Col du Miage

Once again early season snow has led me into the mountains in the pursuit of powder.  With the last two weekends spent riding piste in Verbier I was keen to get out and find some real skiing and fortunately so was Tim. This time last year Tom Grant and Ben Briggs went over to the Plan Glacier hut in search of good skiing on the Miage NF. With the snow line being so low and the thought of exploring a new area of the massif intriguing I once again found myself thumbing through countless guide books and topos looking for a good season starter.  Not wanting to start too big we thought the Col du Miage west couloirs could offer some steepish 40/45′ slopes with limited exposure.

After a couple of messages and a phone call later, Tim picked me up early on wednesday morning and we started the short drive to La Gruvaz car park, 1090m. Ben suggested driving to the Chalets du Miage with a 4×4 but limited to Tims Fiesta we opted to walk this hour or so track. Arriving at the Chalets we could see the snow cover on the couloirs.

We saw they were plastered in the white stuff. Skis on and we started skinning our way up through the trees towards the Plan Glacier hut, 2680m. The going was slow as we battled our way through dense vegetation and deep snow. It took us over 6 hours but we eventually made the hut just as the sun was setting. Exhausted. Eating food and sleeping was on the agenda.

A sunrise start at 8am we were greeted with deep turns straight out of the door. After 200m of powder we started the skin towards the Col. Making good time we changed to booting as it got too steep and we waded our way up the lower slopes.

Around half way up the main couloir we met our limit, one side Ice and the other firm neve. Not wanting to be heros on our first outing we decided to enjoy the lower half and make our way down. Rewarded with deep snow all the way down the face and beyond.

Once down off the glacier things started to get ropey. Skiing through rivers, over trees and everywhere in-between.  This is what early season skiing is all about and we loved every minute of it.

Getting back to our trainers we still had a 40 minute walk to Tims badly parked car before we could drive to the nearest establishment that was selling beer. Great to get out and enjoy the snow and Im truly  ready for another amazing winter. Thanks Timmy for the company and some quality pics!

Capucin Couloir

Eager to start my two months off work with a good ski I teamed up with Tim to ski the Capucin Couloir. Getting first bin at the midi we were heading to the Italian side of the vallee blanche. Using this approach to the Col du Tacul you save a good half hour climb than if you were to ski the VB.

We were quick on the climb and the 1000m of ascent allowed me to break in my new boots. With my La Sportiva Spectres giving me nothing but problems all winter I managed to get some Spitfires and just in time for spring touring and climbing. They look like there is less that can go wrong on them compared to the spectres and they are so light!

Arriving at the col we saw that we could do two 30m raps then side slip a small crux to start the skiing. The snow was a mix of chalk, powder and some icy re-frozen snow that was a bit of a struggle to ski smoothly. After a short while we were over the massive bergschrund and onto the mellow open glacier below heading towards Montenvers.

It was nice to ski another new couloir and a great test for the new boots. Fingers crossed for some new spring snow soon and maybe some big ski/climbing mission soon. got to make the most of no work.

 

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.

Argentiere Glacier Ski Tour, Conditions and La Sportiva Spectre

We have had no new snow here in Chamonix for over two weeks so Looking for something good to ski is out of the question. Alex was keen to get out and do something and suggested Petit Viking at the top end of the Argentiere glacier. Reading up on the climb it appears that the bergschrund is near impossible to cross so we looked at other possible routes up that way. The Charlet route on Mont Dolent looked like something that would be possible for me with my level of climbing and It also is on a mountain that has been on my list for a while now. Mont Dolent shares its summit with France, Italy and Switzerland.

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Leaving Grand Montets Lognon station just before noon we headed up towards the bottom of the glacier and found a well run in track that would lead us up the right bank of the glacier towards the Argentiere refuge.

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Negotiating some parts of the moraine with skis was tricky and we had our skis off a couple of times, as it was too icy.

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Looking up the Glacier with the refuge behind the first moraine bank on the left and Mont Dolent at the back centre of the photo

Reaching the refuge about 3pm we had made good time and had enough time to go and play on some ice with our new boots.

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Alex has new Dynafit TLT6 and I have La Sportiva Spectres. We were both looking for a boot that was lighter than our current tech boots and something that we could use to climb with also.

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I had bought my boots the day before from FootWorks and was keen to get a good test out of them. Overall skinned about 10km, climbed a small free pitch of mellow ice and skied over 10km back to town on a windblown glacier and 700m of pistes. The boots were great overall. The had a bit of work done to them when I had them fitted to improve the fit on the last as they pinched, something which has been mentioned in other reviews. They felt good climbing in walk mode with the top two buckles open and the power strap still tight. I found that the power strap could stay on the whole time you are skinning too. I went to Grand montets yesterday and skied over 7000m of vertical on nice firm pistes, they performed better than my old Dynafit Zzeros.

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After another sleepless night in a refuge we set off just before 5 to go and climb the route. Both very tired but heading up the glacier steadily we reached the route just after 7. Skinning up there in the dark was amazing, It was very clear and still and the snow being firm made the going easy.

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The route runs up the gully that tops out to the right of the summit.

At the bottom of the route we could see that it was not in good condition. The right hand gully was very dry and what was there didn’t look good. The left hand gully was a grade harder and looked slightly better, although what we could see looked ok but we were not sure of what was above it and we were uncertain if it was possible to rappel the route which was a big concern for us from the beginning.

After all this effort we decided to go home! We were umming and arring for a good half hour in the shade and getting very cold and loosing psyche quickly, add to that I noticed my crampon was broken! Now all we had to do was ski the 8/10km back down this relatively flat windblown crusty glacier. This was not fun.

I managed to snap a couple of photos of the Droits and Courtes to show current conditions for those who want to climb them.

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After failing up the Le Tour glacier a few weeks ago I see these outings as training sessions and at least this time I got a good testing out of my new boots. With this good weather set to continue here in Chamonix I should hopefully get out and do something over the weekend and climb a route for a change.