DecemberPow

I have to admit that as we approached the ski season I was more than a little demotivated. The last two seasons have been dusters and we were enjoying the most incredible Indian Summer,  starring a possible 3rd winter duster in the face. The biking and cragging were incredible and my only motivation to ski was for an October ski trip to pick off the Caroline Face of Mount Aoraki/Cook in NZ.

Then in mid September a chunk separated off my L5-S1 lumbar disc and logged itself against my sciatic nerve. This caused high frequency electrical pulses down the leg, loss of muscle control and rapid loss of muscle mass. For the first of weeks I was unable to sleep or sit down. I’d walk around the house in the middle of the night until the next cocktail of pain killers kicked in allowing me to grab a couple of hours rest. I’d then lie still on my back with anxiety gnawing at the thought of the pain returning. As soon as I turned onto my side or front the electricity would start and my hip felt it would dislocate from the muscle contractions. My butt ached from lying on it all the time. It didnt take long for me to run out of pain killers. Walking to the pub for some liquid pain relief would have me willing my bad leg to move as quickly as the other, but it was like dragging it through treacle. That was the Uma Thurman moment from Kill Bill where she tries to wiggle her big toe. Sitting in the car was impossible. Eventually the need for food drove me to trying to ride to the supermarket. I discovered cycling provided some relief and got the nerve moving through the muscles and tissues. I immersed myself into two months of rehab on the bike desperate to get my calf and glute working and thinking that getting blood flow, nutrients and movement into the muscle would counter the wastage in the areas affected by sciatic paralysis.

After a few weeks my calf started working, the feeling returned in my foot and I could stand on my tip toes which gave me hope about climbing again. But my glute just withered away and sitting became very uncomfortable with no muscular padding for the nerves. I was sure that I’d be able to sorta ski like that but without the glute stabilising the pelvis there would just be more damaging load going into my lumbar spine. Weeks of exercises followed under the supervision of resident Osteo Carlton Rowlands to isolate the glute and get the neurology to fire. Initially I just couldn’t do the simplest leg lifting movements no matter how hard I tried or willed the glute to work. I kept positive but was realistic that the ski season could end up being more about guiding and very little personally skiing unless I could back to a level of fitness to support the loads free skiing exerts on the body.

The injury was a big wake up call for me in many ways. Over the summer guiding I hadn’t eaten well with nights in the refuges and often had too little sleep over the week. These things are fine for the odd week or two but if the basis of your daily life reduces to this then soon cracks will appear somewhere. However fundamentally there was a weakness through my lower back that had severely limited the way I skied over the last decade. I sensed it and new something was weak there. When I say weak I mean weak relative to my stronger legs which had put me on the podium in the Scottish Junior MTB Series.  But I didn’t know how to strengthen it. Like most of you focused on ab/oblique exercises and the usual gym routines which gave a strong exterior but neglected the core.

The biking through October and November was incredible with dry warm conditions in Aosta allowing rides over 3400 m cols in a t-shirt. For days with 2500 to 3000 m of climbing I’d go alone or hook up with Davide Capozzi and then ride with my Chamonix friends on my rest days. The larger rides showed the difference in strength in my legs as the muscles were taken to fatigue, but with no ill effects or set backs, my confidence started to grow.  Meanwhile I continued to work on rehab exercises and start the slow process to rebuild the muscle, all to aware the ski season was approaching fast and a compensating body would cause a lot of problems.

10 days in Finale brought an abrupt end to the biking season at the start of December and I returned to a frigid cold and austere Chamonix wondering what I’d do next. The phone rang and it was Tom asking if I wanted to go to Bel Oiseux touring. To be honest I hadn’t even thought about skiing but when I considered it I thought I didn’t have any excuses not to give it a go.  As we set off on our very late start we met a bunch of the Cham crew who had already done a lap and the smiles gave away the good the conditions.  Tom, Johanna and myself talked the whole way up the hill, taking in the scenery and enjoying being back in the mountains.

I took them to the top of a line I knew that was a bit hidden from the others. Once I confirmed we were in the right place the other two jumped in before me. Tom was straight back from skiing the Caroline and no doubt they were thinking the old man was going to ski like a grandpa. I was certainly thinking that. The gnawing fear of a set back and a return to that hateful nerve electrocution torture was holding me back. The thought of hitting a rock on my bad leg and the shock blowing more of the disc contents against the nerve root weighed heavily on my mind. I made two hop turns like an octogenarian, getting the feedback for how well my leg would cope with the shock, and then decided to point the skis downhill and ski the way I wanted. The line was filled with smooth consistent powder which skied beautifully and was gentle on my body. I didn’t stop where the others had held up and continued down to the terminal cliff. What an amazing feeling, hope crept through my mind that I could get back into skiing.

