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.

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

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

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Enrico, Bruno and Layla

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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

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Bruno in his element

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and playing with his slough

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Layla

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Bea

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Enrico with his smooth style

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

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

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Flying solo on one of the favourite preseason tours

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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.

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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.

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Another glory day early December

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

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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.

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Me pysched about the prospect of perfect pow below.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Tom blasting through the forest, chest deep on Noctas

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Me having fun popping off tree stumps

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Tom charging hard in the trees

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Michelle enjoying the sun and views

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Me enjoying a moment in the sun

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Oh yeah, this is going to be sweet

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Me kicking off

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Dave Searle with his characteristic photo powerlide

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Me a bit lower

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Michelle

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Michelle

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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.

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

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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

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Me in Chapeau

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Me scoping out some potential lines

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

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Riding Montenvers and refueling

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Michelle

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

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Warm milky light as Coney drops off the Midi arete

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

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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

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

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Christmas Day. Time to tour

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Scoping alternatives

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Michelle skiing into Belvedere

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

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Michelle swooping down the Berard valley

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Happy times waiting for the little train at le Buet

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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

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Me again

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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.

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Ski Bums – The Photo Album

For me the last few years have been completely dedicated to skiing, following the snow around the globe in the eternal hunt for powder as the seasons change and clocking up close to 200 days a year. This search has taken me to Patagonia, Chile, Japan, Norway, New Zealand and included 2 major exploratory expeditions to Baffin Island. This has been a phenomenal experience, meeting and making many close friends who share the same obsession and also clocking up 36 first descents in the process. Glen Plake said ‘skiings a life sentence’ and those smooth weightless turns as you float down a mountain amongst a sea of slough is something most of us can’t get enough of. Its always been interesting to see how the rest of the World rank the Brits pretty far down the skiing ratings and since we aren’t an alpine nation its not surprising. Without a heritage of producing big mountain skiers it means that opportunities for funding ski trips are few and far between in comparison say with alpine climbing. Hopefully that will change with time and I live to see some Brits skiing AK in TGR or MSP films. To emphasise that point, I write as I find myself without a clothing sponsor for the first time in five years!

A big thanks goes to my current sponsors for helping me realise many of my dreams and going out their way to help and support me; Black Crows Skis, Scarpa, PLUM fixation, Julbo Eyewear, Birdwhere, Lyon Equipment, Petzl, Lenz Products, Exped, Hydrapak and Davide at Concept Pro Shop Chamonix. Another big thanks goes to Berghaus, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, Arctic Club and Craig Stenhouse who helped fund the trips.

After so much time feeding the rat its now time for a change in emphasis as I continue with the guides training with a view to being able to share some of these fantastic experiences in the future with clients.

So here is a collection of photographs which reflect the incredible days shared with friends that have a particularly special place in my heart.

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Jim Lee slaying Grand Envers in a metre of fresh. Aiguille du Midi

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Adam Fabrikant a few turns in to the sunny east face of Mt Darwin, New Zealand. Tom Grant and myself hooked up the amiable Americans Noah Howell, Beau Fredlund Adam Fabrikant and Billy Whass to share a few turns and a lot of laughs while down under.

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Michelle Blaydon under biblical skies in Lofoten

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Polar Star Couloir looking majestic on the Beluga Spire, right after we skied it. Dubbed ‘The Best Couloir in the World’ by McLean and Barlage, its certainly and icon of lust

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Don’t be fooled by the warm evening light, brass monkeys at camped on the sea ice under Beluga Spire. With Michelle Blaydon and Marcus Waring

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Morgan Salen skiing to Minna Rihiimaki on the shoulder of Aiguille du Tacul. The snow was so good we skinned up the 45 degree approach couloir.

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Bird speed flying over the Frendo serac the same day we skied it

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The incredible 1500 m high north facing wall of the 70 km long Gibbs Fiord in Baffin

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Marcus Waring with a 1000 m to go, Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

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Oli Willet, Tournier Spur entry to Col du Plan

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Mika Merikanto, Ross Hewitt and Stephane Dan, Mallory, North Face Aiguille du Midi

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Michelle Blaydon in a very deep Bonatti Couloir

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Powder Panda getting over caffeinated for Palud lowers

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Roger Knox, Arete Plate, Aiguille Rouge

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Minna Rihiimaki, in the starting gate, Aiguille du Midi. It has been know for her to pose naked here!

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All time conditions on the Para Face. I miss those days.

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A first descent on the complex South Face of Mt Darwin, NZ. We took the steep headwall to the spur with a jump through the rocks near the bottom. As usual Tom got over excited and nearly skied off the bottom cliff. Photo credit: Ryan Taylor

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Just landed at Tasman hut and we sneaked a quick afternoon shot down the diagonal in the background. A nice wee leg loosener.

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Oo-La-La, Bird out of his cage and mind. Frendo Spur, Chamonix.

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Tom and myself started the day at Tasman hut about 20 km up glacier beyond the white ice in the background. This gruelling 9 hour torture session is not recommended except for the masochists out there. We didnt have a satphone to call a chopper to the hut and ended up doing this walk twice, being pretty dumb and not learning the mistake first time round.

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Argh. Hours in the pain locker. Tasman morraines

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Beau Fredlund harvesting perfect corn on Mt Hamilton, New Zealand

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After skiing a first descent on Elie de Beaumont, we got stranded in the fog trying to get from a glacier bench to the Tasman. Finally a window appeared and we took this ‘Brenva’ Spur type feature home

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Skiing a first descent on Elie de Beaumont’s West Face as cloud threatens from the West. We kept getting bumped off choppers so it was after noon when we got to Tasman hut forcing us to haul ass up Elie for 3 pm corn time. Tom Grant skiing on 45 degree slopes

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Mount Cook’s stunning east face illuminated under full moon. This will be one of the modern ski classics of New Zealand

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Dawn hits as we start the climb up the east face of Mt Cook

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On the East Face of Cook with uniform compact powder. A modern classic in the making

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Vivid, rugged and very beautiful – myself taking in the landscape above Mueller and Pukaki

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For once the wind wasn’t howling and we were able to enjoy a morning coffee without everything blowing away. Tom and myself at Wyn Irwin Hut

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Michelle Blaydon and Marcus Waring at base camp in Gibbs Fiord. This first trip to Baffin was rock n roll style as we travelled fast over hundreds on kilometers using kites, armed with rifles and pump action shot guns for bear protection,  and skiing every line that took our fancy

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Sheltering from a biting wind a cooking up some hot soup under the magical Great Sail Peak in Stewart Valley of Baffin Island. L-R Michelle Blaydon, Ross Hewitt and Marcus Waring

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The hard part of Arctic travel – sled hauling. Luckily good tunes and magnificent scenery provide suitable mind distractions to the 120 kg load

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North West Passage, a 1200 m. McLean – Barlage classic. Had to be done

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After a massive 10 hour walk out down the Tasman moraines we woke up feeling it and went for extra everything on our cooked breakfasts, washed down by a litre of cappuccino

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Michelle Blaydon smiling at the relative warm evening light on the plateau of Scott Island, Baffin. Descending into the fiords is like going into a chest freezer as the temp drops about 30 degrees

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We were skiing some sketchy icy section on Tournier Spur when a wooshing noise spooked us. A moment later that speed flyer went through the middle of our group. Scary

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Return to base camp after a day new routing on Scott Island. It always amazed me that the tent disappeared from view on flat sea ice once you were over a kilometer away

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Exit couloir on the Mallory, Aiguille du Midi. All the stress has gone by this point and all that remains is an easy 50 degree shot to the bar

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Marcus Waring in the 1100 m Polar Star Couloir, Baffin Island

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The late, great Liz Daley on one of those relaxed Palud days where we gourged on coffee and powder in equal amounts. Always missed, never forgotten

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Andy Houseman and Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet Glacier

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Myself on another massive Baffin line. This one came in at a hefty 1450 m vertical, 5000 ft

