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.

598a1734-version-2

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

dsc00825-2

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.

dsc05743

Michelle Blaydon under biblical skies in Lofoten

untitled-64-2

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

untitled-608-2

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

dsc04544

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.

untitled-683

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

untitled-388

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

untitled-424

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

untitled-4

Oli Willet, Tournier Spur entry to Col du Plan

untitled-3

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

untitled-94

Michelle Blaydon in a very deep Bonatti Couloir

untitled-3-2

Powder Panda getting over caffeinated for Palud lowers

untitled-1

Roger Knox, Arete Plate, Aiguille Rouge

untitled-1-3

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

untitled-1-2

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

s-face-darwin

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

p1060195

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

untitled-361

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

dsc01060-2

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.

dsc01055-2

Argh. Hours in the pain locker. Tasman morraines

dsc00833-2

Beau Fredlund harvesting perfect corn on Mt Hamilton, New Zealand

dsc00758-2

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

dsc00722-2

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

dsc00535-2

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

dsc00430-2

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

dsc00432-2

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

dsc00258-2

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

598a1237

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

untitled-529

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

untitled-558

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

untitled-593

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

untitled-364-2

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

dsc01062-2

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

untitled-233

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

untitled-127

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

untitled-125

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

untitled-124

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

untitled-116-2

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

untitled-102

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

598a9729

Andy Houseman and Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet Glacier

untitled-6-2-2

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

598a0065

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

untitled-100-3

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

untitled-88

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

untitled-85-3

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

untitled-82

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

untitled-100

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

untitled-82-5

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

sam_0682

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

untitled-569

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

sam_0693

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

ross-hewitt-verte-couturier-whymper-4

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’

p1070039-2

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

598a9829

Skiing in grand locations

p1060751-2

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

p1060372-2

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

dsc06381

Enrico Mossetti with the slabs of the Droites in the background

p1060063

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!

p1060458-2

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!

p1050971

Playing mini golf above Plateau hut in NZ

p1050947

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

p1050726

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

img_1698

Late afternoon golden rays on the Mothership in my backyard

gervasutti-23-2

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

598a1192

October, preparing for NZ

untitled-247-3

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

598a1152

The East Face of the Matterhorn after we skied it

598a0917

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

598a0708_2

Michelle Blaydon at the cute Dents du Midi refuge

gervasutti-15

Nate Wallace in the steep entry to the Grand Gervasutti

dsc06625

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

dsc06372

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

p1060986-2

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

dsc06356

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

dsc06061

Michelle in the approach couloir to Aiguille du Tacul

p1060900-2

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

dsc05466-2

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.

mont-blanc-west-face-ross-hewitt-topo

The West Face of Mont Blanc

598a9782

Tom Grant dropping into the Mont Mallet Diagonal

dsc05017

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.

dsc06346

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

dsc04924

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

dsc04918

Col du Plan in all time conditions

598a0299

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

untitled-48

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

dsc05561-2

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.

untitled-45

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

dsc00226

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

untitled-42

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!

untitled-41

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

untitled-40

My turns on the Cordier Gabarrou of Les Courtes

untitled-36

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

dsc09126

Johnny Collinson spine riding in Gressoney

dsc05608-2

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

untitled-36-2

De Masi spine riding Palud lowers

untitled-32

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

untitled-28

Palud. Deep. Jeremy Bogen

untitled-19

Bird. Midi North Face

untitled-6

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

dsc00100

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

untitled-7

On the Mallory with Tom below

598a9723

Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet glacier

untitled-15

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

untitled-259-4

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

Lofoten 1

Michelle taking it all in, Lofoten

untitled-15-2

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

ski-south-america-12

Michelle on the volcano  Llaima

untitled-16

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

untitled-18

Bird slaying it on the North Face of the Midi

dsc05528-2

Me high on the West Face of Mont Blanc

ross-hewitt-michelle-blaydon-patagonia-135

The Frey Hut and its superb backyard, Bariloche, Argentina

598a0516

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

untitled6

Minna, Michelle and Cedric in Lofoten

ross-hewitt-michelle-blaydon-patagonia-25

The road to Lanin, Argentina

dsc00888-2

More than a lifetime of exploration back there in New Zealand

SAMSUNG CSC

Me amongst the granite spires of the Frey area, Bariloche

598a9991Andy Houseman on the Mallet Diagonal

598a0522

Final rays at sundown on the Midi

dsc04226

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

598a0512

Tomasso Cardelli in the Vallencent

dsc03167

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

dsc05606-2

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

dsc03103

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.

