One Excellent Day…

Last night I could barely stand, barely keep my eyes open on the drive to the supermarket to by food for my 3000 calorie meal. I was destroyed.  Yesterday was the first “bell to bell” skiing day I’ve had for a while and we skied over 8000 vertical meters of pow.  We started at the Grand Montets and opened the Couloir Rectiligne in perfect knee deep snow just in front of some Chamonards that kicked a wind slab onto me! Grrrrrr. I’ve not skied it before but it was the perfect first run down with face shots, Hi5s and smiles. After this we headed to the Midi for a fast, super fun Grande Envers with Petter and Karl. Me and Ross still wanted more from the day and after a brief stop for some food we headed up for the Glacier Rond. My legs were feeling the burn and I could barely ski but I had to try and keep up with Ross as best I could.  We made it back to town with very little hiking and without being devoured by the treacherous hoard of blood thirsty hounds that normally linger in the forest at the base. Big thanks to Ross, Bjarne Salen, Jon, Karl and Petter Wallberg for super fun day!

Bjarnes Website

Tour Ronde South Face

I woke with a start and checked my phone which told me it was 0742. I was supposed to be at the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel at 0745.  I thought I’d lost out on a good day and I was angry with myself for sleeping past my alarm.  I jumped out of bed and started to get ready even though I knew it was too late to get a ride through the tunnel I was still keen to get out and have a good day in the mountains.  I calculated in my head wondering if I took the Aiguille du Midi lift up if I would be able to meet up with my friends on the other side of the Vallee Blanche before they dropped into the south face of the Tour Ronde.  Luckily my house mate Ally Hurst was going to the midi to traverse to the Italian side to ski with Ally Fulton and Andy Dines.  I joined up with them and we headed up to the Mothership. On the way over I manged to convince them that the Tour Ronde south face would be the place to go and manged to (hopefully not too selfishly!) steer the group to my preferred objective. Everyone was psyched with the day despite the dangerous and generally awful exit of the glacier that they would have avoided had they stuck to their main objective.  It was still an awesome ski by all accounts and a simple well rounded day out…. Start in France, traverse to the Italian side via the Vallee Blanche, climb the Normal route on the Tour Ronde and ski 3000 odd meters to the valley floor. Simples….

Italy Days…

In the last week I have mostly been skiing in Italy either off the Funive Monte Bianco (helbroner lift) or in the resort of Courmayeur. I also had a super fun day off the Aiguille du Midi on Wednesday.  Today, however was particularly fun skiing some awesome pow right underneath the cable car at Helbronner.   Fast laps on good snow (about 40cm fresh) with reasonable stability was the order of the day.  We were the first to ski the couloir directly underneath the cables which was pretty intimidating at first but turned out to be really good, and as far as we could tell, reasonably stable. Not quite enough coffee drinking or pizza eating today but we had 6 laps before the light went completely flat and before the legs totally gave out. A good fun day all in all and great to be back ripping about with Ross .  Cheers buddy!

The coffee shop in La Palud is a magical place and with some of the best coffee I have ever had...

The coffee shop in La Palud is a magical place and with some of the best coffee I have ever had…

Looking Back, Looking Forward….

….to another great winter in the place I call home.  Chamonix has been my home for 5 years until this summer where I made the decision to take a break from mountain life and focus on making my bank manager happier and learning a new trade that would make it easier for me to earn better money. Back in may I packed my little van and headed back to the UK to pursue a carrier in Rope Access knowing all along that I would be heading back to Chamonix for the winter at the very latest.  I had originally wanted to spend a month in Cham in the autumn as I’ve really missed big routes in the last year and as we all know October is North Face season. Its possibly my most favourite month in the valley with the beautiful autumn colours fresh cold days and often perfect alpine conditions.  Unfortunately it didn’t happen and I’m still here, in London, living out the back of my van, working when the weather permits and pulling on plastic when it doesn’t. Its been an interesting summer learning the ropes.  Its had its ups and downs (sorry I had too) and I have had some good days out climbing in the UK but all I can think about now is mountains.

I find myself hanging from a rope completing a mundane task dreaming of pillows in the trees or steep powder faces or the thunk of an Ice Axe in perfect Neve.  Its normal at this time of the year for anyone addicted to the mountains, the excitement of winter bubbling inside but at the moment I still need to focus on the task in hand and stay in the moment at work.  I’ve been looking back at some of the past moments in my climbing and skiing career and getting very very psyched on what the future has in store.  I look forward to sharing some new experiences with you soon but here’s some photos for you of some of the things I dream about whilst hanging about in London (groan).

Courtes North East Slope and more…

This last few weeks has been crazy. So many good ski days with good friends in cool places. This week I managed to get a cheeky lap of the Bec de Rosses NF in Verbier. It is an iconic face due to its looming presence over the Verbier Ski resort and its fame from the Freeride World Tour finals.  I was surprised how unsuitable it is for skiing with weaving no-fall couloirs, hidden sharks (rocks under the snow) and massive exposure at the top, yet they still hold one of the most prestigious freeride events there and everyone goes oh so fast.  Scary.

Today, however was something else. It feels like a while since I have had a big day out (except for my last big day off the midi).  I’d seen some photo’s of the NE slope of the Courtes looking in primo conditions and knew that it could be my first real chance to ski it in good snow.  I had a feeling that it was going to be busy and I had mentally prepared myself for a race…. With the growing popularity of skiing steep lines in Cham the key is speed from the word go, unless you want to be behind someone on a snowy face where you could easily get knocked of by a sluff from above.  I knew this and in my mind I was ready to go as fast as I could to get to the top first.  I set out with Davide de Masi, Liz Daley, Drew Tabke and Tom Grant but, for a number of reasons I ended up being the only one to ski that line. I was pretty lit for it and only the sight of two guys halfway up the face who had started from the hut (cheaters) gave me the slightest doubt as to whether it was the wrong thing to do.  I charged up their boot pack and arrived at the col 10 mins after they had started skiing.  They sent a sizable sluff of the face which nearly took out a couple of my friends who were starting up the bottom third. When they passed me I warned them, as politely as I could, that they should exercise caution as there were people below who they could hit with there sluff. They exploded at me and a minor argument fired up which I thought was pretty peculiar given the situation. I think they were just jacked up on skiing a big line like this in good snow and had little to no respect for others because of it. I got to the top and waited for the next guy behind me, Niki, to get to the col. I had been monitoring the other teams on the face and decided it was a good time to ski. Everyone below was in safe spots and I could weave a line around them and not drown them in my sluff. The snow was incredible and the line lived up to my expectations and more. Perfect skiing angle and face. Truly a skiers dream and something I have wanted to ski for a long time. 15 minutes (at 12.20) later I arrived at the flat glacier at the bottom to find Tom, Liz and Dave soaking up some rays.

I was keen for some more so we quickly decided to go up for a look at the Col Des Cristaux. We started up with caution knowing that there were 6 people above us who could drop in and sluff us.  I had to break a different track up the first third  to stay out of the way of the teams above, which was a tough few hundred meters of deep faceted snow. On the way up we watched some of the people dropping into the already crusty snow at the top and quickly made the decision to turn around when it stopped being good. We stopped a few hundred meters short of the col.  The snow was once again incredible and we all arrived at the bottom within a few minutes of each other. Skiing back to the car my legs were about ready to give up on me.

Such a fun, long day which really challenged my fitness and provided 1500m of awesome skiing in what still is one of the best skiing areas of the world. Thanks all who were involved (except the rude, arrogant guys on the courtes, you nearly ruined my day).

The Northeast Slope of the Courtes

The North East Slope of the Courtes

Looking down from the col  waiting for Niki to top out.

Looking down from the col waiting for Niki to top out.

Happy times back at the bottom, Still psyched on my La Sportiva Lo5's.