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May and a predawn start for the Diable Couloir with Tom Grant. We climbed the icefall, bailed due to the heat and then put plan B into action – skin to the top of Tacul and drop into the Grand Gerva – that saved the day

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Tom and Marcus with the 1500 m East Face of Walker Citadel where Superunknown is situated. We were on our way back from Mugs Stump Spire and just chilling in the sun before hauling through the night to Ford Wall

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Sunshine and shade as Minna makes those special turns on the North Face of Aiguille di Midi

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A first descent on Mugs Stump Spire. We also skied the background left hand line which was 1500 m to the top of Walker Citadel

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Cedric Bernardini, Bird, Brett Lotz and myself as the Foehn threatens on Eugster. Cedric’s eyes give away the seriousness of the situation while the visiting Brett is oblivious to the shit storm thats about to happen

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Caught in a Foehn storm on Eugster, Aiguilled du Midi. Bernardini and Lotz on the wrong side of the slough trains. One of those days you hopefully regroup at the bar

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Polar travelling for free (low calorie expenditure) using kites in Baffin

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After a 2 am start from a low camp, Im getting ready for my first turn down the East Face of the Matterhorn at 7 am

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Fresh water ice on the isolated Stewart Lake, Stewart Valley, Baffin

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Me on good corn on the East Face of the Matterhorn and carrying my SLR camera

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Me traversing the Aiguille Verte. We climbed Couturier and descended Whymper. What you cant see is the strong gusty wind that was trying to pluck us off the ridge. At the col we met Nate Wallace and Seth Morrison who had come up Whymper in downhill kit. With the snow staying frozen all they had to say was ‘you are going to struggle in touring kit’

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After a month on the ice we arrive cold and damp at Ellington Fiord hut after 10 hours on a komatik sled with 3 hours to go to get back to Clyde River. 2 of our friends are stuck in the fiords after 1 skidoo broke down and the responsibility for their safety as expedition leader weighs heavily on my mind. I’m completed beat after pushing my physical limits beyond the max trying to ski everything and mentally wanting to unwind. Deep in the Arctic rescue options are limited to skidoos

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Skiing in grand locations

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Ski kiting to the lines was run and saved loads of precious calories. The ramp next to the wing was my favourite line we skied. Big wide open exposed slopes led into a twisting couloir exit

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Showing Chipie how to load our 1942 303 enfield in case we get attacked by a bear. A nice light reliable weapon, perfect for skiing

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Enrico Mossetti with the slabs of the Droites in the background

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After a couple days waiting on weather we get dropped at the Tasman hut for our final hit of the trip, aiming to ski a first descent on the South Face of Mount Darwin. Tom trying to pull me down to his level!

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Another monster line in Gibbs Fiord on Baffin. in 2016 we were blessed with regular snow falls providing primo ski conditions. Wading up the lines was hard work!

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Playing mini golf above Plateau hut in NZ

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Approach to the East Ridge of Cook with her East Face and Tasman’s Syme Ridge behind

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Gazing up the Hooker Valley with my ‘rig’. Adventure skiing in NZ is not a light affair once bivi kit and stoves are added to the pack

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Late afternoon golden rays on the Mothership in my backyard

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The beautiful fan at the start of the Gervasutti. Tom Grant negotiating the cornice

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October, preparing for NZ

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A late night session to savour the evening light in Crosshairs Couloir in Steward Valley. We had spent the day triple carrying across faceted moraine and finally decided it was time to go skiing to boost moral

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The East Face of the Matterhorn after we skied it

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Stormy weather in Couloir de la Dent Jaune, Dents du Midi, Switzerland

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Michelle Blaydon at the cute Dents du Midi refuge

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Nate Wallace in the steep entry to the Grand Gervasutti

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Tof Henry in the Col du Plan exit couloir, North Face of Aiguille du Midi

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Enrico Mosetti making steep turns on Col de la Verte with the North Face of Les Droites behind

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Extreme coffee drinking while sheltering out the wind at the extrance to the 1200 m Mel Gibbs couloir, Gibbs Fiord, Baffin Island

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Steep and techy as Enrico Mossetti negotiates the lower ramp off Col de la Verte

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Michelle in the approach couloir to Aiguille du Tacul

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1100 m of May spring snow in Gibbs Fiord, Baffin. Another first descent.

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Summit of Mont Blanc on a frigid day late May as we head off down the Bosses Ridge and prepare to make the big turn left down the 2000 m West Face. Exciting times.

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The West Face of Mont Blanc

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Tom Grant dropping into the Mont Mallet Diagonal

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Happy days. This was my final day in Cham in 2016 before I headed to Baffin Island and I wanted a big day on the Midi but things hung in the balance as the opening time continually got pushed back as they dealt with the overnight snow. When it finally opened mid morning we managed to ski Col du Plan, West Couloir and Salopar.

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My team mate and good buddy Enrico Mosetti on the lower ramp of Col de la Verte

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Me skiing into the top of Breche Tacul with the North Face of Grandes Jorasses providing the backdrop

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Col du Plan in all time conditions

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Enrico Mosetti in the Brenva cirque with Col Moore behind while Italy sleeps under a blanket on cloud

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The Plan de l’Aiguille at its best. Michelle Blaydon in perfect pow

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Skiing on the Saudan route on the West Face of Mont Blanc. The seracs threaten the routes to the right and also the exit of our route focusing the mind on putting some distance between you and the face.

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Good snow on the Mallory as Tom drops into the steep couloir off the tower

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Stunning days on Lofoten as I get a look down into the line we want to ski

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I did a traverse of Les Courtes solo on day from the NE into the South Face. The ridge along the top of the North Face was slabby on one side and corniced on the other so slow going. Plus it was -30C but the skiing was good!

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Minna and Bird in the wee Gerva of Tour Ronde on the way to ski the North Face top down

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My turns on the Cordier Gabarrou of Les Courtes

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Playtime off Plan de l’Aiguille back in the days when it snowed

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Johnny Collinson spine riding in Gressoney

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Happy days. Mikko Heimonen on the walk out from Mont Blanc’s west face late May

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De Masi spine riding Palud lowers

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Oli Willet exiting Col du Plan. The shrund was like a catchers mitt

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Palud. Deep. Jeremy Bogen

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Bird. Midi North Face

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Me contemplating the steep rocky, icy section from Tournier Spur into Col du Plan and working out the acceleration on 50 plus degrees before committing to straighlining through the gap

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Flat light storm days in Lofoten confined us to couloirs  but I wasn’t complaining

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On the Mallory with Tom below

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Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet glacier

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Maybe a thing of the past. Deep days on the Plan with no one

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Late at night. Michelle Blaydon in Crosshairs Couloir, Stewart Valley, Baffin

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Michelle taking it all in, Lofoten

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Minna Riihimaki checking out conditions before we commit to skiing the North Face

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Michelle on the volcano  Llaima

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Dave Searle learning the steep game and making tentative turns on Col des Courtes in his first skimo season back in 2011

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Bird slaying it on the North Face of the Midi

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Me high on the West Face of Mont Blanc

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The Frey Hut and its superb backyard, Bariloche, Argentina

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Sunset from the Cosmiques hut as we prepare to go to the Brenva Spur

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Minna, Michelle and Cedric in Lofoten

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The road to Lanin, Argentina

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More than a lifetime of exploration back there in New Zealand

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Me amongst the granite spires of the Frey area, Bariloche

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Final rays at sundown on the Midi

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Searching out the entrance of Couloir de la Perche with the Griaz Glacier behind

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Tomasso Cardelli in the Vallencent

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Si Christy chest deep in what was dubbed Clit Route due to the topography. Photo Chipie Windross. Probably the shot of the trip for me

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On the easy ground of the Miage after crossing the chaotic glacier behind on our way down from skiing Mont Blanc’s West Face

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On stove duty at 5 am in Gibbs Fiord. I needed an early start to catch the sun on the 1300 m Canton Couloir before it refroze.

