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!

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