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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Speed rider

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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

 

 

Lofoten

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The magical mystical Lofoten Isles in the Norwegian Arctic. Broody dark peaks in the swirling mists, ever changing light creating dramatic vistas, laser beams from the sun turing the fiords to gold. Here we rediscovered the natural rhythm of life at Lofoten Ski Lodge under the fantastic hospitality of Seth, his wife Maren and team of guides and chefs.  We watched the sun rise over the Norwegian Sea, ate big breakfasts at a relaxed pace while choosing our dream adventure, skied from summit to sea, returned to the lodge for afternoon tea and waffles, shared the stoke with all the other excited skiers, took saunas and jumped into the sea, drank as much beer as we could afford, ate catch of the day at dinner, spent the evening talking in front of the fire, marvelled at the aurora borealis, fell asleep, woke up and did it all again.

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Morning glory from the lodge

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The aurora borealis

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Michelle skiing the classic south couloir of Geitgallien down to the teepee in the lush afternoon light

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The girls excited about the sun coming out

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Cedric booting up Geitgallien

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Minna and Michelle

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Michelle on Geitgallien

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Looking into Tollfjordvanet

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Panorama from Hivgratinden – Geitgallien col

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Minna, Michelle and Cedric

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Michelle

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Michelle and Minna heading into Juviktinden

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Our high point on Juviktinden due to poorly bonded snow

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The light show above the lodge

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From Juviktinden I spied this zone 2 valleys deeper so after borrowing some tech tools from Northern Guides Guido Sami Modenius we went to check out these 3 500 m lines which were probably unskied. They dropped a further 150 m below the photo on the fan to the lake.

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Climbing up to the ice step in the right hand line

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Michelle arriving over the steep ice step

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Boot packing the steep lower section of the couloir

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On the boot pack in deep pow

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Skiing after the upper narrows was perfect snow with the couloir providing visibility on this storm day

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Deep powder but no where to hide from the slough

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Faster skiing in the mid section where the left bank provided a safe zone from the slough

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Last turns approaching the ice steps

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I equalised a icy thread and a no.4 nut to abseil over the ice. With a little more snow it might be possible to hop onto the spine skiers left.

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Michelle on the abseil.

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Michelle bootpacking up to the next line

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Climbing into the central line.

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Michelle arriving over the small ice step

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Deteriorating weather and light as we wallow up deep pow

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At the col, the visibility was terrible and I was pleased to actually find the col

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After popping out of the cloud the visibility for skiing became good

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In the upper couloir

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On the dividing spur sheltering from Michelle’s slough

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Entering the lower couloir

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Michelle threading her way through the choke into the lower line

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Great skiing in the lower line

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Deep pow in the lower line. I put in an a abolokov to abseil the lower ice step but it would be an easy jump in good visibility

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On the abseil

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Sunshine on the beach

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Leaving the car to head into Breitinden / Stauren group

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The approach has us skinning across fields, marsh, lakes, streams and boulder fields

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Our line on Breitinden

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Not so steep allowing us to skin but atmospheric

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A little exposed here above the dividing spine, time to bootpack

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Michelle and the view to the north

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Topping out after cimbing a litle steep turf on the wind scoured col into the sun

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Soaking up the rays after days of storm

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Taking in the views – a perfect lunch spot

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Panorama from Breitinden

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Very narrow for 10 m

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Wider here

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No argument about the snow

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Michelle in the upper and lower couloirs

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Me in the lower line

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Michelle in the lower line. The wall above would be beautiful to climb on

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Exiting the couloir

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Our line on Breitinden is the lower col just riht of centre photo

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Owl strike!

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Funky clouds as the sun goes down on the Straumnes peninsula

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Someone arranged for the evening entertainment watching the light show

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Our cabin by the sea

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The beautiful bay at Kalle where the lodge is situated is surrounded by these lush peaks

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Seth Hobby runs Norther Guides specialising in Lofoten, Greenland, Svalbarg

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The view southwest across to the mountains on the mainland

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Lofoten Ski Lodge

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Michelle has a soft spot for white fluffy things and Seth’s dog was spoilt all week

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Morning coffee at the lodge

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Sunrise near Svolvaer

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Looking south from Laupstad

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The beaches at Morfjorden

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Morning light on the mountains near Svolvaer

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Looking over toward Litlmolla

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The next day the weather was poor so we went to the 900 m SW couloir of Geitgallien

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Nearing the top

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No more snow as I reach a little col on the ridge, 900 m of couloir below

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The cloud lifted and we were treated with creamy pow to the ocean

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Me skiing

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Our friendly Black Crows bar part time tender come guido – Mark

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Fish are the staple diet and nothing is wasted – even the lamps are made from Cod (fish)

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Cod heads drying on racks – they will be turned into stock cubes

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A dark wild day at the beach with freezing rain, we almost died of hyperthermia walking 50 m from the car

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Surfers getting swept on the rocks. Seeing this persuaded me these weren’t the right conditions for a novice like myself

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Head leant forward and braced against the wind, the surfers strive to get back to their vans

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Under attack

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The sandy beaches way out west are beautiful

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Michelle enjoying the sightseeing

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Colourful village of Utakliev situated under the classic mountain Himmeltinden

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The beach at Haukland

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Sea urchins for sale

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Sailing off on a fishing trip

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Volkl Explosives – one of the good early wide skis

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The picturesque village of Henningsvaer is worth a visit with the nearby Preston couloir

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Cod racks in Henningsvaer

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Typical wooden houses in Henningsvaer

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Michelle and the everchanging afternoon light on Geitgallien South Couloir

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No Siesta

The week started with a full throttle powder day with Mikko, Jesper and Nikolina at Pavillion. After 8 laps there we moved across the road to Val Veni and did a few laps of the cable face. It was riding pretty sweet and I was psyched to get to ride this face again this season. For once the Scandos wanted to stop before it got dark and go eat pizza which was good too. From the comfort of my sofa that night with throbbing legs I felt pretty sorry for Nikolina who was working until 2 am!

