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.

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.

 

 

 

Aiguille d’Entreves, SW Ridge PD

Teaming up with a new climbing partner Fabio Mastroianni we headed across the panoramic to traverse the Entreves ridge on the Italian side of the Massive. I met Fabio driving him to and from the airport and then having bumped into him on the Tacul last week we thought it was best to go and do a nice easy route together before taking on anything serious. This route was perfect for Fabio as he was returning back to his homeland with some Italian drinks to finish!

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The traverse goes from right to left along the top of the ridge.

The route starts a mere 40-minute walk from the cable car station, this did mean it was very busy, sort of an Italian Cosmiques! The whole traverse is done in big boots but without crampons, as it is 100% rock. The route is graded PD and has a couple of tricky rock moves in the middle just below the first summit. With a couple of down climbs thrown in it is a good beginner alpine rock traverse and even though it was very crowded we both had a great day finished off with a beer and a grappa!

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Starting up the ridge.

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Just before the first down climb, Probably the most difficult section of the route.

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The first and hardest down climb.

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The ridge leading to the summit, you can see the crowds of people ahead!

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Stopping for some lunch after the summit, only a 20 min traverse from here to finish.

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Just relaxing in the sun!

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The view from the Torino enjoying a beer and Grappa!

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Going back across the Vallee Blanche towards the Midi at the end of a nice day in Italy!

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.