The Brenva Spur

Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti

The Brenva Spur

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

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

Brenva Spur Tom Grant Ross Hewitt

Brenva Spur Tom Grant Ross Hewitt

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

Brenva Spur Ross Hewitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenva Spur Enrico Karletto Mosetti Ross Hewitt Tom Grant 2

 

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

The Grand Gervasutti Couloir

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!

Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-2Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-3Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-4 Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-7Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-6Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-8Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-9The Grand Gervasutti is the 800 m line centre right.Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-10Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-11Gervasutti Diable Hewitt Grant-12

Mont Mallet – West Face

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! Mont Mallet West Face Topo-1Mt Mallet West FaceAndy Houseman climbing to Breche Puiseux above. Myself and Tom pulling the ropes after the Breche below.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-1-2Mt Mallet GalcierTom having a ‘mmmh, yeeaahh, sick’ moment to himself above. Andy and Tom breaking trail with the Jorasses and CalotteThe CalotteMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-4Tom and Andy on the Mont Mallet Glacier above and trying to find a climbable line up the face on the right below.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-5Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-6-2Myself and Tom 50 m above the rimaye and me traversing the 50/55 degree face after threading some rocks. Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-10-2Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-6The final slopes to the top above and arriving on the shoulder below just in time as the sun came on.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-8Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-9Prefect flat cold snow above and first turn below. Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-10Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-11Above, Andy getting started as Tom surveys the line. Below Tom slashing out some turns.Mt Mallet West FaceMt Mallet West FaceAndy skiing above and myself skiing with the SLR on my hip below. Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-21-2Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-16The 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. Mt Mallet West FaceMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-19Mt Mallet West FaceMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-21The central pan de rideau was sent in 5 turns. Mt Mallet West FaceMont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-24

The line from below, the central section went in about 5 turns.Mont Mallet West Face Hewitt Grant Houseman-27Myself 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.