Sunday, 26 April 2009

They think its all over... is now...

Last day of the lifts in Courchevel today, so Ginny & I met up with Julien & Anna for a last blast round the 3 Valleys. At the far side of Mottaret strengthening winds and dark skies along with not particularly pleasant snow caused a quick change of plan & we skied back over towards Courchevel.
At the top of the Saulire cable car we managed to get invited to the Pisteurs end-of-season BBQ - far more tempting than the skiing ...

Anna, Julien & Ginny at the Pisteurs hut:

More snow is forecast for the next few days, so the spring touring/climbing season is shaping up well - watch this space...

Friday, 24 April 2009

Les Courtes - Swiss Route & NNE Face

With good weather continuing to hold I made a more leisurely trip back over to Chamonix on Wednesday and met up with Greg for the last lift up to the top of the Grands Montets and another 5* bivvy, complete with fine panorama.

Les Drus:

Mont Blanc:

A 6 a.m. start saw us skiing under the Droites, and skinning up to below the days target - the north face of Les Courtes. The Swiss Route gives 800m of steep snow & ice climbing, and we planned to combine this with a traverse of the summit and ski descent of the ultra-classic NNE face.

View of Les Courtes with line of Swiss Route marked:

Skinning up below the face:

Greg gearing up below the rimaye:

In spite of our early start, we still found 3 teams on the route ahead of us, of which the first 2 seemed to be moving very slowly, so after some discussion we decided to move together as much as possible, and quickly blasted by the first 2 teams. The climbing was steady, steep snow mixed with sections of good sticky ice.
Yours truly on the lower half of the face:


Looking down at the middle snowfield, from below the upper ice section:

The second half of the face seemed to go on forever, and (as it now turns out) the start of a cold/flu combined with a direct hit to the Adams apple by a block of ice low on the face combined to make progress more difficult, but with Greg on hand for moral support I dug deep for the last ridge to the summit:

Sadly clouds stole the views while we were on top, so a 5 minute snack break was called and we descended the summit ridge to the start of the skiing (at which point the clouds miraculously cleared again).
Swapping to ski mode on 50º snow at the top of the NNE face:

The ski down was great, with compacted powder most of the way giving grippy but soft skiing...only problem was knackered legs & a 60m rope in the bag - makes for interesting times with 700m of 45-50º skiing to do..

An uneventful descent saw us blast back down the Argentiere Glacier, sadly too late for the last lift down from Lognan, meaning a further test for already screaming legs down the Pierre a Ric run, covered in big re-frozen slush-bumps...
It was a weary pair who finally made it back to the cars after a great day out:

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Pointe Eales NE Face

Still in the relaxed holiday spirit a call from Ross & Al on Saturday saw a 'speed-pack' followed by a frustrating drive over to Chamonix (Gorges d'Arly shut again...), a 2 minute change in the Grnads Montets car park, and finally I made the very last cable car to the top with seconds to spare!!

The plan was for the NE Face of Pointe Eales (Col des Courtes), at the very head of the Argentiere basin, with 400/500m of 50º powder in prospect..

5* bivvy location (complete with central heating):

Al getting comfy (with his own 'special' central heating):

5.30 alarm call and by 6.30 we were picking our way through the crevasses down towards the bottom of the Droites in an attempt to keep as much height as possible:

A long skin up the Argentiere glacier finally brought the face into view, with skies clearing, and a bit of sun hitting the top of the face:

Ross drags his Sanouks towards the rimaye:

Aiguille D'Argentiere looking stunning in the morning sun:

The bottom of the face is split by several rimayes, so ropes were kept on for a while until we were well clear. Ross and Al ploughing a trench with their DIY snowshoes:

By 11 o'clock we were well established in the middle of the face, when the cloud level started to drop, nothing too alarming (nice & cool actually). Al ploughs on ahead:

10 minutes later at about 3400m the weather swung completely, and in came the cloud, snow and wind; 2 minutes later the first spindrift avalanche came in from above, and it was time for a quick change to downhill mode to beat a hasty retreat. Interesting times getting into Dynafits on 50º+ with spindrift trying to knock you off balance...:

Despite the poor visibility the face gave awesome skiing (about as easy as a 5.4 slope could possibly feel !) with big fluffy powder on every turn, and in 5 minutes we were back over the lowest rimaye and onto the safer slopes below. Al in the cloud:

Time for tea and cakes:

Photo taken from the same spot as earlier looking up towards the face...bit of a change...

Shame the weather didn't hold 1 more hour as we would have hit the top and had a perfect descent of this classic slope... oh well, next time (might be 5th time lucky for Ross!).

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Holiday time

Work has now officially finished for the winter, so its 'feet up' time... first the right foot, then the left foot & repeat until you get to the top..

Today I met up with Will & Gilles, and after many rearrangements of plans we finally headed over to Val Thorens for some couloir action...
A quick skin up to the Mont de Gebroulaz, and we were peering into a slightly misty Couloir en Z. A seriously nasty entry involved ice axes, ropes, and an awkward cornice - 10cm of tips and tails touching, while feet bounced about over the couloir, abit like this:

Gilles negotiating the entry:

Will abs in:

The top of the couloir was quite steep, with firm but grippy refrozen snow with a thin soft layer on top, but round the corner was a lot different:

A quick skin back up to the Col de Gebroulaz, and we set off for our next objective, the Couloir des Seracs, with some nice powder along the way:

Stepping up to the entry:

Will checking his sluff:

The couloir was full of great powder, and a fine place to try out my shiny new Mythic Riders (sorry about the rocks!), despite a close encounter involving Gilles' sluff and a big patch of blue ice...

Its not called the couloir du Serac for nothing...:

A nice gully lower down:

Gilles below one of the exits:

With ever worsening weather we refitted skins, and flogged up to the Col du Souffre, but finally admitted defeat on our final objective of dropping over the Col du Borgne for some last powder turns due to zero visibility and instead slogged our way out of the bottom of the Gebroulaz valley & finally back to Mottaret to wrap up a 10 hour day...happy holidays...

Thursday, 16 April 2009


Well its been an interesting week chasing conditions in the 3 Valleys...

Monday we found good spring snow on the south side of the Col de la Montee du Fond, and nice chalky soft snow off the Col chair, and down the North face of the Bouchet shoulder in Orelle.

Trevor sliding into the Montee du Fond descent:

Picnic time looking back up at the Bouchet shoulder:

Tuesday & Wednesday even up high the snow had gone heavy, so we searched out the spring snow, with some nice turns (& a fine omelette) in Les Avals on Wednesday..

Today we went out into the wild weather, and after a morning surviving the 'full' conditions opted for an early lunch. On leaving the restaurant we were greeted by a hole in the clouds, and headed up the Caron, where it turned out that nobody had yet ventured down the Lac du Lou itinerary - so we figured we'd probably best put some nice tracks in there...:

Hopefully a birthday present for Trevor to remember!!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Spring has sprung!

Spring is well and truly here in the 3 Valleys, with warm temperatures, slush-bumps, and some great skiing to be had...

Out today with Trevor, Caroline and Georgina we found some good patches of soft windblown snow off the Mt Vallon, reasonable spring snow in the Becca Couloir, and some great powder (with the odd crunchy bit inbetween..) the Glacier chair in Val Thorens and dropping back over into Mottaret from the 3V2 chair.

Georgina in the soft stuff:

Negotiating a short steep section:

With more good powder to come, Caroline ripping it up!:

Friday, 10 April 2009

Vanoise touring

Just back from 5 days touring in the Vanoise between Val D'Isere and Pralognan with Jim, Anne, Bridget, John & Andy.
The team did a brilliant job coping with some very variable conditions, with everything from perfect spring snow & good powder through to 'hell-crust' and unskiable bottomless mush!!!

At the Fond des Fours refuge:

Skinning towards the Col du Pisset, Grande Sassiere behind:

Synchronised skinning:

John, Anne & Jim at the col, next days objective back left is the Pointe de la Sana:

View up the valley from the Femma hut (best cheese selection in the Alps!):

Heading up to the Pointe de la Sana:

Enjoying the spectacular views from the summit slope:

'Where has it all gone?' Bad timing for the summit...Jim trying to look at the view...:

Refuge du Plan du Lac, end of a long day skinning & navigating in a whiteout, and skiing some bottomless mush (good effort guys!!):

South face of the Grande Casse - 1500m of 45-55º...not for tomorrow, but definitely on the hit list! Next days objective is the Col de la Vanoise down and left of the Grande Casse:

Early morning rays on the South face:

John at the 'meeting of waters', start of the skin up to the Col:

Working up to the col, Refuge du Plan du Lac just out of shot on the shoulder back right:

Happy team on the Col:

Grande Casse - the Grands Couloirs is the classic ski tour up this fine peak:

Enjoying great spring snow on the way down the Arollets valley:

Looking back up from Pralognan - time for the boots to come off at last!: