Monday, 26 April 2010

Roche Nue video

Here is the short video from last weeks trips up the Roche Nue with Ginny & Will:

2 sides of the coin from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Aiguille de la Noire

A quick day hit with Oli...
A combination of a niggly knee & boot problems (me), and coming from 3 weeks at sea level stuck in meetings in the US (Oli) meant we went for a gentle day with not too much up and a mellow ski down.

La Maitresse des Lieux:

Chaos & mayhem on the arete (as usual):

You see it all up here...3 "snow-bikers" being roped down the arete by their guide, shortly before one of them tried to knock me over the edge by turning round to speak to his mate...:

No snow in the Poubelle couloir:

Access climb to the Noire shoulder (above Oli's head):

Oli on the ridge:

A short ski in good powder and then a short (but exposed) climb to get to the main pitch:

Nice chalky snow all the way:

Looking back up the face:

A few big holes on the Periades Glacier:

The bottom of the Mer de Glace was the usual circus (incidentally complete with skiing dwarf..).

Big word of thanks to Damien at Sanglard for finally nailing the boot problem (and at short notice too). Merci Damien!!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Pointe Matthews - SW face

Big solo mission today, 2000m+ of up from Fontanettes to Pointe Matthews (the 2nd summit of the Grande Casse's twin summits) via the SW face. A dawn start saw swift progress being made with the 1000m (& lots of horizontal) to the Col de la Vanoise reached in 2 hours. By 8.20 I was heading up the bottom of the SW face proper:

The face is about 1000m high and starts at 40º before quickly kicking up & hovering between 45 & 50º. A switch to crampons & axe below the couloir at the bottom of the face was needed, with a good refreeze overnight leaving a very firm surface to the snow - ideal for upwards progress!
The majority of the face is wide open, but at 3400m it narrows into a 2m wide gully, followed by a long traverse over 50º slopes above some substantial cliffage to break onto the summit ridge. These slopes proved to be the crux on the way down, with very variable snow - breakable crust, firm crust, softer patches - not very pleasant to ski, even with an ice axe in hand...
The narrow gully is very shaded from the sun and is nearly always brick-hard compared to the rest of the snow on the face (and not worth waiting for at the expense of snow quality on the rest of the face..) and was despatched with some care.
The rest of the face however was absolutely perfect, staying hard out skiers right gave big smooth steep pitches of perfect spring snow - the top inch or so just softened to perfection!!

Looking back at the face, the classic 'Grands Couloirs' route on the Grande casse takes the obvious wide slopes on the left, the SW Face of Pt Matthews is on the right, with the narrows & hanging slopes visible just below the summit ridge:

A quick refreshment stop at the Felix Faure hut, and I headed on down the Vallon de l'Arcelin back to Les Fontanettes - there was just enough snow left to ski the 'riverbed gullies', and only one section with skis off to reach the car again, top stuff!

Roche Nue topo

Following last weeks explorations Will emailed through an old photo he had taken a few years back when we were on the Dome des Nants NW couloir.

The access couloir is clearly visible at the bottom of the face, leading to the R-L rampline which then splits into 2 couloirs. We skied the left-hand line from the ridge (the right hand couloir to the summit remains the main objective but was heating up too quickly when we were on there last week...). Our line gave 800m of 35-45º with fairly serious exposure.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Roche Nue South East face

Yesterday Will & I went exploring on the South East face of the Roche Nue - a face we had both looked at over the years and spotted a couple of snowy lines. Although obvious (from a certain angle) we had never heard of anyone skiing this face, apart from a claim for the first descent by Remi Lecluse quite a while back.
Due to a very warm day (despite an early start) we weren't able to ski the direct line from the summit, but instead opted for a safer line in the left branch of the upper couloir which still gave 700m of good skiing before hitting the open slopes below.

The face. Our line followed a hidden couloir to reach the ramp line running left low on the face, which links into 2 couloirs heading towards the summit between the rocky buttresses (hidden):

Video to follow...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Spring weather

This week has been a bit of a mixed bag: on Thursday, with a sunny but cool day forecast as per the Wednesday Will & I headed round to the Maurienne valley to make use of the Aussois lift system for an attempt on the East face of the Dent Parrachee. This is a relatively unknown descent, but weighs in at 5.3 on the "scale of scariness", with a long section of 50º with tricky route-finding through rocks before coming out onto comparatively gentle 45º slopes for the rest of the face. The Dent Parrachee at 3698m is the 4th highest summit of the Savoie, and an emblematic peak in this valley.

With the day starting sunny, we were a bit concerned that the face would heat up too quickly by the time we made our way up the 1300m of the normal route. Sadly, exactly the opposite was the case, and as we climbed higher the skies clouded over.. As we stood on the summit it was snowing, and neither of us was particularly keen to get involved with the route-finding on the east face in flat light, so we retreated down the normal route via the Couloir de la Louza, which is itself quite exposed (for a 'voie normale') with top the 300m at 35/40º sitting above cliffs... the Chaise du Pape (Pope's Chair) for those who know it..
Crust, crust and more crust was the order of the day, before we finally got out onto some reasonable spring snow

Yesterday Ginny & I headed back into Les Avals, via a slightly longer route than Wednesday thanks to the Roc Merlet lift being shut. The days objective was the North couloir on the Roche Nue, a short but sweet descent right at the head of the Les Avals valley. A tedious approach with balling-up skins was followed by 300m of knee-deep boot packing up the couloir itself, and a short scramble onto the summit. The couloir gave excellent skiing, with good powder all the way down, followed by good spring snow back into the valley. Video to follow...

