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.
This week we Dave Searle and myself went back to the Miage Glacier under Mont Blanc’s Himalayan sized West Face with the idea to have a semi-rest day and camp on day 1 and then get and early start and ski a line mid-morning before it got too hot. I had some expedition kit to test out so this provided the perfect opportunity.
Chilling out in the evening.
Our line for the day on looker’s right
I headed into the neighbour’s back garden the other day with the usual suspects; Liz Daley (armed with her perma-stoke), Davide de Masi and Dave Searle. Our efforts were well rewarded and we found exceptional rip-able powder waiting for us in this long hallway. A fantastic day which was ended with a beer ontop of a mountain in the sun.
Dave Searle and myself have been wanting to do a traverse of the Verte for a couple of years now combining climbing Couturier and skiing Whymper onsight. After all the free-riding in January and February I was up for an alpine traverse trip like this which offers so much in the way of adventure, challenge, unknown, excitement and great training. The Aiguille Verte is an amazing mountain at 4122 m and all its routes are long and demanding. We were joined by Mikko Heimonen.
We threaded the seracs along a ramp in the sun above the rock.Mikko on the Verte for the first time.
Mont Blanc and the Chamonix AiguillesThe wind tugged at our skis along the exposed ridge.
This week I headed back to the Miage area to ski some more of those massive 1000 m couloir lines with Michelle Blaydon, Kirsti Lehtimaki and Mikko Heimonen who had just landed in Chamonix. The powder has all been blown away leaving hard edge-able wind buff which made the boot pack a joy. First up was the line lookers left of the Bonatti which is reminiscent of a Domilimiti line with huge walls souring high above our heads. This line is overlooked since it doesn’t top out on the ridge but with 850 m vertical of skiing I don’t care. Probably the best couloir I have skied in the Mont Blanc Massif with a few hundred metres of 50 degrees at the top and an exciting ramp above some mixed ground. Second up was the 1200 m Domenech Couloir on the Aiguille de l’Aigle which we onsighted from the top. We arrived back at Zerotta in the Courmayeur ski area early afternoon and enjoyed relaxing in the sun and eating pizza and having a beer!
Time to relax!
I had been wanting to ski the Macho Couloir off Col Diable for a while now but finding a partner who was free was proving challenging. My Black Crows team mate Tom Grant arrived back in Chamonix with his usual high level of psych and he was willing to go do whatever was good. It all looked set, the only minor setback was Tom being kicked out of the first cable car for missing a payment on his season ski pass. With that sorted he managed to jump the queue and caught me up as I ambled down the valley blanche scoping out conditions en route. Good job he did catch me up as it was super deep and we had to trench our way up sustained 50 degree slopes to the col, arriving there pretty tired mid afternoon after 5-6 hours of uphill. The ski down was exceptional with overhead blower and the 125 under foot Noctas eating it up, we just had to take care not to get sluffed off the face. Amazing conditions and just as well, this route is steep, exposed and technical. I loved it. High on the ridge amongst the spires staring down at the Grand and Petit Capucins hundreds of metres below. I bet it would feel really steep in spring snow.