A week later and it was opening day at Grands Montets. A bunch of us Crows had partied hard the night before and I woke up with the feeling that my head was in a vice. Hungover, stiff, dehydrated and with a battered central nervous system I joined the crew at GM and went for a run on the piste in the flat light. It was awful, every unseen bump pinching the sciatic nerve and causing my hamstring to fire and stiffen further affecting my ability to flow over the terrain. I was also struggling to control my direction going through the bumps and initially thought this was a proprioreception problem but in the end worked out that the flexibility in my left leg increased as it flexed up and outwards, rather than straight up. Through the bumps my ski would always track left, just when you wanted to turn right. It all felt a bit pointless and I went home despondent thinking that those days of skiing 15-20 k vertical metres off the lifts were behind me and future skiing might be limited to untracked touring lines. The Mountain Boot and Scarpa crew were in town for 2 days and keen for a second day on GM but I knew I couldn’t handle  that and guilty bailed on them.

The next day Bruno, Layla, Simone, Enrico, Bea and myself headed up a dry looking Skyway for a look around. Below 2100 m was dust after a five month drought and above just had one 30 cm layer. The north wind was howling but as we exited the lift station Bruno announced he thought it wasn’t that cold. As the bitter wind froze my face off I was thinking to myself that I had gone soft hanging out in Finale. Later it emerged Bruno had run back to his van for extra clothes and was still cooling down.

Very quickly skins were falling off and we only made Col d’Entreves using a combination of ski straps and duct tape on the skins. Bruno was keen to go up the ridge and as I set off no one else left the sanctuary of the windscoop at the base. Somewhere on the ridge my hat got sucked off my head but before retreating I spied a lot of snow on Col d’Entreves. For sure it would be rocky getting in but after that it looked sweet. Time to propose a different plan that would get us out of the wind quickly. After passing through the rocks it was time to ski light and cautiously with tips up…these were still shark infested waters with a big cliff below. The headwall was sweet with cold slough and my body held together despite a couple of large rock strikes to my bad leg. Below lay a couple of kilometres of untracked rolling terrain which is a pleasure to ski at full throttle. Full of joy we head back to the bar for a celebratory beer.

That was the turning point for me where I started to believe my body could recover enough to ski the things I wanted, in the way I wanted and as much as I wanted. Sure I still had loads of rehab to go but I could also see the opportunity to to correct a problem that I’d coped with for some time and build a stronger core to match the strong external muscles which could support the loading I’d throw at it.

The timing was near perfect. As the storm cycle moved in it became clear we were in for some pretty special low level conditions to the valley floor. I skied some pretty special days during this period, all different and memorable for different things. 13 laps on Val Veni with Tom, touring the Signal with Michelle and Cedric in the afternoon, plan laps galore with anyone willing to ski with me. One more after a big run of days I was crammed up against Sam Favret in the Midi bin. I asked how he was and he admitted to be tired. We all got pretty tired that week, it was one of the best in my 20 years in Chamonix.  For sure we could have taken some amazing photos and film. But I just wanted to ski.

DSC00289-2

Hoods up, bitter north wind, -25C. Enrico, Simone, Bea, Bruno

DSC00292-2

After a hot summer the glacier is very open and only covered with a veneer of snow

DSC00298-2

Enrico, Bruno and Layla

DSC00305-2

Bruno enjoying the drawn to the light after the dark oppressiveness of mid winter alpine valleysDSC00322

Bruno, Layla, Enrico, Bea, Simone

24474876_1884517945199119_1259260048_o (1)Me opening Col d’Entreves well aware of the sharks hunting below the surface and the big cliff at the base

DSC00346

Bruno in his element

DSC00368

and playing with his slough

DSC00391

Layla

DSC00419

Bea

DSC00440

Enrico with his smooth style

DSC00498

Simone about to hit the afterburner. The whole valley skied beautifully.

DSC00557

Happy people after a sweet descent from Col d’Entreves that blew away the cobwebs from the previous days parties.

