Cornes de Loriaz, NNE Couloir

 

I have already reposted Tims account of our awesome day above Buet away from the holiday makers of the Chamonix valley.  I have a few more words to add and some more pictures.

I am more often than not quite reluctant to leave the Valley in pursuit of good skiing and powder simply because with all of the terrain in the Mont Blanc Massif I like to challenge myself to find new spots and fresh snow without the use of a car.

However, What Timmy had in store for us just a 20 minute drive from home looked superb and with the possibility of no other tracks I was on board and up at 6am to get ready while the sun was still sleeping hard. Skinning into the mountains as the sun is rising has some magical feel to it. Similar to the experience you get with a 4am alpine summer start. Keeping cool in the early morning light is easy too and leaves you feeling dry and fresh by the time you start the long deep bootpack up the 40/45′ couloir.

We wanted to have a look over the Col to suss out Buet NE face conditions but the last 10 meters of climbing looked to sketchy so we just skied what we knew would be great, the way back down…

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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!

 

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.

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.

Monday…

Monday was a mixed bag of skiing. Waking up early for first bin at the Midi at 8am then having to wait until 10am to get on a bin, Already behind schedule… After getting to the top and reversing the upper section of the Cosmiques Arete to go and ski the South Couloir we found ourselves waiting again. A guide was taking two clients up the couloir and they were unbelievably slow. The guide wanted us to wait, but after 20 minutes of hanging around watching the sun slowly melt the snow and start to sluff off we told the guide to move his clients to the side and we skied it one by one. He gave each one of us a mouthful as we skied past! Nice skiing but the snow was not 100%.

Next delay! After skiing the south couloir we then arrived at the right hand rappel of the Cosmiques west Couloir. Waiting another 20/30 minutes here as some guys tried to pull their rope down and got it stuck we were becoming very impatient and we were watching some big movements across the Gouter face and the snow was starting to change and become heavy. Watching Pete and Grant finally rap in, James and I decided we would just go and do a Gros Rognon as we couldn’t be bothered with the exit after al this time we had taken. Such a good choice!

Thigh deep, cold powder awaited us all the way down Gros Rognon and with the James Bond track in perfect condition. We were back to town pretty soon. Grabbing some beers and Luke we were on last bin at 4pm going back up the Midi. Chilling with a beer on the arete soaking up the views we were the only 3 people skiing Gros Rognon at 5pm! The snow was still perfect and after stopping for another beer at les Mottes hut we skied the James Bond at dusk to return to Elevation for 6:30pm. All in all a great day despite the waiting around! Thanks to James, Luke, Pete and Grant for another great day up the Midi!

Click HERE to watch a video from Monday!