The next day was sunny and a chance to get high. I hit Helbronner with Mikko and Jesper and we found the most amazing stable powder on the mountain. By lunch we had skied the classic cables line, Tassoti, straight line 3 times and Chesso twice, in total 7 x 1000m laps. Although it was still cool we decided to go back to darker Cham side and have a run on the Rond but once we got through the tunnel the light was flat and we called it at that not wanting to spoil what had been the best cables day for me for a few years.  These days were fast, furious, and focused on skiing so no photos! The only downside was hitting a rock at full speed on the Toula glacier that had me tomahawking to a standstill. It felt like my knee would explode as the tail bit on each rotation but I luckily got away with only strained medial ligament. I did exactly the same thing before going to Baffin so knew I could manage it.

After resting my knee all the next morning I got the code red from De Masi that it was apocalyptic in Italy. We arrived over there to find it snowing at 20 cm an hour with 50 cm of fresh on the ground. With 115 underfoot it was still chest deep. There was a ridiculous amount of snow coming out of the sky and continuous face shots of cold champagne powder. Well, we skied until the liftie asked if we had homes to go to! I haven’t seen it snow that intensity since ’99 when we got a few metres in 3 days and the avalanches were blasting through the towns in the Alps, something no one wants to see a repeat of. Only a half day but 5 laps in the bag.

Pavillion freeride was the order of the day for Saturday and Michelle met up with her friend Ian from UEFA who was psyched for sport with the Cham lifts shut with the Foehn storm. During the morning it continued to snow and cover the tracks then the sun made an appearance giving us the visibility to jump on the spines and have a laugh. The main problem was avoiding white rooming yourself while launching over the pillows and fish mouths on the aprons. It was supposed to be an active rest day but in the end 7 laps dont really qualify as active rest! By now the Border control cops at the Mont Blanc tunnel were only stopping the car to ask where the good skiing was.

Eat, sleep, repeat. Too good to stop. U guessed it we were at Pavillion on Sunday, joined by Black Crows team mate Minna. We had fun there there until the sun came out at which point we decided to put some distance between ourselves and those big faces above  that were loaded with powder after days of storm. Switching to Val Veni, the trees were still providing awesome skiing, so much so that we had to have one last run and went to the Church spine face. The approach through the trees was incredible with 3 deep foot sluff runnels between the spines in the steep terrain of the forest – WTF? Then we popped out on the spine face and wait a minute, whats this heavy wet mank? Not cool. I’m guessing there was enough reflected infra red radiation off the Helbronner side onto our north facing slope to warm the snow. Time to go home. 6 laps.

Monday dawned fine. Can’t stop, won’t stop. Oli Herren said ‘yeah skiing, its a lifelong addiction.’ I wanted more, and the more I got, the more I wanted. Helbronner uppers. Michelle, Minna and myself ride the bin with Capozzi, Rolli, Civra Dano,Wallace, Hachemi, Husted. The cable face looked loaded and wind effected so we started the day on the more sheltered lines. The lower approaches into Pavillion were skiing amazingly but my legs were  tired. 4 laps and coffee. 40 laps over 6 days.

The weather for Tuesday was perfect…time to go touring use different leg muscles!

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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.

Ross

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

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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?

Y Couloir

The traverse of the Aiguille d’Argentiere is one of my favourite trips. Its a big mountain with lots of different lines to ski so there is always a plan B,C and D and when the track is in on the Milieu its pretty quick to get to on skins with a shortish bootpack up the headwall. The summit offers a commanding position with the north wall of the Argentiere basin lined up in front of you and unparalleled views of the Chardonnet south face and into Switzerland across the Trient plateau. Its no wonder Emile Allais was attracted to ski the Milieu in the 1940s.

Tom and myself originally wanted to ski the south west face of the Droites but unseasonally high temperatures kept us off the big steep faces and we decided to go to Y couloir. After having a look at the north face and Barbey (both look terrible) we tagged the summit at noon after climbing a short exposed steep wall of hard ice and wandered over to the top of Y couloir. We found the couloir well filled in for this time of year and conditions were just on the warm side of perfect with not a breath of wind allowing us to ski really quickly and get down out of the heat. Once again the summer heat wave has caused the glacier to drop and 45 m ropes are optimal for the skiers right abseil.

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Couvercle

An early season trip to the gorgeous old Couvercle Refuge coinciding with the full moon and my birthday – as if you need an excuse to go there!

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Cosmiques Arete

A perfect cloudless winter day for Michelle to practice her mountaineering skills and for me to practice some short roping on her! No matter how many times you do this route its still loads of fun in a beautiful setting. Thanks Michelle!

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