Monday, 31 March 2014

Pointe d'Orny NE Couloir

Towards the end of last week it seemed that there was still plenty of powder to be found on the north faces of the Massif but strong winds on Saturday appeared to have wreaked havoc. Lines skied in deep, cold snow on Thursday were wrecked by Saturday so Phil and I were hopeful but not overly confident of finding good snow.

We decided on the Pointe d'Orny NE Couloir, figuring that regardless of the snow, we'd get a great day moving through some of the best scenery in the Alps. 

Looking back down on the ascent route from the Col du Chardonnet.

Mean looking serac on the Aiguille d'Argentiere N face.

Phil at the bottom of the Col du Chardonnet couloir.

After skinning around to the Fenetre de Saleina, we shot across the Trient plateau and put skins on once again to reach the summit of the Pointe d'Orny. 

Phil on the Trient plateau with his fish filleting gloves on. The summit of the Pointe d'Orny is on the right and we skinned up the open slope on the far right of the photo.

Having had virtually no sleep the previous night (I'd been at the Piolets d'Or ceremony until late and then, crushingly, the clocks went forward), this final ascent felt pretty tough. Luckily for me, Phil seemed to be feeling it too so we took it easy. 

Amazing views from the top of the Orny.

Having reached the summit we gave ourselves a well earned pat on the back and tucked into an overdue lunch whilst taking in the awesome panorama across the Trient plateau.

Like a kid in a sweet store! From the summit there are endless couloirs and lines but we eventually decided to go down the ridge slightly to the left and drop into a route which didn't require an abseil.

Once in the line, the snow was good but not classic. Slightly crusty but still cold and really fun to ski. Smiles all round.

It took a lot of effort to push my 109mm underfoot Corvus skis up 1200m of vertical but it suddenly felt worth it, right They ripped.

Me about to drop in. Photo Phil Ebert.

On the top section. Photo Phil Ebert.

Phil on his third or fourth turn in the couloir, being hurried along by the massive snow mushroom above him.

Phil in the middle section.

Me getting about as close to a jump turn as I ever like to be. Photo Phil Ebert.

Phil wasn't really straight lining this bit, I just timed the photo well and put it in to boost his ego.

Phil near the bottom, looking pretty small compared to his surroundings.

Once out of the couloir we fired down the Val d'Arpette at high speed and were in Champex for 4pm, where Nora (Phil's significantly better half) came and picked us up on her way back from Lausanne.

All that was left was to gorge ourselves on a "heart attack on a plate" meal at MBC, made up of burgers, chips, onion rings, nachos and beer. 

Overall, a brilliant day, made all the better by the fact that both of us felt knackered before we set off and nearly bailed before we'd even started. Just goes to show that if you don't go, you'll never know. 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Col de Beaugent

Matt and I had plans for a quick half day tour from the Plan de L'Aiguille today but as we drove past the Midi, one look at the crowds convinced us to head elsewhere. We figured that the Grand Montets would also be rammed so that left us with an easy choice to head to Flegere, where we thought we'd go for a quick dart over the classic Col de Beaugent.

The skin up was brutally hot and we paid the price for wearing kit appropriate for being in the shade, which we would have been if we'd stuck to our original plan. The scramble up to the Col was easy enough and then we shot over to the other side by hand-over-handing down a 30m rope and then downclimbing another 10m or so to where we could put skis on. 

Once on the shaded, north facing slopes the powder was amazing. Light snow, plenty of it and not many tracks about meant we had a fantastic descent. 

Matt (on the left) dwarfed by the scenery.

Once back at the Hotel du Buet we got a couple of beers with some friends and then got the bus home. All in all, a stress free day of skiing powder in the mountains - life doesn't get much better.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014


After 3 weeks of hot, dry weather the heavens opened on Saturday and it snowed hard, with more forecast to arrive sporadically over the next few days. Me like.

