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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Mont Mallet West Couloir

Mont Mallet West couloir is tucked away on the north side of the Dent du Geant, along the ridge of the Periades. Normally you ski this line by climbing up the Breche Puiseux and climbing some mixed group to reach the shoulder of the Mallet. We decided to climb the line. This is not normally done because of the time spent exposed beneath the Noir seracs. We moved fast to minimise this exposure. First bin on weekend is now 7:30 and after Mikko exchanged multiple lift numbers we managed to get on the second bin and had our skins on by 8:30. I had skin malfunction within the hour and resorted to climbing with crampons.

The snow was very firm on the glacier and this did not slow us down. Upon arriving at the base of the couloir we started to get deeper with each step and soon we were wading up the couloir in nice powder snow. Ditching all our unnecessary gear at the bottom we made reasonable progress up the line sharing the trail breaking whenever I could. The sun had softened the harder sections of snow by the time we started skiing and it was good powder all the way down.

Somehow we made it to the train for 3:30 and I rushed to work at 4:40, ten minutes late. Very tired, and surprised to find good snow so long after the last snowfall.

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.

Couloir Angelique, Les Courtes South Face

I first met Jesper at the bottom of the West Couloir last spring and have been in similar circles for the last year. Watching him make big descents with the likes of Mikko and Ben I have always been excited to see what he has been up to. When he asked me to go and ski Couloir Angelique I couldn’t say no. Knowing that it would be a big day out I tried to pack light and think strong. Starting early from GM top bin we headed straight up the NNE face of Les Courtes. After 1130m of ascent, 800m being a boot pack, we were at the top of the Couloir at 13:00. The climb was on my mind the whole way up, as if conditions were not looking good in the Angelique I knew we would be down climbing the NNE. Hearing about a fatality on this face last week I was focused on reaching the top and optimistic for good conditions. Making the first small rap conditions were a little icy as the sun was hiding behind some thick clouds. Jesper made a few turns and reported not great snow. Not wanting to make my first turns on 50′ ice I made another small rap and then started skiing.

The snow was less than ideal as it saw no sun all day. It was firm but grippy and as we got lower the snow softened and we could make some nice turns. Im not sure if it was the situation I was in, Skiing a big 5.3 E3, or the fact I was beasted from the boot pack, but I found myself constantly puffing and panting the whole way down. I was gripped. The skiing consists of 200m 50′ then 600m of 45′. The couloir ranges between 5 and 30m in width. Nearing the bottom of the couloir I felt relieved, I had completed what I set out to do, after bailing on a few big lines this year due to less than average conditions it was nice to get out and accomplish something new. It was my first time in the Talefre basin and it is epic. A long slushy descent to the James Bond track. Not the best for getting down but as Jespers ski pass is somewhere on the NNE face of Les Courtes it was the only way down, and I couldn’t leave him to do it on his own!

All in all a great big day out. Traversing Les Courtes and enjoying a big ski line. Thanks to Jesper for the invite. Lets see what the rest of the spring brings.

E.N.S.A & Bellin Couloirs

With a morning off work and some visibility I was keen to go skiing and get something done. After seeing that Colin, Graham and a few others skied E.N.S.A yesterday and it looked good I was keen to go and give it a go. Reading through my Chamonix off-piste guide I knew roughly what I was going for and now just had to find a partner willing to ski it with me!

Nick and Sandy were keen but both had to work (or so Nick thought) so It looked like I was going solo. Carrying two 30m ropes for the entrance I had a bigger pack but minus the shovel and probe it didn’t feel that bad.

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Topo from http://forums.ski.com.au/xf/threads/tr-two-days-in-chamonix.35760/

E.N.S.A in Blue, Bellin in Red

Getting a 9am bubble at Brevent I was at top of Brevent about 9:30 and headed skiers left from the piste following the obvious ridge, staying well away from the cornices! After watching a video of the boys skiing it yesterday I knew there was a small drop just before the entrance so decided to down climb it as I didn’t fancy dropping onto some slightly covered rocks. The down climb was fine and as I got down I saw a guy from Evo2 setting up a belay to lower his clients over the drop. So I knew I had to be quick to get to the rap 1st.

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Starting the rap and the snow was deep!

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It is possible to ski into this couloir when there is good snow but I heard there was a rap needed to get over the first 5m drop, then a small down climb before you can safely put your skis on.

Skis on and I was looking down hundreds of meters of fresh knee deep untracked snow! Alone, Nervous but very excited!

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The snow was fresh and light and after a few initial turns I was being chased by some slow moving sluff so cut off to the side of the couloir to let it pass. Being alone I couldn’t afford any mistakes so I continued this process of 5/6 big fast turns then stopping to the side as a lot of snow passed down the couloir.

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looking back up the couloir at my starting point and first few turns.

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The great snow continued all the way down to where it opened up to the main Brevent bowl. Nice fast turns in deep snow, what a great start to a Work day!

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The couloir opens slightly then narrows before tightening again before the main bowl.

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Following the main snow strip down to the zig zack track I followed this back to the Savoy slope and was back at the Brevent lift before 10:30 heading back up for another look!

On the Brevent cable car I stood where I could see the Bellim couloir and got a good look at it and saw one track going down. This was next!

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Heading around the front piste then cutting under the ropes you follow the summer route towards the start of the frison roche.  This had 2 tracks down it by the time I got to it but it still looked great and there was still lots of fresh to be had, just watch out for the occasional rock!

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This couloir was lightly less steep and a bit more open in parts.

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It closed in again before turning back into a bit of bush wacking to avoid the crusty, icy and rocky exit couloir. Back onto the zig zags down to Brevent and I had my trainers on by 11:45. What a morning! With more snow forecast these could be an option on bad visibility days!

One of the best days I have spent on my own in the Mountains and two huge ticks of my ski checklist!

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.

Petit Aiguille Vert 3512m

Yesterday I skinned up from the Bochard gondola at Grand Montets towards the top station, Upon reaching the col on the left hand ridge I changed to crampons and scrambled up the rocky snowy ground towards the top station at 3300m. This was good fun and I was keen to go that bit further and continue up to the summit of the Petit Aiguille Vert. Deciding against it at the last minute I headed back down.

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Alone on the summit of the Grand Montets.

Going back up with Ally Hurst today the plan was to repeat what I did yesterday and then climb the ordinary route on Petit Aiguille Vert. After getting the second bin up GM at 9:30 we were on our way up the Bochard Gondola and soon we had skied the short traverse to where we would skin from. It took us just under an hour to get to the Col du Rachasses, 3037m, from here we changed to crampons and continued up the north ridge of the Grand Montets towards the viewing platform on the summit.

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Ally Changing into his crampons with the North Ridge of GM behind him. You can see my track from yesterday on the right.

This ridge is very similar to the first section of the Cosmiques Arete and is good fun and relatively easy with a few moves thrown in for good measure, maybe grade 3/4. We flew up the ridge in under an hour with about 250m height gain.

Pausing on the summit for a few minutes we then headed down the steps that lead out of the back of the top station and started up towards our main goal, Petit Aig. Vert.

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The red line indicates our route to the summit, We came down the same way apart from near the Bergschrund, I will say why later.

We made quick progress up the snow slope but then hit a problem at the Bergschrund. Ally found a way over but on the other side was 50′ bullet hard black ice, this would not normally be a problem with two axes and a rope but we only had one lightweight mountaineering axe and no rope, harness or anything! After I ran up the steep slope another 30m and found no other way across, Ally came back down and we started to look for another route up.

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We eventually decided to climb up the mixed ground to the right of the normal way up to avoid the ice and this turned into somewhat of a challenge. The above photo shows the way we went up in red and Ally down climbing the way we didn’t feel would be easy going up. The route in red we took was harder than the exit couloir on the Cosmiques Arete and coupled with loose powder snow and no protection it felt like AD or even D grade, and for some reason I went up first, clearing the snowy ledges as I went. Next time ill send Ally up first!

Once we were through this mixed ground and onto the main ridge it went quick and it was pretty easy going.

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Following the obvious ridge to the left of the rocks you follow a series of snow slopes and small mixed steps to come to a short but steep rock move up to the summit ridge.

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Me coming towards the short rock section. Photo Ally Hurst

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Ally freeing it up the upper rock section, Some tricky moves to make without a rope!

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Once over the rock section there was some more mixed ground and snow ridges to get to the summit. Ally is one step away from the summit here, with the Aiguille Vert to his right.

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Me following Ally on to the final summit ridge with the Aiguille Rouges  and Mont Buet behind. Photo Ally Hurst

After reaching the summit there are two ways down. In the summer me and John Vincent rappeled down the north face with 3 50m raps. With no rope Ally and I had to reverse the whole route, Down climbing in soft sugary snow was somewhat precarious but we made quick time.

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Me down climbing the upper section. Photo Ally Hurst

We had no problems and then when we came to the section of ice above the Bergschrund I went down first kicking in big steps in the snow until we got to the ice then it was front points only for the last 20m.

After getting past this section we were down and back at our skis within 25 minutes. Getting our skis back on we headed down the north face towards the upper slopes of the Bochard and found some nice sections of soft snow, then down some steepish couloirs we had some nice chaulky snow to finish.

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Me skiing half a mile away from Ally. Photo Ally Hurst

All together another great day climbing and skiing up at Les Grand Montets. Some powder would be nice now! Thanks to Ally for the company!

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!

July 31st and still Skiing!

After a hard days raining on Monday and seeing that the rain snow limit was down to 2700m Me and Tom Grant headed up the midi with the hopes of some good summer powder! Not getting up there too early we were half way down the arête just after 8am with our skis on our feet. The arête was great fun with a few inches of fresh powder and as it was still pretty cold up high it was staying in good shape.

P1050420After having a look about we decided that the North Face of the Tacul was out because there would be a high risk of wind slab, we saw a few groups attempt to break trail up it turning back just after the crevasse after a small slide almost took them back into it. We decided to have some fun on the small ridgeline below the Cosmiques refuge near the Perroux hut. Lapping this a few times we got some good powder turns in and some great photos! It was worth it for the novelty of end of July Powder!

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Fingers crossed for some snow up high in August to be one month away from skiing a solid 12 months here in Chamonix.