Returning to Chamonix after a big storm that saw snow falling on the valley floor I knew that some of the mixed routes on the Cosmiques ridge would be in condition. Spring and autumn are the best times to get on these climbs and after bad weather they are usually at their best. Getting to an empty first bin we knew it would be quiet on the route. I have seen the bridge in autumn and it’s usually a fistfight to get to the abseil point first so you have no one climbing above you. This was not the case on this beautiful calm sunny day.
Tim on first steep ice
Pulling hard on the crux
Our aim was the Profit Perroux and before we set off down the multiple abseils we had a quick look at the whole route from the midi viewing platform, it looked really good.
On our way down the couloir we saw a couple of groups skiing the Glacier Ronde in powder. The climbing was steep and sustained but with bomber ice we saw no real difficulties. We had one group of two who were climbing behind us and only catching us on the belays, as the second was about to climb. They were happy to also have the route crowd free given the amazing conditions.
The triangle du Tacul is in good condition for mixed climbing. Tim Oliver and myself went up yesterday for a variation of the Contamine-Grisolle. There was no wind and the sun was scorching which would explain my sun burnt neck today. We moved together for the whole route and encountered some tricky sections of thin ice and tricky, yet fun, mixed steps. Climbing with skis on your back is a little more engaging and sometimes you can knock yourself off balance when they collide with a rock, but it does however mean that the Tacul north face descent can be done in very little time and making powder turn in late May is always a privilege.
Mont Blanc du Tacul
Tim on the summit ridge
Skiing down the NW face
Relatively straight forward and easy climbing can be found just 30 minutes from the Aiguille du Midi. The Triangle du Tacul offers many routes of differing grades and can be found in good condition all year round. Last year I climbed the Chere Couloir and the Contmine-Grissole so the next obvious route was the Contamine-Mazeaud.
Mostly a 60 degree snow slope this route offers varied climbing with great views back towards the Aig. du Midi and looking down the Vallee Blanche. Failing to climb this route on Friday due to high winds I went back up yesterday with Tim and we were quick down the arete, reaching the bottom of the route by 8am. After pitching the first 70/80 degree ice pitches we moved together until we hit the easy mixed ground so we could change the lead. Reaching the summit of the triangle in under 4 hours we then abseiled down 120meters onto the Tacul north face and then walked the normal route back to the Midi, Taking just over 6 hours from bin to bin.
The climbing was superb with good ice and firm snow up the central slope which made trail breaking a joy. These quick routes are great for days where the weather is deteriorating in the afternoon. Get there quick while the boot pack is still in.
Perfect alpine weather
looking up the route
Tim on the initial slopes before the ice
Tim charging up the central snow slope
Tim storming into the clouds
On the easy mixed before the summit
Downclimbing the Tacul north face
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.
Me on the way up the basin (Photo Luke Jarmey)
Col des Cristaux. James and Luke on their way down
Me heading into the winds on the upper half of the face
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.
looking down from where I skied. Very wind affected
James and Luke taking shelter
Sleigh batteling his way down in high winds (photo Luke Jarmey)
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.