Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Steep Tours (part 2)

Day 4 of the Steep Vanoise Tours week dawned ominously cloudy, and after our epic day on Tuesday it was decided that a downhill only day was in order. With high freezing levels we headed over to Val Thorens and hit the jackpot... lapping one lift all day with barely another person off piste until the visibility lifted in the afternoon!

Poor visibility first thing, but great snow:

Some brighter patches came through & we could enjoy the powder:

After lunch the sun decided to join in.

Amanda making the most of the visibility:

Jim joins in the fun:


Amanda leaving great tracks

Nick ripping the soft stuff:

Jack goes in deep:

Jim taking the direct line:

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Steep Tours (part 1)

Tricky conditions for the inaugural Steep Vanoise Tours week, high avalanche risk, very high 0º isotherm, and mixed weather forecast all adding up to a challenging week...

On Sunday we managed to find some reasonable spring conditions in the Combe Sans Nom, with some grass hopping on the lower exit to spice things up.

Some 'Scottish' style conditions:

In the afternoon we went in search of relatively safe powder, looking for steep narrow couloirs where there might be some (but not too much) soft snow.

Jim negotiating the narrows on Petit Valdez:

Day 2 and with bad weather forecast we played close to home again, finding some soft snow in the Plattieres & Mont Vallon areas before going for a skin up to the Col du Borgne in the fog, with some good powder on the descent but no visibility...

Nick enjoying some soft snow off the Mont Vallon on day 2, before the visibility closed in:

With good weather forecast for day 3 we went on a mission to the Aiguille de Chanrossa, where we found perfect powder on the steep North East slope, and also had a triple Lammergeier spotting. No photos sadly as I had left my camera at home. The exit back down Les Avals turned into a mission of endurance, with rotten snow and a long sticky push out past Le Biol...

More to follow.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Spring snow

With warm sunny days and cool nights the time has finally come to head off in search of velvety smooth spring snow :-)

A long morning with Henry & Gemma on Friday gave the perfect opportunity -

Traversing the Caron/Brequin ridge:

Gemma ripping up the perfect spring snow:

Henry in action:

Good conditions all the way down:

A bit of grass skiing to get out:

Happy days!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Val T to Val D'I

Last weekend I embarked on a Val Thorens to Val D'Isere ski tour with Mark, David, Keith and Glynn. The plan was to do this over 4 days, with 3 nights in mountain huts along the way...unfortunately the weather had other plans, and high avalanche risk and zero visibility turned Day 1 into a warm up day on & around the pistes of the 3 Valleys, finishing with a road transfer up to Pralognan.

Morning of day 2 and we used the Pralognan lifts to ease the journey up to the Felix Faure hut on the Col de la Vanoise.

Lots of people heading up from Barmettes, mostly out on day tours:

After lunch at the refuge we went in search of powder...
and found it off the shoulder of the Pointe de la Rechasse:

An early start on day 3 to cross the Col de la Vanoise and head into the Leisse valley:

High avalanche risk on north-facing slopes made choice of line a tricky business, but by staying on ridge crests where the wind had stripped most of the snow we were able to weave a safe line up to the Col des Pierres Blanches. South face of Grande Casse in the background looking very thin, next year perhaps?

Some more nice turns:

Approaching the Femma hut - it was at this point Keith mentioned hearing a 'snap'...:

Anyone wondering about the level of avalanche risk need only look at the slopes opposite the Femma hut, pretty much the whole hillside had spontaneously released in several slabs:

A warm welcome as always from Claire the gardienne. Time to rest weary limbs on the suntrap terrace:

It was while putting skins on first thing in the morning on day 4 that the cause of Keith's "snap" became apparent when his whole ski folded in two...oh the joys of ultra-light touring kit!
After some deliberation we decided the traverse of the Col du Pisset back to Val D'Isere was the best option (short of calling in a helicopter) and set off to nurse the broken ski over the Col:

Looking back down the Rocheure valley:

East face of the Dent Parrachee looking a bit thinner than when we skied it last spring...:

At the Col du Pisset, watershed into the Val D'Isere valley:

Having nursed the broken ski down the top part of the Manchet valley it eventually became too tricky for Keith to ski, so to make life easier I set him up on my Gotamas and took his one remaining good ski. 100m later as I gently traversed a powdery slope there was another audible 'crack', and this one had given up the ghost too!
After some cursing and muttering we continued on, somehow managing to make the ski slide occasionally, and resorting to some serious survival one-ski skiing, until eventually we caught sight of some army skiers ahead. David charged off and managed to find the Captain, who agreed to let me use their spare skis (the battalion always carry extras when in the mountains) to get down to le Manchet.
Never been so glad to see a pair of 'snowblades' in my life! Merci!!

Some of the army team on the skate back to Le Manchet:

Keith's 2-part ski, handy for transporting...:

As it turns out, there may have been a mounting problem with the skis, with the wrong glue being used which allowed the carbon weave of the topsheet to fray & create weak points... all this did serve to reinforce my view that ultra-light touring kit simply cannot be as resistant & hard-wearing as a solidly made (if heavier) ski.

Anyone out there thinking of buying Black Powder skis from Alpcontrol think very hard - all they consist of is a carbon weave topsheet, a PTex base, and some (very) soft balsa wood inbetween the two - and make sure whoever mounts them uses Araldite or similar epoxy resin!!!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Les Avals

An easy-angled wander out the back of Courchevel 1650 today with Ginny to check out conditions. Heavy wet powder on a damp base probably sums it up best. Much care needed at the moment, particularly on steeper slopes - with reports of big avalanches off the back of Mt Vallon, in La Plagne and also in Val D'Isere...

Monday, 14 March 2011

'Keyhole couloir'

This week I have a few days off, and having had a lazy weekend letting the body recover from a succession of busy weeks, and with a window in the otherwise pretty poor weather forecast, I met up with Will for some adventuring out the back of Courchevel today. Will has been busy as always on skis this winter, and has managed to work out some new lines (probably previously unskied) on some of the peaks out behind Courchevel. He was keen to show me one of his discoveries, involving a bit of alpinism, some mixed climbing, and a short abseil (and hopefully some powder)...

Long distance shot to the 'Keyhole' (on the ridge), more of this later:

A fairly steady skin up on firm spring snow leads to a col on the ridge:

For the full mountain experience we didn't head straight for the couloir and went summit-bagging:

Bit of an airy climb on inconsistent powder with big drops either side:

Tricky skiing back off the summit, with very variable snow, and lots of rocks not far from the surface!

Getting to the 'Keyhole' involves a bit of insecure mixed climbing this winter:

Will at the 'Keyhole':

On the other side it was all looking quite good:

The top section is steep (50º ish) and leads straight into a choke-point - abseil needed this year. Looking back up from below the anchor:

Looking down from below the abseil, mmmmmmm!:

A bit of 'Ambiance':

Will giving his skis a quick grind on the abseil:

Some good snow makes all the effort worthwhile:

Will ripping it up:

Lots of space lower down:

What a great day! Climbing, summit, abseiling, powder... it was all there.

It has to be said that right now powder is hard-won in the 3 Valleys though, the strong winds of the last few days have done a lot of damage, leaving some interesting crust on alot of slopes, and still a high risk of avalanche on certain slopes - the rain-crust from January is still making its presence felt.