dsc02772

The perfect backdrop as Searle drops in off Tour Ronde

598a0353

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

dsc02752

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

dsc02597

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

dsc09153

Griffin Post riding pillows in Gressoney

dsc00848-2

Going for a flyby of the Caroline Face to check conditions

untitled-8

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

ross-hewitt-michelle-blaydon-patagonia-89

Summit of Lanin with Michelle in volcano country of South America

untitled-31

Seth Morrison opening Col d’Entreves

dsc00271-2

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.

dsc00158

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

598a0529

Dawn on the Midi

dsc00681-2

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

dsc00121

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.

20150930_181502

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

598a3431

Sylvain Renaud in Couloir Cache leading into the Brenva Cirque

598a3386

Luca Pandolfi, Col d’Entreves

dsc00586

Me on the aesthetic Tacul shoulder

598a1565

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

598a3255

Michelle Blaydon en route to Marbree one blustery day

598a2755

De Masi looking for something to make the Toula more interesting

598a1498

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

dsc00617

Me enjoying perfect conditions on the Tacul shoulder

598a2688

Sunshine powder days on the Toula with Davide de Masi

598a2619

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

Lofoten 3 Geitgalien by Ross Hewitt

Geitgalien, Lofoten

598a2260

Full moon silhouette of the Chamonix Aiguilles

598a2220

The Merlet trail with its stunning backdrop

598a2107

The Brits getting stuck into Digital Crack

598a2084

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

598a1968

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

598a1901

The rock spires and couloirs of Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

untitled-652

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

untitled-658

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

dsc01051-2

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

598a1862

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

598a1718

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

598a1562

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

598a1443

Emerald waters in the Arctic waters of Lofoten

598a1750-version-2

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

598a1348

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

598a9978

Another one from Mont Mallet

598a1285

Norway and the beautiful bay that surrounds the Lofoten Ski Lodge

dsc05615-2

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

598a1237

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

598a0026

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

598a0545

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

598a0485

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

598a1966

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

598a1243

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.

598a0461

Enrico Mosetti above the arete on the Brenva Spur

598a0349

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

598a0265

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

dsc05539-2

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

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.

Preseason Powder Hunting

With the first snowfall of the season kicking things off in mid November its been a crazy busy period searching for powder stashes. The stable snow conditions have allowed me to go and explore some new areas and revisit some that were long forgotten years ago. The biggest challenge has been finding motivated partners and I’ve already racked up 50K vertical touring metres this autumn and 162 ski days for the year. Luckily I have a few trusted partners available on different days so I’m not always on my own. The highlight was finding 3 couloirs that don’t feature in any of my guidebooks which were filled with primo pow. I’ve also spotted a couple of cool lines which should be good to go once we get some more snow.
DSC01095 DSC01097 DSC01100 DSC01103 DSC01106 DSC01110 DSC01112 DSC01119 DSC01122 DSC01123 DSC01131 DSC01159 DSC01165 DSC01172 DSC01177 DSC01184 DSC01198 DSC01214 DSC01218 DSC01239 DSC01240 DSC01251DSC01755
DSC01254 DSC01256DSC01769-2DSC01775-2DSC01789-2 DSC01261 DSC01267 DSC01272 DSC01275DSC01803-2DSC01822-2DSC01841-2DSC01858-2DSC01878-2DSC01913-2DSC01916-2DSC01920-2DSC01922-2DSC01941-2 DSC01279 DSC01299 DSC01310 DSC01319 DSC01321 DSC01325 DSC01337 DSC01348 DSC01377 DSC01382 DSC01385 DSC01397 DSC01404 DSC01407 DSC01419 DSC01423 DSC01426 DSC01430 DSC01437 DSC01438 DSC01451 DSC01454 DSC01477 DSC01481 DSC01483 DSC01487 DSC01492 DSC01494 DSC01499 DSC01505 DSC01519 DSC01545 DSC01550 DSC01553 DSC01557 DSC01586 DSC01589 DSC01602 DSC01820










Tour of Mont Blanc by Road Bike 330 km, 8000 m Vertical, Single Push

tour of mont blanc 20150819_174128

Last week I rode the Tour of Mont Blanc on the road, in a single push. Being late August the days are getting short fast requiring a 4 am departure that meant 2 hours of riding by headtorch to start the day. During those 2 hours I would pass over 2 cols and in the 4 degree C predawn temps I would be chilled to the bone. It was the first time I had ridden a road bike on alpine cols in the dark and despite taking the head torch I regularly ski with I found those descents fairly nerve racking; are those wet patches on the road or ice?  I was praying that all those eyes that flashed in the undergrowth just stayed put and didn’t run into the torch light.