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The perfect backdrop as Searle drops in off Tour Ronde

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On the Brenva Spur with a snow lynx track on the crest. I hope it enjoyed it as much as us

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Perfect snow in this Baffin masterpiece allowing me to ski in front of the slough

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Bouldering at Castle Hill after 3 weeks in the Cook Range skiing

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Griffin Post riding pillows in Gressoney

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Going for a flyby of the Caroline Face to check conditions

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Gotta have a Midi North Face bin shot somewhere in your collection. Bird waiting for his hangover to clear.

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Summit of Lanin with Michelle in volcano country of South America

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Seth Morrison opening Col d’Entreves

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Tom Grant in the Fransson line, Footstool. We used this to stretch our legs after several days travelling and get a feel for the snowpack. What you cant see is the severe gale force winds that are a big feature of NZ skiing.

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Michelle Blaydon lining up to pass through the choke on this first descent in Lofoten

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Dawn on the Midi

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On a fly past the South Face of Darwin. This was the closest look we got of it before deciding it was a goer.

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A cheaky ice bulge guarded the entrance to this 500 m virgin couloir in Lofoten. Well worth taking a second tool for making it all to easy.

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Aperol spritzers at one of my favourite bars in the world, Riva del Garda, Lake Garda Italy.

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Sylvain Renaud in Couloir Cache leading into the Brenva Cirque

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Luca Pandolfi, Col d’Entreves

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Me on the aesthetic Tacul shoulder

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Si Christy heading off on a 1200m shot to the fiord in Baffin

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Michelle Blaydon en route to Marbree one blustery day

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De Masi looking for something to make the Toula more interesting

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A psyched team of Evan Cameron, Chipie Windross and Si Christy doing a final repack of food into week bags before heading into the Baffin Fiords. Somehow Evan persuaded Chipie to swap out the normal sausage for ‘damn hot’ sausages which our guts weren’t that enamoured with and often had us sprinting across the fiord to drop our trousers

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Me enjoying perfect conditions on the Tacul shoulder

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Sunshine powder days on the Toula with Davide de Masi

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My best buddy from school days, Paul van Lamsveerde, on a late afternoon down Cosmiques and spooky avi conditions on the Para face.  Paul passed away in a crevasse fall on Grands Montets in 2013

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Geitgalien, Lofoten

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Full moon silhouette of the Chamonix Aiguilles

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The Merlet trail with its stunning backdrop

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The Brits getting stuck into Digital Crack

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When Brevent is good, its simply the best. Michelle Blaydon about to drop

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Camp 2 in Gibbs Fiord. The couloir centre picture ran 1000 m to a col behind the tower

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The rock spires and couloirs of Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

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The Frendo Spur right after we skied it by the Hausseman Boulevard variation

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A very happy team of Pandolfi, Briggs, Rihiimaki, Bird, Hewitt after skiing the Frendo in AK snow conditions

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Skiing miles of white ice on the Tasman to avoid carrying any more weight on my back

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Sundown behind the prelimary points on the Dent de Requin after a dawn to dusk day

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Jim Lee, Roger Knox and Yann Rousset wading to Grands Envers on a rare day the Kuros found deep

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Jackpot. 1200 m of boot deep powder on day 1 in Baffin. Si Christy skiing with Chipie above

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Emerald waters in the Arctic waters of Lofoten

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Deep. Jim Lee with overhead blower skiing towards Roger Knox on Grands Envers.

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We got lucky with clear skies on several nights to watch the Lofoten light show

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Another one from Mont Mallet

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Norway and the beautiful bay that surrounds the Lofoten Ski Lodge

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A tired and happy crew after a 15 hour day skiing the West Face of Mont Blanc. L-R Ross Hewitt, Mikko Heimonen and Jesper Petersson

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A rare opportunity to sit outside Wyn Irwin hut on windless morning. Sefton and Footstool behind.

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Big Country under the Dent de Geant seracs after skiing Mallet diagonal

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Sunrise hits Aiguille du Midi while we climb Mont Blanc for the West Face

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Tom Grant harvesting corn on the Brenva Spur lowers with Col Moore behind.