Today with another blue sky forecast I went out for a bit of a session to explore some couloirs I haven't skied in the 3 Valleys. Despite the forecast as I took the lifts up from Mottaret it was definitely cloudy, so the spring snow options were scrubbed, and I went for Plan B instead, and skinned up to the Valdez couloirs above the Glacier de Borgne valley. With sketchy visibility this was a good test of finding the right entry from memory & intuition... Is this it??:

A bit of a leap of faith found some good powder in the couloir... as luck would have it the weather cleared a bit as I skied out of the bottom of the couloir...:

With a good hole in the clouds I tempted fate by heading off up for another line off the Pointe de Borgne, ignoring the steadily increasing snow, wind, and even the rumble of thunder. Eventually I found myself stood at the top (of something):

Visibility even poorer than before and no signs of letting up meant careful skiing, though once again I had managed to find exactly the line I was after, despite the conditions. Once again as I skied out of the couloir the skies started to clear, and by the time I had skied down to Mottaret it was completely blue...! Typical...

After a quick snack in Mottaret it was time to head home - through a hailstorm! Spring weather...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Getting fit (part 2)...

Today I was out with Ginny & Polly for a short(ish) tour out the back of Courchevel 1650. Originally I was keen for the East face of the Aiguille du Fruit, but looking across from the Merlet shoulder the big slope was covered in old debris, so plans were switched to the Rampe Nord of the Aiguille du Rateau.

Skinning out towards the Aiguille du Rateau:

Low down on the face, an exercise in kick turns about to commence for the girls..:

Ginny & I on the summit ridge:

Great powder on a firm base all the way down:

The smiles tell the story...:

Heading back to Les Avals:

The only disaster of the day occured on the way out, having primed ourselves for an omelette at the Refuge du Grand Plan we arrived there to find that Lionel had gone down to the valley to resupply... so we had to continue on out on empty stomachs...

Getting fit

With the touring/steep skiing season now well and truly here and after a days rest from the weekends exertions I hooked up with Will & Julien on Tuesday for a bit of a leg-stretcher up the Pointe de la Rechasse from Pralognan. With the lifts still open this is a reasonable 1200m of uphill, and I was also keen to use the day to scope out the SW face of the Grande Casse which sits directly opposite...

Freezing cold in the morning putting skins on at the top of the Barmettes chair:

You can see why they call Pralognan "the Chamonix of the Vanoise":

Pleasant surprise above the Felix Faure hut - 20cm of powder snow!:

Will on the summit ridge 1200 vertical metres later:

Julien nearing the top:

A badly placed cloud blocked most of the view of the Grande Casse, but with some sun still showing through we quickly changed to downhill mode and set off in search of adventure in one of the many couloirs dropping towards the Cirque de L'Arcellin.

Julien & Will on the summit ridge:

Julien showing that 'classic' French style!!:

With clouds building to the north we took the most direct line across the flat of the glacier and headed for the "Entre Deux Roches" couloir, despite a convex slope narrowing through some rock slabs Julien assured us he had been up or down this way at least once...not fully convinced we spread out trying to ascertain whether the couloir was skiable or cliffed out...
Julien trying for a vantage point to check for a lack of cliffs... moments later a Lammergeier soared over us no more than 30m up...:

Does it go down here?:

Great snow in the big 'entonnoir', 25cms of perfect powder on a firm base!:

Will enjoying the soft snow, not quite as deep as up high through the narrower section of the couloir:

Big debris in the narrows of the couloir:

Out of the couloir we then hit perfect spring snow all the way down the Combe de L'Arcelin:

A trio of ptarmigan followed by a brace of chamois completed our animal sightings for the day, as we worked our way back towards the pistes for a well-earned beer in Pralognan.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A busy weekend (part 2)...

After Saturday mornings last-minute trip to the North face of Bellecote a quick dash home gave me time for a quick shower & change, then back up to Champagny with Ginny for the 900m vert skin up to the Plan des Gouilles refuge for the night.
The start wasn't quite as hoped, with lots of 'skis on, skis off' to get through the forest, and some technical tree-climbing skills were put to use:

Finally we got out of the woods for the rest of the skin up to the hut:

An early start saw us leaving the hut in the cloud, but with signs of clearer skies above:

Yesterday's summit looking mighty fine!:

Looking up the main glacier face:

Plenty of opportunity to practice kick turns:

Not far now:

Big cornice on the summit:

Ginny on the summit ridge:

Looking down the West face:

Croix de Verdons & Saulire from the Grand Bec:

Grande Casse:

Good powder high up:

Getting a bit crusty now...:

Some nice sections of spring snow:

One section of 'technical sideslipping' through some avalanche debris...:

Looking down on Laisonnay:

The only bit of the descent without snow...:

A long skate along the cross-country tracks took uys back to the car and a welcome drink at the Refuge du Bois before heading home in time for the Paris-Roubaix bike race... perfect...!