DSC00559

Flying solo on one of the favourite preseason tours

IMG_20171204_132658

The start of December and already over a metre above 2000m but more importantly an absence of the huge ground level facet layers experienced in the last few seasons.

DSC00560

Always exciting to drop into a new line, especially when you havent been able to scope it from below. Without a rope I expected some dry skiing in the steep lower section. In the end I was able to ski through easily but I did have some snow plates in the pack in case I needed to wade back up to the ridge.

P1300260

Another glory day early December

DSC00573

T-shirts on the up with Douds Charlet, Vivien Bruchez and Graham Pinkerton

DSC00567

Vivien and Graham. So nice to have someone else do the work. Vivien likes to use much lighter kit than me and is the only person I know that has a completely different style for skiing alpine kit to touring kit.

DSC00576

Me pysched about the prospect of perfect pow below.

p1300275

It was my plan to come here so I get first tracks

IMG_20171207_125942

Another gorgeous day, another solo mission to try something new. Excited about the prospect of dropping.

DSC00622

My line started top right of shot and came down the sunlight ramp. Never hard but always rolling over so the way was not evident. Amazing skiing down the apron where another tourer had skied the hidden couloir on the left. I was really pleased so have managed to explore this area before the high pressure moved off as it was about to get crazy in the valley.

DSC00650

Then we moved into a five day storm cycle. The 0 iso continued to bounce around which created a thick blanketing base over fallen trees and stumps and bringing all time tree skiing to the valley.  Tom Grant may be small but these days were deep.

DSC00656

Tom blasting through the forest, chest deep on Noctas

25344362_10154760470961525_1432227479_o

Me having fun popping off tree stumps

DSC00664

Tom charging hard in the trees

DSC00673

This day it snowed about 1 metre while we were on the day. We all had 3 pairs of goggles and came back soaked to the skin to find the car park had been allowed to fill in during the day. My car was at the end of the line and being 4×4 I though it would be easy to get 5 ft onto the ploughed road. An hour of digging saw us clear.

IMG_20171210_155039

Another hour to get 5 miles down valley to Bossons with the wet storm icing wipers and windshields as fast as you could clear them. On my street no where to park, 2 m snowbanks and a lot of digging.

IMG_20171211_094431

Next day in Courmayeur. A car with 2 m of snow. The road from Entreves buried under avalanche, Courm closed. We head up Pavillion thinking we could ski some ridges safely but full depth propagation triggering convinced us to retreat.

25467741_10102977391961438_1793703186_o

Things settle in Courmayeur and Tom and myself head back for a fast lads day. The snow is all-time and I mean all time. We stop take one shot on the first run and never stop again. Pillows, stumps, spines, glades…13 laps on Val Veni.

25590621_10156186357413984_547915814_o

On one of the spines skiers right of the Val Veni cables. About enter the white room

DSC00751

Michelle arrives, the weather improves and we hit Montenvers. I love it up there in the milky mid winter afternoon sun. The wind has been out but in the trees its primo.

DSC00760

Michelle enjoying the sun and views

20171220-DSC01715

Me enjoying a moment in the sun

20171220-DSC01702

Oh yeah, this is going to be sweet

20171220-DSC01704

Me kicking off

DSC00736

Dave Searle with his characteristic photo powerlide

20171220-DSC01718

Me a bit lower

DSC00746

Michelle

DSC00766

Michelle

DSC00769

Michelle

DSC00775

The temps were rising and I wanted to get as much as possible before the snow went off. I managed to convince Michelle into another lap to the L’M but Cedric was wiser and went to Moo for a big lunch. After a hours skinning and teasing Michelle onwards with its just over the next morraine we were in a position and Michelle was very grumpy with me.

DSC00777

Changing weather as the sun goes down but a lush time to be up high

IMG_20171217_142022_12CS

It was still quiet in the valley so we were able to move around. This day started on Brevent, moved to Grands Montets and ended on Montenvers. Michelle here in Chapeau

DCIM100GOPROG0010192.JPG

Me in Chapeau

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0203.JPG

Me scoping out some potential lines

IMG_20171217_143629

Michelle at the Chapeau buvette, always after a cheeky beer 😉

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0231.JPG

Riding Montenvers and refueling

IMG_20171220_113121

Michelle

20171220-DSC01719Me cruising in the settled blowerDSC00785

Changing venue, Tom Coney and myself have dawn run down Cosmiques

DSC00793

Warm milky light as Coney drops off the Midi arete

DSC00811

Amazing inversions over the Aravis. I have the lurgie and am soaked in sweat by the bottom.

