The Alpine Trilogy Project – Skiing’s Triple Crown

Its been a busy few weeks here which kicked off after a heavy dump of snow plastered all the faces.  A project had been forming in my mind over the last year which involved skiing and shooting 3 of the biggest, baddest and hardest lines in the Alps. The Matterhorn is perhaps the most well known and iconic mountain in the World. Any time you ask a child to sketch a mountain they draw you the outline of the Matterhorn.  Its East Face is an incredible slab of rock, steep enough to defy logic that snow will stick, and its rarely in condition. The West Face of Mont Blanc was a must, Himalayan in scale, the upper pitch alone is 1200 m of 50º starting at 4810 m, combined with another 1000 m of 45º couloir skiing below. This one had been alluding me since 2009 and in years when you have already been skiing for 7 or 8 months, its tough to hold out through June for it. The obvious choice for final route would have been the Eiger West Face but I’d already done it in 2011 and my interest lies in exploring new places. Having not skied in the Brenva Cirque, the Brenva Spur was the obvious choice. A route steeped in history and coveted by Alpinists in a remote and wild setting. After a mild season with low valley snowfall levels, we would be entering and leaving the Brenva by Col de la Fourche and the Aiguille du Midi rather than being able to ski out to the Mont Blanc Tunnel.

All that remained was getting the right partners with the head, experience, strength and fitness to take on these big days. When we embarked on the project I guessed there was 50% chance of completing it in 5 years. The Brenva fell to us first in a 12 hour day and a few days after we nailed the West Face in a 14 hour day – the last 3 hours without water. Reassessing our chances I now put them at 60% chance of completing the project this season but the long term forecast was showing that temperatures would rocket.  A couple of days later we were off to Zermatt for what would be our only shot at it. And we did it!

Skiing the Trilogy or Triple Crown in a period of ten days days was a full on experience, mentally and physically. The shortest day was the last one at 10 hours, all 3 days were at 4000 m or more, and all were a race against the clock before conditions became dangerous in the heat of the day. A bit like doing 3 iron man races in 10 days? Maybe, but who cares, this was a personal quest to ski and shoot in wild places with my friends.

Finding skiers who have enough energy left for some big pushes at this time of the year can be tough but a big thanks to the ever psyched and super strong guys who joined me at various stages along the way to make this project a massive success: Mikko Heimonen, Jesper Petterson, Tom Grant, Enrico Kareletto Mosetti, Guilhem Martin Saint Leon.Below are a few shots from the trips with the good stuff and full blog post still to come.

Sunset Midi Chamonix Cosmiques Ross Hewitt-1

Sundown from the  Cosmiques Refuge, en route to the West Face with lots of trail breaking to do over Tacul and Maudit.Matterhorn Moon Light Ross Hewitt-1

The Matterhorn East Face under full moon as Mikko Heimonen sets off from camp.Matterhorn Cervin East Face Ski Topo Routes Ross Hewitt-1

The East Face plastered the day we skied it.Mont Blanc West Face Ross Hewitt topo

The West Face of Mont Blanc with our lineBrenva Spur Topo Ross Hewitt-1

The Brenva SpurMatterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-1Heading in the Matterhorn, with low cloud we couldn’t see the line in the upper couloirsSunrise Aiguille du Midi Chamonix France Ross Hewitt-1

The Midi or Mothership at Dawn, the best ski lift in the WorldScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.21.54

POV Shot from the Brenva Spur, Italy under a sea of cloudsMatterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-1-2

55º uppers on the Matterhorn above and below

 

Matterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-2

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 16.48.00Some POV on the Matterhorn in a steep section looking towards Zermatt.Matterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-1-3 In the upper central couloir of the Matterhorn
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Me on the Saudan’s West Face line – photo Guilhem Martin Saint Leonbrenva

 

Enrico Karletto Mosetti and Tom Grant on a lush morning on the Brenva Spur

The Grand Gervasutti Couloir

Tom Grant and myself had a look at the Diable Couloir this morning on the East Face of Tacul. It wasn’t happening so we skinned back up Mont Blanc du Tacul and skied the Grand Gervasutti – its an awesome plan B to have and we are lucky in Chamonix. I got a bit of a shock when I dropped in – there were some people climbing it about 700 m below, fortunately they were out of our sluff line – I’ve not heard of people doing that for 20 years!

Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-2Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-3Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-4 Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-7Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-6Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-8Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-9The Grand Gervasutti is the 800 m line centre right.Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-10Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-11Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-12

Mont Mallet – West Face

The West Face of Mont Mallet is a line that stares you right in the face as you exit the tunnel from the Mothership and its been teasing me for years. In the old days it used to be a large curtain of snow draped down the mountain (pan de rideau) but climate change has thinned it out to couloir in the upper half. In all my time in Chamonix I’ve only heard of a few descents, Andreas, Francois-Regis, T-crew, Minogue…some approaching by the Rochefort Arete and some by the Breche Puiseux – either way being reasonable long, like 2 normal ski tours put together combined with lots of doubts about the condition of the snow, crevasses, rimayes encountered along the way.

I needed someone fit to go and when I asked Tom Grant if he was up for an adventure over there his usual psyche shone through with a  ‘mmmh, yeeeaaahhh, sick!’ On our first attempt it had snowed 15 cm the afternoon before and as we ran down the Midi arete we were surprised when instead of sticky steep skiing snow, cold wind affected snow cracked and ran off the old layer. That day plan B came into play and we went to the sunny east facing Breche Tacul.

Second time out I knew the snow was prefect after skiing the Rond in a few big turns the day before and we were joined by Andy Houseman who was training for his expedition with Jon Griffiths to Link Sar in Pakistan this summer.  I have not shot that much this winter but with conditions looking perfect I took my SLR.

After going over the Puiseux we were all feeling the altitude breaking trail in sticky pow up the Mont Mallet Glacier as the sun bore down and got reflected at us from all angles in the crucible. Getting on the ridge looked improbable with a 60 degree ice face with large rimayes and in the end we got lucky found a line snaking through mixed ground. We all had doubts right up until the last moment when we arrived on the shoulder and looked down to find the curtain of pow was draped down our slope. Rock n roll! Mont Mallet West Face Topo-1Mt Mallet West FaceAndy Houseman climbing to Breche Puiseux above. Myself and Tom pulling the ropes after the Breche below.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-1-2Mt Mallet GalcierTom having a ‘mmmh, yeeaahh, sick’ moment to himself above. Andy and Tom breaking trail with the Jorasses and CalotteThe CalotteMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-4Tom and Andy on the Mont Mallet Glacier above and trying to find a climbable line up the face on the right below.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-5Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-6-2Myself and Tom 50 m above the rimaye and me traversing the 50/55 degree face after threading some rocks. Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-10-2Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-6The final slopes to the top above and arriving on the shoulder below just in time as the sun came on.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-8Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-9Prefect flat cold snow above and first turn below. Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-10Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-11Above, Andy getting started as Tom surveys the line. Below Tom slashing out some turns.Mt Mallet West FaceMt Mallet West FaceAndy skiing above and myself skiing with the SLR on my hip below. Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-21-2Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-16The couloir is quite long and the snow still great at mid height. We had the excitement of riding on a big face with sluff running hard and building into a major avalanche below. Mt Mallet West FaceMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-19Mt Mallet West FaceMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-21The central pan de rideau was sent in 5 turns. Mt Mallet West FaceMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-24

The line from below, the central section went in about 5 turns.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-27Myself having a quick look over the shoulder at the face with the protection of a mega crevasse. The quality of snow was definitely up there in my top 10 and comparable to when we rode the Frendo in 2013.

