Col De l’Aiguille Verte, (5.4, 700m)

(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.

 

The last week.

Has been a blur of fun days hanging out with good friend climbing and skiing. Nothing of any major note but always fun and always interesting… For me at least anyway!

About a week ago we headed up to the Minaret in the Argentiere basin to have a look at a route called Versant Satanique. This amazing and completely splitter 9 pitch 6b+ which forges its way up through some impressive terrain has some amazing climbing and damn near perfect red granite.  Myself and Liz managed to get 7 out of the 9 pitches climbed before the sun left us for day. I’m super keen to get back on this amazing piece of rock to finish of the route. Unfortunately along the way I managed to drop my faithful and trusty Canon S95 camera which took the 200m fall down the cliff and onto the glacier. Needless to say I have no photo’s from that outing or subsequent outings, Everything happens for a reason though and I decided it was high time I got an upgrade so I’ve splashed out on the S100 which I’m currently waiting for to arrive. Luckly Liz snapped a few shots of us as well as doing a bunch of filming for her Epic TV series The Daley Splitter. Keep your eyes peeled for it on Epic Tv.

On Versant Satanique

I’ve had to resort to using my go pro for the last few days to capture some stills from a few fun runs down the West Face of the Midi. Its good to see some fresh snow out here again and it makes a welcome change to ice, slush and sastrugi.  Touring should be good in the next few days/weeks so hopefully they’ll be some more good days soon!   Here’s some shots from the last few days.

 

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.

Y Couloir, Aiguille d’Argentiere. One of those days….

……..that I’ll never forget.  Great snow, perfect weather, 5* line and good company.  What more do you need from a day. I had skied this line before 2 seasons ago in spring corn and always thought I could do one better and get it in pow. Yesterday that happened and after a hesitant start me and Liz Daley were soon ripping down what can only be described as one of the best days I’ve ever had in the mountains.  I had decided I wanted to go up a mountain rather than up a boring col and when I suggested this to Liz she seemed pretty keen.  Although she also said she was “like a fat girl at the prom…..I’m just happy to be here!”

I knew it was good to have options so we decided to go to the Argentiere so we had a choice of 3 possible ways down, the Milieu glacier (not much fun but an easy enough descent), the Barbey couloir (not done it yet and looks sick) or the Y couloir.  After getting our sorry asses to the summit we had ruled out the Barbey due to the lack of snow on that face so decided to look at the Y.  At the top of the couloir we looked in and couldn’t decide what it was. Pow, crust, ice?  Its hard to tell from above so I had the bright idea to chuck a rock in to see what happened.  (Note; it was 2.30pm and we couldn’t see anyone coming up so we were 90% sure we weren’t going to kill someone by doing this)  I chucked a fist sized block in and…..pooooff. It disappeared in the pow. It was on……

Liz’s TR here

Skins on.  Despite Liz being a split boarder she still got ready to go before me!

Skins on. Despite Liz being a split boarder she still got ready to go before me!

Skinning up the Milieu

Skinning up the Milieu

La Sportiva Lo5's ready for the ride.

La Sportiva Lo5’s ready for the ride.

Side stepping the very top.

Side stepping the very top.

Athletic.

Athletic.

Aesthetic.

Aesthetic.

Liz getting it fresh.  No old tracks, no bootpack. Peeerrrrfeccckkkk

Liz getting it fresh. No old tracks, no bootpack. Peeerrrrfeccckkkk

Arc'in

Arc’in

Spinal

Spinal

entering the lower section

entering the lower section.

Fly'in

Fly’in

Den we got some sunnnnn

Den we got some sunnnnn

The lower couloir is super nice....

The lower couloir is super nice….

Courtes in the back ground.

Courtes in the background.

Low down in the couloir,

Low down in the couloir,

Just about to rap. One happy chap and a fat girl at the prom.

Just about to rap. One happy chap and a fat girl at the prom.

Till the next one folks….

Take Two….Gliere SE Couloir

The face seen from the Liason cable car station

The face seen from the Liason cable car station. The peak to the right is the Index

Today we succeeded   We succeeded in our goal of skiing this little known yet handsome SE Couloir of the Gliere.  This, unlike most of the lines I have skied in the Aiguilles Rouges is actually reasonably involved with a few pitches of steep “no fall” skiing near the top.  This was a great place to find my bindings weren’t properly set up and occasionally  I would land a  jump turn free-heel.  Scary.  We had been up to this couloir two days previously but found there was too much fresh snow and quickly realized we should be tree skiing. We turned back after three turns and ran back to the resort.   Ross still got a few photo’s here….

Today was different.  We had a clear view of where to go and how to get there (today I’m working so technically this was done on my lunch break!) and with the track already in from the top of the Cornu chair in Brevent we were up and starting to ski in no time. The snow was very firm at the top but got better the further down we got. Still it was an awesome line and well worth the effort. Here are some shots….

Take one, dropping in to the top of the couloir the first time.  To much snow and avi risk so i side steeped put after 3 turns.

Take one, dropping in to the top of the couloir the first time. To much snow and avi risk to high so side steeped out after 3 turns.

From the Col du lac Cornu looking over the the Aiguille de la Gliere which is the peak on the right in the distance.

From the Col du lac Cornu looking over the the Aiguille de la Gliere which is the peak on the right in the distance.

This time it was Ross' turn to go first.

This time it was Ross’ turn to go first.

Steep section near the top

Steep section near the top

Middle section

Middle section

Lower exit Couloir

Lower exit Couloir.

My Biggest Day this Winter.

The Parreselle/Cunningham Couloir from the Bridge

Its been a slow few weeks mountains wise.  Lots of snow has been falling and lots of leaving party’s to go to.  Productivity has been low and therefor stuff to write about has been few and far between.  Two days ago the clouds parted and the promise of good conditions saw me getting ready for a big day off the Midi.  With my knee feeling good I was very psyched to get up and have a productive day.  I meet my Friend Ross Hewitt and Si Christy.   Continue reading