DSC00820

After a coffee and a change in clothes, Michelle and myself do a few GM laps. The wind had buffed the snow but it was consistent and grippy providing good piste like skiing

IMG_20171224_104511

Christmas Eve. Warm temps, find fucked offpiste but great piste skiing.

DSC00822

Christmas Day. Time to tour

DSC00824

Scoping alternatives

DSC00827

Michelle skiing into Belvedere

DSC00830

The dry summer has revealed a step on the Belvedere. It was a bit of a pig to dry ski through.

DSC00835

Michelle swooping down the Berard valley

DSC00846

Happy times waiting for the little train at le Buet

DSC00851

27th. My birthday. Its been warm but the snow is coming. We wait until 2 pm and hit the Midi. Its real good and just the 2 of us there

DSC00866

Michelle 20171227-DSC01760

MeDSC00881Michelle20171227-DSC01752

Me again

IMG_20171228_161148

Another reset overnight and on the 28th its open by 1030. Easily best day of the season. 9 laps of the plan with various people joining me during the day; Michelle, Tom Coney, James Sleigh and Ian Wilson-Young. No time for photos until we were cruising down the Pre de Rocher track into town  as the sun went down. This made me a happy man as the Plan is a real tester for your body with loads of shock and impact. Having a long day there is a good test to see where you are at and if the body will cope with the mega days in the big mountains.

26544003_10102998219433018_974393402_o (1)

Baffin Preparations

Image

After I got back from Lofoten my main aim was to reacclimatise and have some training days for the big mountains and the Baffin Island ski expedition that I have been working on for month’s now – more of that below. 2014 Baffin photo essay

Dave Searle wangled a day off work so we decided to go the east couloir on the Tre la Tete as a training day since its a long approach to the end of  the Miage Glacier. I have always wanted to camp up the glacier for this line and ski it in the early morning sun but we had to forgoe that to do this line in a day. In the end we got unlucky and fog enveloped us 700 m up the line and as its more of a ramp than a couloir, without  rock walls to handrail, we decided to ski down from there. Still, good exercise being on the go all day.

untitled-1-1

Looking up towards Pointe Baretti from the Miage Glacier

untitled-1-2

Dave Searle dropping out of the fog on the East Couloir of Tre la Tete

untitled-1-4

The Mont Blanc Glacier dropping down in the background towards the Miage

untitled-1-5

Sunsets on the Mothership

High pressure was still dominating so the next day I went up the Chardonnet for a solo of ski the classic South Couloir. This line is one of my favourites with a good combination of steepness, exposure, spurs, and couloirs all with fantastic views of the Verte, Droites, Courtes and Argentiere.  My acclimatisation was coming back and I was back down for lunch – on the same trip before Christmas in tough conditions it had taken Jesper and myself 5 hours just to get to the bottom of the couloir!

untitled-1-6

Z or the Washburn variant on the Verte the day after Capozzi, Pica, Rolli did it.

untitled-1-7

The North Face of the Droites

untitled-1-8

The North Wall of the Argentiere Basin

untitled-1-9

Skiing on the Aiguille du Chardonnet

untitled-1-10

The North Face of the Argentiere stripped back to glacial ice

untitled-1-12

Sun’s out, whats not to like with this view

untitled-1-11

Smooth snow on the Chardonnet – its at a premium right now after the wind

untitled-1-13

One of my favourite views from the exit couloir of the Chardonnet

I then had my niece Tash and her friend Toby to stay for a few days and had a great laugh showing them some of my favourite spots up the Helbronner and Midi as well as blasting a few pistes laps, watching the guys wingsuit from the Brevent and going on the luge.

20160322_123107

My niece Tash and her friend Toby

untitled-1-14

Wingsuiter just jumped

untitled-1-16

Brevent telepherique and the Midi

untitled-1-17

Parapente

untitled-1-18

Speed rider

untitled-1-20

Wingsuiter

dent-de-geant-south-face-route

South face Dent de Geant in Red and South Couloir Aiguille de Rochefort in Black

There was one sunny day left before the high pressure moved away, and although the cold north wind was still blowing, I decided to take a gamble and go try Remi Lecluse’s line on South Couloir of the Aiguille de Rochefort. With reasonable acclimatisation I was pretty confident I could move fast from the first cable car and get to the top around noon when the snow would be soft enough to ski. As I arrived in the car park the north wind was still blowing snow off the ridges and I didn’t have much hope for success, which relied on the sun to make the snow skiable. However, there are loads of options in that zone with the Dent de Geant, Petit Dent de Geant and Marbree as fall back plans so I decided to continue and go take a look.

The wind was still blowing at the Helbronner but as I skinned across to the Col de Rochefort area it seemed to be dropping. The traverse across the south face is long, a crab crawl on axes and crampons that seems to go on for ever.  I now know how Tom Patey felt on his traverse of Creag Megaidh!  The face was sheltered from the wind and the temperature was rising, and with that my hopes that things would soften and become skiable and I made good progress on the climb.

 

This face is vast, much wider than it is tall and being out there on your own makes you feel pretty insignificant in comparison to the scale of the mountains.

untitled-1

Selfie high  on the Rochefort

Things were looking good but as I put my skis on, the breeze came back. At nearly 4000 m the air was still cold and the snow that had been softening nicely started to refreeze. I guessed the breeze would dissipate once I descended away from the Rochefort Arete but I was also worried that the breeze might pick up refreezing the whole line.  I started down as quickly as possible which wasn’t fast at all on very variable poor snow. This part of the line is in the 50 degree range so there is a fair amount of gravity pulling at you. Each turn required maximum concentration, each time the skis landed they reacted differently. Sometimes they skidded on the icy surface, sometimes the snow sheared out from the downhill ski, all the time causing me to react quickly and make the necessary adjustments. Sometimes sections of hard glazed snow and rock forced me to sidestep. Tense times on skis.

When skiing becomes this slow and technical it often loses all of the aspects that draw me to the sport; rounded turns, quality of the snow, the sensation of virgin snow under your feet, your mind entering flow state.

untitled-3

The rap off a no. 7 rock through the upper choke

However, I still felt positive that the breeze would drop and the snow would be soft below the first choke where the couloir opens out onto the face. A rap through the choke thankfully took me onto soft snow allowing me to relax as fun skiing returned. This section starts of steep but quickly moderates to a similar angle to the neighbouring Dent de Geant run though it has more features scattered with bluffs and spurs to play on.

untitled-4

Soft snow now – yeehaa!

After hours of being alone a human voice pulled me out of my introverted mental state. I stopped skiing and scanned the mountain for its origin. 2 skiers were exiting the classic Dent de Geant run 500 m below me and whooping for joy. It was reassuring to see fellow skiers but they soon gone and I still had some technical difficulties ahead to exit the face through the rock bands.

untitled-5

The median slopes on the face open right out providing good skiing

In the lower section the couloir becomes well defined again as it cuts through the cliffs and the banks provided good corn skiing. Just before reaching the lower choke you can break out left onto the face and here I found a rock anchor Tom and Johanna had used on their descent.  A small 5 m rap over a rockstep takes you onto the lower slopes and a straight-line over a rockslab spits you out above the bergshrund.  This was a final challenge, as over the course of the fine weather, the shrund had opened up and there was now a gaping 6 m drop from the upper lip to a flat landing. Jumping it was the only option in the isothermal snow so I took off my transceiver and backpack, tied the rope to them and threw the rope down to retrieve them from below. The landing was going to be a big enough impact that I didn’t want the added weight of my pack on my back or the chance or breaking a rib with my transceiver.  Lets just say its been a while my body has taken that kind of impact!

Whilst the skiing wasn’t memorable, the mental experience was – it felt like a trip to find myself, shut out all the clutter of everyday life and really be lost in the moment.  In the end I found what I was looking for and liked what I found, so it was a worthy trip.