20150820_060213

Once in Martigny at 6 am my legs were wooden with the cold afterr the descent from the Forclaz and I rode for the next couple of hours with my Berghaus race smock on to generate some heat. I kept looking right and seeing the line of sun creeping down the hillside, estimating the sun would hit the road at 9 am but by then I had entered the endless avalanche tunnels. My left foot was really cold and hurting me but worse was the pain in my pelvis from changing my saddle. My previous saddle had collapsed on my last ride so I replaced it with the same model. It seemed fine when I tested it, being weary of any changes to the bike that would haunt me on an 18 hour ride. Now I just couldn’t get comfortable with nerve pain and numbness, having to change the motion of my pedal stroke on my right leg to compensate and get out of the saddle every minute. As I rode on I was thinking I could use this as a recce since I had not done the Grand aint Benhard before. From the col it would be and easy roll down the 30 or so kms back to Martigny and the train home. Finally I got clear of the avalanche tunnels, the road kicked up, the sun came out and the scenery got interesting. What a contract to the psych and monotony of the graded main road. I enjoyed those last few kms to the col where I stopped to massage some blood back into my feet and eat a block of cheese. The long descent would give it time to settle in my stomach and I would need those fatty calories. There I made a snap decision to get on with it based on not ever wanting to do the long boring climb up to Grand Saint Bernhard again!

Dropping into Italy it was pretty windy and again the descent was cold and spent dodging the fluffy lupin pollen seeds. Swallowing those make you gag like a cat with a furball. In Aosta I stripped off my smock, long sleeved top, arm and leg warmers and my shoes. Planting me feet on the warm tarmac allowed them to absorb some of the stored energy from the sun and defrost. The next stage is pretty flat and I was worried about potential headwinds but it was fairly benign and I arrived at Pre Saint Didier to fill my bottles with cool water from the village fountain.

20150812_075031

Now I rejoined the route I rode the week before with a tired body the day after a hard rock climb. That was part of the strategy and even after 8-9 hours riding I still felt better on the climb to the Petit Saint Bernhard that I had the previous week. On the ride up a Swiss guy who I met on the GSB caught me up and told me about his nice restaurant meal in Aosta while I was churning along at 120 bpm. We talked for a bit before he shot off to get a coffee in La Thuile were, upon seeing me riding by, ran out of the café and started shouting allez!

At the top of the PSB I stopped for a good Italian coffee before entering back into France which just isn’t the same. I now was pretty sure I would be ok. I had 2 worries, firstly the week before I got nuked in the 35C heat on the 900 m climb to Col de Saises and secondly, I wasn’t looking forward to riding in the dark at the end. This time I would start up the Col de Saises at 6 pm so the shadows would be growing on the road and the temperature much more amenable. As for the dark, I reckoned I had 1 hour on autopilot on local roads from Fayet to make Chamonix for 10 pm. On the plus side my saddle was now broken in and fitting my bum so finally I was comfortable and able to resume my natural pedal stroke. This had a massive lift effect on my psych and I was enjoying being on the bike once more.

The descent to Bourg St Maurice is long and graded so I just coasted down at 40 mph sitting upright and saving my neck from unnecessary tension. Arriving at Bourg at 3 pm I felt it was time for some proper food and I spotted a drive by MacDonalds on the road. Not exactly proper food but its easy to get down your neck and digest. 2 double cheeseburgers and a coke had me ready for the grind up the Cormet de Roseland. This is a 2 stage climb with a flatter section in the middle. Once gain it was hot in the lower gorge and I could see my heart rate creep up in the 130s and 140s coping with the additional stress. Once out onto the high pastures there was a strong wind coming down from col as usual, and the storm clouds were gathering. At the col I was rushing to get all my clothes on and get down to Beaufort before the storm broke, the weather was better to the West and in the end I avoided getting a drenching.