Getting After It

Its been a while since I posted on my blog because I’ve been really lucky and had a run of routes in the mountains and not much time at home.  Michelle had 10 days off work and timed it perfectly with the arrival of 80 cm of powder. Enrico Mosetti was also visiting from the Julian Alps and I had the pleasure of showing him around the mountains for the week. We had a day on the Midi skiing a Rond and Cosmique with Minna Riihimaki and Dave Searle which got the juices flowing. Usually I ski around 200 runs off the Midi a year but this was only my 6th day on The Mothership – its definitely been a unique season. The next day we could have easily kept hoovering lift access powder off the Midi but I just want to ski in the mountains by this stage of the season so we decided to get some solitude and tour 800 m up to the Col du Capucin. I’d not been there since 2011 and no one had been there this season. At the col I was pretty sure the abseil anchor was on the left and we set about digging down to find it. With no traffic this year the 50 degree couloir had filled in to an extent that I’ve never seen. As I rapped in and sunk up to my chest I regretted not rapping with skis on.  The rest was beautiful deep sluffy cold pow and the only issue was avoiding your sluff, certainly my best powder run of the season. Over a beer Elevation in the hot afternoon sun we decided to go East facing the next day – I had a little project that I’d meant to do for a few years that would test our endurance to the max. The plan was to skin up 1200 m to Col Tour Noir Superior at 3690m, ski the 5.2 50/45 degree East Couloir, then skin 700 m up the scorchio South facing slopes to Col du Saleina at 3419m,  finishing with the grind up the Saleina Glacier and over Col du Chardonnet at 3223m. The route weighs in at circa 2500m of up, 4000 m of down, a lot of time in the dry air above 3000 m and getting microwaved from the inside out on South facing glaciers in the super hot sun. Enrico didn’t know better and was up for adventure and Michelle didn’t bother checking it out or listening to the numbers so came expecting it to be easy – I was surprised she thought I did easy things! Usually I carry 0.5 litres and decided 2 litres might just be enough. In the end 2.5 would have been ideal but 2 worked. The first climb gets the sun early and I’ve been cooked on this climb before. Fortunately a chilly wind kept us cool and we arrived at the col having not sweated much fluid. Looking down the sunnyside we were pleased to see the couloir was full of snow.  We were skiing on sight without any knowledge of conditions over there. After some steep sugar turns, things mellowed out to 45 degrees and we rode the couloir in 2 or 3 pitches on a combination of creamy spring snow and chalky powder. The next skin lived up to all expectations of being hotter than hell and we stripped down to white base layers and just got on with it loosing fluids and salts at a stupid rate. Just before the col Saleina I had to get my swollen feet out my boots as the crushing bone pain was becoming pretty bad. Enrico and myself ran out of water about here. Unfortunately for Michelle, she thought it was a ski down to Cham from here and didn’t take the news too well that we had 2 hours to the next col. I’m sure she is going to heavily scrutinise any of my future plans in minute detail! After force feeding her and with no technicalities left it was pretty easy for an ex-ironman triathlete to rally and get up to Col du Chardonnet. There we were rewarded with golden glow of the late evening sun and soft spring snow down to Lognan where we stepped of our skis after 11 hours. As the spring skiing in the A Neuve Basin had been so good, I decided to do another route there, this time just with Enrico. I’d never skied Passage D’Argentiere so that was the obvious choice with only 1000 m of skinning and the main difficulty being negotiating the large cliff at the base on sight. A quick rap off the col with skis on and we were away skiing soft spring snow in big turns and having a lot of fun. Then Enrico hit a trigger point and a metre deep wet slab ripped out – he did so well to point it out and ride clear – we were still above a large cliff at this point. With our nerves jangling I took a look at a picture of the face to find our exit and we mange to link some ramps out right and get off the face without taking our skis off. The snow turned to shit lower down the mellow glacier,  having not frozen the night before It was collapsing under the tails of our skis or sucking at them at different rates. I stopped half way down and turned expecting Enrico to be there, but no sign. After waiting 5 minutes he appeared with blood pissing down his face. In the gloop he had tomhawked and taken the tip of a ski through his mouth – oW!  OOOOOOWWWWWW!!!! He just stood there spitting out blood as it filled up in his mouth and shrugged it off with ‘is it beer time?’ Sure is, its past noon now! Somehow Enrico was allowed onto La Fouly’s Terrace bar despite looking like he had killed a wild boar by biting through its Aorta! I could see small upset children running to arms of their parents who had concerned looked. Backwoods Switzerland is pretty conservative and a bearded bloodstained man yielding an ice axe would be treated with caution in most places perhaps with the exception of Fort William. Enrico got cleaned up and amazingly we got served. After a pint (or 2) Michelle came and picked us up and took us home – what a star! For Enrico’s last day I had a long day in mind – a North-South traverse of Les Courtes. Up Cristeaux, along the ridge and down Croullante Couloir. After a 1000 m climb we hit the ridge and a beautiful traverse took us towards the Aiguille Croullante. 