Verbier Opening Day

We went over to Verbier for its opening day and enjoyed a fantastic day of endless powder – here is a little edit from the day.  Lets hope it stays cold now! The ski season has got off to an amazing start this year after the last two dry years. I started skiing again on the Midi about a month ago and in the last two weeks Chamonix in particular got a load of snow.

Tour of Mont Blanc by Road Bike 330 km, 8000 m Vertical, Single Push

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Last week I rode the Tour of Mont Blanc on the road, in a single push. Being late August the days are getting short fast requiring a 4 am departure that meant 2 hours of riding by headtorch to start the day. During those 2 hours I would pass over 2 cols and in the 4 degree C predawn temps I would be chilled to the bone. It was the first time I had ridden a road bike on alpine cols in the dark and despite taking the head torch I regularly ski with I found those descents fairly nerve racking; are those wet patches on the road or ice?  I was praying that all those eyes that flashed in the undergrowth just stayed put and didn’t run into the torch light.

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Once in Martigny at 6 am my legs were wooden with the cold afterr the descent from the Forclaz and I rode for the next couple of hours with my Berghaus race smock on to generate some heat. I kept looking right and seeing the line of sun creeping down the hillside, estimating the sun would hit the road at 9 am but by then I had entered the endless avalanche tunnels. My left foot was really cold and hurting me but worse was the pain in my pelvis from changing my saddle. My previous saddle had collapsed on my last ride so I replaced it with the same model. It seemed fine when I tested it, being weary of any changes to the bike that would haunt me on an 18 hour ride. Now I just couldn’t get comfortable with nerve pain and numbness, having to change the motion of my pedal stroke on my right leg to compensate and get out of the saddle every minute. As I rode on I was thinking I could use this as a recce since I had not done the Grand aint Benhard before. From the col it would be and easy roll down the 30 or so kms back to Martigny and the train home. Finally I got clear of the avalanche tunnels, the road kicked up, the sun came out and the scenery got interesting. What a contract to the psych and monotony of the graded main road. I enjoyed those last few kms to the col where I stopped to massage some blood back into my feet and eat a block of cheese. The long descent would give it time to settle in my stomach and I would need those fatty calories. There I made a snap decision to get on with it based on not ever wanting to do the long boring climb up to Grand Saint Bernhard again!

Dropping into Italy it was pretty windy and again the descent was cold and spent dodging the fluffy lupin pollen seeds. Swallowing those make you gag like a cat with a furball. In Aosta I stripped off my smock, long sleeved top, arm and leg warmers and my shoes. Planting me feet on the warm tarmac allowed them to absorb some of the stored energy from the sun and defrost. The next stage is pretty flat and I was worried about potential headwinds but it was fairly benign and I arrived at Pre Saint Didier to fill my bottles with cool water from the village fountain.

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Now I rejoined the route I rode the week before with a tired body the day after a hard rock climb. That was part of the strategy and even after 8-9 hours riding I still felt better on the climb to the Petit Saint Bernhard that I had the previous week. On the ride up a Swiss guy who I met on the GSB caught me up and told me about his nice restaurant meal in Aosta while I was churning along at 120 bpm. We talked for a bit before he shot off to get a coffee in La Thuile were, upon seeing me riding by, ran out of the café and started shouting allez!

At the top of the PSB I stopped for a good Italian coffee before entering back into France which just isn’t the same. I now was pretty sure I would be ok. I had 2 worries, firstly the week before I got nuked in the 35C heat on the 900 m climb to Col de Saises and secondly, I wasn’t looking forward to riding in the dark at the end. This time I would start up the Col de Saises at 6 pm so the shadows would be growing on the road and the temperature much more amenable. As for the dark, I reckoned I had 1 hour on autopilot on local roads from Fayet to make Chamonix for 10 pm. On the plus side my saddle was now broken in and fitting my bum so finally I was comfortable and able to resume my natural pedal stroke. This had a massive lift effect on my psych and I was enjoying being on the bike once more.

The descent to Bourg St Maurice is long and graded so I just coasted down at 40 mph sitting upright and saving my neck from unnecessary tension. Arriving at Bourg at 3 pm I felt it was time for some proper food and I spotted a drive by MacDonalds on the road. Not exactly proper food but its easy to get down your neck and digest. 2 double cheeseburgers and a coke had me ready for the grind up the Cormet de Roseland. This is a 2 stage climb with a flatter section in the middle. Once gain it was hot in the lower gorge and I could see my heart rate creep up in the 130s and 140s coping with the additional stress. Once out onto the high pastures there was a strong wind coming down from col as usual, and the storm clouds were gathering. At the col I was rushing to get all my clothes on and get down to Beaufort before the storm broke, the weather was better to the West and in the end I avoided getting a drenching.

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I started up the 15 km climb to Col de Saises at 6 pm, exactly 14 hours in. The temperature was a perfect 20C by now and I was climbing nearly twice as quickly as the week before. The last couple of kilometres of this climb are a bit of a grind a go on forever after you see the resort as the col is right at the far end of the village. From here I knew it was easy going to Le Fayet with only 400 m of climbing left up to Servoz and then the Vaudagne. Twilight had me stopping at Saint Gervais to put my headtorch back on as the descent there is in thick forest. I felt really happy to be climbing well up to Servoz. After 5 hors cat climbs the short sharp Vaudagne was not a mental worry but a final chance to feel some burn. I’m remember my heart rate was sitting at 130 here even though I was working hard – I had taken on a lot of fluid on the easy ride down from Saises so probably had more blood volume and the 15C temps were ideal for a Scotsman but it was probably also a sign of being tired. As I crested the Vaudagne I flashed a couple of doggers cars in the woods with my headtorch before shooting down the descent and into Les Houches. A few km on the flat and I was home and ready for a good shower and a quick meal before sleep!

I was super happy to get this ride down which had been talked about with various people for about ten years. Injury, work, etc all getting in the way before. This year I had a high end of season fitness from skiing stuff like the Matterhorn and I’d also ridden my mountain bike a lot. My road biking had been limited to about 10 rides, half of which were in February so my leg power was shocking even though my endurance was high.

I’d never ridden that far on a road bike and a 60 mile ride aged 11 stood as my limit for years. While I was working in Aberdeen in 2013 I did the Tour of the Cairngorms and the Tour of the Snow Roads which were  166 miles and 200 miles respectively. The road bike really is a great way to cover a lot of distance and take in the scenery. Read about them in the links below.

Tour of the cairngorm mountains

Tour of the snow roads 305-km 5000m vertical

Camping Time

Miage Aigle Dave Searle-6This week we Dave Searle and myself went back to the Miage Glacier under Mont Blanc’s Himalayan sized West Face with the idea to have a semi-rest day and camp on day 1 and then get and early start and ski a line mid-morning before it got too hot. I had some expedition kit to test out so this provided the perfect opportunity.  Miage Aigle Dave SearleMiage Aigle Dave Searle-2Miage Aigle Dave Searle-3

At the foot of the Miage. We soon got bored of load carrying in the heat and set up camp.Miage Aigle Dave Searle-4

Chilling out in the evening.

Miage Aigle Dave Searle-5My touring set up this season.Miage Aigle Dave Searle-6

Dave’s disco tentMiage Aigle Dave Searle-7

Our line for the day on looker’s right

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Dave at the start of the 1100 m bootpackMiage Aigle Dave Searle-10

The shrund was bottomless and we roped upMiage Aigle Dave Searle

Sunrise
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Upwards, on and on.Miage Aigle Dave Searle-13

The snow deteriorated due to being worked by spindrift so we skied the good stuffMiage Aigle Dave Searle-13Miage Aigle Dave Searle-14 Miage Aigle Dave Searle-3Miage Aigle Dave Searle-4Miage Aigle Dave Searle-15Miage Aigle Dave Searle-16 Miage Aigle Dave Searle-5 Miage Aigle Dave Searle-6Miage Aigle Dave Searle-17Miage Aigle Dave Searle-18

Friday’s Freeride

I headed into the neighbour’s back garden the other day with the usual suspects; Liz Daley (armed with her perma-stoke), Davide de Masi and Dave Searle. Our efforts were well rewarded and we found exceptional rip-able powder waiting for us in this long hallway. A fantastic day which was ended with a beer ontop of a mountain in the sun.
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All quiet, the cirque to ourselvesLiz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-2 Liz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-3

Let the dance beginLiz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-4 Perma-stokeLiz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-5 Searler, Liz and de Masi wishing they had spanking paddles (snow plates) in the deep powLiz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-6

This is going to be sickLiz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-8

