Sunday, 27 April 2008

Courtes NNE Face

Following Thursdays aborted mission to the Col des Courtes plans were reset and on Friday Ross, Mel and I skinned in to the Argentiere Refuge. Mel & myself enjoying some evening sun on the 'Terrace':

After some deliberations we decided conditions on the Courtes NNE Face were too good to pass up on. I wanted to get back on this face in good snow, having skied from 100m below the summit ridge last year in 'marginal' conditions...
Alarms were set for 4 a.m. and by 4.45 we were skinning towards the base of the face in the darkness of the pre-dawn. Lights were visible on the North Face of the Droites, heading for the Couloir Lagarde, Swiss route (?) on the Courtes, as well as some really early birds ahead of us on the Courtes NE face...

Me on the lower part of the face as dawn breaks:

Conditions were great, with a good boot-pack from our French friends up ahead. As we climbed higher things got more interesting, with some hard grey ice under a thin coating of snow giving short sections of front-pointing. Ross on the upper third of the face:

We caught up with our trail-breakers as we approached the summit ridge, with great views over into the Talefre and Geant basins, when gusts of wind weren't trying to knock us off our feet:

After 10 minutes wind-lashed rest on the ridge we put skis on and got stuck in. The first 50 metres were a little 'tense' with quite a few rocks, and some bare ice patches, visible and hidden to spice up the 'warm-up' turns.

First turn...concentrate (only 600m to the glacier):

Mel just below the top:

Ross at the top of the first buttress, 100m down the face:

And ripping it good style:

Conditions below the top section were fantastic, with soft chalky snow and not too many hazards other than the odd ice streak.
Mel mid-descent:

Me again:

And Ross:

Coming to the snow ridge 1/3 of the way up the face, plenty of spindrift blowing about:

Ross just above the bottom runnels:

Mel heading towards our gear stash:

Two happy bunnies below the face:

Les Courtes NNE Face, 600m at 45-50ยบ:

Chamonix - Col des Courtes

On Thursday, with the promise of sensational conditions from Ross, who had skied the Chevalier on Wednesday in knee deep powder, I made an early start and headed over to Chamonix for first lifts at the Grands Montets where I met up with Ross and Neil.

We dropped down onto the Argentiere Glacier and started the long skin up towards the Col des Courtes, which sits right up the end of the Glacier. As we skinned (and sweated) it quickly became clear that it was way warmer than forecast, which didn't bode well for our intended line, with lots of snow just waiting to fall off as temperatures climbed.

Looking up at the Col des Courtes:

The rock band and ice in the middle of the face weren't looking very appealing, and our decision was sealed quite rapidly when several large sloughs came down within 30 seconds of our arriving under the bergschrund.

Neil skinning up under the bergschrund, with slough visible coming down up and right:

Not wishing to tempt fate we slid off back down the valley and readjusted plans for the coming days...

Argentiere basin looking good as a whole: Col des Cristaux has lots of snow, NNE of Courtes plastered in snow (watched 2 early birds putting in the first tracks on the way back...powder all the way). The easier classics on the other side all had lots of snow (and traffic)...Milieu Glacier, Tour Noir, Chardonnet, Col du Passon. Y Couloir on Aig D'Argentiere also looks fairly full (though thin near the top). Col des Droites and Col de L'Aiguille Verte both have fairly large ice patches, Couturier on the Verte is not far off being snow all the way, just one large ice patch lower down...

Couloir Guyon

After a few days off due to weather I got out for a ski with Ginny on Wednesday. With temperatures rising we headed into the Orelle valley, with first tracks down the Combe Sans Nom from the Pierre Fendue:

We then made for the Couloir Guyon, with its distinctive rock tower:

Looking down the couloir:

Ginny in the tight upper section:

The couloir gradually gets wider from here, but had a surprise at the very end...

Vanoise & Maurienne tour

Bit of a delay since last blog due to problems uploading images...
2 weeks back Jim & Anne were out for a 4 day tour round in the Maurienne & Vanoise.

Despite being mid-April Spring conditions were noticeably lacking, with a major snowfall in the days preceding. Day 1 saw 'full' conditions getting from Val Thorens down to the Orgere refuge in the Maurienne valley. After a couple of hours navigating in a white-out we finally dropped out of the clouds:

Day 2 saw an early start from the Orgere hut in beautiful blue skies heading for the Col de la Masse (top right of this picture):

A dozen chamois were running about the rocks above us as we skinned out of the valley:

As we climbed higher the snow got deeper and the wind picked up again, blowing hard as we took off skins on the Col. No picnic in the sun on the top today...

At least the powder on the far side made up for the weather...deep and quite light considering the wind:

We skied down into the Aussois valley with great views of the Dent Parrache and the Aussois ski area:

The end in sight...the Fond D'Aussois refuge in the bottom of the valley:

Day 3 saw us skinning under the stunning Pointe de L'Echelle en route to the Pointe de L'Observatoire and the Col D'Aussois:

Again the wind was picking up as the day went on, and with a worsening forecast we hurried up to the summit to make the most of this great viewpoint over the Pralognan valley.

The ski down was even better than day 2 with perfect light deep powder and loads of space for the 3 of us and the French group who had appeared from another Col:

The day ended with a great meal in the very comfortable Roc de la Peche refuge, where Ginny joined us, having skinned up from Pralognan.
For our last day we decided to head up the Roc de Blanchon on the way back to civilisation. Crossing the river before starting the skin up:

Great views on the way up:

Near the top, large French team behind:

Ginny and Anne on the summit:

Jim & others on top, stormy looking Glacier de la Vanoise behind:

The ski down proved to be a bit of a gnarly crust-fest as the sun and temperatures had got to work on the fresh snow. Eventually we dropped down into some better spring snow, passing this stunning claw of rock:

Jim, Ginny & Anne back in the valley, an easy slide from here back to the car at Pralognan. All in all an interesting 4 days, with very un-spring-like conditions!!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Val Thorens powder

An interesting week with the Off Piste Improvers course last week, chasing holes in the weather and trying to get above the rain/snow limit (2500m at times...). Despite the weather we found some good snow and fresh tracks most days, with the team all making good progress.

Today with blue skies forecast I was up for first lifts for some adventuring over in Val Thorens. A skin up the west side of the Pointe de Borgne followed by a bit of falling down holes on the ridge and I was peering into the top of the Couloir Parent. This is a great short steep line, really obvious from the top of the Funitel Peclet (look left). A bit of a prod and a few sideslips down and I decided today wasn't the day, with the new soft snow rapidly getting heavy and not well bonded to the shiny layer underneath.

Looking in the top of the Parent:

The fall-back option wasn;t too bad though, with the North Face holding perfect powder...not bad (if a little short):

From the summit I had spotted someone skiing another Val T classic, the couloir Brechu, and felt it would be rude not to use a boot track and great conditions to have a look for myself.With Ginny I skinned up to the old 3300 lift station on the ridge, from where she skied back down the perfect powder we had just skinned up, while I pushed on up the ridge to the entry of the couloir...looking in:

Great conditions though very sloughy, having to stop every few turns to let it all slide past. Looking back up:

The Couloir Brechu is also obvious from the top of the funitel peclet (look up & slightly right) and is well worth the effort in my book: steep line, nice ridge scramble to get there and very few people...

Below the couloir the snow was awesome, and we linked up good soft stuff most of the way down to Val T. Ginny making tracks:

4 days touring coming up this week, so here's hoping the weather settles down for a bit!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Stellar conditions for April off piste

Another grim forecast for this morning of Arctic temperatures and strong winds turned into another stunning day, perfect for the first day of our April 'Off Piste Improvers' course! After a warm up run under the Tougnete chair we managed to find totally untouched snow all morning, with a particular highlight being first tracks in seriously deep, light fluffy snow down the Col du Vallon. Here's hoping the rain forecast for the end of the week doesn't materialise.

Giles, Anne, Cathy, Mat, Steve and Nick in action: