Winter Round Up

Its been a while since I posted a blog and thats mainly because after a few dry years it started snowing in Europe early December and kept snowing until the end of May. That meant it was a pretty full on 6 months with very little time to put ‘pen to paper’ so to speak.

I started the winter with a herniated L5-S1 disc which caused muscle wastage, power and recruitment speed in my leg. For example if I tried to stand on my tip toes my left leg would sink until my heal was on the floor.  Thanks to the Osteo/Pro-runner Carlton Rowlands I mannaged a fast comeback.  The recovery went from the lows of skiing down the Midi arete in December and taking my skis off midway, unable to handle the vibration without nerve pinching and having uncontrolled leg movement, to basically doing my stuff and not holding back.

Mid winter also included 2 months of ski guiding and the IFMGA ski guides test which I am happy to report went smoothly for me. 3 exams down and all thats left is the final alpine test this August which I’m now fully focused on.

With a lot of my ski partners injured or retired, I did a lot of solo missions and decided to leave my camera at home and take the gopro out for a change to capture a few of my powder turns. I’m a very impatient person so taking time to make good edits while getting ready to go out the following day is not my strong point but it gives a flavour of how good the skiing in Europe was this year. These are all edits from the high mountain and arguable the most fun skiing was in the trees early December with an incredible base over the spines and ridges before the Christmas and January rain.

Here’s a few of the memorable days:

Col de la Verte with Drew Tabke

 

Mallory with Tof Henry, Arthur Ghilini, Nate Wallace and Chris

 

Mallory with Tof Henry, Jacob Wester and Babs Charlet

 

Pain de Sucre with Dave Searle and Guillaume Mars

 

Midi North Face – Col du Plan with Jacob Wester, Bird Early and Andre Dalkarl

 

Midi North Face – Col du Plan with Miilet de Papy

 

West Couloir, Aiguille du Midi with Miilet de Papy

 

Oreilles de Lapin with Michelle Blaydon

 

Cosmiques Couloir with Jesper Petersson

 

Rocco with Tof Henry, Benjamin Carvallo, Raimundo de Andraca, Galo Viguera

 

Rond with Tof Henry, Benjamin Carvallo, Raimundo de Andraca, Galo Viguera

 

Para Face with Cedric Bernardini, Luca Martini, Jamie

 

Cosmiques Couloir with Jacob Wester, Andre Dalkarl and Michelle Blaydon

 

Droites SW Face, solo from first lift on Aiguille du Midi, -30C morning!

 

Cosmiques Couloir with Michelle Blaydon

 

Oreilles de Lapin with Erik Wallner

 

Aiguille de Mesure NE Face, Aiguilles Rouges, solo

 

Solo skiing from the bend of Couturier in flat light as the cloud rolled in, then an afternoon sun run on Z de Papy the same day

 

Early February powder run on Col de la Verte from where it got rocky mid height

 

Solo run finding the complex line on Z de Papy

 

Skyway, Rond and Para Face with Jesper Petersson and Guillaume Mars

 

Solo training on the an icy Rond early season with a loaded arete

 

South Face of Tour Ronde into Brenva Glacier before Christmas with Michelle Blaydon and Morgan Sahlen

 

Col des Courtes with Tof Henry and Andre Darlkarl

 

Shoulder of Aiguille du Tacul with Michelle Blaydon, probably the best top to bottom snow quality I’ve ever come across

 

Pre-Christmas Couloir Cache into the Brenva Glacier with Tom Coney

 

A solo mission hitching through to Skyway, under the cables, Marbree and then back to Chamonix via the Valley Blanche. Marbree was so sick until I hit a rock and broke my 2 day old ski under the foot. It happened to be my left leg that took the shock which was recovering from the disc herniation onto the sciatic nerve route for that leg. After more than a little worry I’d suffer a setback, I woke up fine the next day. Lucky, very lucky.