Dave SearleLiz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-9

Liz Daley

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Davide de Masi superstylinLiz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-12Our line
Liz Daley Dave Searle Davide de Masi_-13Heading to the bar for a well earned cold beer

 

Couturier-Whymper on La Verte

Dave Searle and myself have been wanting to do a traverse of the Verte for a couple of years now combining climbing Couturier and skiing Whymper onsight. After all the free-riding in January and February I was up for an alpine traverse trip like this which offers so much in the way of adventure, challenge, unknown, excitement and great training. The Aiguille Verte is an amazing mountain at 4122 m and all its routes are long and demanding. We were joined by Mikko Heimonen.
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Aiguille Verte on the far right with the 1000 m Couturier Couloir descending direct from the summit.Couturier Whymper La Verte-9

The sunny side of Aiguille Verte, Whymper Couloir descends right of the summit. 
Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale HeimonenCouturier Whymper La VerteCouturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-4Ross Hewitt Verte Couturier WhymperCouturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-5

Nearing the top of the Couloir and the end of the neve with black ice and seracs looming.Ross Hewitt Verte Couturier Whymper-2Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-6

We threaded the seracs along a ramp in the sun above the rock.Ross Hewitt Verte Couturier Whymper-3Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-7Mikko on the Verte for the first time.Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-9

Almost feeling Himalayan due to the cold, with 40 kph wind we were glad to get off the austere north side and into the sun.Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-8

Summit of the Verte for me!
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Panorama Aiguille Leschaux to Mont BlancRoss Hewitt Verte Couturier Whymper-8Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-12Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-13

Mont Blanc and the Chamonix AiguillesCouturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-14The wind tugged at our skis along the exposed ridge.
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The snow stayed pretty frozen with the wind.Ross Hewitt Verte Couturier Whymper-7Couturier Whymper La Verte Seale Heimonen-16

Chute Central

the chuting galleryThis week I headed back to the Miage area to ski some more of those massive 1000 m couloir lines with Michelle Blaydon, Kirsti Lehtimaki and Mikko Heimonen who had just landed in Chamonix. The powder has all been blown away leaving hard edge-able wind buff which made the boot pack a joy. First up was the line lookers left of the Bonatti which is reminiscent of a Domilimiti line with huge walls souring high above our heads. This line is overlooked since it doesn’t top out on the ridge but with 850 m vertical of skiing I don’t care. Probably the best couloir I have skied in the Mont Blanc Massif with a few hundred metres of 50 degrees at the top and an exciting ramp above some mixed ground. Second up was the 1200 m Domenech Couloir on the Aiguille de l’Aigle which we onsighted from the top. We arrived back at Zerotta in the Courmayeur ski area early afternoon and enjoyed relaxing in the sun and eating pizza and having a beer!Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-2 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-3 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-4 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-5 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-6 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-7

Michelle skiing.Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-8 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-9 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-10 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-11 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-12 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-13 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-14 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-15 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-16 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-17 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-18 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-24 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-25Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-19 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-20

Kirsti on the changing lines pitch.Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-21 Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-22

Kirsti skiing the lower couloir.Petit Mont Blanc North East Face_-23

Time to relax!

The Devil’s Spires

I had been wanting to ski the Macho Couloir off Col Diable for a while now but finding a partner who was free was proving challenging. My Black Crows team mate Tom Grant arrived back in Chamonix with his usual high level of psych and he was willing to go do whatever was good. It all looked set, the only minor setback was Tom being kicked out of the first cable car for missing a payment on his season ski pass. With that sorted he managed to jump the queue and caught me up as I ambled down the valley blanche scoping out conditions en route. Good job he did catch me up as it was super deep and we had to trench our way up sustained 50 degree slopes to the col, arriving there pretty tired mid afternoon after 5-6 hours of uphill. The ski down was exceptional with overhead blower and the 125 under foot Noctas eating it up, we just had to take care not to get sluffed off the face. Amazing conditions and just as well, this route is steep, exposed and technical. I loved it. High on the ridge amongst the spires staring down at the Grand  and Petit Capucins hundreds of metres below. I bet it would feel really steep in spring snow. Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom GrantCol Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-2Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-3

178 Nocta and PLUM YakCol Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-4Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-5 Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-7 Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-6Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-8Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-9Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-10

Tom negotiating the lower rocks. 

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Under the Grand Capucin

Col Diable Macho Couloir Tom Grant-12The route climbs behind the left hand spires onto the serac bench then up the headwall behind where our tracks can be seen.