Monday, 27 May 2013

Grand St Bernard & Pointe de L'Ifala

Yet another couple of non-glaciated touring days in the final week of May!

With only a couple of good days forecast I wanted to make the most them, so yesterday Sharon and I went through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy, bound for the Petit St Bernard Col.We were surprised that the internet said it was open, but figured that they must have cleared it despite the reports of masses of snow.   Well, either the internet site was wrong or they'd closed it overnight, because the barriers were down when we got there, and so we decided to go and explore the Italian side of the Grand St Bernard Col. We knew it was closed but we wanted to just drive up and see if we could find somewhere to ski.

Luckily for us we found some random back roads which took us to the snow line from and there we toured up in a freezing cold wind for about 500 vertical metres before skiing back down. I've absolutely no idea where we were, but it was great to be out, and even better for the fact that we didn't see another person all day.

Heading up, the peaks of Gran Paradiso behind.

Me on the ridge of Godknowswhat Peak, above Godknowswhat ski area.

Today (Monday) was due to be a beautiful day, but after a few really cold days of touring, I was determined to be properly equipped today and so took a flask and some mittens. Ironically enough it was one of the hottest touring days I've ever had, and the biggest worry was heat exhaustion!

The chosen objective was the N couloir of the Pointe de L'Ifala (a summit which I climbed last autumn), above the Emosson Dam. Matt was keen, and so was Mooresy, despite having driven overnight from Wimbledon! True dedication.

The skin up was frankly horrific, with the searing heat sapping every bit of energy. Despite the relatively small height gain, I was as buggered as I've felt for years on the way up. Eventually there was nothing for it but to shed some layers...

Matt and Tom with some (artificially?) large packages

We eventually finished skinning, and did the final 100m to the top of the couloir on foot. 

This is how I looked for about 3 hours today. Me at the top.

The views were absolutely stunning from the top, and from there we had a superb ski down. Unfortunately everyone who had skied the couloir before had side slipped and left a huge trench, which meant that turning was impossible and so we had to side slip too, but after that it was great skiing all the way. We picked a pretty interesting way down and though the snow was slightly soggy, it was really fun, rip-able stuff.

Chamonix Valley, 27th May. Looks like March!

Matt leaving the trench in the Couloir.

Onto the first good section of skiing.

It might not be glaciated, but it's big country above the Emosson Dam.

Matt lower down

We took the line on the left, and our tracks are just about visible if you click on the photo. 

Never has a Coke tasted so good. 

There is still an incredible amount of snow above the Dam, and touring looks possible virtually everywhere above 2000m. The weather looks poor for next week, but there should definitely be some options if we do get some sun.

For the first time this year I saw some British climbers in town today, and I can't help thinking that they'll be disappointed this week - winter still reigns here for now. Sorry, climbers! I'll keep updating the blog as things progress but if you are coming out this week, bring your skis. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Queyras Ski Touring

Yes, you did read that post title correctly - non glaciated ski touring, below 3000m, in the final week of May. I know that summer will come eventually, but winter really is putting up a hell of a fight this year!

The weather in Cham over the past few days has been pretty desperate, and with me having sat in front of a computer for 3 days, and Matt having spent a week on an oil rig, cabin fever had well and truly kicked in and we spent Wednesday evening studying forecasts around Europe in search of some sun. The best bet looked like the south of France, and we set off with kit for just about every mountain activity, but with plans to ski if possible.

Morale received a big boost when we emerged from the Mont Blanc tunnel into perfect blue sky, and despite wondering briefly  if we should just go touring in the Gran Paradiso, we stuck to the plan and headed for Briancon. From there we followed pretty rough roads to the tiny settlement of Les Fonts, from where we had 2 excellent days touring (separated, inevtiably, by a couple of pints in the big smoke of Briancon).

SKIING!!! We only had to walk for about 10 minutes before we could skin.

The Sommet du Grand Vallon. We climbed this peak on our second day, and had planned to ski the N couloir (the obvious line directly off the summit), but the cold tempeartures and icy snow eventually sent us down the nice, mellow slopes on the right.

Matt arriving on top of Pic Lombard on our first day

Alpine Clownery

Summit panorama. I made Matt face the camera - his nose took up most of the shot the first time I tried it.

Planning further missions

Me in the spring snow. Photo Matt Livingstone

It's mighty quiet in Les Fonts! The van looking lonely in the vastness of the Ecrins.


Briancon - possibly not the best venue for a stag do, but a lovely place all the same.

Skinning up in freezing temperatures on our second day

Shredding it!

Me enjoying summer!!! Photo Matt Livingstone.

Matt with the Sommet du Grand Vallon behind.

I'm now back in Cham and the weather remains pretty awful. It apparently snowed up in Le Tour today, and has tried to down here in Les Houches, so the Midi will be great if we just get some visibility. 

Just to finish with some outrageous boasting, I worked out that my first day of touring this winter was on the 21st November 2012 (report here), so I have now been ski touring for 6 months and 3 days so far this winter! Given that the 4000ers of Switzerland are often really good throughout June, I reckon I can easily manage a 7 month ski season. That's still about 5 months too short for my liking, but not bad :)

Monday, 20 May 2013

20th of May Powder

Straight off the lift! As ever, Compagnie du Mont Blanc didn't manage to get the Midi open on time, but by the time we did finally get up to the top, there was still a huge amount of fresh snow, and Sharon, Ian, Joe and I skied deep, cold powder on 20th May. Result! 