20150812_114915

I started up the 15 km climb to Col de Saises at 6 pm, exactly 14 hours in. The temperature was a perfect 20C by now and I was climbing nearly twice as quickly as the week before. The last couple of kilometres of this climb are a bit of a grind a go on forever after you see the resort as the col is right at the far end of the village. From here I knew it was easy going to Le Fayet with only 400 m of climbing left up to Servoz and then the Vaudagne. Twilight had me stopping at Saint Gervais to put my headtorch back on as the descent there is in thick forest. I felt really happy to be climbing well up to Servoz. After 5 hors cat climbs the short sharp Vaudagne was not a mental worry but a final chance to feel some burn. I’m remember my heart rate was sitting at 130 here even though I was working hard – I had taken on a lot of fluid on the easy ride down from Saises so probably had more blood volume and the 15C temps were ideal for a Scotsman but it was probably also a sign of being tired. As I crested the Vaudagne I flashed a couple of doggers cars in the woods with my headtorch before shooting down the descent and into Les Houches. A few km on the flat and I was home and ready for a good shower and a quick meal before sleep!

I was super happy to get this ride down which had been talked about with various people for about ten years. Injury, work, etc all getting in the way before. This year I had a high end of season fitness from skiing stuff like the Matterhorn and I’d also ridden my mountain bike a lot. My road biking had been limited to about 10 rides, half of which were in February so my leg power was shocking even though my endurance was high.

I’d never ridden that far on a road bike and a 60 mile ride aged 11 stood as my limit for years. While I was working in Aberdeen in 2013 I did the Tour of the Cairngorms and the Tour of the Snow Roads which were  166 miles and 200 miles respectively. The road bike really is a great way to cover a lot of distance and take in the scenery. Read about them in the links below.

Tour of the cairngorm mountains

Tour of the snow roads 305-km 5000m vertical

Skiing The Matterhorn

THE MATTERHORN EAST FACE (OSTWAND)

598A1152Matterhorn East FaceMatterhorn East Face

598A0822               By early June, most of the skiers have swapped to mountain biking or climbing. Mikko is still psyched and we headed in to ski the Matterhorn the hard way. Because the refuge was closed due to renovations, we were carrying a tent, sleeping bag, stove, and a gallon of water each on top of the usual stuff. It was difficult to known what to expect on the face, as so few people had actually skied it. A local guide had told us it wasn’t very steep but looking straight at the face from our campsite a few hundred metres away still made the nerves jingle.

598A0882SAM_0676            I went to bed early setting the alarm for 2am. Sleeping intermittently I kept thinking that streetlamp was really bright. When I finally poked my head out the tent, there was the Matterhorn, lit up like a stadium under the full moon. Inspired, the whole day was filled with sights of amazing natural beauty.598A0889

Mikko’s headtorch as he sets off to the stunning Matterhorn floodlight by a full moon.598A0914            The tip of the Matterhorn was the first thing to be hit by the rising sun and it resembled a blade with blood red streaks on it. This brief morning Alpenglow was soon replaced by a golden light.

598A0920

We continued climbing up the face using ice axes and crampons in a slow methodical rhythm aiming for the central couloir that ended at the rocky headwall. I was conscious that the temperature was rising fast which would eventually make the face an unsafe place, speed would be our friend.

598A0947 598A0958 598A0987 598A0989            From the top of the skiable terrain the first turn would be on sustained, unforgiving 55º spring snow. Simply standing stationary and holding and edge had every fibre in the body working overtime. I was still clipped to my ice axe for added security while I adjusted my camera settings. Mikko left the sanctuary of his ledge and with axe and pole in one hand committed without hesitation into a series of beautifully-linked chop turns that you’d have been proud of on a lift accessed Midi North Face run with fresh legs.

598A1002598A1005598A1010            My turn. I was excited but nervous. The face was really exposed looking down uniform rock slab covered in some snow for 1000m. I had been focused on locking my body into a stable platform to shoot from and now I needed to loosen my muscles and refocus on skiing. I was also turning to my weaker side. Skiing second, I had to avoid where Mikko had skimmed the softening snow and find my own edgable spots.

SAM_0683 SAM_0684            After side slipping a few metres to get the feel of my skis underfoot and edge grip I felt ready for that all-important first turn. Time to commit… no problem, this is going to be fine. As we dropped height and the angle eased to the 50º range the snow softened further and the turns became softer and more rounded. Once we entered the central snowfield the angle was around 45º and we had a lot of fun skiing fluidly and playing with the sluff down to the lower rocks.

