Last Week

On Saturday we went to ski the north face of the Pouce.

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Minna, Dave and Cedric on the bootpack from Index in the searing heat.

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Chamonix was in the ming and there was low cloud on the back of the Aiguille Rouge so we hung out on the ridge to see if it would lift. It did but by then team psych was pretty low. I went up about half way with Chamonix guide and friend Nicolas Annereau who was with another friend but in the hanging bowl the snow got thin and we skied down. Its a cool face and super exposed from the minute you traverse onto it about the cliffs so don’t be sandbagged by the Aiguille Rouge grades and go mentally prepared for a big line!

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On Sunday Michelle and myself traversed Arete Plate and skied the north couloir. It was really pleasant hiking up the sunny side but on the ridge the wind was howling and we skied down the north couloir on nice chalky powder but didn’t stop to take any photos!

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Next up was a trip to the classic north east slope of Les Courtes with Mikko H and Jesper.

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Entering the crystal maze. First time through the high traverse for a couple of years.

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The wind was still howling and it was baltic touring up the Argentiere in goggles and all my clothes.

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We climbed pretty quick despite 40- 50 cm of dense powder. As we got higher to quality of the powder got better with less slough hardening but suddenly we came to an area with the new snow sitting on a thick melt freeze or rain crust that supported crampons with facets underneath. I did a few shovel shears in different places which failed at almost zero load, something I’ve not seen in 20 years of this type of skiing. It definitely felt like this was quite a large hot spot for the slope and with 40-50 cm of high density powder it could produce enough energy to start something big. The decision to go down was obvious for me – its a line I’ve skied 9 times and even if I hadn’t, the decision would have still been the same. I just need to down climb to the snow that was well bonded before putting a lot of load into the snow stomping into my PLUM guide heal at DIN12. The ski down was ok but difficult to stay in front of the slough. The bottom steepens significantly this year after the hot summer and glacier drop so the bergshrund may end up being interesting!

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Michelle and myself went to ski the shoulder on the Aiguille du Tacul. We took the Gros Rognan and found some beautiful creamy snow and then traversed to the Vallee Noire for colder powder.

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Traversing to the Valle Noire.

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Michelle on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche.

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The Foehn started raging before committing to the final boot pack to the shoulder and with loads of down draughting and cross loading we did a u turn and headed to the lower couloirs.

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The Foehn blasting at altitude.

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Michelle touring to the lowers.

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Me launching into the lowers.

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At the buvette enjoying the warm sunshine out of the wind.

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Then it was back to Hebronner with Mikko and Lauri. It had been windy again so we opted out of the ‘Chinese Downhil’ start.

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Marco ski cutting Chesso traverse entrance to the cable face. The soft slab detached most of the way to the old stage 2 lift station.

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Mikko finding the goods.

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Lauri is in there!

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Italian Morris dancers in the lift, whatever next?

Mont Oreb North Face

Its been a while since I have skied on this face and last time I went we decided to climb it first and got a bit lost 2/3 of the way up trying to find the ‘exposed traverse’ to the summit ridge. This time Tom and myself wanted to ski top down onsite to avoid wading up chest deep pow. The cornice is similar to the one on Mt Buet and its tough to see into the face from above but eventually we committed to a traverse going in on the rope to test the snow stability.  The anchors are sparse a the top and the best I could manage was a no. 1 camelot and 2 ski anchors. Once Tom had found the snow was perfect we packed the ropes and got on with skiing this fantastic face.

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Preseason Powder Hunting

With the first snowfall of the season kicking things off in mid November its been a crazy busy period searching for powder stashes. The stable snow conditions have allowed me to go and explore some new areas and revisit some that were long forgotten years ago. The biggest challenge has been finding motivated partners and I’ve already racked up 50K vertical touring metres this autumn and 162 ski days for the year. Luckily I have a few trusted partners available on different days so I’m not always on my own. The highlight was finding 3 couloirs that don’t feature in any of my guidebooks which were filled with primo pow. I’ve also spotted a couple of cool lines which should be good to go once we get some more snow.
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A Day with The Girls

Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-1 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-2 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-3 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-4 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-5 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-6 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-7 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-8 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-9 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-10 Beaugent Minna Rihiimaki Michelle Blaydon-11

Drawn to the Dark Side

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Hotter than the Sahara.Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-2

Its times like these you need spanking paddles on your feet. Born in the Chamonix Valley these preceded poor imitations such as ‘verts’ and enable easy bootpacking in chest deep powder. Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-3

Minna about to cut the snow on the rope.Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-4

Making the turns count in the hanging couloir above the cliff before we went over the marshmallow on the left to the hanging snowfield.
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Someone needs to put in a bolt anchor in these climate change years as the old one on the spur is out of reach with skis on now forcing a tough transition to boots to bounce test the dark age slings. There’s good rock on skiers right that doesn’t have water ice under the snow like old anchor on the rib, perfect for skiing into the anchor.  Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-7Titty deep, you can’t argue with that.Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-8 Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-9 Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-10 Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-11 Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-13

Cold snow lying undisturbed with handfuls of hoar frost, above and below the last layer.Minna Rihiimaki Aiguille Rouge-14After the technical turns in the couloir it was stunning to just let rip down the meadows to Buet.

 

Touring Time in the Aiguille Rouge

It was pretty exciting waking up yesterday to a fresh coating of 40 cm of powder when snow has been so scarce this season. But that feeling was quickly replaced by anxiety knowing the lifts would open late and by that time everyone will be out of bed and queuing. We took the magic tunnel through to Italy, drank coffee and skied a quick 4 laps of the Entreve lowers which included a sensational spine feature where the sluff ran fast in the gullies bounding either side. Then it was back to Chamonix for opening time and freeride on amongst the pillows, rocks, roots and tree stumps of Plan de l’Aiguille. Too fast and too hectic to take photos. I was bushed by the end of the day and retired to my nest by 9 o’clock.

Today the plan was to go back for more but the lift company surprised everyone with late opening even though it hadn’t snowed. They must have worked too hard yesterday and had a compensatory sleep in today.  Anyway I felt a bit jaded today after a lot of freeride yesterday so we made a plan to go touring and give the back and quads a rest.

Today it was Dave’s turn to have a few trials and tribulations. First the basket on his pole broke, which means you soon find out how much your balance relies on poles when touring. Then after a lot of effort smashing in a waist deep bootpack to the start of the ski, his binding lock lever ripped off. Dave quickly made do with a ski strap wrapped round the low tech pins and I handed him the camera. He sensibly side slipped the first no fall section above cliffs, with a lot of worry whether his ski would stay on, but salvaged the bottom 2/3 of the ski down once we rapped the cliff. Shortly after we were savouring a pint in Buet.

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Belvedere East Ramp

Plan A was to got the Verte. The day before I went up the Midi on a recce and was greeted by bitter cold due to northerly air flow.  This was hardening the snow and would also mean alot of time trying to keep the extremities warm. Time for Plan B; this also started from Grand Montets but in the morning the wind was too strong for the lift to open so now it was time for Plan C; the Belvedere East ramp. We found very variable snow on the way there with thick wind crust dominating but once in the wind shadow of the Belvedere there was a lush amount of powder. The bowl above the ramp was out of the shelter and heavily wind effected so we skied from there.

Thanks Sylvain for the photos.

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