Winter 2015/16: Looking Back

When the snow started to fall in November the anticipation grew for a great winter. People started brushing the cobwebs off their skis and heading up high to find good snow. The Helbronner was the place to search with the Aiguille du Midi being closed. There was some good skiing to be had but it was short lived. The temperatures rose leading up to Christmas and the snow ceased to fall. Most of the early snow melted away and Christmas came and went with no real precipitation. As the new year rolled in it brought with it some snow, a lot of snow. Powder was plentiful and there were too many deep days to count. Spending a lot of time in Italy dodging trees and the odd day up high in Chamonix it felt like winter was in full swing.

As with every year I like venturing into new corners of the Massif to find new lines that I have yet to ski. This is always condition dependant, but this year the conditions have led me to certain areas that I would have otherwise passed by without a thought.

Couloir Chevalier was the first line of 2016. I had been to the top of this a couple of years ago but had to turn around because of the poor build quality of La Sportiva ski boots. Returning to this line in good snow and with Mikko and the Finns was a great morning out and it felt good to get back on the steeps.

Chamonix TOPO

Chamonix TOPO

Table Couloir, Aiguille du Tour . This was my first alpine route and I have wanted to return for 4 years. Heading up there with Tim was great even though it is a long way away from the top of Col du Passon and was a real slog up with deep powder. It is a great small, steep line that rarely gets skied because its not that long and quite far away.

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Mont Oreb North Face was next. Skiing with Mikko and Jesper is great, they always have a plan B. After we were turned around at the midi with ideas about a nice little line we headed back to the cars and straight over to Buet. Smashing the climb up we were treated with powder down this steep and exposed face and a nice little ski back to the car.

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Tricot NE Couloir is located near Bionassay on the other side of Les Houches. This was a new area for me after only seeing this line once when I skied trapper last year. A beautiful little steep tucked away from the crowds of the Chamonix Valley.

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Dent du Geant South Face started what almost felt like spring. Corn decent down to the Italian valley below. Warm temperatures had transformed the snow and with little else to ski it felt right to tick this classic off the list. When the clouds came in it did make route finding difficult but with a big cliff below we knew traversing high was the only option.

the line. Teton Gravity

the line. Teton Gravity

Les Courtes NE Spur is one to return to. Although we made it 2/3rds of the way up we had to stop at the choke because there was too much powder pouring down the face. It made crossing the slough dangerous. Nevertheless we were rewarded with several hundred meters of deep cold snow on this classic steep north face.

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We skied from the circle

Mont Mallet West Couloir is a little known steep line tucked away below the Dent du Geants north face. Deciding to climb the line first we put ourselves in the firing line of some very big searches and in a wild and impressive little corner of the Massif. What Mikko considered as a training day was one of the highlights of my winter.

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The line (Photo- Lucapandolfi.com)

Col de la Aiguille Vert was my baptism into real ‘extreme’ skiing, my first 5.4. This rarely skied line is over 50′ for its entirety and you get a real feel  for its steepness when your standing at the top. Cold snow and good company made the day feel a little tamer than it should have been and it felt easier than some other less steep lines I have skied in bad snow. It goes to show that the snow quality is what can change a grade.

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Camp to Camp Topo

Tour Ronde North Face is another classic alpine climb I have done that I had always wanted to return to with skis. This spring it happened and after flying up the Gervasutti in no time at all we were staring down the upper face in boot top cold powder. What a descent. Skiing above the mandatory raps your mind is telling you you can’t fall the whole time. Once off the rope on the lower section your mind eases and you know you have passed the exposure test.

Mont Blanc du Tacul South Face is about as technical a line as I have skied. Weaving in and out of couloirs and with a few abseils thrown in for good measure it made for a gripping descent. Add to that a 5.4 grade and some hard snow on the cruxes and you have the most challenging day on skis for me. When the face started to pour down on us in the lower section it started to get scary and we were glad to make it out safely. Possibly the last day on skis for me this year, I will have to see what the conditions are like when I return in June after  a couple of weeks back in the motherland.

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Photo – Tom Grant

Another great winter has past with some epic days and also some scary ones. It has been great to explore more areas close to home and to make the most of my skis from Voile, they have been everything I have wanted and more. This summer will be more about climbing and moving faster in the mountains and I’m glad to have Salomon onboard to help me achieve more of my dreams.

