We do love a bit of Spring here in chamonix. Skiing, Biking and Climbing are all possible depending on what the weather dishes out. Ive done a bit of everything in the past week which is awesome. We’ve had a lot of snow this spring but it’s not necessarily been “useful” for skiing. The last storm brought a lot of precipitation and with it immediate warm temperatures and wind. I skied the Vallee Blanche at the begging of last week and felt that it was to dangerous to ski anything steeper for a few days after that.
(Col De l’Aiguille Verte Trip Report From Sunday 10th April 2016)
It’s fairly evident to those who live here that the mountains are getting busier and busier as time goes by. The Argentiere Glacier has been, and always will be one of the stomping grounds for Extreme Skiers out looking for the perfect day on the steep north faces. I wouldn’t really class myself as an Extreme Skier. Strapping it on for a 5.4 (Technical Ski Grade) is about the limit of what I would ever feel comfortable skiing and only once every blue moon at that. I like the feeling of skiing steep powder for sure but the worry and stress associated with putting yourself in that situation is draining to say the least.
I digress. Oh yeah busy….. busy busy busy. Jostle, hustle push and shove. “got to get the first bin!” got to get there before its too late. Exiting the first bin on a busy day such as yesterday (Sunday) and polling off into the basin, it’s hard to not feel smug. We have the pick of all the amazing routes in their shinning spring condition. But what if someone follows us?! I don’t want to race. I want to clip into my skis fresh without stress. I don’t want anyone above me or below me. I want this day to be ours.
When I spoke to Joel about skiing the Col De l’Aiguille Verte I could tell he was nervous. He’s not been skiing that long (even less than my 7 seasons!) but he’s proved himself on a few bigger faces and is super keen. I knew he’d be happy to bail at the first sniff of trouble which is an admirable quality some lack.
When we reached the bottom of the slope that heads up to the Col De l’Aiguille Verte things looked good and we quickly changed over and started up the short skin to the bottom of the face. Over the bergshrund we ditched the rope, shovels and probes. We wouldn’t be needing the weight and reasoned an avalanche on a 53 degree slope would be unlikely or catastrophic.
On the climb up we passed a ski that was sticking out of the slope. We’d found a hat at the bottom too and scratched our heads as to what had happened and what to do. We carried on and found an ice axe about 400m up too. It later transpired someone had fallen (I still don’t know the circumstances) and had managed to “get away with a broken leg”. Lucky guy.
We kept a steady pace and about 2/3 of the way up were caught up by a friendly Frenchman, Boris Dufour who was on the 4th cable car. He’d set a good pace to catch us and remained close for the rest of the climb to the Col and during the descent knowing that the danger would be sluff management (by sluff I mean loose snow which grows and gains power the further it goes). After taking some photo’s from the top we slowly and hesitantly started skiing. The first turns were tough with the deep crusty snow but soon things got better and we were able to make some more relaxed, but much steeper and more intimidating turns in the guts of the face.
We pitched it carefully staying out of harms way by tucking under rocks and sticking to spurs as others skied. The snow was pouring down the face as you skied funneling into massive sluff trains that went all the way to the glacier, cascading off rocks on the way.
Hopping the shrund and heading back to the ski area it all sunk in and a feeling of accomplishment mixed with joy washed over us. A line I’ve always dreamed of with fantastic snow and excellent weather means it will be a day etched into my memory forever. I’m glad to have shared it with Joel and Boris…… and only them.
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.
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.. 😉
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.
Here’s a Link to the Route on Chamonix Topo and bellow is a map of other ski tours in the area.
More soon I hope! Please fill out the following poll to help me improve my blog!
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.
I’m really digging having an extra day off a week. This weekend was a good mix between sublime autumnal adventures and purgatory suffering, topped off with great weather and alright company. I guess.
Psyche was high and the weather was good. The plan was to meet up with fellow Salomon athlete (ahem) Philipp Brugger for some easy mixed cragging on the Triangle du Tacul. I haven’t swung tools in what feels like a year so I was glad for an easy re-introduction into mixed climbing. We climbed most of the German gully then finished up the Cosmiques Arete.
Conclusions: Mixed climbing is in fact like riding a bike. Even if you never do it, you still remember how its done. Got cold toes and fingers but I remembered how to suffer. Drank 6 pints to try and forget the pain.
Woke up with inevitable hangover as Midnight Express was shut and we couldn’t buy cheep burgers to absorb the beer. Drove to Italy (where the weather is always nicer) with Ally, Ross and Tom (who seemed less hungover than me (perhaps not Tom)). Flailed about on some rock climbs that I shouldn’t have been flailing on. Enjoyed the sunshine and amazing scenery of the Valgrisenche. Ate pizza, drove home.
Conclusions: Beer is bad, especially for my guts. 6b+ is hard. Italy is beautiful.
When the alarm went off at 6.45 I thought it was a bad joke. Driving to the Midi my psyche was low but the can of red bull helped a lot. The plan was to climb the Eugster Direct on the North Face, again with Phillip. Stumbled over the moraine to the bottom and got to the Bergshrund in good time. Spin-drift hell was pouring down the gully and we decided it wasn’t for us. We ummed and arrred about what to do and took a look at another entry to the face to the right (about 150m to the right). It went and we were soon (but not that soon) in the gully. The crux pitches looked kinda dry and we didn’t want to sleep in the toilets (we have jobs don’t you know) so we bailed up the Diagonal instead. I was feeling the burn in the top half but we made alright time. Cheese burgers at Macky D’s afterwards.. Cus we are true athletes.
Conclusions: 4h 30m on the stair-master-3842 is tiring. Weekends are great. Water is overrated.
Here’s some proof!