Friday, 16 May 2008

La Face du jour

Today I went for an explore in the Tarentaise to the North face of the Pierre Pointe.
Situated in an isolated valley above the picturesque villages of Le Monal and Le Clou this is a great place to escape the crowds (I didn't see another soul all day - the odd marmot excepted).
The "Rampe Nord" on Pierre Pointe is a stunning line taking the obvious left to right rising ramp line on the picture below:

This is a fairly serious proposition, weighing in at 5.3 on the "cheek-clench" scale, featuring 800m of 45º with some steeper pitches thrown in, all with a fair bit of exposure, as from halfway up the initial ramp the rest of the route takes place with cliffs below.
Unfortunately a couple of slightly cloudy nights had affected the snowpack which despite being north-facing was pretty rotten, making for a frustrating approach to the face. The couloir itself was in reasonable shape, with a light layer of fluff overlying some more or less solid/refrozen snow underneath...and despite appearances from afar had continuous skiable snow with only a couple of narrow sections.
600m up the face and the trail-breaking was taking its toll. Clouds were boiling up behind the summit ridge, and I thought I heard a rumble of thunder (storms forecast for this afternoon...) so the decision was made to leave the last 300m to the summit for another day. The snow on the face proved to be very skiable (as long as you didn't think about the cliffs below..) right down to the sluff cone below, followed by a long haul back through the porridge to the car.
I'll definitely be back to finish the job at some point though - stunning line, quiet valley - what more can you ask for? (other than clear nights to get the snowpack refreezing again..)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Dome des Nants, Couloir WNW

After a false start yesterday morning due to weather, and a minor delay this morning (don't forget your boots Will!), I headed up to Pralognan with Will to ski the WNW couloir off the Dome des Nants. This classic 5.2 rated ski is not often in condition, but word on the street was it had a good fill of snow in the crucial and exposed upper section...

Leaving the car at Pont de Gerlon we had a bit of walk up the road and then set about the 1950m of skinning to take us up to the Dome at 3570m, right on top of the Glacier de la Vanoise "ice-cap". After a long slog we emerged on top to a perfect panorama, with only a few banks of cloud to spoil the view: Mt Blanc, Grandes Jorasses, Grande Casse, Mont Pourri, Grand Combin etc etc...

Will near the top of the Dome des Nants:

The top of the couloir is protected by a huge serac band, with corniced ridges either side, so finding a viewpoint to scope the entry wasn't easy but eventually we sussed our route, which looked well skiable.
Despite some patches of cloud that had been lingering the snow on the top ramp was already transformed and nicely soft on top, which gave us a boost of confidence to drop down the first ramp and get a closer look:

After this ramp the couloir is immediately exposed, picking its way round rock buttresses on 45º slopes, with cliffs underneath until you drop into the main couloir.
Will entering the narrower section:

A handy viewpoint:

Working down towards the main couloir:

Still a bit of exposure, but great snow all the way:

Into the main couloir, the exposure to the cliffs below ends here...but the monster serac looms overhead...:

And looking down:

In all the couloir gives a good 800m of steady steepness. Conditions were great with good spring snow on the right, a small runnel down the middle, and some softer but heavy snow over a firm base on the left. Out the bottom of the couloir we hit some great open slopes of perfect spring snow, until it all started getting rather mushy at 2100m.

Looking back up, bottom section the couloir clearly visible, top obscured by cliffs & cloud:

From here down to the road turned into a bit of a 'combat ski', with a fine mixture of shrubbery, mushy snow and a few rocks. Will going for the direct line:

A short walk back to the car and it was time for a well-earned beer back in Bozel!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Face Nord Mt Turia

Following last weeks 'winning' mix of dodgy knees, garages, and temperamental hut wardens momentum finally returned today.. A late night check of conditions on revealed an awesome report for the North Face of the Mt Turia from the previous day.

This has been on my list for ages so it seemed to good an opportunity to miss so the alarm was set for 5 a.m. and some hasty packing of gear followed. If you have ever skied in Les Arcs then you will probably have seen Mt Turia. From the top of the Aiguille Rouge it is the main face right in front of you, with the Mt Pourri sat just behind...seen from this angle the face looks ridiculously steep, but in fact it only hits 45 degrees max. The big issue is waiting for enough snow to stick to the icy face, making it a real Spring line.

6.40 a.m. I left a deserted Arcs 2000, heading up towards the Grand Col. First view of the face from the Grand Col - just catching the sun you can just make out the face dropping diagonally left:

With a good recent report on conditions I abandoned my usual habit of climbing the face before skiing it in favour of the shorter easier option, heading up to the Col des Roches. Looking back at the Grand Col:

A few folks were heading this way, dropping over the col onto the Glacier du Geay on the Mt Pourri. From the col though it is just a short climb up a couloir to get onto the shoulder of Mt Turia, and a 100m from there to the summit ridge and a look down the face:

As I hit the top a couple of skiers emerged from the bottom of the face, giving a good sign that it was still skiable. A short break at the top and by 10 a.m. i was making the first turns in soft but wind-blown snow down the upper 40º slope weaving between a couple of bare ice patches.
In the past the face was a wide snow/ice slope split by a few rocks, but now the rocks are a major feature of the face, with a choice of the easier left line, or a more interesting (steeper) descent skiers right. This comes to a narrow section halfway down at the same time as the slope steepens to good solid 45º.
Looking down at the narrows:

The snow stayed great all the way down, with pockets of softer snow, mixed with chopped-up wind-blown and the odd patch of crust...
Looking back up at the narrows:

And from near the bottom of the face:

A short but warm skin back up 200m to the Grand Col gives a last view of the face:

And then it was a great blast back down to Arc 2000 in perfect spring snow...
Les Arcs as most people never see it - deserted:

Snow due for tomorrow/Monday, so next week could be great (knee permitting).

A quick hit in Chamonix..

Last week I nipped over to Chamonix for a couple of days to meet up with Guy and Oli...hoping the warmer temperatures weren't going to affect the great reports we'd heard from the weekend. We nipped up the Midi for a recce, fitting in a little couloir off the Cosmiques Arete en route:

Guy & Oli halfway along the Cosmiques Arete:

And near the bottom of the couloir:

Guy & Oli with Midi & Cosmiques behind (couloir on L):

We then headed off to check out some lines on the E Face of the Mont Blanc du Tacul (lots of tracks but looked a bit crusty), then onwards down a deserted Valle Blanche to the Requin Hut for a drink. Sadly this was as productive as our trip as a combination of hut wardens, niggly knees, and general tiredness took time maybe...

Grand Bec NW Face

Last Sunday I went for a little wander up to the bottom of the NW face on the Grand Bec. The face is possibly the most obvious in the Courchevel/Bozel valley, you see it from everywhere as soon as you start to drive up from Moutiers.

First skied by the legendary Daniel Chauchefoin the face has only seen a handful of descents over the years, and is rarely in condition, needing good snow cover over 2 rocky sections.

The line starts up the couloir on the left then sneaks through rocks rightwards to the big hanging snowfield in the middle of the face, and leaves the top of this via a narrow gully onto the top slope, finishing left of the main summit:

Keen to get a good look at the lower section of face I skinned & climbed right up to where the 'fun' begins. Definitely not in skiable condition, and as the sun was hitting the face above and starting to send down rocks and ice I shelved the idea of climbing it for a recce...maybe next winter...