I’ve wanted to climb Mont Dolent for many years. Although not a massive peak compared with other alpine giants, Mont Dolent is quite unique. Its the point where three of the great alpine countries meet, France to the NW, Switzerland to the East and Italy to the south. With the classic Ice Goulotte of the Charlet-Couturier route on the Argentiere basin face and moderate ski terrain to the south it is an unsung gem of ski mountaineering and offers a near perfect day out if you can just get the timing right….
When Colin Haley asked me if I wanted to do it with him at the weekend I was pretty damn stoked and honored that he wanted to bring a Brit punter like me along. Of course I said yes and we made the necessary preparations in terms of equipment and logistics. I packed a tunnel pass and mentally prepared myself to have to pay a friend to pick us up from Courmayeur at the end of the day (We choose this descent rather than down to La Fouly because we figured it would be cheaper, even though it was longer). When Colin broke the news to me that he’d be taking his Skimo Racing skis I felt slightly despaired. My thinnest, lightest skis are 95mm under the foot and weight almost twice as much, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
In the morning we jostled our way onto the first bin pushing and shoving the others around us in the usual hectic Chamonix style. We clipped in and set off across the “high traverse” under the north faces. Much to my bemusement Colin set a fierce pace on his tiny skis… somewhere along the line I forgot he was a pretty handy skier aswell as being a top level alpinist.
With skins on I set my pace close to my lactate threshold pushing hard but not getting overly tired. Colin would catch up and take some photos whilst I carried on and the catch up again soon after. We passed a couple waking from a night in a tent and up ahead at the end of the glacier we saw another pair near the bergshrund of our route. We were soon there and strapping our skis onto our packs about an hour and twenty minutes after leaving the lift. The other team had just got over onto the bergshrund when we set off and we simul-soloed past them on the first pitch being careful and delicate not to knock ice down on them. However with the near perfect Névé this wasn’t much of an issue. After the first few bulges I noticed it got a little thinner and blacker and also a couple of small stones were coming off from above. We decided (or rather I asked) to put the rope on, at least for a bit. After about 90m and with the difficulties done we put it away and carried on up and out left along a snowy ramp to the ridge. Up the ridge a little way and out left across a large snow bay (in Switzerland) we crossed another bergshrund onto the upper slopes. I was feeling the burn quite a bit on the last few hundred meters primarily because I hadn’t managed my hydration and food that well until now (learning by mistakes is good). We topped out a little after 1.50 and began our descent down into Italy finding some good and bad snow that lead us all the way down to the Val Ferret. What ensued was my least favorite and what Colin later told me was his favourte part of the day… About 12km of polling and skating down the valley on forest trails and cross country tracks. I was suffering hard on my “heavy” skis trying to keep up with Colin who looked like he was out for a quick sunday Ski du Fond after lunch.
Rather perfectly we arrived the end of the snow at exactly the same time a bus did. We jumped on it and pondered if the Helbronner lift would be open so we could save the cost of going through the tunnel by skiing back to Chamonix down the Vallee Noire… With jelly legs we quick marched through the streets of Entreves to the lift which was still running at 3.40. I was feeling pretty thirsty by this point and was looking forward to a bottle of coke or something at the top station before the long ski back to Cham.. I joked with Colin that we could theoretically make the last train if we rallied.
“We should totally try….Come on man lets do it!”
“Errrrggghh… Ok” I agreed. Without a moment to spare we rattled off down through the flat light skiing, without stopping, from the Helbronner to the bottom of the stairs at Montenvers. The loud speaker informed us we had five minutes to march up the 300 or so stairs to make the last lift up to the train station… Pushing deeply into oxygen deficit I lolloped my way up the stairs gasping for breaths some way behind Colin. I nearly collapsed in the bubble but was thankful to have the train to take me back to town. We agreed it was one of the best days of this winter for both of us, apart from some scramble he did with some guy called Alex down in a place where its really windy all the time. All that was left was for me to rescue my car from Argentiere but luckily as soon as I put my thumb out and the first car stopped for me…..perfection.
Grands Montets Lift Que
The high traverse
Entering the darkness
Mont Dolent North West Face, The Charlet Route takes the obvious line heading out left to the ridge across the snow field.
