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

 

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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.

Aiguille De L’Ecrenaz, North East Couloir, 2385m

After Mondays big day touring off the Midi we wanted more. I remember reading Lornes write up of the North East Couloir last year and it has been in the back of my mind ever since. Knowing that the north facing slopes would still be in good condition me James and Tim headed up Brevent-Flegere for first bins heading for the Rouge.

Traversing around the floria you get your skins on quickly. We were the only people taking this route and after passing over 50 people at the bottom of the floria all putting skins on we knew we had made the right choice. An hours skinning put us at the bottom of the couloir. The sun was baking hot and hitting our backs as we plodded up the 500m couloir. The snow on this south facing couloir was horrible. Changing from knee deep slush to bullet hard ice where we were glad we brought crampons. The boot pack felt like it went on for ever, The bad snow mixed with the hot sun really drained us and we were happy when we reached the top.

Looking down the North facing couloir we saw some good snow. There is a 40m side slip to get to the rappel then a 30m rap. Putting skis on we had over 500m of nice steep skiing ahead of us. The first few turns came and went and it felt fluid all the way down. The snow varied from nice powder on the sides of the couloir to soft chalky powder in the centre. Out of the couloir and it was more powder skiing down to Buet. Still not convinced by the La Sportiva Spectres, there is now 5mm walk mode play, which does not fill me with confidence skiing, steeps and back country.

Thanks to James and Tim for a great day out.

Breche Puiseux 3790m

I finally have my touring boots back! Having problems with my Spectres has put a hold on my touring over the past 3 weeks but the rep says they are fixed so that will do. The timing couldn’t have been better, fresh snow a few days prior and perfect weather. I was keen to ski the Capucin Couloir with James, Luke and Tim but they had their eyes initially set on Breche Puisex. They both follow the same start so I had an hour of skinning to change their mind. At the split in the route I came around to the mellower ski, as I knew it had been skied and would be a safer bet for nice snow. After the 2-hour skin and 40 minute boot pack we were at the top. Bumping into Charlie Boscoe who had also decided against the Capucin Couloir. This was a good choice then! There is a 30m rap down the back of the col then a small down climb with an insitu rope. The skiing was fantastic. Perfect cold powder and it was deep. After we got Tims ski back (narrowly avoiding a crevasse) we flew down the glacier and we were on the Leschaux before too long. There’s a bit of side stepping to get back on to the Mer de Glace and then the usual walk up to the James Bond. Back in town for happy hour we were all tired and had big smiles on our faces. What a day, Thanks to James, Luke and Tim.

E.N.S.A

Over 8 inches of lovely cold snow fell in Chamonix yesterday. This put a hold to my Cosmiques first bin idea as I knew I couldn’t make it home for work at 1pm if the midi was late opening. Change of plans. Ally Swinton and I were at Brevent for 9am. Waiting until 10:15 when they finally opened top ticket, we were in the first group heading towards E.N.S.A. Watching 3 balls-out riders huck the 3m cliff into the narrow couloir while we set up our rope for the rap! The snow was perfect. Nice and cold, deep powder. Charging down the couloir we found nice snow all the way back to town where we headed home. As quickly as we were in, it was over. Both with big smiles and plenty of snow on our faces! Cheers Ally for the photos and for being nice and quick!

Picked up some alpine boots yesterday from Footworks. I have never worn a pair and they are nowhere near as comfy as my La Sportiva touring boots! What a baptism of fire they had! Should be able to charge harder than in my touring boots, and they wont fall apart as quick now!

