski para face and walk to the tunnel but with the clouds coming in quick we decided mid station would be the safer bet. An eternity passed while we side stepped our way up the traverse to gain enough height to get back in one go. 3pm lift down and we hit the pub. It feels good to have skied the last route on the west face for me despite the bad snow conditions. I will have to return to this couloir with some better snow or maybe one day ski it direct! One can only dream…

 

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?

 

 

 

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

 

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.

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.

Petit Aiguille Vert 3512m

Yesterday I skinned up from the Bochard gondola at Grand Montets towards the top station, Upon reaching the col on the left hand ridge I changed to crampons and scrambled up the rocky snowy ground towards the top station at 3300m. This was good fun and I was keen to go that bit further and continue up to the summit of the Petit Aiguille Vert. Deciding against it at the last minute I headed back down.

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Alone on the summit of the Grand Montets.

Going back up with Ally Hurst today the plan was to repeat what I did yesterday and then climb the ordinary route on Petit Aiguille Vert. After getting the second bin up GM at 9:30 we were on our way up the Bochard Gondola and soon we had skied the short traverse to where we would skin from. It took us just under an hour to get to the Col du Rachasses, 3037m, from here we changed to crampons and continued up the north ridge of the Grand Montets towards the viewing platform on the summit.

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Ally Changing into his crampons with the North Ridge of GM behind him. You can see my track from yesterday on the right.

This ridge is very similar to the first section of the Cosmiques Arete and is good fun and relatively easy with a few moves thrown in for good measure, maybe grade 3/4. We flew up the ridge in under an hour with about 250m height gain.

Pausing on the summit for a few minutes we then headed down the steps that lead out of the back of the top station and started up towards our main goal, Petit Aig. Vert.

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The red line indicates our route to the summit, We came down the same way apart from near the Bergschrund, I will say why later.

We made quick progress up the snow slope but then hit a problem at the Bergschrund. Ally found a way over but on the other side was 50′ bullet hard black ice, this would not normally be a problem with two axes and a rope but we only had one lightweight mountaineering axe and no rope, harness or anything! After I ran up the steep slope another 30m and found no other way across, Ally came back down and we started to look for another route up.

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We eventually decided to climb up the mixed ground to the right of the normal way up to avoid the ice and this turned into somewhat of a challenge. The above photo shows the way we went up in red and Ally down climbing the way we didn’t feel would be easy going up. The route in red we took was harder than the exit couloir on the Cosmiques Arete and coupled with loose powder snow and no protection it felt like AD or even D grade, and for some reason I went up first, clearing the snowy ledges as I went. Next time ill send Ally up first!

Once we were through this mixed ground and onto the main ridge it went quick and it was pretty easy going.

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Following the obvious ridge to the left of the rocks you follow a series of snow slopes and small mixed steps to come to a short but steep rock move up to the summit ridge.

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Me coming towards the short rock section. Photo Ally Hurst

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Ally freeing it up the upper rock section, Some tricky moves to make without a rope!

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Once over the rock section there was some more mixed ground and snow ridges to get to the summit. Ally is one step away from the summit here, with the Aiguille Vert to his right.

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Me following Ally on to the final summit ridge with the Aiguille Rouges  and Mont Buet behind. Photo Ally Hurst

After reaching the summit there are two ways down. In the summer me and John Vincent rappeled down the north face with 3 50m raps. With no rope Ally and I had to reverse the whole route, Down climbing in soft sugary snow was somewhat precarious but we made quick time.

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Me down climbing the upper section. Photo Ally Hurst

We had no problems and then when we came to the section of ice above the Bergschrund I went down first kicking in big steps in the snow until we got to the ice then it was front points only for the last 20m.

After getting past this section we were down and back at our skis within 25 minutes. Getting our skis back on we headed down the north face towards the upper slopes of the Bochard and found some nice sections of soft snow, then down some steepish couloirs we had some nice chaulky snow to finish.

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Me skiing half a mile away from Ally. Photo Ally Hurst

All together another great day climbing and skiing up at Les Grand Montets. Some powder would be nice now! Thanks to Ally for the company!

Tour Ronde North Face 3792m

Another day up the mountains, this time with Alex. We were excited for a couple of days up high with the aim of completing 3 routes, This turned into one because of a few different reasons, but the one we completed was amazing.

