Tom Grant and myself had a look at the Diable Couloir this morning on the East Face of Tacul. It wasn’t happening so we skinned back up Mont Blanc du Tacul and skied the Grand Gervasutti – its an awesome plan B to have and we are lucky in Chamonix. I got a bit of a shock when I dropped in – there were some people climbing it about 700 m below, fortunately they were out of our sluff line – I’ve not heard of people doing that for 20 years!
The West Face of Mont Mallet is a line that stares you right in the face as you exit the tunnel from the Mothership and its been teasing me for years. In the old days it used to be a large curtain of snow draped down the mountain (pan de rideau) but climate change has thinned it out to couloir in the upper half. In all my time in Chamonix I’ve only heard of a few descents, Andreas, Francois-Regis, T-crew, Minogue…some approaching by the Rochefort Arete and some by the Breche Puiseux – either way being reasonable long, like 2 normal ski tours put together combined with lots of doubts about the condition of the snow, crevasses, rimayes encountered along the way.
I needed someone fit to go and when I asked Tom Grant if he was up for an adventure over there his usual psyche shone through with a ‘mmmh, yeeeaaahhh, sick!’ On our first attempt it had snowed 15 cm the afternoon before and as we ran down the Midi arete we were surprised when instead of sticky steep skiing snow, cold wind affected snow cracked and ran off the old layer. That day plan B came into play and we went to the sunny east facing Breche Tacul.
Second time out I knew the snow was prefect after skiing the Rond in a few big turns the day before and we were joined by Andy Houseman who was training for his expedition with Jon Griffiths to Link Sar in Pakistan this summer. I have not shot that much this winter but with conditions looking perfect I took my SLR.
After going over the Puiseux we were all feeling the altitude breaking trail in sticky pow up the Mont Mallet Glacier as the sun bore down and got reflected at us from all angles in the crucible. Getting on the ridge looked improbable with a 60 degree ice face with large rimayes and in the end we got lucky found a line snaking through mixed ground. We all had doubts right up until the last moment when we arrived on the shoulder and looked down to find the curtain of pow was draped down our slope. Rock n roll! Andy Houseman climbing to Breche Puiseux above. Myself and Tom pulling the ropes after the Breche below.Tom having a ‘mmmh, yeeaahh, sick’ moment to himself above. Andy and Tom breaking trail with the Jorasses and CalotteTom and Andy on the Mont Mallet Glacier above and trying to find a climbable line up the face on the right below.Myself and Tom 50 m above the rimaye and me traversing the 50/55 degree face after threading some rocks. The final slopes to the top above and arriving on the shoulder below just in time as the sun came on.Prefect flat cold snow above and first turn below. Above, Andy getting started as Tom surveys the line. Below Tom slashing out some turns.Andy skiing above and myself skiing with the SLR on my hip below. The couloir is quite long and the snow still great at mid height. We had the excitement of riding on a big face with sluff running hard and building into a major avalanche below. The central pan de rideau was sent in 5 turns.
The line from below, the central section went in about 5 turns.Myself having a quick look over the shoulder at the face with the protection of a mega crevasse. The quality of snow was definitely up there in my top 10 and comparable to when we rode the Frendo in 2013.
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! Heading to the Col CapucinOne rap in, Michelle skiing Me trying to avoid getting sluffed with the sluff train down over the shrundEnrico charging Michelle enjoying the powder under the Capucin The reward for the best pow run of the season Enrico and Myself of Col Tour Noir Superior Enrico blasting down the East Couloir Michelle skiing Me getting my shot in Enrico big mountain wave riding Michelle Enrico about half way downMichelle exiting the couloir 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?Final treadmill session was eased by the milky late afternoon light and cooler temperatures. The final wee bootback on Col du Chardonnet, fixed rope handrail Savouring the moment, nearly 8 pm. Ripper corn on the West facing slopes Passage d’Argentiere – Enrico blasting offFreeride down to the big cliff Enrico spitting blood after tomahawking in rotten slop and getting a ski tip in the mouth on flat glacier In the zone!Traverse 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. On the Ridge I had not been here since 1997 Enrico contemplating the traverse around the CroullanteOne 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 Excited about the perfect conditions on velvetEnrico on the 10 m rapTime to rip – 4 pm and Montenvers last gondola at 435 pm, about 6000 feet and 7 miles to cover.The couloir rode smooth and fast – 8 mins including camera stops! In Elevation by 5 with a hell of a thirst.Next! Sheltering out the wind and waiting for the snow to soften on the South Face of Dent de Geant 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. Me enjoying the creamy spring snow with Marbree behind.
When Minna first sent me a note asking if I wanted to deploy to the Dolomites for the weekend, I have to say I was less than enthusiastic. I’d just finished a heavy week training on skins, bikes and pushing weights, I had work to do and DIY to finish. The perpetual climate change hurricane was destroying the snow in Cham and I felt like I could use my time more efficiently at home than getting up at 4 am and driving half the way to Kalymnos and back in the hope of some snow. Its been a long time since we spent every winter weekend driving through the night chasing Scottish winter climbing conditions and I have to say I don’t miss the driving. Then she mentioned 80 cm. And no wind. Well maybe!
Arriving at Passo Rolle we set of for the Burreloni Couloir and at this point I found the plan was to climb the line rather than ski to the top. I’d left the spanking paddles at home and with so much snow about I didnt have much hope of success which was fine as my body was tired and sore and it was nice just to be in the sunshine discovering a new place. As we entered the cirque, the slide path of a Cat 5 avalanche triggered in the hot afternoon sun the day before confirmed how much snow was about. We skinned up towards the couloir and started the monumental task of swimming up the couloir.
The ski down held super sluffy powder on the left bank and it was a real pleasure skiing with the snow running all around – we havent had much of that this season. Those Dolomiti lines really are ancient hallways gouged through the big walls, very Baffinesk.
Next day Domolmiti Guides Tommasco Cardelli and Cristian Dallapozza joined us to ski on the Cristallo. Conditons were perfect with no wind so we decided to climb along the ridge and ski the Vallencant. I’ve been wanting to ski this one for about 20 years so it was great to finally go. After a firmer top section we hit the pow and the fun started. In the afternoon we skied the beautiful Bus Tofane under the big walls and finished the day with a well earned beer and Pizza.
Our last day out was on the Marmolada where we skied some complex line avoiding limestone slabs down the North West Face. It was a real Cairngorm howler of a day with low vis so I didnt bother taking a camera.
A big thanks to Minna for doing all the driving, to Tommi for letting me stay and to both Tommi and Cristian for showing us some great stuff.
A long walk in the dark with only a phone as a torch. We found some strange things. Before Tommi opened the door to freedom we were climbing this ladder in the pitch dark trying to hold our only source of light, a phone!
Its always a pleasure to travel under the North Wall of the Argentiere Glacier and study the big ski lines and dream about the few hours they might be in condition in April or May. We hoped to ski some of the mid altitude couloirs in the hope they were more sheltered from the wind but in the first I wasn’t able to ski cut the new snow – it would slide a couple of metres then stop, not exactly inspiring confidence. After hanging out at the col and enjoying the surroundings we opted for some meadow skipping back home.