Aiguille D’Arpette, Champex-Lac

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.

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.

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.

Cornes de Loriaz, NNE Couloir

 

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.

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…

Y Couloir, Aiguille d’Argentiere

This winter has made us look away from the norm. With the unstable snowpack and fresh snow falling on an irregular basis we have to consider alternatives. We went to have a look at the Y couloir on the Aiguille d’Argentiere which normally is a spring steep but we found it in condition mid February.

It was a scorching day and with the sun on your back things warm up very quickly. Plodding our way up the 500m+ reasonably narrow couloir we stopped when things started to get very loose and soft. Just after the split on the lookers right branch.

 

The snow was perfect spring corn on a firm base, and allowed for comfortable fast paced turns all the way down to the choke, which plays in your head the whole descent. Its a 20/30m ice and rock band that was definitely worth bringing two axes for on the way up.

A great ski and a classic line. Just need to go back and ski it from the top…

What to do?

Chamonix received snow in early November and with this excitement grew for the coming winter months. Unfortunately this snowfall did not carry on. With barely any resorts open and those that were offering very limited runs, many holiday makers did not get their White Christmas they so desperately wanted.

On Boxing day (26th) Pete and I headed up to GM with the intention of skiing Rectiligne and climbing back up Poubelles. I would normally not consider anything like this but I wanted a day in the mountains and there was not much else we could think of. Heading down the Pas du Chevre there must have been people wondering where we were going and why, as there was no chance of skiing out the bottom. Some nice snow greeted us down to the entrance. A small section of dry skiing and we were into a very firm narrow couloir. After 50/100m of skiing I caught my tips in crust and fell, managing to stop myself by punching through the hard crust before I hurtled down the ice. I was not keen to continue. Pete wanted to have a look further down. As he turned the small corner and disappeared out of sight I heard screams and scraping coming from below. At this point I became alert and started to take my skis off and put crampons on, If i was to go down any further it would be with skis on my back so I would not end up like Pete. Within a couple of seconds I heard he was OK. I then suggested climbing back out and he quickly agreed. When he came into sight I noticed he was only using one arm, he thought he had just torn a muscle. He was wrong. 3 screws and 20 staples, I cant believe he climbed out!  Unfortunately he missed out on the next days riding, and a few more. Get well soon.

 

The day after Boxing day it Dumped. I was working and it caused mayhem down the airport, I knew it would be worth the hassle as Sleigh had eyes on Courmayeur first thing on the Sunday. I wanted in. We headed through the tunnel and straight away knew it would be good. It was so deep in the trees on the Val Veny side. It felt like winter was here.

New Years eve we had a little tour above Flegere. Not much to report, just having fun in the sun with friends.

Last Friday Sleigh, Luke (Luke Jarmey Photography) and I headed up to ski the South Couloir of Aig de L`Amone. I had seen this before and never thought of skiing it. But with nothing else on the cards we thought it could be a good option and we also could have a look at the whole Argy basin and get a good idea of conditions. Still recovering from NYE we took our time on the long flat skin and after 100m up the couloir we turned around when encountering bad snow. Mixed conditions in a matter of meters, wind crust, ice, powder and so on. A nice day trip and I think it finally cleared the hangover.

I am yet to venture off the Midi this year so have no idea of the conditions. I know the Rond was skied but it took over 2 hours of route finding through the bossons glacier. Conditions up the Argetiere basin are getting better with some good cover on Col Tour Noir and Col d`Argentiere. I think another meter of snow is needed up high.

Early season steeps. Tour Ronde playground

Winter 2014 has not seen a great start. Chamonix saw some snow in early November but we are still waiting for a top up. With the recent foehn winds and relatively high temperatures the snow line has been going up rather than down. That being said there is good skiing to be had. With the Aiguille du Midi set to remain closed until the 20th of December it requires a short trip through the tunnel to La Palud to ski off the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche.