1997 was the last time I did this ridge and it was a real pleasure to do it again surrounded my magnificent scenery in all directions. We rapped onto the North Side to traverse below this pinnacle and found some horror show 55 degree sugar ontop of a mixture of black ice and weetabix rock. I couldnt get a pick placement and just teetered on my feet while I pulled the ropes. Getting my backpack (with skis) off and balancing it on my thighs to secure the ropes was probably the hardest manoeuvre I’ve been faced with in the hills.  I quickly joined Enrico at the col and we put our skis on the super exposed knife edge separating the Croullante Couloir and the 800 m North Face of Qui Remue.  A lassoed spike let us rap over a boulder and after packing the ropes we discussed if we should try make Montenvers in 35 mins or suffer the ball-baggery of walking to Cham. I elected to go for it and 8 mins later we were below the shrund after sending the line on perfect velvet corn. That definitely ranked in my top 5 big mountain ski descents for snow quality. We schussed down the Talefre glacier passing Pierre a Beranger. Slowing only for a rock slide and some slabs (sorry skis) we arrived below Montenevers just in time for the ‘last lift in 5 minutes’ announcement. A sprint up the stairs ensured we got the training effect that we may have missed earlier in the day! What a great day and a perfect finish to a week skiing with Enrico. I’m looking forward to going and visiting him in the Julian Alps next season. The last run that I’ll post here was with Luca Pandolfi and Tom Grant. The plan was to do the South Face of the Dent de Geant, which although I have skied before in pow, would be fun on the corn. Leaving the Helbronner we were met my a bitingly cold North East wind and on the way over we decided things were unlikely to soften at 4000 m. Instead we headed for the ‘Petit’ variation that sneaks onto the face 200 m or so lower. On the ridge the wind continued to howl and we hid behind the rocks, relaxing and laughing while waiting for the snow to soften up. I took my Atris for this freeride face and had a lot of fun arcing out the turns on the creamy corn. Down at the alpages we swapped ski boots for flip flops and strolled down through some of Italy’s prime real estate to Lou’s cafe and tunnel pizza. There was one more hit before the run came to an end, over Mont Dolent. With Andy Nelson we climbed the Charlet and descended the Gallet ridge – I’ll post that next!   20150406_112304 Heading to the Col Capucin20150406_135451(0)One rap in, Michelle skiing11024789_10153639642273973_656810169192206345_n Me trying to avoid getting sluffed with the sluff train down over the shrund20150406_135816Enrico charging20150406_140832_1_bestshot 20150406_141244_1_bestshot Michelle enjoying the powder under the Capucin 18596_10153639642918973_1096087686793219780_nThe reward for the best pow run of the season RH Enrico and Myself of Col Tour Noir Superior20150408_133919 Enrico blasting down the East Couloir20150408_133954_1_bestshot Michelle skiing 11030840_10205148974956140_1868574250360739144_n Me getting my shot in20150408_134251 Enrico big mountain wave riding 20150408_134359 Michelle20150408_134842 Enrico about half way down20150408_140447(0)Michelle exiting the couloir20150408_144613 Michelle underneath the Gallet Ridge of Dolent (left) which we skied later in the week and the stunningly beautiful North East Face of the Amone on the right which I skied with my good buddy Dave Searle one sick weekend in 2011. Did I mention it was hotter than hell skinning up this South Facing glacier?20150408_175950Final treadmill session was eased by the milky late afternoon light and cooler temperatures. 20150408_190254The final wee bootback on Col du Chardonnet, fixed rope handrail 20150408_192344 Savouring the moment, nearly 8 pm. 20150408_192827(0) Ripper corn on the West facing slopes20150410_124621 Passage d’Argentiere – Enrico blasting off20150410_125152Freeride down to the big cliff 20150410_133537#1 Enrico spitting blood after tomahawking in rotten slop and getting a ski tip in the mouth on flat glacier 20150410_132134In the zone!20150412_125543Traverse of the Courtes – up Cristeaux, along the ridge and down Croullante. The 2 Norwegians followed along on our heals the whole way but seemed reluctant to do any work instead letting an old man like me put the booter in. If I was 20 again there’d be no way I’d wait for some old codger.  20150412_135434On the Ridge 20150412_140804I had not been here since 1997 20150412_143023Enrico contemplating the traverse around the Croullante20150412_154352One of the most precarious spots to step onto skis on a knife edge ridge with 800 m Qui Remue behind and 600 m Croullante Couloir below 20150412_154405Excited about the perfect conditions on velvet20150412_155107Enrico on the 10 m rap20150412_155912Time to rip – 4 pm and Montenvers last gondola at 435 pm, about 6000 feet and 7 miles to cover.croullanteThe couloir rode smooth and fast – 8 mins including camera stops! In Elevation by 5 with a hell of a thirst.20150412_16035920150414_102633Next! Sheltering out the wind and waiting for the snow to soften on the South Face of Dent de Geant 11156943_10101530346871398_681779973_n   Beautiful setting. While Waiting for Luca and Tom I skinned over to the top of the Marbree seen behind to pay my respects to Dave Rosenbarger who died in an avalanche there earlier this year. It was the first time I went there this year and an emotional moment to be there on the col. 11157170_10152657073492260_586698300_oMe enjoying the creamy spring snow with Marbree behind. 