No need for words, here's the photos - 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Aiguille de Toule W face

With 4 hours free in the middle of the day, Tom and I reckoned we had time to ski the W face of the Aiguille de Toule. We fired across to the Geant icefall quickly and then skinned up as fast as our unacclimatized bodies would carry us to the foot of the face.

What an outfit!

From the foot of the W face we quickly changed to crampons and got booting. The initial slope is easy bootpacking and then the final snowy ridge is excellent - spectacular and exposed but straightforward enough. 

Awkward final bit of skinning.


The final ridge to the summit.

Tom getting ready to ski, with the Tour Ronde behind.

Once at the top of the face we stuck the skis on and got stuck into some fun snow, with a combination of some thin crust and plenty of excellent springy stuff. 

Tom near the top of the face.

Skiing lower down.

The W face, with the Dent du Geant behind. 

With the face done we skied the VB out and just made it back to work in time. An excellent half day hit!

The weather has now turned after nearly 3 weeks of sun and to be honest, we needed it. The snow has thinned out unbelievably below 3000m and things were getting a bit desperate on the skiing front. It's tough to tell how much snow is actually going to come but most forecasts seem to agree that it's going to be quite a bit. The weather system seems to be extremely unsettled though so let's see how it pans out. Fingers crossed for a few powder days!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

La Pepite, Grands Montets

I've no doubt there's still some nice snow out there but yesterday I was keen to go climbing and test out my shoulder (I re-aggravated a old rugby injury in November and have had very limited movement and quite a bit of pain since then). I thought that rock climbing might be a bit much but that if I could find some steady mixed stuff, I might be OK. The non-guidebook line "La Pepite" on the Grand Montets ridge fit the bill so John and I headed up there to take a look. 

Details on the line were sketchy but we assumed that it would have been climbed recently so if we found footsteps somewhere near where we thought the line was, we'd just follow them. Turned out it worked perfectly!

Our topo. What could possibly go wrong?

The first obstacle was the bergschrund, which I took a look at but I couldn't commit to a sketchy pull up on my bad arm so John took the lead and shot over. I'm glad I didn't go for it though as I only just made it over on a top rope without my shoulder exploding.

Owing John for that one, I led the first couple of pitches and they were great. The first was steady enough but without much gear - probably Scottish 3. The second is great and goes at about Scottish 4, with good protection.

Me contemplating pitch 1. Photo John Cuthbert.

Me leading pitch 2. Photo John Cuthbert.

John's view from half way up the second pitch. We got stuck behind a guided team and they told me that it was their second day ever climbing in crampons! It certainly seemed a strange route choice from the guide when his clients couldn't climb the crux and only managed it after over half an hour of swearing and knocking rocks onto John and I, who had to resort to cowering under a small overhang until they were done. Some poetic justice was dealt however when the guide placed a brand new cam at the crux and then one of the clients managed to push it further into the crack, making it completely unretrievable. That'll learn him. Photo John Cuthbert.

John took the crux and did an excellent job on some dry and tricky mixed, which would get Scottish 5 or M4+ depending on your nationality. I just about managed to follow but the crux move involved a hard pull on the right arm, which I can still feel 24 hours later! The climbing was superb but would be better with more ice and extremely difficult if there was much less ice than we found.

Me post crux. Note floppy, useless right arm!

Once past the crux there is a 100m easy snow gully which I fired up as fast as the altitude permitted, then a short, straightforward chimney takes you to the mellow slopes of the Petite Verte.

John on the final chimney.

Me at the top of the route. Photo John Cuthbert.

From there it is a simple case of walking back to the Grand Montets lift - access and descents don't come much simpler.

John and I agreed that the route was superb and with slightly more ice and no people struggling ahead of you, the route could easily be done in a half day. As it was we were done by early afternoon and it felt slow. 