Last Wednesday Jon Luckhurst and I hiked up and skied down the East face of the Tour Ronde. It was in excellent condition and only required a small down climb half way down the face to avoid some big rocks. We were treated to cold blower powder but it was a trade off with high winds and truly Baltic temperatures!

Knowing that the Gervasutti on the Tour Ronde was skied that day by the likes of Briggs, Grant and Kilian (who reportedly lapped it 3 times!) I was keen to go back and ski this classic steep in good condition, direct from the col and better than I skied it in the spring.

 

The Gervasutti Couloir

The Gervasutti Couloir

Tim Oliver and Sleigh were psyched to get ‘radical’ even if it meant braving more arctic temps and an early season 350m bootpack at 3500m.

 

Setting off from the Torino refuge we knew it was going to be busy. Seeing crowds of people heading towards the Tour Ronde and Cirque Maudit we were a little apprehensive of what we would find. Upon arriving at the bottom of the couloir we saw 7 people booting up it. After digging deep and catching up with them only 4 were going back down, the others either skiing the North Face, which was in excellent condition or traversing to the east face via the summit. After a short wait for Sleigh we started off. Two skiers had gone down quick and steady on what looked like good chalky snow. The other two side slipped all 350m of the couloir and were a constant annoyance with the never-ending lumpy sluff. After some fast combat skiing I managed to get ahead of these two and exit the couloir as fast as I could. Fighting hot aches in the shade I awaited the other two before we headed back to the Torino for a sandwich in the sun.

 

Overall the conditions are good up high. Not sure how tracked out the east face was but people were up, skiing and climbing everywhere. It looked more like a spring day off the midi rather than the start of December! The Vallee Blanche is in desperate need of some snow before the midi opens to avoid a long and nervous walk out.

Col du Plan, Aiguille du Midi NF

Fifteen months after making my first off-piste turns I find myself clipping my skis on looking down a windy, powder covered arête with a Midi north face line in my sights.

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Teaming up with Dave Searle we were both excited and psyched to be stepping up our game and taking on the true steep skiing playground that is the Aiguille du Midi north face. Skiing straight out of the tunnel and down the arête was a first for me and it really filled me with confidence as we made our way along the midi-plan traverse towards the top of the Tournier spur entrance to Col du Plan. The wind was howling but the snow still looked good. We saw four tracks going down this entrance. It was nice to let someone else open this highly exposed line. Here we go…

Even after the arête warm up my first turns did take some building up to but once they came and went I was committed and ready to enjoy some steep powder. After the short traverse to the Col du Plan main face we encountered a brief icy section. A few instructional words from Dave I was over the difficulties and we had a couple hundred meters of cold steep powder before we hit the rappel. Waiting for the first group to rap we saw Bird coming in direct from the Col. It looked icy and we were glad we came in from higher up. He ripped it up, making huge turns down the face until he arrived with us and asked if he could tag along on our rope as his partners had abandoned him. Not wanting to leave him stranded, we said yes! After the initial two raps there was a short sideslip before the last small rap with skis on and we were out of the danger. I could see the mid station. Some more steep turns then it was smooth powder all the way back. Arriving at the plan with Dave and Bird it was high fives all round. It still has not sunk in that I had skied the North Face. Earlier on in the season I jokingly said to Tom that I would be ripping it up in my second season skiing but I didn’t say it with much confidence and definitely didn’t dream it would become reality.

 

I felt content with my accomplishment and headed back down as those boys went back up with the Eugster in their eyes. Meeting up with them after they ended up skiing a powdery Rond with big turns all the way down. What a day. Thanks to Dave and Bird for the company and ensuring we all made it home.

Arête de Flèche Rousse – Milieu Glacier, Aiguille d’Argentière 3901m

The idea of link ups has interested me ever since completing my first one on Mont Blanc du Tacul last year, Climbing the Contamine-Grisolle and skiing it’s north face. I knew Ally had been wanting to climb the Arête de Flèche Rousse for a while and given the near perfect weather we had been having I was keen for a full day in the mountains. It was also a new peak for me so I was all the more ready.

