With good weather continuing to hold I made a more leisurely trip back over to Chamonix on Wednesday and met up with Greg for the last lift up to the top of the Grands Montets and another 5* bivvy, complete with fine panorama.
A 6 a.m. start saw us skiing under the Droites, and skinning up to below the days target - the north face of Les Courtes. The Swiss Route gives 800m of steep snow & ice climbing, and we planned to combine this with a traverse of the summit and ski descent of the ultra-classic NNE face.
View of Les Courtes with line of Swiss Route marked:
Skinning up below the face:
Greg gearing up below the rimaye:
In spite of our early start, we still found 3 teams on the route ahead of us, of which the first 2 seemed to be moving very slowly, so after some discussion we decided to move together as much as possible, and quickly blasted by the first 2 teams. The climbing was steady, steep snow mixed with sections of good sticky ice.
Yours truly on the lower half of the face:
Looking down at the middle snowfield, from below the upper ice section:
The second half of the face seemed to go on forever, and (as it now turns out) the start of a cold/flu combined with a direct hit to the Adams apple by a block of ice low on the face combined to make progress more difficult, but with Greg on hand for moral support I dug deep for the last ridge to the summit:
Sadly clouds stole the views while we were on top, so a 5 minute snack break was called and we descended the summit ridge to the start of the skiing (at which point the clouds miraculously cleared again).
Swapping to ski mode on 50º snow at the top of the NNE face:
The ski down was great, with compacted powder most of the way giving grippy but soft skiing...only problem was knackered legs & a 60m rope in the bag - makes for interesting times with 700m of 45-50º skiing to do..
An uneventful descent saw us blast back down the Argentiere Glacier, sadly too late for the last lift down from Lognan, meaning a further test for already screaming legs down the Pierre a Ric run, covered in big re-frozen slush-bumps...
It was a weary pair who finally made it back to the cars after a great day out: