Monday, 4 March 2013

Grand Bec NW face, Chauchefoin line (voie Gromier)

If you live in Bozel it stares at you every day. The North West face of the Grand Bec dominates the town and occasionally (very occasionally) the white patches on it link up. First climbed in 1976, the 'Voie Gromier' was skied in 1978 by the legendary Daniel Chauchefoin. Repeats have been rare - Seb Figliolini in the 90s, Guillaume Prin in early 00s, and Yann Mimet mid 00s are the few that I know of (there may well be more...).

The Voie Gromier (Chauchefoin line):

I have been watching & waiting for this face for years, and driving back from a week of coaching in the Maurienne valley I had a good feeling about the weekend. Taking a sorely needed rest day on the Saturday, a zoomed in photo of the face to check conditions revealed a surprise - tracks on the upper face! More zooming on the laptop showed my eyes weren't deceiving me, so out I went with binoculars to check it out - sure enough 3 skiers were emerging from the bottom of the face.

Steep skiing round here is a small world and I was fairly certain I knew who one of the three would be - a quick text message to Yorick confirmed this and a phone call later on gave me an update on conditions - all systems go!

Sadly my usual partners were tied up, so a solo mission was on the cards. 6.30am saw the start of the skinning at 1550m, with 1800m of up to go.

Morning breaks on the Grand Bec - the angle looks quite friendly from here:

A good skin track from Yorick & co eased the pain up to the moraine below the face - from there the skiing & sloughs had covered the tracks - 800m of trail-breaking lay ahead.

The face starts to loom as you get closer:

The lower gully steepens quickly up to and over 45º.

Approaching the first crux - a narrows, currently with about 4m of sketchy climbing on thin ice over rock slabs - all a bit tenuous and a bit of a lonely place for a minute!:

Above this the angle stays near 50º and a short traverse on thin snow over rock leads towards the hanging (ex-)glacier. Once onto this the angle eases back to the low 40s, but the exposure is still maximum!
At the top of the glacier a gully steepens and leads upwards into the second crux - another narrows at 50º - thankfully all on snow:

Above this the angle stays on or around 50º all the way to the top with legs & arms tiring and the last 100m seeming very very long...

A short break on the ridge in the sun was most welcome, both for the legs and to let the sun get on to the face - Yorick & co had left tracks yesterday which had refrozen a bit, so some softening was definitely worth waiting for.

Summit/obituary shot - slightly tense smile?:

Anyone for the first turn?
Rather than go for the short downclimb on the left to get onto the face I opted for a skier's right variation which one of the guys had taken the day before - this turned into a buttock-clencher after a 'gimme' warm-up turn, with 10m approaching 60º of firm snow with occasional ski mark 'steps'. Good for focussing the mind!

The upper slope was very skiable, with heavy powder on a variable base, but lots of care needed, as the old tracks were hard, and there was the odd trap of firm snow lurking too! But the shoulder right of the gully was an amazing place to be making turns, hanging high over the void below:

Nice tracks considering:

10m of downclimbing through the narrows led to the gully dropping onto the hanging glacier and more great skiing - I have dreamed of making turns down here for many years...

The focus returned for the traverse to the final gully, with thin snow on top of rock slabs providing some 'interesting' moments before a few turns on a shoulder down to the abseil point that Yorick had installed the day before - a couple of half-in tied-off pitons were most welcome to avoid down-climbing the sketchy iced-up slabs!

Below the abseil the pressure was back off, but a few more steep turns remained before the powder fun began:

More relaxed smile this time:

More great turns down the moraine before the snow turned to slush:

A bit of combat skiing followed by a gentle slide took me back to La Rochette and the welcome relief of taking ski boots off... end of a great day in the mountains and the realisation of a dream line!

A good day all round - every bit of kit I took was used, water lasted just long enough, and I was back home for an afternoon on the terrace with wife & child and of course a view back up to where I had been:

Late edit... for the bird's eye view here is a great video Yorick shot the day before:

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