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New Zealand – a film about skiing on Aoraki

In the words of Sam Smoothy ‘sometimes New Zealand can be a cold hearted mistress.’ She was certainly giving us the ultimate in cold shoulder treatment as day after day the South Island got battered by storm force winds as much as 75 mm of precip. The Wyn Irwin hut near Mount Cook village provided us with friendly and cosy refuge. Amongst the temporary residents were the guardian Cam Mulvey, Laura from the DOC Kia Preservation Project, Aussie Tim who was on the Plateau hut build team, Eifel from Singapore and Beau Fredlund from Yellowstone and endless banter passed the time and kept spirits high. It was a chance to adjust to the 12 hour time change, clear the mind and focus on what lay ahead, and do some trail running surrounded by the lakes and glaciers of the rugged Hooker valley.
Back in June Smoothy and myself had started talking about collaborating on some ski projects in the Southern Alps but a dry August had me holding back from buying a airline ticket. Finally in September the snow came and when I saw some activity in the mountains I pressed the button on a ticket. After beating around the bush for a while swapping messages we got to the point and started discussing a new line on the 1400 m Caroline Face. This had seen its first descent in 2017 by Grant, Mosetti and Briggs, a trip I had to pull out of at the last moment due to herniating the lowest disc in my spine onto the sciatic nerve root. A big glaciated face like this changes from season to season and when the door on one line closes others may open. To put it in context the West Face of Mont Blanc is similar in size and holds 4 independent ski routes which are rarely all in condition simultaneously. Since skiing 1000 m + faces is in powder is my thing, I still had an interest in the Caroline Face and the opportunities it holds for skiers. That said it pays to be careful who you speak to outside of the steep skiing fraternity as it makes the uninitiated uncomfortable as their pulse quickens, the blood drains from their face and they stare at your through glazed over eyes as if you are crazy. Its just a question of what you are used to and my last runs in my backyard where Couturier, Mallory and the ultra tech steep and exposed Aiguille du Plan North Face. In Chamonix anything is possible but in NZ you need one day when you won’t be ripped off the mountain by then wind catching the skis on your pack. Doesn’t sound like too much to ask right?
I was all set to fly solo, relishing the chance to do my own thing after a busy guiding summer. So it was a surprise bonus when Dave Searle asked what I was up to and bought a ticket too.
The breaks in the weather were small this spring, mainly too short to make a valley approach and ski the next day and It seemed unlikely there would be sufficiently weather window to make it worthwhile for local Smoothy to hook up. So when we saw a tiny couple hour window we jumped at the opportunity to fly into Plateau hut joined by Yellowstone resident and ski guide Beau Fredlund to get amongst the skiing. We landed there in -20C and bottomless powder that was going to make getting up anything a challenge. Here’s what we got up to.

October Ski Mont Blanc du Tacul

October 3rd and we just had a big storm with 40 cm up the  Midi.

It was a lush sunny day with good friends skiing off the Aiguille du Midi and Tacul.

Always an adventure putting your skis 🎿 on in the ice cave and sliding out through the portal in the magical world of sunny 😎 alpine mountains. One minute you are all cost asked in bed 🛌, and less than an hour later boom 💥

Good to see fellow Chamlads @joelevans @digitalsteak @olly_alkema

 

Ski Descent of Couturier Couloir

One of my biggest dreams was to ski the mythical Couturier Couloir off the mighty 4122 m Aiguille Verte…in powder. From one of the wildest summits in the Mont Blanc Massif a 1000 m of sustained 50/55 degrees. I went up to the refuge prepared for a solo adventure. I knew Gabriel Rivas was heading up with some other friends though he was wanting to ski Col de la Verte. In the end Gabriel teamed up with me and yesterday that dream became reality. Twenty years in the waiting, lots of sacrifices to obtain this one including many jobs, and it lived up to all expectations. What a mind blowing adventure. Great snow, amazing company, intimidating situations with the smattering of snow and the ever present death ice out right acting as a constant reminder to go canny. The line went clean using the lower traverse into the Washburn variation. SUPER STOKED.

After we chatted on the rognan col for a long time and said our goodbyes, I wanted to drink beer and Gabriel was gonna straight line across to the Argie hut to stay another day.

Down on the flat glacier below, a moments lapse of concentration and Gabriel hit a block of ice at speed and tomahawked hard into other blocks of ice. Would you believe it – we’ve just skied the Couturier??! When I got to him I could see the impact on his helmet had probably broken his nose. Struggling to breath and with lots of internal pain, it was an easy decision for me to call a rescue chopper. 3 years ago I javelined head first into the ground out riding and the damage to my back almost prevented me breathing so I could imagine where he was at – its pretty scary when your ribs cage locks out, completely different to being winded which is bad enough, more like drowning – when I flew to the Netherlands the next day for work I had to get Alan White to carry my bags!

Fortunately the rescue was quick, unfortunately Gabriel suffered 3 broken vertabrae, 2 broken ribs and contusion to a lung. Get well soon Gabriel and thanks for an all time day. I drank your share of the beer last night too!