Saturday, 7 February 2009

Breche Martin-Encrenaz

Friday saw me in Chamonix with a rare mid-week day off, and with a new pair of touring boots to break in courtesy of Jules at Sanglard I met up with regular steep skiing partner Guy Willett of Dream Guides for a day out in the Aiguilles Rouges. The plan was to head for the North couloir of the Breche Martin-Encrenaz, a rarely-skied gem hidden away on the far right of the 'Lac Blanc' bowl.

The plan was to do this 'on-sight', climbing the South couloir to the Breche. Skinning in from the Lac Blanc, the South couloir is the obvious narrow line above Guy:

As expected the couloir proved to be a crust-fest, and we swapped leads breaking trail in the knee-to-thigh deep breakable crust...oh what fun! Guy pushing on through:

Finally we emerged into the Breche, from where the route down wasn't looking particularly inviting, and certainly not the 4.3 rated descent we expected. A steep (50º?) powder-filled gully disappearing over the abseil section, but no obvious abseil spikes, and snow too soft for a good 'dead-man' anchor.
After some deliberation we opted for the safer option of skiing the ascent couloir rather than sketching about on steep powder above a 30/40m cliff.

Guy getting ready to head down:

Psyching up for the first turn...the snow was about as much fun on the way down as on the way up... 45º+ of variable breakable crust and refrozen surface made for some 'character-building' skiing:

Jump turns were the order of the day:

Further down the couloir widens and the angle eases slightly, though the better snow was to be found way out skiers right of the couloir:

Guy certainly not missing his telemark kit today..!

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