I think the photos say it all. Thanks Joe Juvet for the ones he contributed. 

As is to be expected in late May, the air temperature meant that the powder didn't last long, but there is still an incredible amount of snow above 2000m, so the touring season is far from over. Needless to say, I've got plenty of projects...

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Final Video Blog of the Season, and failure at the Midi

As ever this season in Cham, we've got some grey sky outside, and no idea what is coming over the next few days. However, I made it up the Midi today and there is a LOT of snow, so if we get some sunshine (possibly some on the way Monday and Tuesday) then we could be in for some good skiing. 

Unfortunately today the perfect blue sky of the morning was soon replaced by clouds and incredibly strong winds, and having made it to the top of the Midi we ended up riding the lift back down. This is now the second time in a row this has happened to me so I'm hoping to actually get something done next time I go up there...

Everyone in the Boscoe/Wray household was pleased to see some sun at last

The Dream...

The Reality

On a more positive note, here is an awesome video from Toby and Rachel at Seven Twenty Productions to round off the winter video blogs. Thanks to them and to everyone who has appeared/held the camera, it's been an amazing season.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Summer cometh...nearly

The last few days here in Cham have been pretty frustrating, with the weather forecast being wrong yesterday (80% sunshine...?) and the Compagnie du Mont Blanc managing to break the Aiguille du Midi today, meaning that I wasn't able to get a final Vallee Blanche in for the year. All is not lost though as there is still good cover up high, and I reckon that between the Cosmiques and Ronde on the Midi and a planned ski touring trip to ski some 4000ers soon, I should get a few more days skiing in.

I've already had a good start to the rock climbing season (report here) so all is well, but for now I'm in the Valley and getting jobs done until the weather picks up. To maintain the psyche I thought I'd share this awesome video. I think just about everyone has seen it already, but after Will's death it seems even more appropriate.

Hopefully I'll be able to report back soon on some epic days out once the lift company and the weather men get themselves sorted!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Will Eaton, 1974 - 2013

Some people are so passionate about what they do, so in love with their chosen way of life that it seems impossible not to follow them. Will Eaton was one of those people. I was always amazed that Will could have come across anyone in life and not convinced them to go skiing, such was his enthusiasm. It didn't matter how you felt, whether you were hungover or how tired you were - Will wanted to ski and you were going with him. When you did get out he was encouraging, fun, and he made it so obvious that he was enjoying himself and really happy just to be with you.

It never ceased to amaze me that after years and years of ski touring he still refused to buy a lift pass, prefering always the satisfaction of earning his turns to the ease of a chairlift. He loved Chamonix but his heart was in the Vanoise (his "backyard" as he referred to it) and his knowledge of the area, and his love for it, was the stuff of legend. I could kick myself that I only went over there twice - Will was forever telling me in hushed tones of some amazing line that he had scoped out, and it makes me so sad to think about all the adventures that we'll never have.

Will, meanwhile, had plenty of adventures over there, some of which he told me about and others that were just mentionned off hand; unfinished stories. I suspect that the tales I knew of - exploratory tree skiing armed with a rope, being rescued twice in a week, epic late night walks after navigation difficulties, were the tip of the iceberg, but that was the nature of Will. What he really sought was adventure and he'd never grumble when he found it, no matter how tough things got. He was incredibly competent in the mountains, and never seemed to run out of enthusiasm, regardless of the situation. In a World of glossy guidebooks and GPS, Will shamed me with his desire for a purer, more genuine experience. It would be great to go and ski one of his "projects" but it wouldn't seem right. Will found those lines by going out and looking for them - the search was always half the fun for him - and I hope someone with his spirit ends up finding them and getting the experience and the excitement that he craved.

Will and I often discussed our mutual lack of religious faith, so painful as it is I have to accept that he isn't looking down, and that all those future adventures will never be shared with him. I do think, however, that when I do go to all those places, and stand on all those summits, he'll be there.

I'll never see him again, but when someone dies I always think that they live on with the people they leave behind, and I know that the next time I'm half way down some terrible tight trees in awful snow I'll think of what Will would do. Everybody knows the answer of course - he'd grin, claim it wasn't actually too bad, ski it effortlessly and get up the next day and do it all over again. Inspiring, encouraging and fun, just like when he was here.

Bootpacking on the way to the Trappier Couloir, with the Chamonix Valley behind.

About to drop in to the SW face of the Aiguille Pourrie

And again, a second time.

This was possibly the best single powder run of 2012 - quite an accolade given the winter we had.

Heading home

Skiing down to Le Tour after the classic "3 Cols" tour. We'd been hoping to do the Y couloir on the Aiguille d'Argentiere but high temperatures put us off. The descent to Le Tour was one of the best of the season, which was a good consolation.

Heading for the Col du Passon

Breaking trail towards the Breche Porteta

Deep in it on the other side of the Breche. I'd had 45 minutes sleep the night before this day so Will kindly restricted the uphill to 1500m....

BBQ in St Bon

On the Aiguille de la Vanoise, scoping out lines for the coming winter

At the Col Superieure du Tour Noir, about to descend into La Fouly.

"We still believe in all the things that we stood by before,
And after everything we've seen here maybe even more".

Will died in an avalanche on the Grande Casse on May 2nd 2013. I miss him.