SAM_0687 SAM_0691 SAM_0693598A1050

The angle increased here once again and it took some time to find our bootpack to lead us through the lower slabs.SAM_0699

Below the lower crux traverse led through a peppered icy zone to take us to the shrund. All too soon it was over and all that remained was to get well clear of the face which would soon starting shedding thousands of tonnes of snow in the summer heat. We made one short rappel through the lower rock band and then skied back to our camp that we had left 10 hours before.

598A1138

Somehow we had pulled of the Alpine Trilogy Project in just 10 days, skiing the Triple Crown of alpine steep skiing routes without a heli or external assistance. It hadn’t really sunk in yet, but I had an enormous sense of satisfaction and happiness from the skiing, the wild situations and the performance we had put in. As we packed up our tent, the searing summer temps started to strip the rock slabs of their snow and I knew they would be my last turns of the season and some of the best of my life.598A1146

598A1146-2

The Alpine Trilogy Project – Skiing’s Triple Crown

Its been a busy few weeks here which kicked off after a heavy dump of snow plastered all the faces.  A project had been forming in my mind over the last year which involved skiing and shooting 3 of the biggest, baddest and hardest lines in the Alps. The Matterhorn is perhaps the most well known and iconic mountain in the World. Any time you ask a child to sketch a mountain they draw you the outline of the Matterhorn.  Its East Face is an incredible slab of rock, steep enough to defy logic that snow will stick, and its rarely in condition. The West Face of Mont Blanc was a must, Himalayan in scale, the upper pitch alone is 1200 m of 50º starting at 4810 m, combined with another 1000 m of 45º couloir skiing below. This one had been alluding me since 2009 and in years when you have already been skiing for 7 or 8 months, its tough to hold out through June for it. The obvious choice for final route would have been the Eiger West Face but I’d already done it in 2011 and my interest lies in exploring new places. Having not skied in the Brenva Cirque, the Brenva Spur was the obvious choice. A route steeped in history and coveted by Alpinists in a remote and wild setting. After a mild season with low valley snowfall levels, we would be entering and leaving the Brenva by Col de la Fourche and the Aiguille du Midi rather than being able to ski out to the Mont Blanc Tunnel.

All that remained was getting the right partners with the head, experience, strength and fitness to take on these big days. When we embarked on the project I guessed there was 50% chance of completing it in 5 years. The Brenva fell to us first in a 12 hour day and a few days after we nailed the West Face in a 14 hour day – the last 3 hours without water. Reassessing our chances I now put them at 60% chance of completing the project this season but the long term forecast was showing that temperatures would rocket.  A couple of days later we were off to Zermatt for what would be our only shot at it. And we did it!

Skiing the Trilogy or Triple Crown in a period of ten days days was a full on experience, mentally and physically. The shortest day was the last one at 10 hours, all 3 days were at 4000 m or more, and all were a race against the clock before conditions became dangerous in the heat of the day. A bit like doing 3 iron man races in 10 days? Maybe, but who cares, this was a personal quest to ski and shoot in wild places with my friends.

Finding skiers who have enough energy left for some big pushes at this time of the year can be tough but a big thanks to the ever psyched and super strong guys who joined me at various stages along the way to make this project a massive success: Mikko Heimonen, Jesper Petterson, Tom Grant, Enrico Kareletto Mosetti, Guilhem Martin Saint Leon.Below are a few shots from the trips with the good stuff and full blog post still to come.

Sunset Midi Chamonix Cosmiques Ross Hewitt-1

Sundown from the  Cosmiques Refuge, en route to the West Face with lots of trail breaking to do over Tacul and Maudit.Matterhorn Moon Light Ross Hewitt-1

The Matterhorn East Face under full moon as Mikko Heimonen sets off from camp.Matterhorn Cervin East Face Ski Topo Routes Ross Hewitt-1

The East Face plastered the day we skied it.Mont Blanc West Face Ross Hewitt topo

The West Face of Mont Blanc with our lineBrenva Spur Topo Ross Hewitt-1

The Brenva SpurMatterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-1Heading in the Matterhorn, with low cloud we couldn’t see the line in the upper couloirsSunrise Aiguille du Midi Chamonix France Ross Hewitt-1

