When Dave suggested this line I instantly became nervous. Even though I knew it was in good condition I had never skied anything this steep or this big before. With a toponeige grade of 5.4/5.5 E3 it is at the very upper end of skiable slopes. Known as one of the steepest sustained ice faces in the Alps it is not to be underestimated. I knew my ability could allow me to make turns on 50/55 degree slopes for short sections, usually cruxes on easier routes. This face would require me to make these controlled turns for over 700m of descent.
Camp to Camp Topo
The face as we saw it
Starting the high traverse to the line
The start of the skin track below the Col
Heading up the lookers left couloir
We could see tracks coming from the top and they looked good. With no signs of big sloughs coming down we headed up with light bags after stashing our gear just over the bergschrund. There was some evidence of a bootpack still there but we (Dave) mostly had to make a new one. Half way up the slope we were joined by a lone Frenchman Boris, who accompanied us to the top and enjoyed the descent with us. Near the top you make a traverse to the right and into the sun. Reaching the col my nerves were peaking and I knew what I had to do to get back down safely.
the slog continues
its a long way down
Dave powering up the Col
The high traverse
The view over the top
About to start the descent
The first 100m was east facing and had a slight sun crust but still skied well. After the traverse back to the shady face the snow improved and so did the skiing. Making powder turns on 50+ degree slopes was a great feeling. Being in control and at the same time feeling madly out of control due to the location of the skiing, surrounded by towering faces and steep ice slopes.
Dave setting off
Making bigger turns
Steep and exposed
Just hanging out
Getting low on the steeps
More and more turns
Dave above the schrund
Once we jumped the schrund it all sank in. A big fist bump and pat on the back and you could see our smiles from Argentiere. A short trip to retrieve our gear then a fun and fast descent to Argentiere and a quick drive to work. It is amazing how good snow can turn even the steepest line in to a fun day out, I have skied the cosmiques on crusty ice and I felt a lot more gripped! Thanks Dave for the fun day and for suggesting this truly superb line.
The North West Alps have received the snow it has been waiting for. Chamonix has seen heavy snowfall for the last week with day after day of powder turns. Having most of the valley shut due to high winds we have been heading through the tunnel to Italy and riding the trees of Courmayeur.
Here is a little Video of last tuesday.
Today the sun was out in Chamonix and Brevent had lots of fresh snow on offer.
Its been over three months since my last post as I have been working away from Chamonix for the inter season. Arriving back at the start of December I had high hopes for a snow filled winter with heavy snowfall in the valley just days before my arrival. Two weeks back in the valley and we have been exploring all options for something worth skiing. This winter I will be an ambassador for Voile Skis. Voilé make great back country skis and snowboards made in Salt Lake City, Utah. Light and solid they will fit right into my style of big mountain ski touring in the Mont Blanc Massif.
Backside of Grand Montets
High above Brevent
Bel Oiseau NE Couloir
Grand Montets has been fun cruising the pistes and there has also been some powder on the backside. But with rocks starting to emerge I have been forced to look elsewhere. Hotel face and a trip to Bel Oiseau near Emosson Dam have proved fruitful and it was fun exploring a new area.
Skinning above the Floria drag lift
Heading up the mixed couloir
Today me and Ally Hurst headed up Flegere to climb the Aiguille Crochues Traverse. A great summer climb that can be done in trainers was a fun challenge in deep cold powder. Our initial plan was to ski the Col du Card back to the Flegere ski area. Just after reaching the summit we noticed a great looking couloir heading back to the Floria bowl. Chocked full of cold powder we decided to give it a go and hope that it didn’t cliff out. After a few hundred meters of great snow we only had the long descent back to the lift in heavy wet snow. Not that much fun on 160cm rando planks!
Ally in the mixed chimney
The start of the traverse
Ally with the Index lift far below
Ally on the abseil
Heading up to the Col
First few turns in the couloir
Ally finding some good snow
Finding some good snow
Ally lower down in the Couloir
It had been a while since I had climbed with Ally and he was keen for something big in this never ending heatwave we have been suffering in. Grepon: Mer de Glace seemed like an obvious choice. A long rock route and after climbing the Frendo a couple of weeks ago, I felt comfortable moving quickly on grade 4/5 rock.
It was our first time in the Envers hut and after a 2:45 hour approach we went to scope out the start of the route so we could be quick to start in the dark the following morning. It was very warm in the refuge, sleeping with the window open and no blanket. Leaving at 4am we walked in and after starting up the wrong route (there were lots of bolts, so we knew we had gone wrong) we quickly joined the proper route and were climbing in t-shirts by 5 am, at 2500m, very warm!