 

 

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Dent du Geant SF & Les Courtes NE Spur

A good couple of days spent in the mountains. Meeting Mikko at the lift for first bin we were already a couple of people short of our original 4 team so it meant more boot packing for the both of us. Heading over a very ominous looking bergschrund we started the boot pack up the NE Spur. Soon we were joined by Jose who came along with us and shared the effort. After being plastered by howling spindrift and heavy sluff for the most of the climb we came to the diagonal ramp about 2/3rds of the way up. Here the couloir narrows and the only way up was to climb through the heavy spindrift/ sluff that was puling down the face. We called it a day here. Strapped on our skis and enjoyed a great ski back down. At the bottom we crossed the bergschrund on a bridge that was not there 2 hours earlier when we started. Lots of moving snow!

The day after I was heading through the tunnel with Sleigh to search for some spring corn. I have admired the south face of the Dent du Geant for a couple of years now. Its a great looking hanging face that requires you to traverse to avoid the cliffs below. After a 2 hour mixed climb in the baking hot sun we reached the top of the line by 11:30. Starting off down the steepish couloir we found great spring powder that then turned into corn. Enjoying the descent we soon realised that we would have to start making the traverse to skiers right. Just as we started the traverse the thick cloud came in and we were in a white out.  Moving from ridge to ridge in the dense cloud was unnerving but we eventually found the exit ramp down to the Marbrees. Lots more spring skiing came after until we arrived back at the car. Great morning out.

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!

Plan laps and GM hikes

Waking up to blue skies and fresh snow has become a rarity this winter. So when I woke up at 9am on tusday morning after getting home at 4:30am I was quick to get ready. Showering and downing a pint of berrocca I was out the door for 9:30 heading to meet Rich at the Midi.  I had done skiers left from the mid station a week before and was keen to give it another go in blue skies.  We had nice deep cold snow all the way down the the valley and only a couple of tracks could be seen. Heading up for another and we were treated to another 1200m of powder!

With 2 plan laps in we fancied heading to Grand Montets to see if the little bochard hike was still good. It paid off. Skiing it 3 times after 2p,m with fresh deep snow all the way. Although it is a short ride its fun and steep and always less tracked than the rest of GM! What a good day, we have been waiting a while!

Click HERE to see a video from Tuesday!

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!

Col d’Argentière 3552m

After the recent snowfall in Chamonix I was keen to get up skiing on Monday after finishing a weekend of work. We rushed to the Hotel face at Brevent just to find some heavy untracked spring snow. Moving along the Aiguille Rouge towards Flegere we found more of the same. I knew I would have to go touring if I wanted to ski something nice.

John Vincent and his friend Francesco were keen and had suggested the Col d’Argentiere, Not having done it before I was ready and because of its west facing aspect the snow had a better chance of being less affected and more stable.

Jumping on an early bin at Grand Montets and meeting Francesco at the mid station after he opted to skin the homerun, we then took top ticket and skied down to the glacier. The snow of the back side was well tracked but still nice and cold.

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John heading to towards the Col d”argentiere, marked in red. The weather on tuesday was quite mild in the sun with some cloud passing over, when you hit the higher slopes it became windy and it was quite cold in the shade.

There was a track in across the glacier as many people had headed towards the Toir Noir and the right bank of the Col d’Argentiere so we made quick progress to the start of the climb.

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John set up the glacier first breaking trail through some boot deep powder and we followed up behind.

Just over half way up the glacier we noticed some nice looking couloirs off to the left so we decided to go and have a look at the snow conditions with the intention of skiing them.

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Skinning up to the narrow exit we then changed to boot pack and after about 1 meter of trying to climb the deep heavy snow we changed back to our original plan of the col! They are now on my tick list for the future.

Back on track to the Col we topped out after a few hours on the move. The wind on the Col was pretty strong and John was quick to help us get ready after sitting up there for 5/10 minutes alone. Skipping the summit lunch we headed down to find some shelter from the wind.

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We made it!

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Looking back down the Col towards Aiguille Vert and the Argentiere basin.

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The windy summit ridge.

The decent was quite varied with the first 100m being very wind affected. It then opened up into huge powder fields with only one track on, the skin track. The snow was firm but still deep and rip-able.

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One by one we enjoyed some big turns down the perfect angle slope. I opened it with no hesitation! John v photo.

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Francesco was next with some big Tele turns.

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The only photo I have of John and there was water on the lens!

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Half way down and there were only 3 tracks behind us, that doesn’t happen often in Chamonix!

The lower slopes were a bit heavier but you were still able to open it up.

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Getting the knee down!

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Enjoying the moment, soft snow and smiles.

Back down the glacier in about 20 minutes and we started the flat ski back to the mid station. after stopping for some lunch in the sun we had a quick blast down the home run to finnish a great day up the mountain with some superb skiing!

Many thanks to John and Francesco for the photos and 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.

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!