Pas du Chevre Central Couloir & E.N.S.A

Another early start on a monday morning saw me and Ally Hurst heading towards Grant Montets with the hope of sunshine and deep powder. By the time we had our skis on in was 10:30 and the wind was blowing up high. This didn’t stop us from heading straight down towards the Pas du Chevre (Topo Here)  with the main aim of skiing the central couloir. Neither of us had done it before but working from a topo from Dave Searle we roughly knew where we were heading. Keeping skiers left down the normal route we found hundreds of meters of fresh deep snow with only a handful of tracks down it. Only pausing for a couple of photos we were down in no time. Fast, steep and deep is the only way to describe that run! Getting down into the play ground at the bottom we were jumping and slashing our way down to the dodgy icy rock step that we encountered last week. Here we met up with James and Josh who had just skied the Rectiligne and said it was pretty good too. We skied back to town on the James Bond track where both Ally and Josh decided to go home to get ready for work. Me and James were no where near ready to call it a day at 12:30! We got straight on a bus and as we had ropes in our bag and harnesses on E.N.S.A was the next point of call. Quick to the top after a nice double drop to the entrance we had finished the 30m rap in a matter of minutes and were looking down a tracked but surprisingly nice couloir. Getting back to the Brevent lift in 30 minutes after 1000m of nice snow we headed back up to have a look at hotel face. This had been in the sun all day and was not very enjoyable with a crust and some very heavy snow. We then decided to call it! With over 5000m of vertical in it was a good day and we both enjoyed a well deserved burger and a few pints! Thanks to Ally, James and Josh for the fun day out and LocalCHX for the ski service, they are running like a dream! Hit a few rocks later on in the day so you will be seeing me again shortly!

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!

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!

Mont Blanc du Tacul Summit 4,248m

After turning back from the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul on saturday I was determined to go back and bag it. Finishing work early on Wednesday I headed up the Aiguille du Midi to bivi at the Col so I could get an early start. I was thinking that if I was feeling good I would have a crack at Mont Blanc!

After skiing down the arete I soon found a nice bivi spot that someone had left and settled in for the night with a wake up time of 3:45am.

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The Bivi gave me plenty of time to look at the face again and scope out the best possible ski line down so I could get most of the untouched snow. My decision to bivi was rewarded with a stunning sunset, with all the higher peaks turning their usual pinkish red.

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It rained earlier in the week and this put down a fair bit of snow up high and a friend had skied the Gervasutti Couloir on the Tuesday and said it was nice powder up on the north faces of the Tacul and Maudit.

Leaving the bivi just after 4am there were already dozens of head torches working their way up the Tacul, mostly on skis but there were some parties who were heading for Mont Blanc on foot. I made quick progress in the dark and soon reached the Bergschrund.

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Starting off in the dark is great. You have more of the day and you don’t get too hot starting out. It does mean you have to take more care in your route as you may not see things that you would in daylight.

Just over a third of the way up the face I was having trouble with my skins sticking and my skis staying on the skinny track, after using a lot of extra energy trying to pull myself up I decided to just put crampons on, skis on the back and carry on up the walking path which was firm and well travelled.

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The sun started to rise about 5:30am when I was just over half way up the face, this was nice as I could see better and the warmth gave me a little extra spurt of energy to push on to the top. I hadn’t settled to the altitude as well as I would have hoped to and was starting to get a headache so made the decision that I would just go to the summit of the Tacul and then head back down.

There is a small mixed climb to get to the summit, about 50m, and as I was on my own with no rope I did bring two axes which made it easier as there were some tricky moves with long run outs below, two axes also made down climbing after a lot easier and safer.

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A small part of the summit climb, photo is taken with GoPro which takes away some of the steepness.

On the summit for 6:30am I found I was quicker than saturdays attempt and the sun was well and truly up by now and I sat on the summit for 20 minutes soaking up the sun and taking in the views.

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I was pleased to have climbed the Tacul after failing due to weather on saturday. Next comes what all the effort was for…The Skiing!

Putting my skis on just below the rocky summit the snow was hard pack and quite wind affected for the summit ridge, this soon changed as I dropped into the North Face, It was two day old powder with a very thin breakable crust on and there was loads of fresh! As I was on my own I didn’t get a photo of any skiing and as I went light I didn’t take a helmet so no p.o.v pictures. All I managed was a little photo of some fresh turns I made on the lower half of the face.

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It was a little less deep here than up higher but it was really nice snow, I didn’t want to attack it with full speed as the parts that I had decided to ski were above the larger parts of the Bergschrund and some large seracs, but that was where the best snow was to be found!

I was back down to the bivi about 7:45 and after packing up my gear headed up the arete to the Aiguille du Midi to go back to town. There were hoards of people coming down the arete and thankfully they all gave way to me, partly because they could see I had little energy to notice them let alone move aside! On to the 8:45 bin and back to town for just after 9am! Is it too early for a well done beer?

I am glad I set off early as I am writing this at 12pm and its over 25’c in Chamonix, It would be roasting if I had set out from first bin!