My next outing was to the Perche Couloir on the Griaz. My body hadnt recovered fully from the Rochefort so it was a case of treating it as a recovery day,  going easy and allowing the toxins to slowly flush out of the system. Searler joined me once again and we had a leisurely day stopping for a sandwich on the plateau.

untitled-1-21

Hard snow made it easier to bootpack

untitled-1-24

A short bootpack connects the two snowfields

untitled-1-23

On the traverse to the Griaz – best with ski crampons

untitled-1-26

Descending the ridge to the Perche

untitled-1-30

Searler scoping out the steps in the ridge

untitled-1-33

Searler  following down the moderate ridge

untitled-1-32

Some steep downclimbing, looked worse than it was

untitled-1-27

Nice red rock

untitled-1-28

Slightly exposed and loose here!

untitled-1-29

Skis on, one rock to sep over then time to ski

untitled-1-31

Good snow on the line

untitled-1-34

Another little choke

untitled-1-35

Uninterrupted skiing to the valley floor 6000 ft below

untitled-1-36

Surprisingly good snow considering all the wind and temperature spikes

untitled-1-37

Dave skiing

For the last 6 months I have been organising a second expedition to Baffin Island’s mythical fiords. These fiords are huge, typically 30-70 km long and snake through the granite big walls that the Island is famed for. Couloirs between 600 – 1400 m high split these walls and there’s enough for a lifetime’s worth of exploration. Unusually, this time round we are 3 Scots and a token Englishman! The team consists of fellow Scots Evan Cameron from Christchurch, Si Christie from Courcheval and Anglese Chipie Windross from Tignes.

The trip is sandwiched between the mountain guides summer training 1 and 2 courses in the UK so if its anything like the last trip I will come back emaciated and weak – not ideal for rock climbing but you have to take these opportunities. As usual there has been a lot of work gone into this between researching objectives, grant applications, booking flights, finding a iridium sat phone, planning and ordering food, kit lists, kit modifications, ordering kit, team discussions. This all takes up time from planning and skiing routes day to day in Chamonix but right now conditions are far from optimal with all the Foehn wind and I am really craving going somewhere remote and exciting. Its a bit of a juggling act managing the trip, training for the rock part of the guides scheme and training for Baffin which includes eating a lot (that takes time too!). Time will tell how well I manage this juggling act while I try to boulder as much as possible to get some finger strength back and do some bike rides to keep my leg strength!

20160327_142544

Baffin preparation – drilling holes so I can tow my skis rather than carry them

kosy boot

Adding a stirrup to my neoprene Kosy Boot should stop it riding up off my toes

20160327_164145

Baffin preparation – eating as much as possible to put on weight

 

 

Last Week

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

DSC03423

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

DSC03454

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!

DSC03478

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!

DSC03479

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

DSC03485

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

DSC03486

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

DSC03491DSC03497DSC03502

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!

DSC03507

 

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.

DSC03526DSC03530DSC03536DSC03540

Traversing to the Valle Noire.

DSC03543

Michelle on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche.

DSC03576

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.

DSC03615

The Foehn blasting at altitude.

DSC03613

Michelle touring to the lowers.

DSC03617

Me launching into the lowers.

DSC03620DSC03622

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

Ross

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

DSC03630

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.

DSC03641

Mikko finding the goods.

DSC03650DSC03668

Lauri is in there!

DSC03671

Italian Morris dancers in the lift, whatever next?

Argentiere Training Loop

This is one of my favourite touring loops in the Argentiere basin which is continually interesting as it provides the variety of skinning, bootpacking, scrambling, rope work and some couloir skiing. I’m not going to give away any details excpet to ay I regularly see Killian on it before he goes on to tag a few other peaks. Usually its pretty quick but before they opened the top GM tram it felt considerably longer with the bonus skin from Bochard over the Col des Rachasses and it ended up being a 6 hour day – its nice to get some mileage for those big 12-15 hr days that lie ahead and just for general base fitness to be able to ski every day. Besides, being alone in the Argentiere basin and hanging out below those beautiful big walls is well worth that effort.

DSC01872DSC01874DSC01876DSC01884DSC01889DSC01891DSC01903DSC01917DSC01922

Pointe D’Orny

The autumn and pre Christmas period was a busy one for me with our trip to New Zealand, high pressure in the Alps and perfect stable snow conditions for exploring. That meant I only had a couple of rest days per month and by the end of the year I touched 180 ski days – hence the reason why my blog was somewhat neglected due to the ease of posting to instagram and facebook!

The day after the PLUM party Vivian Bruchez, Giulia Monego and Dave Searler headed to Pointe d”Orny to ski one of the couloirs. After climbing the couloir we sat and ate lunch in while soaking up the sun on the plateau and taking in the views of the Chardonnet and surrounding peaks. Once again we found a mixture of good cold snow varying from powder to chalk.