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5 am start in Gibbs Fiord to go corn skiing in a sunny line

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Our camper van in NZ packed to the brim with those amazing green Navis skis under the bed. Luckily Tom is pocket sized which left plenty of space for me to stretch out.

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Enrico Mosetti above the arete on the Brenva Spur

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Dolomite days with Minna Riihimaki and Christian Dallapozza  on the Cristallo as we decided to head to the Vallencent Couloir

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Dawn catches us on Col de la Fourche en route to ski the Brenva Spur

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Quite possibly my all time favourite run as a ski mountaineer on the West Face of Mont Blanc

Baffin Preparations

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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.

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Looking up towards Pointe Baretti from the Miage Glacier

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

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

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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!

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

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The North Face of the Droites

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The North Wall of the Argentiere Basin

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Skiing on the Aiguille du Chardonnet

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The North Face of the Argentiere stripped back to glacial ice

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

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

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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.

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My niece Tash and her friend Toby

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Wingsuiter just jumped

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Brevent telepherique and the Midi

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Parapente

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Wingsuiter

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hard snow made it easier to bootpack

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A short bootpack connects the two snowfields

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On the traverse to the Griaz – best with ski crampons

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Descending the ridge to the Perche

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Searler scoping out the steps in the ridge

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Searler  following down the moderate ridge

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Some steep downclimbing, looked worse than it was

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Nice red rock

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Slightly exposed and loose here!

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

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Good snow on the line

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Another little choke

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Uninterrupted skiing to the valley floor 6000 ft below

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Surprisingly good snow considering all the wind and temperature spikes

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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!

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

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

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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.

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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?

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.

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. 

Rock Climbing in the Chamonix Aiguilles

Summer weather has returned to the Alps which enabled Dave Searle and myself to go to Envers des Aiguilles for a couple of days. The approach has got a bit longer over the years with the level of the Mer de Glace constantly dropping and added ladders to descend and climb again on the glacial slabs. Its been a long time since I had been here in summer and I have to say that the Mer de Glace looks a bit sad all covered in rubble and disappearing fast through climate change. About 5 years ago I did some ice training on the fins of ice over on the Charpoura side and you can see in the photo below that all there is over there is piles of rubble. For the city dwellers out there its quite difficult to grasp the concept that the world is a warmer place since there isn’t any visual evidence. Here is the Alps the level and volume of ice is a direct indicator of the average annual temperature and its and every day reminder that things are changing. They are not only changing but it appears that the change is accelerating. Maybe its already too late for us, but why not ride a bike or walk to work just in case you can make a difference. The death of the glaciers fills me with a sense of loss and I feel sad that the future generations won’t be able to experience the mountains as we knew them.

On the approach to the Envers hut we slowly started to melt as the temperatures soared and quickly decided to go for a couple of the shorter routes rather than something like the 850 m ‘Soleil Rendevous Avec le Lune.’ After a quick look at my guide we set of up the classic 12 pitch ‘Bienvenue.’  A couple of pitches in and things were feel very familar but then they share the same start with Les Fleurs du Mal that I had climbed before. A few more pitches in and it dawned on me that I had climbed this route a decade ago but somehow not ticked it off in my guide book. It was unfamiliar enough though and the climbing good to still be as much fun second time round.

Dave had talked me into staying in the refuge because it was pretty cheap with an alpine club card and as it started to rain in the evening it seemed like a good idea. I normally don’t like huts and haven’t stayed in a European hut for years. They are cold, noisy and on several occasions I have had someone mistake my kit for theirs and disappear of into the mountains with it. And so it was with no surprise that when I got up my mountain boots had gone. Someone had mistaken my faded old size 44 Trangos for their relatively new size 45 Trangos. I can only imagine this person still lives with their mother who dresses them every morning. The sun was rising and with the peaks glowing I decided to go take some photos to let my frustration vent but my camera wasn’t cooperating and gave up the ghost. All that was left to do was make the 5 minute approach to Pyramid and get on it. The rock in this sector is much more sustained and the climbing just brilliant. I found it pretty hard too, but then granite crack climbing is always a fight.

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