Starting on the wrong route in the dark
Ally and the Vert in the morning light
Moving over grade 4 ground with ease
Grade 4 corner crack, Grepon
We were quick moving together on the grade 3/4 ground and made the abseil within a couple of hours. Starting up the main ridge line to the summit we overtook another pair of climbers who had a little trouble route finding. After all the warnings in guide books, it wasn’t that difficult to find our way. We started up the ridge on grade 4/5 rock and by now the heat of the sun was hitting us hard. We took 1 litre of water each and just before the summit our water ran out. Leaving our sacks at the breche we started the summit block. The famous Knubel crack, the worlds first 5c. It was hard, Ally struggling for an hour and eventually giving up so we could make it down. I am suffering with a bruised rib and with the painkillers wearing off I didn’t fancy a go. Feeling very annoyed we didn’t summit, 5 meters from the top, we headed down the west face via a series of abseils, wrong abseils, climbing back up then finally finding the actual descent route to the col. Reaching the col with a couple hours until last lift we tried to make a quick descent. The deep sugary snow slowed us down, coupled with multiple big holes we reached the foot of the glacier at 6pm. No chance of last lift.
The greasy grade 5 lay back, Grepon
More great rock heading towards the summit
Aiguille du Roc
A long way down to the Mer de Glace
Ally on the famous Knubel crack
Not a good looking descent route…
Big holes on the way down the Nantillons
Ally sprinted off to try and make Montenvers last train at 6:30pm but he had no chance. I slowly plodded my way to Montenvers then descended the train tracks to town arriving at the closest beer dispensary at 8:30pm. 16.5 hours after leaving the refuge.
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
With the high pressure settling the snow pack and transforming the slopes into perfect corn I thought it would be a great time to accomplish one of my long term goals of skiing Mont Blanc from the summit. I have been on the ‘Roof of Europe’ twice before and both times suffered greatly on the descent. Almost 4000m of knee slamming agony on hot sunny days feeling very tired after an alpine start. Tim Oliver is usually keen for most things mountain based so after a very quick phone call he was on board and had booked us two spaces at the Grand Mullets for the Sunday night. At only 12.50euro for a bed with an alpine club membership you can afford to splash out on some nice food to build up some reserves for the long morning to come. Pasta, cheese, chorizo, snickers the list went on… Carrying up about 2kg of food and Port was worth it when you know you don’t have to lug it up the next morning.
Thinking of a more interesting route to the refuge we decided to ski Couloir Cosmiques to reach the Bossons Glacier, this turned out to be a bad idea. After the two 30m raps we encountered hard snow, some of the hardest I’ve come across! After 50/100m of back straining side slipping we decided to change to crampons and down climb. Front pointing down 400m of a beautiful moderate ski descent takes its toll on your psych for the day ahead. Skiing the lower 400m to the glacier went much smoother and we were soon skinning along the Bossons Glacier en route to the hut. Passing a guide who told us to follow the signs we reached the refuge in the evening light around 4:30pm. Meeting a Ally Swinton and a couple of his friends we settled in for the evening and enjoyed the surroundings.
Follow the signs
The guardians are very nice at the Grand Mullets, offering water for boiling and generally being very hospitable. After a large quantity of pasta, cheese and a glass of port we started to wind down for the night. The Guardians generously gave Tim and I a rice pudding despite us not eating their dinner, a small token of appreciation for the port we gave them. We retired to the room around 20:30 and the lights went off. 30 minutes later I shot up, gasping for air with a funny feeling in my guts. Quickly on with the slippers and I’m darting down the stairs. Before I reach the door I throw up all of the pasta in the doorway and over the railings. Walking back in after a minute cursing I approach the guardians with the bad news. They offered to help clean but I couldn’t let them it was not the prettiest sight. Afterwards they offered me a coke to settle my stomach and I went to bed around 22:30 dreading how I would feel when we rise 5 hours later.
3:30am comes around in what felt like 10 minutes, I didn’t feel that bad except I was starving and very dehydrated. Eating a few snickers and drinking a litre of water we pushed on regardless. 4:40am and we were off on the skin track.
Early boot pack up a ridge
Skis off for some ice
Sun is coming
Feeling the altitude
When you are in the big mountains in the dark you feel very small. With freight train rumbles passing close by the sound of falling seracs chills you to the bone. Pushing on almost seems stupid but we do it anyway. The skin track takes you on a wild tour through towering seracs and bottomless crevasses until you reach the Grand Plateau. From here you can see the Vallot and you know the summit is in sight. Tim kept telling me that I looked rough and my inner Welshman wanted to push on despite feeling like I should be in a warm bed 3000m meters below. Having done the Bosses ridge a few years prior I knew what was in store. Skis on our back and the long monotonous slog continued. 6 hours after leaving the refuge and despite having an empty stomach we were on the summit. 6 of us in total with hand shakes and high fives flying around. A mouthful of sweets and we started the descent down the North East ridge heading towards the north face. Every turn was a struggle, lacking oxygen and energy, but I persevered. The North face is a crevasse and serac mine field, luckily we were following some faint tracks so route finding was not an issue.