Skiing The Matterhorn

THE MATTERHORN EAST FACE (OSTWAND)

598A1152Matterhorn East FaceMatterhorn East Face

598A0822               By early June, most of the skiers have swapped to mountain biking or climbing. Mikko is still psyched and we headed in to ski the Matterhorn the hard way. Because the refuge was closed due to renovations, we were carrying a tent, sleeping bag, stove, and a gallon of water each on top of the usual stuff. It was difficult to known what to expect on the face, as so few people had actually skied it. A local guide had told us it wasn’t very steep but looking straight at the face from our campsite a few hundred metres away still made the nerves jingle.

598A0882SAM_0676            I went to bed early setting the alarm for 2am. Sleeping intermittently I kept thinking that streetlamp was really bright. When I finally poked my head out the tent, there was the Matterhorn, lit up like a stadium under the full moon. Inspired, the whole day was filled with sights of amazing natural beauty.598A0889

Mikko’s headtorch as he sets off to the stunning Matterhorn floodlight by a full moon.598A0914            The tip of the Matterhorn was the first thing to be hit by the rising sun and it resembled a blade with blood red streaks on it. This brief morning Alpenglow was soon replaced by a golden light.

598A0920

We continued climbing up the face using ice axes and crampons in a slow methodical rhythm aiming for the central couloir that ended at the rocky headwall. I was conscious that the temperature was rising fast which would eventually make the face an unsafe place, speed would be our friend.

598A0947 598A0958 598A0987 598A0989            From the top of the skiable terrain the first turn would be on sustained, unforgiving 55º spring snow. Simply standing stationary and holding and edge had every fibre in the body working overtime. I was still clipped to my ice axe for added security while I adjusted my camera settings. Mikko left the sanctuary of his ledge and with axe and pole in one hand committed without hesitation into a series of beautifully-linked chop turns that you’d have been proud of on a lift accessed Midi North Face run with fresh legs.

598A1002598A1005598A1010            My turn. I was excited but nervous. The face was really exposed looking down uniform rock slab covered in some snow for 1000m. I had been focused on locking my body into a stable platform to shoot from and now I needed to loosen my muscles and refocus on skiing. I was also turning to my weaker side. Skiing second, I had to avoid where Mikko had skimmed the softening snow and find my own edgable spots.

SAM_0683 SAM_0684            After side slipping a few metres to get the feel of my skis underfoot and edge grip I felt ready for that all-important first turn. Time to commit… no problem, this is going to be fine. As we dropped height and the angle eased to the 50º range the snow softened further and the turns became softer and more rounded. Once we entered the central snowfield the angle was around 45º and we had a lot of fun skiing fluidly and playing with the sluff down to the lower rocks.

SAM_0687 SAM_0691 SAM_0693598A1050

The angle increased here once again and it took some time to find our bootpack to lead us through the lower slabs.SAM_0699

Below the lower crux traverse led through a peppered icy zone to take us to the shrund. All too soon it was over and all that remained was to get well clear of the face which would soon starting shedding thousands of tonnes of snow in the summer heat. We made one short rappel through the lower rock band and then skied back to our camp that we had left 10 hours before.

598A1138

Somehow we had pulled of the Alpine Trilogy Project in just 10 days, skiing the Triple Crown of alpine steep skiing routes without a heli or external assistance. It hadn’t really sunk in yet, but I had an enormous sense of satisfaction and happiness from the skiing, the wild situations and the performance we had put in. As we packed up our tent, the searing summer temps started to strip the rock slabs of their snow and I knew they would be my last turns of the season and some of the best of my life.598A1146

598A1146-2

The West Face of Mont Blanc

I took the last lift up that evening  to the Aiguille du Midi in order to join the others at the Cosmiques refuge, my pack laden with five litres of water. The weather had not broken all day with heavy cloud coming and going, and I slid forward onto the arête only to be enveloped in thick fog. There was over 30cm of new snow on the arête, too much for our west face plan. It felt more like winter than spring. I stood patiently, waiting for it to clear, but soon grew cold and resigned myself to waking down the arête. Where it levelled I skied down the south face, hugging the buttress and using the Midi as a handrail. There was only 10cm of new snow here so, if the sky cleared as promised, we were back in the game! Like a sign to us, just before we retired to bed the cloud dropped and we were treated to a majestic sunset above the inversion. It also enabled us to check the Tacul for any large accumulations. We enjoyed its warm glow, then turned in early to get some sleep before what we knew would be a very long day.