First bin up and we were heading across to the start of the route within no time. Making our way through the moraine and hard early morning spring snow. Arriving at the climb just after 11am we were convinced we would be on the summit before 4 for a nice corn descent. We were not! The initial ridge was fun, with some tricky climbs along the way. We covered this ground quickly soloing and put on a rope as we encountered a narrow snow ridge and the climbing intensified. Roughly following the guide book instructions we found ourselves doubting the route but just carried along following the faint footprints left ahead of us. Coming to a dead end at one point the only option was to squeeze through a narrow gap and passing our bags through one by one, its harder maneuvering  with 178 skis on your pack!

After a short rap we were back on the south face and out of the cold. More came across more mixed ground before a short traverse onto the snow slopes leading to the harder mixed climbing. I found myself really struggling at altitude and we slowed down a little before I could take a break as Ally assessed the 20/30m last mixed pitch. The climbing would normally be not to difficult but coupled with fatigue and skis it took a while. After coming up second I was so pleased to be back in the sun and warm up my hands. The summit was in sight. Traversing the ridge heading into the sun was amazing. It was about 4:30pm and we didn’t have far to go. A couple of short rappels and some more ridge traversing and we took our bags off and got ready to ski just about 5:30pm! It was getting late. We had initial fears that the snow might have re-frozen but the upper section was really good and the only bad snow we encountered was deep slush that was not easy skiing on small skis! 2700m of skiing later and we were back in Argentiere waiting for a bus.

A long day out but it was just what I wanted. Alpine Adventures resulting in a huge thirst for beer. Tidy

 

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.

 

Grassi Marone Stratta, Petit Mont Blanc

Monday. A relentless day boot packing on the Nantillions Glacier, failing once again to ski the Spencer Couloir. But at least I came away with one good photo.

 

Sleigh on the Nantillions

Sleigh on the Nantillions

Living with Tom Grant I often hear tales of great skiing around Chamonix. On Tuesday, while I was looking through many guide books and reading conditions updates on the web, he spoke of his recent adventure with Caroline Gleich and Liz Daley in Italy on the North Face of Petit Mont Blanc. They had skied a little known couloir over there and reported great conditions.

Armed with this information and a desire to explore every corner of the Mont Blanc Massif I found myself in a van with James Sleigh and Ally Hurst making our way through 11.5km of tunnel with Courmayeur in our sights.

Starting in Val Veny you take five lifts finishing on the Arp before you can start the traverse to the foot of the Miage Glacier. Arriving here at 10:20 we started the skin to the base of the couloir and reached it within 45 minutes. Stashing unneeded gear at the base we started the long and monotonous boot pack up this beautiful, atmospheric and steep couloir. With every step we took up it we knew we would soon be enjoying every turn down it.

 

The snow was perfect despite the last 100m being a little crap. I stopped a little below the boys who continued to very near to where the couloir tops out. Perfect chalky powder awaited us and after a couple of jump turns we got a good feel of the conditions and we made some quick tight turns in the narrow sections and we opened up some fast aggressive ‘freeride’ turns where it widened. 700m of steep couloir later and we were back on the Miage. Some of the best, most enjoyable and atmospheric skiing I have ever done. The spring snow descent down Val Veny to catch the lift back to the car was good fun, but the few miles of skating on the flat was less than enjoyable but the smile on my face from the couloir was still evident! The couloir is graded 5.3 but it didn’t feel like it should be given the perfect conditions. Maybe with firm snow or icy hard pack it could be justified!

 

Sitting with a Pie and a Pint back in Chamonix we were discussing camping on the Miage to fully explore every little couloir this magnificent North Face has to offer. Petit Mont Blanc I will be back, Watch this space…

Thanks to James and Ally for some great company, a memorable days skiing and some out of focus photos.