Traversing the Peigne, Pelerins, Deux Angles, Plan, to the Midi

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This was a marvellous adventure we did earlier this summer in search of all forms of terrain from splitter cracks, jenga stacks to north face snow and ice as we prepared for our guides test. Akin to the traverse of the Aiguilles, it avoided the dangers of a dry Nantillions Glacier and a descent that would take its toll on our legs invoking a rest day. My partners in crime were fellow aspirant James Clapham and Chamonix regular Andrew Wexler who was over from Canada to work the summer season.

It rained through the night so we elected to take an early bin to give the Carmichael cracks time to dry, leaving Plan de l’Aiguille at 0720 and arrived at the Aiguille du Plan at 2000 hrs after doing the route in guide mode with short roping etc and carrying bivi kit.

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The route highlighted above.

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Carmichael Route on the Pelerins

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Wexler on the Carmichael

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Myself and James at the junction with the Gruter Ridge on the Pelerins

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James on the penultimate pitch of the Gruter Ridge

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Myself and James on the summit of the Pelerins

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Traversing to Col des Pelerins

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Looking back to the Pelerins

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Me climbing up good rock after Col des Pelerins

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Unstable choss in the amphitheatre

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Wexler

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Lush granite on the Deux Angles

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Wex on the 5C pitches up the Deux Angle SW Spur

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James and myself seconding on one rope

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Happy days, on the North Face of the Plan

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Wex and James on the North Face with the Deux Angle behind

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8 pm, time to bivi to avoid the puddles on Midi Plan

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Time to get up and sort our shit on in the morning

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Enjoying the sunrise

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Midi-Plan, Mont Blanc and its outliers

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Mini pano of Dent de Geant to Cham Valley

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Absorbing some warmth from the sun

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Another pano with Grand Jo

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James climbing up the rognan

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A pano but Wex move so ended up with a tiny body

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Whats left of Grand Envers top pitch

Home Sweet Home

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After nearly six months away from home this year its great to finally be home, wake up in the same bed, catch up with friends and enjoy the Fall in the Alps in the autumn. I love this time of year with the valley being quiet, temperatures better for riding, near perfect friction on the rock, early snows of the winter, first turns…the hardest thing can be deciding what to do! Its especially sweet that he hard work in Wales this summer paid off and past the British Mountains Guides’ summer rock test and will be going to Scotland for the winter test next. At the start of summer I had a bad bike crash when I dropped the front end off a jump a piled my neck into the ground.  There was a lot of heavy crunching in my back and while I spat out bits of broken teeth, my back muscles went into hard spasm stopping me from getting much air in my lungs. It was a pretty scary experience and with my back feeling weird I made a beeline for the emergency room. The doctor was pretty nonchalant about it, monitored my blood pressure for a few hours and released me armed with a paracetamol and the advice that I might be a little sore in the morning. Having played rugby and raced bike downhill for years I’m not unused to taking hard knocks but this was a new level.  A week of not being able to sleep and 3 weeks of complete inactivity had me thinking it was unlikely I’d get into shape for the guides exam. 3 months later and I was starting to move a bit better and not feel like I’d been hit in the back with a sledge hammer, but for a while there were some major doubts about getting over this injury in time! A big thanks goes to Martin Chester who spent a day giving me some great tips during my final preparation for the test. He’s a IFMGA mountain guide and a fantastic performance coach and all round nice guy so check him out at: martinchester.co.uk  Also a big thanks to John Whittaker for being the perfect mock client – hope to see you for some Scottish Winter action!

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Coaching how to fist jam. Photo Martin Chester

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Me leading Shadow Wall. Photo Martin Chester

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John Whittaker seconding. Photo Martin Chester

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Me on Western Rib, Dinas Mot. Photo Martin Chester

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Placing gear on The Chain, a quality crack pitch, Dinas Mot. Photo Martin Chester

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On The Chain. Photo Martin Chester

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John Whittaker belaying me on The Chain. Photo Martin Chester

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John getting the finger locks on The Chain. Photo Martin Chester

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John on the jugs. Photo Martin Chester

 

The following biking photos are from Merlet, my home run.

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And Gietroz with Enrico Mosetti and Beatrice Michelotti (photo credits)

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Then to the Gabarrou route on the triangle with Phil Brugger who is over from Innsbruck to train in the high mountain. Its ultra dry and the crux would be way easier in rock shoes but feels like M6+ right now. Short and sharp.

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And skiing on the normal route of Mont Blanc du Tacul.

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Finally a couple of scenic shots and Michelle at Elevation!

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Col de la Verte

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This was an attempt early April…possible a weak one at that, my head was full of Baffin preps and Lambert had just fallen 600 m down this slope a few days before and was lucky to live. He is still in hospital months later. I hope he makes as good as recovery as is possible.  I went  thinking it would be good skiing but the wind blew away our dreams of powder.  At mid height we encounter sections of neve which doesn’t really rank as fun skiing in my opinion, risking it all when the margin is that slight is something I will leave for the lemmings.

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Enrico at the turn around point, patches of neve glistening amongst the snow.

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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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