West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 19

West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 18When the alarm ripped me from my cosy sleep, I looked out of the window to see the stars glistening in the night sky and excitement grew inside me. We each went through our final preparations in silence, eating and drinking as much as possible before making our way out into the frozen, predawn air. For the next few hours we just needed to keep to time, eating and drinking on the move and avoiding unnecessary stops. As we skinned up Tacul the temperature continued to plummet and the frigid wind increased in strength. The whole place felt thoroughly hostile.West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 17West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 16On Col Maudit the wind was driving snow and we stopping to put all our clothes and suffered in silence trying to keep the extremities from freezing. The cold was in my core making me pee a lot and lose fluids, we were all cold and there was nothing to say or do keeping going. By now my skins were falling off regularly and we weren’t setting any records between stops to rewarm fingers and toes and to reseat skins. After climbing the Col du Mont Maudit in boot deep snow we kept walking as the wind had scoured the slopes slopes to Mont Blanc.DSC05428-2DSC05466-2

On the summit it was a relief to drop down the Italian side a few metres and get out of that north wind. Below us the west face fell out of sight in vast, featureless snow slopes. It would be easy to head off on the wrong line here and we knew there was only one skiable line in condition. Normally I’d strip off some layers to ski, but I was so cold now that I only swapped mitts for gloves – just to be able to handle my camera better.

I put in the first turn on the relatively flat upper slopes. As the skis punched through the light crust the edges started to bite and squirm. Beneath the crust, and above the glacial ice, was a thin layer of sugar that meant we were unable to read where the ice lay. It made for tense skiing. I watched as others tested the snow below them with their poles, traversing back and forth and finding a safe passage through this zone. These are ‘fall-you-die’ lines and there is no margin for error. The tension tightened in my chest and I forced myself to stay calm, breathed deeply, and made each turn count.

West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 14West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 23After 100m we were past the death ice section and onto good snow alongside a buttress. Below it we skied a long, enjoyable pitch on what must be the highest spine in Europe. We were all working hard – race-pace hard, where you smell the blood in your nose – trying to keep to time, knowing that was the only way to negotiate safe passage through the glaciers below. A short traverse took us into the south-facing Saudan line, a 50 degree couloir that fell away below us for over a thousand metres. Now the exposure had eased, we could relax a little. We enjoyed good, consistent snow all the way down to the lower apron.

ross_hewitt@yahoo.co.uk                                +33 781 287 608 ,      Ross Hewitt                       39 Route des Bosson, Chamonix, 74400 France                         rider: Jesper Petterson

West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 12 West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 24 West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 8We had by now recovered from the cold and took some time to strip off shells and down jackets in preparation for the coming descent. The hanging seracs left of the Benedetti line were very active and as our route through the lower the slabs was right beneath this shooting gallery, we picked up the pace to exit the face over the final bergschrund. I needed to ski swiftly to limit the exposure time, but serac debris slowed us all right down. This old game of Russian Roulette beneath seracs tightened the tension across my chest again. Finally we cleared the face and relaxed.ross_hewitt@yahoo.co.uk                                +33 781 287 608 ,      Ross Hewitt                       39 Route des Bosson, Chamonix, 74400 France                     rider: Mikko Heimonenross_hewitt@yahoo.co.uk                                +33 781 287 608 ,      Ross Hewitt                       39 Route des Bosson, Chamonix, 74400 France                               rider: Mikko Heimonen
West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 6On paper the principal technical difficulties were over, but we still expected some combat in order to make it down to the Miage. Glacial recession has made it difficult to negotiate the Mont Blanc Glacier to the Miage Glacier so our chosen escape route was to skin to the shoulder above the Quintino Sella hut and then ski the west-facing couloir down to the Dome Glacier. Our timing was perfect and the couloir skied so well we covered the distance in scant minutes. The Dome Glacier had been a big question in our minds but after roping up it only took a few minutes to cross and the weight of uncertainty was lifted, a few hours of effort would get us to the road.West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 5West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 21West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 3West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 2During the final walk we were spread out, allowing us to reflect on the day and think about some of the moments we hadn’t had time to digest properly in the heat of the action. Without doubt, it had been one of the most intense days I’d spent in the mountains – incredible situations and high quality skiing. After being in the world of snow, ice and rock all day long, the lush green alpage near Chalet Miage appeared particularly vivid and beautiful.West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection

West Face Mont Blanc  Ross Hewitt Collection 20