The Midi or Mothership at Dawn, the best ski lift in the WorldScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.21.54

POV Shot from the Brenva Spur, Italy under a sea of cloudsMatterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-1-2

55º uppers on the Matterhorn above and below

 

Matterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-2

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 16.48.00Some POV on the Matterhorn in a steep section looking towards Zermatt.Matterhorn Cervin East Face Ski  Ross Hewitt-1-3 In the upper central couloir of the Matterhorn
DSC05539

Me on the Saudan’s West Face line – photo Guilhem Martin Saint Leonbrenva

 

Enrico Karletto Mosetti and Tom Grant on a lush morning on the Brenva Spur

Charlet – Gallet Traverse of Mont Dolent

When my friend Andy Nelson sent me a message to say he was free mid-week and wanted to do something, I knew the exact thing that he would love as a climber and skier. Although we had both started the guide scheme at the same time, Andy and myself had never had the chance to spend any time in the mountains together and I was psyched to get he chance to do an Alpine route with Andy. Andy at http://www.infinitymountainguides.co.uk is one one the most professional , well trained and talented guys I know, in both climbing and skiing disciplines. Along with Andy Townsend and Paul Chidlow they put us to shame during our guides training! Neither of us had climbed for months so something fun rather than technically challenging was the order of the day.  In fact the Charlet-Gallet traverse of Mt Dolent had been on the list for some time and as an intensive period of spring skiing was coming to an end, my friend Emily Roo had jogged my memory at the perfect time. Neither of us had been on the mountain before or had read anything about it so it would be a little adventure.

The route should have been straightforward but after about 200 m we were both weighing up the decision to continue or rappel off. Under a bombardment of rockfall I had seconded up to Andy with my head down below my skis to collect the gear while he looked down wincing as football sized boulders narrowly missed decapitating me. As I reached Andy he dropped the gear down the rope and I climbed as fast as I could and kept going until we broke out left onto the ramp. Now clear of the rockfall we were able to relax a bit and it was Andy’s turn to wade up steep faceted mank to the headwall. Much to my horror he took a belay there and it was my turn to experience some deep facets over rock while looking desperately for a rock anchor amongst the shattered weetabix. I was pretty relieved to reach the col and some sound spikes where I chilled out and took in the view down the Argentiere basin.

A quick traverse to the rimaye under the North Face and we were able to put our skis on and descend the exposed Gallet ridge. Just before flipping the ridge we had to change to crampons for a 10 m section of ice on the traverse but we were back on skis on the crest of the ridge with the pub beckoning. All that separated us from the pub at La Foully was a 1500 m 10 minute meadow skip down the glacier right? Wrong, its pretty complicated crevasse territory and difficult to read onsight. And did I mentioned the 2 inch crust? Holy Jesus it just about ripped my face off when it caught me unawares, once minute supporting you, the next trying to eat you.

Anyways we made it to the bar. 1.5 hours later. The bar maid started to treat me like a local as I had been skiing so many routes to there and soon had 2 pints of ‘red’ on the table for each of us. ‘Service’ as they say in Switzerland.

Ross Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-1The shrund went easily after resculpting it to be ski friendly20150415_122235 20150415_122649

When the first incoming rock exploded on that rib on the left I nearly shat myselfRoss Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-2Climbing fast while salvoes of rock zinged pastRoss Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-3

This is John McCune’s Poopy Pants traverse – see his topo below. He was soloing over sugar coated slabs and I was under fire from rock fall so have no recollection of it as I was maxed out trying to go as fast as possible. poop pants20150415_141918 Andy and all the classic ski lines of the Argentiere basin in behind20150415_141921 Taking a breather now we are out of the rock fall zone. Pierre Tardivel skied to this spot in his ski descent in the late 90s.20150415_145610 Ross Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-4Ross Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-5Faceted death mank, my favourite especially combined with the weetabix rock. I guess some Alpine rock experience in New Zealand didn’t go to waste.Ross Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-420150415_160851Andy nearly as excited as me to get off the 60 degree sugar coated rock.

20150415_161239 20150415_162013

The final ridgeRoss Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-6 Under the summit shrund about to skiRoss Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-7 Ross Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-8 On the Galley above and about to put skis on below after traversing onto the ridge crestRoss Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-9 Ross Hewitt Mont Dolent Traverse-10

Beer time. Last look at that weird rock formation above La Foully