With a long stint of work behind me and a blur of pow days and free-riding before that I felt like I needed a memorable day and a tough outing to remind myself I’m still able to go big. Yesterday reminded me of some of the things I’ve done in the past and also gave me motivation for the future. It feels like a long time since I have climbed anything over 60m and apart from an evening soloing at the Cremerie in Argentiere (small beginners Ice climbing venue) I haven’t wielded my Nomics for what seems like eternity. I’ve wanted to climb the Swiss route on the Courtes for years but as time went by the idea that I wanted to solo it turned more and more into reality. I find building things up in my mind can psyche me out so when the opportunity arose to try it yesterday I was surprised at how calm I felt about it. After skiing down from first bin at the GM to the glacier and beginning the skin up I nearly bailed due to the wind but something inside of me kept me going. I’m not sure whether it was arrogance but it should have been a sign of things to have come….
I headed up toward the base of the route breaking the skin track to the shrund whilst listening to my tunes. I was still calm and motivated and soon found myself strapping on my crampons and attaching my ski’s to my bag which felt pretty heavy already. Crossing the bergshrund was pretty easy (although you have to go far left of the route) and I began wading up the snow cone to the start of the ice. It was tiring work and I must admit I have never been as happy to pull onto 70 degree ice before. The first few hundred meters went smoothly with a couple of small spin-drift showers tinkling down the face. On the second and steeper of the two crux’s, about 200m up, I got nailed for about 10 minutes by a sizable spin-drift avalanche which left me gripping onto my tools looking down at me feet as they came in and out of view. It was good contemplation time and certainly got my pretty pumped shaking out on the 85degree ice. I kept telling myself it would stop and then wondering why it hadn’t. After it had I tentatively looked up to check properly and carried on up dreading the next one. This happened again a few more times and I lost a fair amount of time waiting them out. After a while I started climbing the ice out of the main gully line which helped a lot and meant I could keep going longer before my hands got to cold and I had to stop. The ice however was amazing Neve with perfect first timers every swing. It reminded me of previous routes and how much fun alpine ice is to climb.
The rest of the route went well apart from battling hot aches and numb toes until I reached the final 50m to the summit ridge. I hit some super hard, brittle ice which required a lot of care and attention. I ended up smashing my axes in well which took a few good swings each. Not ideal when your already mentally drained from 750m of climbing.
My initial plan was to ski the South Face direct but I pretty soon went of the idea as I was feeling pretty tired and the snow looked pretty bad on the southerly aspect. I decided instead to traverse to the Col de la Tour des Courtes and descend from there to the Telefre basin and back to town. It turned out that I didn’t really need the 120m of rope I lugged up after all but I did do an abseil on the ridge to avoid a large patch of black ice. The snow was OK in places but crusty in others but I was pretty happy to be on my way down. the skiing went quickly and I got to the start of the hike up to the buvette (or the end of being in the mountains proper) just before the light started to fade and I managed to make it to town before needing my head torch. A pretty special day and a grand adventure by all accounts. My legs are certainly feeling it today and I was glad for the beer and burgers at the MBC afterwards….