The North Face
The plod continues
Tim and the Bosses ridge
Nearing the summit
It goes on…
Mont Blanc NF
Tim and the North Face
Too tired to take skis off
One hour of tiring skiing passed and we were back at the refuge. A quick stop to pick up some gear we left behind and we wanted to get back to mid station and return to the valley, where beer is on tap and the burgers were on the grill.
Sitting in Cham sud you get a very surreal feeling looking back up at Mont Blanc, it was hard to imagine that only 3 hours ago we were suffering on its summit. Content, relaxed and exhausted we hd done what we set out to achieve despite the obstacles that lay in our way. What an end to another great season.
Beer gardens, sunshine and guide books resulted in a short drive around the massif to a little town called Champex-Lac. A classic stop on the TMB and from what I could see only has two small two man lifts. A 14chf rando ticket saved us over an hour of skinning and took us straight to the best point to scope out a nice line. We took three pages of the guide book but totally disregarded them all. Picking the closest line that looked like it would ski well. After returning home we found out the name of the face but couldn’t see our line in the book.
Sleigh doing his 10m of boot packing
hot in the midday sun
the top is in sight
Starting the skin at 10:30 we were at the top by just after 13:30. We went up lookers left then traversed the ridge to ski the line we scoped from the bottom.
Sleigh below the summit cornice
testing the snow
sleigh in the upper field
no tracks means smiles
good all the way down
It was good
The face and the line
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.
Jesper on his way up the basin
The NNE boot pack
Nearing the top.
Photo. Chamonix topo
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!
Jesper making his first turns
Half way down
Me exiting the clouds
Nearing the bottom with the Talefre below
Out of the couloir. Just to the right
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.
I have already reposted Tims account of our awesome day above Buet away from the holiday makers of the Chamonix valley. I have a few more words to add and some more pictures.
I am more often than not quite reluctant to leave the Valley in pursuit of good skiing and powder simply because with all of the terrain in the Mont Blanc Massif I like to challenge myself to find new spots and fresh snow without the use of a car.
However, What Timmy had in store for us just a 20 minute drive from home looked superb and with the possibility of no other tracks I was on board and up at 6am to get ready while the sun was still sleeping hard. Skinning into the mountains as the sun is rising has some magical feel to it. Similar to the experience you get with a 4am alpine summer start. Keeping cool in the early morning light is easy too and leaves you feeling dry and fresh by the time you start the long deep bootpack up the 40/45′ couloir.
Soaking up the 9am sun
comtemplating the huck on the descent
swimming near the top
the bootpack P:EMILY ROO
at the top P:EMILY ROO
We wanted to have a look over the Col to suss out Buet NE face conditions but the last 10 meters of climbing looked to sketchy so we just skied what we knew would be great, the way back down…
Tim in the main couloir
Opening it up in the less exposed areas
Also known as the Passerelle Couloir, the Cunningham Couloir is accessed by a series of rappels from the bridge connecting the two needles of the Aiguille du Midi. It is just over 400m of 45′-55′. Anselm Baud skied the first probable descent in 1979 and described it as “not a very attractive route”, I could not see why. As far as steep couloirs go in Chamonix there are not many that have steep walls towering above you in a true north face environment, and that require three 60m rappels to get into, with the first one being free hanging.
The route in red
Here we go
Looking down from first rap
Getting cold, waiting…
Sleigh comming to join me
After reaching an area where we could clip in to our skis on this 50’+ slope, I slowly side slipped a couple of meters to get a feel for the snow. At the top there was just under a foot of cold fresh powder on top of refrozen hard snow. This was the case for the first 50m of the couloir and it was definitely exciting jump turning on this variable snow. The snow then changed to a small section of wind crust before it opened up to deep cold powder for the last 200m before you hit the Glacier Rond. Here we could open up the turns before we hit the traverse line across the Rond to hit the exit couloir.
Sleigh in the upper section
Me half way down, taking a break
Opening it up in the lower half
Side slipping the 10m into the exit couloir we had a little breather and knew that the main difficulties of the day were over and we were relatively safe, just the Bossons glacier to contend with!
Sleigh finding some untouched in Rond exit
And more fresh on the Bossons
The Rond exit couloir was as ever very enjoyable and the Bossons descent was also very good. One rappel over a serac and we were able to ski 500m below the tunnel when we had to change to walking for the last couple of miles back to Chamonix and a cold beer in Elevation.
Sitting in Elevation watching the clouds come in around the Midi we were glad to be safe back in town taking in the days skiing. Both of us had wanted to rappel off the Midi bridge for a while now and having skied the Cunningham in great conditions we knew it was worth the wait.
The day before I went to ski the Chevalier couloir on the Petit Aiguille Vert. Having a look in I was about to drop when I had an issue with my boot that left me side slipping the north face with one boot in walk mode. It was a huge disappointment as it looked very good. This more than made up for it!
About to drop Chevalier