Happy times back at the bottom, Still psyched on my La Sportiva Lo5’s.

Midi West Face Mash Up

I often forget how lucky I am to have the Aiguille du midi 10 mins walk from my house, but days like yesterday really remind me of what a big midi day can offer. I headed out with Ross Hewitt and Drew Tabke (of Freeride World Tour Champion fame) for a few laps off the top.  Things are shaping up nicely for a good spring with the snow starting to bond to the steeper slopes well.  We started of with a Glacier Rond to Salopar which is fun and interesting variation to the exit couloir which spits you out almost at the bottom of the West Couloir.  Its bit of a faff at the moment with abseils and some tricky rock steps, to quote mr Tabke “I’ve never had to use a hand jam whilst skiing before”.  Ultimately it was worth it for the steep, untouched pow turns and just for a bit of adventure too.  Unfortunately Ross’s back gave out half way down that first run and me and drew thought we would have to jerry rig a ski zimmerframe out of our poles for the poor chap. He still made it down and displayed some good freeride skills hucking out the bottom but the pain was written all over his face throughout the second half of the run.  We must have looked quite the picture in the lift station when I was trying to help him stretch his back out.

After this Ross called time but me and Drew were still going strong and wanted more so headed up to do the Cosmiques Couloir which was also in good nick and very rippable. We traversed back to the mid station again and decided it was probably still worth skiing some more so headed up again to check out the Rond.  It was amazing how much it had been scrapped of after 60+ people had been down it and it was alot more sketchy that second time but got better the lower down we got.  In the exit couloir we were both getting pretty bad leg pump (glad it wasn’t just me) and it felt pretty hard going.  On the traverse back we dropped into the Para Face which, as always, provided some incredible skiing to get back to the tunnel.  We managed to keep our skis on all the way to the road and then a friend gave us a lift back to town (cheers Tim).  All in all a good day with many 1000’s of meters of descent with some really good snow, adventure and good company. Cheers boys.

Drew at the top of the Rond

Drew at the top of the Rond

sidestepping....

sidestepping….

sidestepping after handjam.

sidestepping after handjam.

coming off the first rap

coming off the first rap

we skied this bit of snow by mistake and had to hike out.

we skied this bit of snow by mistake and had to hike out.

not doing bad for an old codger

not doing bad for an old codger

the actuall traverse is above and right of ross

the actuall traverse is above and right of ross

abseiling finished

abseiling finished

me on the salopar

me on the salopar

looking good

looking good

coming to the final cliff band

coming to the final cliff band

drew lead the way on the freeride bit

drew lead the way on the freeride bit

ross about to seal the deal with a straightline to compression.

ross about to seal the deal with a straightline to compression.

Exiting the salopar

Exiting the salopar

admiring our work

admiring our work

on the traverse

on the traverse

Cosmiques Couloir

Cosmiques Couloir

Lower down in the cosmiques

Lower down in the cosmiques

Cosmiques exit.

Cosmiques exit.

Making Rond on the third lap

Making Rond on the third lap

Glorious midi.

Glorious midi.

on the para face

on the para face

A to B to C.

Ross on the last change over with the south face marked in red and Plan B in yellow.

Ross on the last change over with the south face marked in red and Plan B in yellow.

Col hopping in the rouge can be fun but it can be boring when you have 3 year old split skins…. Myself and Ross wanted to ski a line on the Mont Oreb so we quested over there on the 25th to see what was what.  We couldn’t find the way in so went to B plan. There wasn’t enough snow in the B plan so we ended up skiing the South Face normal route which was interesting with spurs and gully’s and chamois trotting about and nice snow in places.

On the ridge over to Mont Oreb summit.

On the ridge over to Mont Oreb summit.

getting the good stuff at the top.

Getting the good stuff at the top.

Ross with the col du berrard in the back on the left. this was the second col we passed that day.

Ross with the Col Du Berard in the back on the left. this was the second col we passed that day.

Catching some air.

Catching some air.