I'm aching today and I think that climbing anything close to my limit is going to be out for this summer unless my recovery rate increases massively but it felt good to be climbing again and I'm psyched for some long, cruisy routes when conditions allow. In the meantime, it's due to tank down with snow over the weekend so it's back to skiing for now.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Grand Montets to Champex

It seems that winter is on hold right now, with soaring temperatures and sunshine from sunrise to sunset. At times like this it's easy to lose heart but ultimately the whole point of mountain sports is to have fun so once you forget about powder hunting and just go out looking for views and some good times with friends, there's still plenty to go at.

With this in mind, Sharon, Matt, Sophie and I decided to do a 2 day ski tour over the weekend, starting with the Col du Chardonnet, Fenetre de Saleina and Col des Ecandies to a night in Champex and then a bus ride and a skin up and over the Col Grand Ferret and into Courmayeur. We weren't expecting much good snow but some nice views, a decent workout and a big dinner in Champex sounded like a good plan by any standards.

The Grand Montets on Saturday morning was crowded, slow and generally a good reminder of why I don't ski there between January and mid April but we managed to get the 4th bin and were away from the top station by just before 10.

North faces of Les Droites and the Verte. Conditions on these faces look awful - tons of black ice and many of the classic lines are barely formed. Stay away!

The skin up the Col du Chardonnet passed quickly enough as we soaked up the sun and the awesome views.

A nice spot for a drinks stop.

Once at the Col du Chardonnet, we were treated to one of the most inept displays of mountaineering that I've ever seen, from 2 large French teams. In these situations, patience is overrated so we just got ourselves down surrounded by a chaotic mess of useless and poorly chosen equipment, shouting, panicking and spectacular incompetence. It never ceases to amaze me that someone would take on something as serious as glaciated ski mountaineering without even a slight grasp of the basic skills required for it, but there you go. 

Matt surveying the incompetence at the Col du Chardonnet, no doubt plotting what he'd be saying if he saw a scene like this at work on an oil rig!

Once down from the Chardonnet the weather really turned and we skied down in some savage wind.

Matt in the wind, under the N face of the Aiguille d'Argentiere.

Worried about crossing the Trient plateau in bad visibility, we shot up to the Fenetre de Saleina as fast as possible.

Random Frenchman headed for the Fenetre de Saleina.

Sophie and Matt under the Aiguille Dorees.

Sharon at the Fenetre de Saleina.

Luckily for us, the bad weather held off long enough for us to scoot across the Trient Plateau and down to the Col des Ecandies.

Matt, Sharon and Sophie dwarfed by the scale of the Trient Plateau.

Sophie and Sharon on the plateau.

Sharon heading down to the Col des Ecandies.

Sophie and me with the Trient glacier behind.

Matt pulling up the fixed ropes to the Col des Ecandies.

Once at the Col des Ecandies we had a quick bite to eat and then skied down to Champex, finding some really fun snow on the way.

Skiing the Val d'Arpette, under the Col des Ecandies.

Sharon and Matt on the final run into Champex.

Having checked into our hotel, things just got better and better. It started well when the 6 nations was on the big screen and only improved when the owner asked if we'd prefer a huge meat fondue instead of the plat du jour. As if that wasn't enough, the wine list was long and reasonably priced and the beer was good German stuff, not the fizzy rubbish we get in Cham. With stomachs full of meat, wine, beer and genepi, we staggered to bed at 11.

An excellent evening.

The next morning saw a few thick heads (must have been the altitude) but we made it to the bus stop on time for 8.20, only to figure out that the immensely complicated bus timetable was saying that the bus we needed didn't run on a Sunday. Oops! With a couple of hours until the next bus we went through various ideas before deciding that a leisurely journey back to Cham, using the excellent Swiss train network would be a good idea, with lunch in Martigny on the way.

Clowning at Orsieres railway station.

We found this clochard at the train station.

The journey went smoothly and we were soon in Vallorcine, riding the cable car up into the Le Tour lift system.

Sharon and Sophie at Le Tour.

We talked about skiing around Le Tour but it was baking hot so we just skied down and headed home.

So, a big ski touring day followed by vast quantities of food and booze and then a day of sitting on trains, looking at the view and drinking coffee. A superb weekend!