P3 (PIC Colin Haley)
Me dragging the rope on the upper pitches (PIC Colin Haley)
Colin on the snow ramp
Colin heading through some funky snow
Into the Light (PIC Colin Haley)
He on the Snow ridge (PIC Colin Haley)
Traversing to the Swiss Ridge (PIC Colin Haley)
Colin on the ridge heading to towards the summit.
Looking back at the Argentiere Basin.
Colin Haley on the Summit of Mont Dolent
Me starting to ski on the South side (PIC Colin Haley)
Ski Mountaineering for me is about finding great link ups involving climbing, and skiing and traversing peaks. Last Sunday, after a cruzy day exploring Les Contamines with Irene, me and Josh Fawcett headed out to make some SKIMO (ski Mountaineering) and scored a pretty good day almost by mistake. With a vague plan to hit the Traverse of the Noire and “possibly something else” and a even vaguer forecast suggesting some wind and precipitation at some point during the day we went into the day with an open mind.
We headed out from the Aiguille du Midi down the classic Vallee Blanche and over to the Italian side. Hiking up the glacier to the start of the climb through the cold gusty wind with flakes of snow whipping past our noses we were slightly hesitant and came close to turning back a few times.. The weather was clear on the french side and we hoped the small localised weather spilling over from Italy wouldn’t follow us into the Traverse of the Noire. Thankfully by the time we reached the boot pack leading up to Pointe Yeild things were dying down so we carried on over the ridge to the top of the face. I’d been here a few years ago with Tom, Ross and Michelle.. We got spooked out by wind slab and decided to head back. This time however there were about twenty tracks, ten going skiers left and ten going skiers right down the convex face. We opted for right hand option and skied down a little way to the steep choke which is normally pretty icey.
We side stepped down through this which was both tiring and intimidating due to the nature of the crumbling snow, but managed to score some pow turns on the lower face before busting hard skiers right through the glacier and over to the bottom of the Breche Puiseux. From here we decided we had enough time and psyche to go and ski the NW shoulder of them Aiguille Tacul aswell. The climb up the final gully was roasting hot but it was worth suffering the heat and softening snow as we found a few good turns on the way down this line. The best snow however was on the moraine bench hard skiers right going down to the Leschaux Glacier at the end.
A great little link up of about 1200m vertical ascent with some really good snow on the descents and with a variety of different terrain and views to keep us amused. All in all a good day out on the hill!
Click on the Pictures bellow to see them in gallery format.
East face of Tacul Mixed Conditions (13/3/16)
East face of Tacul Mixed Conditions (13/3/16)
Pointe Lachenal Mixed Conditions (13/3/16)
Josh Climbing up on the Traverse of the Noire
Josh dropping in on the Traverse of the Noire
Josh on the Traverse of the Noire
Mont Mallet West face
Menacing seracs on the North side of the Rochfort Arete
Josh On the Climb to the Aiguille Tacul
Talefre Glacier Conditions (13/3/16)
On the top of the NW SHoulder of the Aiguille du Tacul
Me dropping in on the Aiguille Tacul North West Shoulder
I know It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been busy in Scotland with gathering British Mountain Guides prerequisites and the final Induction Course. I’m pretty pleased to announce my new title (and the other 11 guys!) of Trainee Mountain guide! Also the weather has been pretty bad for a fairly long time so big days have been few and far between, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hovering up some pow.. 😉
Trainee Guide LADS
Climbing Cutlass VI 7 on Ben Nevis
I can’t remember last time it was this good in the Mont Blanc Massif. With loads of snow low down and a lot of lines up high holding cold, deep snow there is surely no better time to get after it. Yesterday me and my long time shred buddy Stephen “Chipie” Windross headed out with a view to ski a line in the Geant area.
Picking an objective can often be tricky. You obviously want to ski something that is in safe condition but it also has to suit the teams fitness and aspirations whilst also be something new or interesting. As is often the way in the Mountains that things don’t pan out the way you’re expecting so its worth having some back up plans just in case. Something which this area is unique for offering a few possibilities of lines.
We finally settled on the Breche Du Tacul, a route I’ve skied a couple of times before but I was still motivated to go and ski again. Despite some deep snow wading on the way up the final climb that was a real test of tenacity, we made it to the top in good time and with no one else around. Always a fantastic view and with amazing conditions, the descent was all time.
