Le Tour Glacier-Ski Tour

After seeing that I had a good days skiing in Verbier on Saturday, Alex was keen to get on his skis for the first time this winter. I haven’t really stopped since changing to skiing in January and he knew I would be keen for anything. He suggested going up the le Tour Glacier, This would be a good bet as there had been a fair amount of fresh snow over the weekend here in Chamonix.

He didn’t have anything in mind that he wanted to ski/climb so I suggested the Table Couloir, a 45/50’ 200m line from near the summit of Aiguille du Tour. Not knowing how it would look we decided to go and have a look on the Monday and decide what we would do on the Tuesday, with the normal route on Aig. du Tour being another option that we would be prepared for.

Meeting up early on Monday we geared up and headed to the Le Tour car park and we were on our way just after 11am. There are two ways to get to the Albert Premier refuge in the summer but with a lot of snow the high route is very exposed and with the high winds on Sunday there would be a high avalanche risk so we decided to take the more direct route but we knew this would be hard with no tracks and lots of snow.

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The route to the refuge.

Neither Alex nor me had put a real skin track in before so it was nice to decide where we would go and pick the line up, Mellow was the key word for all of our skin tracks and I had to remind Alex to keep it easy as I have been burned out on steep tracks in the past.

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Heading across the Vormaine slopes to the start of the climb.

After 45 minutes of skinning we had our skis on our back and were heading up the steep couloir looking for the path, we knew it would be hard to find but after a lot of scrambling around in deep snow and climbing up bushes and in between trees we found it and were heading towards the glacier and looking forward to getting our skis back on and skinning up the left bank of the moraines.

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Getting out of the trees and finding the path.

It took us 3 hours to get to the start of the moraines, this is roughly the time it takes you to get to the refuge in summer, and we were only half way!

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Skinning up the moraines we were going through some really nice powder that hadn’t been affected by the wind. We finally had the refuge in our sights and we were running out of sunlight, luckily we had the moon to guide us. We made it to the refuge at 5:30pm, 6 hours after setting off and skinning the last 300m with the sun setting behind us.

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Upon arrival to the winter room at the Albert Premier we realised we had the whole place to ourselves and the builders who had previously occupied it had gone away for the bank holiday weekend. We quickly found some pallets and smashed them up and had the fire going and some snow melting. There was a working gas cooker and electricity there. The radio was playing and we found some wine, it was cold and old though so it didn’t go down very well! When I found some oven chips in the freezer we turned on the electric oven and tripped the whole building! That was the end of that! Head torches were on now and we started on dinner. Pasta starter then some Chilli and mash potatoes that we borrowed from the builders’ fridge!

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Drying our snow soaked gear by the roaring fire.

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Chilli and Mash for supper, A fox wanted to come in and join us away from the howling winds outside.

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We woke at a very un-alpine time of 6:45am and after some coffee, beans and sausages we had our skis back on our feet and were heading up the Le Tour glacier heading for the table couloir. As we saw it we realised that it was un-ski able unless you had a rap or can jump 30feet on steep slopes.

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The refuge, Mont Buet and the Aiguille Rouge in the morning light.

Here you can see the Table Couloir and the rocks in the middle of the line.

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We then changed to our back up plan to climb the regular route on Aig. du Tour. Heading up the col I started to feel pretty bad, I had developed a bad cough and I was coughing up some nasty stuff, so we decided that it was not worth me suffering.

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Roughly the route we took until we turned around.

Turning around without really accomplishing anything was a bit annoying but it is the start of winter and it was still good to get over 2000m of climbing in the legs before winter.

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Alex making some of his first winter turns on some hard pack.

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Alex again in some nice snow.

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Just after descending the crusty snow, some of the hardest I have skied.

We descended across the lower slopes of the Chardonnet and then met up with the normal route on Col du Passon and followed it back to Le Tour. The snow was varied from hard wind blown snow, bullet hard ice, horrible crusty snow and the occasional bit of powder. It took us a while to find our way and then just when we thought we were home we lost sight of the path and headed into the trees looking for it. We spent just over an hour down climbing the dense trees and sliding about on snowy grass slopes until we finally found the path. Looking back up from the car park we could see where we went wrong and were gutted that we didn’t find it and save ourselves the mission.

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On the whole we had a fun couple of days of hard climbing and mixed skiing, a great start to the winter and good training.

Roughly our route for the two days.

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Thanks to Alex for putting up with me again in the mountains!

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!