The Brenva Spur

Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti

The Brenva Spur

We arrived at the Cosmiques hut with the plan to climb Tacul and Maudit and ski the Brenva Spur on-sight, but news there had been 40cm of snow dampen our enthusiasm. Tour Ronde and the Brenva Face had been in the rain shadow, while the Chamonix side had received a pristine bounty. As the afternoon cloud lifted we studied the voie normale and considered our options. There was good chance of being forced back in the dark by avalanche risk if we opted for Tacul and Maudit, so we went the long way round, over Col de la Fourche.

We woke just after three in the morning, forced down as much food and water as possible, and headed out into the night to ski the Vallée Blanche. The night was black as ink and the usual summit reference points were cloaked in darkness. Even my powerful head-torch’s beam seemed to be absorbed by the night. Navigation became difficult. Suddenly, something unfamiliar began to form in the darkness – a strange shadow against what little light there was. We broke left to ski parallel to a chaos of huge ice blocks as much as four metres high. The seracs under Col du Diable had fallen. We continued to ski down the Vallée Blanche, beside the avalanche, all the while adding yet more distance to our day. Eventually, after a considerable detour, we were able to ski round the toe of the debris and start back towards Cirque Maudit. Our friends had passed this way the previous afternoon while traversing from Torino to Cosmiques, so we knew this biblical serac fall must have happened in the last few hours. It was an ominous portent for the Trilogy.

Brenva Spur Tom Grant Ross Hewitt

Brenva Spur Tom Grant Ross Hewitt

At Col de la Fourche we met with dawn as the sun peered over the eastern skyline. That moment of first light is a revelation for the mountaineer whose senses have been deprived in the dark. Fear, anxiety and doubt evaporate as all becomes clear, calm is restored and the low point in the soul disappears. In front of us the Brenva face revealed its magical hidden secrets.

Brenva Spur Ross Hewitt

Crossing Col Moore at just before seven that morning, we stashed excess kit in the snow to reduce pack weight before starting up the route. We left behind our skins, ski crampons, ropes, shovels, probes, and extra food and water for the return leg. We would travel through survivable avalanche territory on the way back, but on the route itself only a transceiver was needed for body retrieval by the rescue services. Having estimated the snow would be soft enough to ski by half-past-eight, that gave us a leisurely hour-and-a-half to bootpack 700m. 
Brenva Spur Ross Hewitt Tom Grant Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt

The air was still and a blanket of cloud was drawn over the landscape below keeping Italy snug. Most people would still be curled up in bed enjoying a lazy Sunday morning. Snow and ice crystals glimmered, and the temperature was pleasant enough to climb the iconic curling arête of the Brenva Spur in thin mid-layers. We quickly covered the final few hundred metres to the pyramid rock tower, gatekeeper to the serac exit onto Col de Brenva.Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt 1Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt 2

Brenva Spur Sidetracked lores-10Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt Tom Grant

Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt 3After stamping ledges in the snow, we swapped crampons for skis and took in the magnificent surroundings. The endless east face of Mont Blanc lay to our right, a crazy mix of couloirs, buttresses and tumbling seracs that held historic alpine climbs such as Route Major. Sun-warmed powder waited for us on the upper section but, as I gazed on it, I wondered how it would ski. Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt 4

We skied some cautious turns initially, allowing our sluff to run in front until we had passed a section of shallow snow over the ice. Then the angle eased, allowing us to open it up more and a dozen turns of almost sensual skiing took us to the narrow arête. We dropped onto wide open slopes holding perfect spring snow sucking in a couple of hundred metres in five or six swooping turns. Smiles all round.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.21.54Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt 5

Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt Tom Grant 2

 

Now, however, we had to cross back over the Brenva glacier and Col de La Fourche before the final 600m skin back up the Vallée Blanche to the Midi. We were all hit by a sudden slump in energy as we skinned back towards the Fourche, the adrenaline of the descent fading, replaced now by heavy fatigue. The fun was over and it was time to push hard for the last three hours and escape the searing alpine sun.

Hostile

A wild, cold, windy day. My feet were numb. I forgot my gimp mask so my face froze. There were mega accumulations of wind blown snow. We didn’t see a soul all day. Thanks to Mika Merikanto for the day and the photos.Helbronner-3 Helbronner

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Brenva Cirque

Tour Ronde SW

Skiing off Tour Ronde towards the Brenva Glacier. Thanks to Davide de Masi for the photo.