Sunny Days and Hot Nights at the Couvercle Refuge

The Black Crows posse of Bruno Compagnet, Minna Riihimaki and myself headed up to stay in the sweet Couvercle refuge for a night.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-1 The team excited about a trip to the mountains and the beautiful Couvercle refuge.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-2 Bruno pointing out linesBruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-3 Still some good flat snow with no sastrugi on Gros Rognan.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-4 Beautiful late afternoon light on the Mer de Glace.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-5 The 2016 Corvus Freebird and the Navis Freebird, both amazing touring skis.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-6 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-7 They say you should always be doing something with your hands in a photo, the weirder the better! Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-8 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-9 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-10 Some people still dispute climate change. Here we have June snow conditions in mid March!Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-11 The last rays of the afternoon before the sun sets behind the Chamonix Aiguilles Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-12 Minna on the boot pack to the Pierre a Beranger.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-13 I’m getting on well with these glue less Evotec skins – time will tell for the final verdict. So much faster putting skins on and off without the cheat sheets. Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-14 Hut nights at the Couvercle, Bruno enjoying a glass of red.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-15 We were joined by French Alpinists who had been on Viva Gel and Whymper. They were obviously feeling the cold and put a lot of wood on the fire. It was so hot that I went to bed on my boxers and couldnt sleep until 3 am.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-16 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-17 A bit of digital art to show off the partial eclipse of the sunBruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-18

Mixed Climbing on Mont Blanc du Tacul – Pinnochio

Yesterday I had the pleasure of climbing with my good friend Andy Houseman on Pinnochio which lies on the East Face on Mont Blanc du Tacul. For some reason we haven’t climbed together for 4 years, I guess I’ve been concentrating on skiing while Andy has been doing expeditions. We had both climbed Pinnochio before in 2007 and this time round in was a lot thinner and more sporting but still amazing climbing, some of the best day hit modern mixed climbing I’ve done in Chamonix. It was a mild, windless day, absolutely perfect alpine conditions.  After we decided to ski down through the valley blanche for the first time this year which was sporting but ok.  Pinnochio-1 Pinnochio-3
Pinnochio-4 Pinnochio-5-1 Pinnochio-4-1
Pinnochio-5-2 Pinnochio-5 Pinnochio-6 Pinnochio-7 Pinnochio-8 Pinnochio-12 Pinnochio-13

Chere Couloir – North Face of Aiguille du Midi

While I was whiling away the time this autumn from the discomfort of long hours behind a desk, something amazing was happening out there in the real world. Social media alerted me to incredible mixed climbing conditions the Alps as icy tentacles started to drooling down the faces providing relatively easy passage for all the mixed masters. Fomo was kicking in pretty badly and I managed to engineer my way out of work for a week in September and another in October. Success on the Michto-Polish route on the Jorasses in September brought confidence in off the couch fitness and ability to use a pair of tools after a year or two off. It allowed the mind to explode with all the possibilities and adventures out there given the right partner, enough time and the weather. I eagerly looked forward to the October holiday knowing one big route would calm the mind from the boredom of work during the run into the ski season. Conditions just seemed to get better and the weather was looking great. The week before heading out there was a minor blip with some days off training due to a cold. Arriving in Chamonix I took advantage of the Brevent being open to get some lift assisted mountain biking i.e. downhill. But then I started to feel tired, like wtf, am I imagining this? I thought it was probably psychosomatic but not completely willing to try my theory out on a big face, we decided to go for a quick hit on Chere Couloir. A friend had recently solo’d it and reckoned the serac was not threatening. And so Sandy and myself started romping up the neve plastered line and I was feeling ok, not great but ok. Then boom, out of nowhere my body went cold and into shutdown mode like I had flu. I put on ever stitch of clothing from my bag and continued to climb in it all the way to the top. Just as well we weren’t on the Grand Pillier D’Angle! I Guess it pays to listen to your body no matter how much you want to do something. 6 weeks later and I think I have finally got rid of what was bugging me, just in time for the snow to arrive. And the serac is mildly threatening, enough to make us feel relieved once we had past it!

Chere couloir Ross Hewitt Chere couloir Sandy Simpson 2 Chere couloir Sandy Simpson