First off… Happy New Year and thank you for following this blog or even reading it from time to time. It means a lot to me that anyone at all cares what I have to say and this gives me reason to keep going!
2015 was a bumpy year with a rough start. With the loss of friends from skiing accidents and also my dearly beloved Grandfather who was a great inspiration to me, motivation for skiing and general mountain activities was low. Ordinarily I’d expect to ski off a mountain or two and have at least a handful of long days in the mountains with friends. Looking back I realise that I hardly had any stand out days last winter due to work commitments, lack of snow and lack of psyche.
Its been awesome to kick the winter off out here in the best way we can with what we have. Here’s some shots from our sweet little tour up the Arpette valley in Switzerland. Not loads of snow but super fun skiing none the less and a great little day tour. Well worth the slog up to ski the lines up there. Thanks Ross for another great day.
We could do with some more snow for sure but I’m hoping for more of this kind of stuff throughout this winter!
Pictures speak a 1000 words. Click one to see them in Chronological order in Gallery view.
Some Extra Info
We took the lift up Champex which cost us 14CHF each one way to the top.
Total Height gain for the day was about 1500m
Here’s a handy map I made for the area so you can get to grips with it.
To say that I’m jealous of this trip is a huge understatement. This is the kind of trip (minus the Solar Eclipse hunting) that would be a dream for me to take part in and eventually guide. Adventure, uncertainty and solitude are huge parts of what inspires me and this really shows those aspects. Good work to all those involved, this is so much more than your average run of the mill powder skiing film and well worth the watch even for non skiers.
If your a fan of reading Chamonix based blogs it’s likely that you’ve not been reading mine very much recently! But why would you? I’ve not written anything for a while and there are surely some better options for you out there right now. First off I’d like to apologise to anyone who genuinely cares what I’ve been up to (Mum and Dad?!) and say that I’ll try harder to put some content up on here for you. What follows is a wingey paragraph of why I’ve not done much and why I haven’t blogged. Feel free to skip to the one after.
Its been a tough winter to get out skiing and climbing. The weather has been all over the place, the snow has been weird and I’ve dealt with some tough emotions due to the loss of friends and changing circumstances. After a reasonable successful period in January and February, March has been a slightly frustrating month. I’ve started a new job For EpicTv.com which despite being an awesome job (ski reviewing!) its taken a lot of energy out of me. When I have had days off it’s either been poor weather or I’ve been feeling clapped out! BLAH BLAH BLAH…What a winger, geez.
I started with epictv back in Feb and was originally taken on as there web master for climbing and skiing content. After a few weeks they asked me to do a screen test for being the ski reviewer for their online shop. Somehow I got it and a few days later I was out on the hill skiing, shooting and reviewing skis for them. This gig should last for at least a few more weeks and its been awesome to have the chance to test so many different pairs of skis and get paid to do it! Sometimes skiing chairlifts can get a bit dull (I cant really help the fact I’m used to more excitement than that) but on the whole its been great fun and certainly the best work I’ve ever had!
When the stars align and I get a day off with good weather, snow and energy I feel pretty lucky that I have some super stoked friends and one of the best ski lifts in the world to harness my lust for big mountain skiing. Sometimes I think I’ll never forget the feeling of blasting fall line on some big skis in steep powder but it felt like a almost new sensation yesterday. Grinning ear to ear as I pushed down on the tips of my skis with my toes to give myself another face-full of cold snow.
Nothing new went down and it was really just another Midi powder day but it felt so so good to be out skiing for myself and with a pesky layer of cloud sat around 3000m it felt pretty adventurous navigating 20 or so lost freeriders back to the mid station after the first lap ;-).
The Midi Clusterf*#k
Ahhh that’s better
Ross testing the snow on the first lap down the Glacier Ronde
The team from right to left Minna, Enrico, Michelle and Ross
Ross was stoked.
Heading into the cosmiques..
Waiting for a certain Italian Snowboarder to remember how to tie and overhand knot.
Spines.. Skied a bit but still soft and awesome.
Enrico displayed great style proving that the TLT6 is no excuse