Was I Winning or Loosing Today?

Today I definitely did not feel I was winning. I woke up and wasn’t feeling it, I knew about a dozen people wanted to go to the same area, the question do I go, don’t I was running in my head. One of the routes we were talking about requires ropes and I couldn’t be bothered with any rope faff either with more than one other person so that made my choice of line easy, the South side of Tour Ronde from the summit. All was going well on the approach and we soon left the crowds behind but then the day started to go pair shaped for me. While I was at the bergshrund putting my crampons on, one of my skis that I had placed tail down into the snow suddenly slipped through the pow and took off down the glacier. I’m stilling getting used to rockered tails and should have embedded it deeper. We watched in vane hoping it might flip over but a 130-140 wide ski is pretty stable and it disappeared out of site leaving a trail in the pow. I said cheerio to De Masi and Miss Daily and headed off down the glacier on one skis thinking I’d be going back to helbronner to download minus a ski and binding. About a km down there was a 50 m wide crevasse with a snowbridge 30 m down and on it nothing else but my lost ski. A quick abseil off my other ski and I was back in the game with 2 skis! I just had to catch up with Davide and Liz who were climbing up the normal route on Tour Ronde and after an hour of hard work I joined them on the summit.

The start of the South West couloir was full of sharks and after moving about 50 cm my ski grabbed and high sided me. As I barrel rolled I knew there would only be one chance to arrest the fall before I was going too fast but as I came round onto my feet I found my binding had released at the rear and I glanced off the snow and flipped again. I just had time to think that it would hurt a lot ragging over the sharks teeth when I landed on my feet. Assessing the damage I found the spike of my axe had shredded my ski pants down one thigh. Then I felt a bit of pain in my knee and inspecting through the gash in my pants I found a cut right on the soft tissue between femur and tibia, somehow my axe or the rock had glanced off rather than imbedding into the joint. Lucky. Liz and Dave hadn’t seen my flip and were some way below so it was time to get going and catch up (again). After about 100 m of sharks teeth the couloir opens up and the snow was perfect to let rip. (short video below). The final twist to the day was to find the the pocket on my pants had been shredded and with it the car key lost. Thanks to Michelle for coming to Italy with the spare key. Win!

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Tour Ronde Brenva

This week I have had the fortune and pleasure of two runs down in the Brenva cirque in great powder throughout the 2000 m + descent. The first run entered the Brenva Glacier down Couloir Cache, the second time we took the South West Couloir from the summit of Tour Ronde. This time I enjoyed the company of Michelle and Andy Benson.Tour Ronde Brenva-2Tour Ronde Brenva-3Tour Ronde Brenva-5Tour Ronde Brenva-10Tour Ronde Brenva-13Tour Ronde Brenva-16Tour Ronde Brenva-18Tour Ronde Brenva-19Tour Ronde Brenva-27Tour Ronde Brenva-28

The Brenva Face of Mont Blanc in the background.Tour Ronde Brenva-34

The amazing backdrop of the icy North Face of the Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey, first skied by Anselme Baud and Patrick Vallencent, and its impressive rocky East Face which has only been skied by Italian Maestro Stephano de Benedetti in the early 80’s. De Benedetti poetically describes his motivation and rewards for taking on the immense psychological challenges of Big Mountain Skiing in the clip below from the movie ‘Steep’. Check it out:

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More Couloir Cache Photos

Sylvain sent me through his photos from yesterday’s run:Couloir Cache-2 Couloir Cache-3 Couloir Cache-4With a lot of fresh cooking in this suntrap I tied on to make the traverse to the couloir.Couloir Cache-5 Couloir Cache-6 Couloir Cache-7 Couloir Cache-8 Couloir Cache-9 Couloir Cache-10 Couloir Cache-11 Couloir Cache-12 Couloir Cache-13 Couloir Cache-14 Couloir Cache-15 Couloir Cache-16 Couloir Cache-17 Couloir Cache-18 Couloir Cache-19 Couloir Cache-20 Couloir Cache-21 Couloir Cache