Friday, 21 May 2010

Albaron North East face

After 2 weeks of seriously unsettled weather, the forecast finally started to look more predictable, so Will, Greg & I set about plotting a short trip. We decided to avoid the honeypot effect of Chamonix, and headed instead for the Haute Maurienne, hoping in particular to ski the North face of the Grande Ciamarella, a classic steep descent, with 500m at about 50º.

The beauty of spring skiing is high access on the roads, which combined with last weeks cold temperatures and snowfall meant we only had to walk 5 minutes from l'Ecot before putting skis & skins on to climb up to the Evettes refuge:

Approaching the refuge it became clear the Grande Ciamarella was far from skiable, with the face almost entirely covered in grey ice:

The refuge is unguardianed midweek, so we set about warming the place up... Will improvising with his ice axe (we discovered the axe & chopping block outside the next day...):

After a good meal, Greg discusses routes with a new friend:

Setting off at 5 a.m. the next day morale was low, Greg was laid up with a stomach bug, and the early mist turned into 45 minutes of heavy snowfall as we skinned up the lower glacier:

Finally as we climbed higher the weather started to clear, and the surrounding summits started to reveal themselves:

The day's objective was the North East face of the 3637m Albaron, a steep and slightly exposed descent from this classic Mauriennais peak.
Skirting crevassed areas on the skin up to the Selle de l'Albaron:

Below the North East face. The ski descent takes the obvious hanging slope before traversing hard skier's left above the cliffs to pick up a couloir in line with the summit:

Tomorrow's line on the Petite Ciamarella - the Face Nord Directe, takes the sunlit shoulder then the exposed rampline through the cliff band (more logical than it seems from this angle!):

Looking across at the upper face from near the Selle de l'Albaron:

A nice scramble up the ridge to the summit:

Will on the summit of the Albaron:

Looking down the face:

Will at the bottom of the first pitch (having just come back from Chamonix where if you wait for 5 seconds someone else has skied your line Will had a little trouble adjusting to the fact that noone else was around...).
Perfect snow conditions, chalky packed powder on a smooth base:

Questing off on the traverse:

The traverse turned out to be straightforward, not the rocky scrape we had expected, and put us high up in the central couloir. More great skiing followed with steep chalky snow down to the narrows which gave 5m of icy sidelipping around rocks before opening onto the lower face.
Looking back up at the main face, Will bottom right of picture:

Below the exit gullies, great snow all the way... powder to the bottom of the gullies, then perfect spring snow all the way back to the refuge:

An easy slide & skate across the Evettes flats and a short skin through hordes of Marmottes took us back to the refuge for a welcome lunch and an afternoon lazing in the sun and plotting tomorrows trip...
Alpenglow on the Grande Ciamarella:

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