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Starting up another last bin at the Midi we were aiming for the Perroux hut for another bivi, after helping some English 50 something year old put on his harness and crampons we escorted him down the arete and off to the Cosmiques refuge where he would await his guide, If we were not there who knows what would have happened to him. Before we settled in and started cooking some food we took time to fix the door on the small old hut, this meant digging out some ice, clearing the door way and salvaging some nails, we made that baby wind proof and were chuffed with our refurbishment’s so started cooking some ravioli and noodles, it was the first time I had used the hammer on my axe, not sure if that is its intended purpose!

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We were in bed early for a 3am wake up and out by 4am after some coffee, orange juice and a couple of cereal bars. Rapping in to the dark is good fun and we were on the move roped up just after 4.

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After a 1hour 15min approach we started heading up the snow slopes with only one team of two ahead who were pitching the north face, We caught them up before the ice and passed them soon after. The conditions were perfect, re-frozen snow at the bottom then neve all the way to nice ice in the middle with good neve on the upper snow field.

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We opted to take the left couloir with a longer ice section, this took us higher up the upper snow field and was great fun with a small rock and ice crux at the top. The sun started to come up as we were half way through the ice offering amazing sunrise views down the Vallee Blanche with the sun coming up behind the Dent de Geant.

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We were along side the other team at this point as they decided to get out onto the upper snow field as soon as they could, leaving us to have the whole left hand ice couloir to ourselves.

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After the tricky moves we were out onto the upper snow slope and heading towards the summit.

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After 2 hours of climbing we were on the summit and we sat and enjoyed the views for about 45 minutes whilst Alex looked for his sunglasses unsuccessfully.

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After borrowing some goggles from a German Guide we headed back down the East ridge with not enough time or the correct glasses to climb the Entreves traverse which is what we wanted to do after the Ronde. We then headed back to the Helbronner and came back to the Midi, we bailed on our plan to stay at the Torino hut and climb the Dent du Geant the next day as the weather did not look good in the afternoon and I could not afford to be stuck in Italy the following night!

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The next day me and Alex went to retrieve our sleeping bags from the Perroux and came back up the Cosmiques arete, we did the round trip Midi to Midi in just over a hour and had great fun in the sun wearing t-shirts!

A great few days in the mountains and I am really pleased to have climbed the North Face of the Tour Ronde, something I have wanted to do for a couple of years and my main objective for this summer.

Thanks to Alex.

Contamine-Grisolle, Tacul Ski descent

Contamine-Grisolle. II AD. 350m

Initially I wanted to go up and climb this route on the Monday with the intention of skiing powder on the North Face of the Tacul. However when checking the webcams on Monday morning at 6:30am you could see nothing but cloud so we decided to bail on that idea looking at Tuesdays forecast we thought it would be a much better option.

Rising early on Tuesday there was some cloud visable from the valley floor but upon viewing the webcams and seeing no cloud up high I was straight on the phone to Emily and arranged to meet at the Aiguille du Midi at 7:30.

We were at the top by 8:30 after a slight delay and down the arête with our skis on by 8:45.

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Skiing from half way down the arête we already had some nice powder turns with just over 6” of fresh snow. Skis on our feet made the approach to the base of the triangle very quick and we had our skis on our back and crampons on by 9am.

The start of the Contamine-Grisolle is on the far left of the Triangle behind the lowest rock spur.

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To start there is a 150m 50’ slope to climb before you hit the first rock step and mixed gully.

Emily climbing the lower snow slopes before the first rock step.

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The first mixed gully was easy to protect and we moved together up it fairly quickly, we were slower than other groups but they didn’t have 188cm planks of wood on their rucksack, which made negotiating some of the narrow trickier sections of mixed quite a delicate operation.

A couple of hours in and the wind had picked up and it was really cold, struggling to keep my hands warm I was in and out of hot-aches and cursing a lot!

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There was a lot of mixed ground in the middle of the climb then a few snow slopes that had changed into bullet hard ice in places, which made moving very precarious and slow going. We tried to place protection as much as we could but there were some places where it was not possible so extra care had to be taken.

The exit mixed gully was knackered, a combination of little or no ice and what was there would break easily or was slushy, this coupled with little protection made the last pitch take a while and we were both pretty tired by this point.

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Finally on to the ridgeline and a small mixed climb to the summit slopes.

The wind on these exposed top slopes was blistering and we tried to make a quick pace to get some relief but the altitude and our tiredness made the last 200m very hard. As we had both summated the Tacul in previous weeks we decided to just head down without topping out as by this point it was not looking like we were going to make last bin.

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Above the clouds on the summit slopes to Mont-Blanc du Tacul, with Mont Maudit on the left and the Dome de Gouter ahead.

We walked down the the lower ridge of the Tacul before putting our skis on as the snow was heavily wind affected and didn’t make for good skiing.Watching skiers come down the north face of the Tacul on our ascent we could see some great snow and some nice big powder turns, this is what kept us going throughout the climb. The ski down was amazing, and not just for the end of June! Nice powder and so much fresh to be had as only about 3-5 skiers had been down.

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We made a quick descent of the Tacul and tried to carry as much speed as we could off the bottom so we had less walking to do back up the arête. It was hard going because of the long hard day we had but we just made it to last bin, a couple minutes late but we were on it!

Thanks to Emily for another fantastic day Climbing and Skiing, and another Epic!

Chèré Couloir – Mont Blanc Du Tacul

After coming back from the UK on the 15th I was keen to start some alpine climbs. Going up the Midi on Sat 18th and being put off by howling winds and cloud I decided to give it a miss, and then with over a foot of snow falling at 3800m it was definitely  a no! The following Monday we saw there was some good weather but I only had until 1:30pm to do anything because of work so decided to ski Grand Envers which turned out to be really good considering it is nearing the end of May.

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After skiing Monday with Alistair we decided that because the weather the following day would not allow us to ski again, despite there being a couple of feet of snow up there now, we would aim for the Chèré Couloir on the Tuesday.

It was another work day for me but I managed to change with work and start at 3:20am and then have my second pick up at 6:10pm, this would give us all day for the climb, which we needed!

Tuesday morning we met up at the Midi at about 9 with the first lift going up at 9:30. Walking out on to the arete at 10 there were no tracks going down and alot of fresh snow, this already started to slow us down. After some whiteout navigating we arrived at the start of the climb at 12:00 with only two people just starting the 3rd pitch, there was so much snow!

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My 100m trail breaking, with Ally doing the rest, as usual!

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Just approaching the start, The Chèré Couloir is the obvious Ice route up the centre of the photo. Difficulty D 200m

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Ally on the second pitch.

The conditions were excellent, with really good ice and snow for climbing. We didnt place any protection until I led the last pitch, just clipping on to a couple of pieces of cord on the side of the route.

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Me leading my first big alpine route, I placed a couple of screws on this pitch as it was near vertical. Throughout the climb we were being pelted by powder snow avalanches and big spin drifts which resulted in us being very cold all day long and experiencing my first climbing hot aches and screaming a little!

After reaching the top of this last pitch it was on with the down jacket to wait for Ally to top out and start the decent.

To get back down you rappel the same couloir using the bolted belays on the left hand side, opposite side from the accent. There were a total of four raps with the fourth taking you back over the bergschrund way below the start of the climb.

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Ally on the first of four rappels.

When we got back down over the schrund we had noticed that our track that we put into the climb had now completely disappeared and that we would have to put another one in to get back to the Midi. We had 2 1/2 hours until the last bin at 5:30pm left so we thought this would be plenty of time. Once again we only had a rough idea of where to go as it was still a complete whiteout with only the Cosmiques Arete coming into view every so often. The snow was even deeper than the morning and the going was slow and tiring.

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The snow was over Ally’s knee and he isn’t a short man!

As we slowly got closer to the Midi we could start to hear the announcements over the tannoy that the last departure was in 30mins, then 15, then 10. At this point I rang the office to say that I might not be able to make my pick up at 6:10! This didn’t go down very well, and with a call back almost straight away saying that there was no one else to work it I knew we had to dig deep and get up the arete quickly, this was very hard work as there was no track in and well over a foot of snow. We made it to the top and into the cave at 5:28 and with a quick dash we just made the bin with moments to spare. Down the cable car and into my van and straight to work. This was a very long, very good and very challenging day of Alpine Climbing. Although there was a great deal of suffering throughout the day I loved every minute of it!