Sunny Days and Hot Nights at the Couvercle Refuge

The Black Crows posse of Bruno Compagnet, Minna Riihimaki and myself headed up to stay in the sweet Couvercle refuge for a night.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-1 The team excited about a trip to the mountains and the beautiful Couvercle refuge.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-2 Bruno pointing out linesBruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-3 Still some good flat snow with no sastrugi on Gros Rognan.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-4 Beautiful late afternoon light on the Mer de Glace.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-5 The 2016 Corvus Freebird and the Navis Freebird, both amazing touring skis.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-6 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-7 They say you should always be doing something with your hands in a photo, the weirder the better! Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-8 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-9 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-10 Some people still dispute climate change. Here we have June snow conditions in mid March!Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-11 The last rays of the afternoon before the sun sets behind the Chamonix Aiguilles Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-12 Minna on the boot pack to the Pierre a Beranger.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-13 I’m getting on well with these glue less Evotec skins – time will tell for the final verdict. So much faster putting skins on and off without the cheat sheets. Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-14 Hut nights at the Couvercle, Bruno enjoying a glass of red.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-15 We were joined by French Alpinists who had been on Viva Gel and Whymper. They were obviously feeling the cold and put a lot of wood on the fire. It was so hot that I went to bed on my boxers and couldnt sleep until 3 am.Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-16 Bruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-17 A bit of digital art to show off the partial eclipse of the sunBruno Compagnet Minna Rihiimaki Couvercle-18

Y Couloir, Aiguille d’Argentiere

All the North wind we have had has filled in the right hand branch of Y Couloir really well this year and I have been wanting to go there for some time. I was weighing up going solo to Croullante or going to the Y but persistent afternoon cloud on the Aiguille du Midi made it an easy decision to go for Y off the first Grands Montets bin. Late in the afternoon my friend Kirsti Lehtimaki from EPIC TV messaged me saying she wanted to ski and had a friend coming too. Next morning her friend Matthieu Vigier came along with Chloe Laget and Couttet Berbere so we had a sociable skin up the classic Millieu Glacier. The lack of snow meant very firm conditions on the way up and we used ski crampons for the 1400 m climb.

On the summit there was a cold 5 kph wind blowing and I didnt linger long wanting to find the entry to the couloir, having only skied the left branch before. In the couloir it was thankfully a bit warmer and after passing 5 m of rocks at the top we put on our skis on flat corning spring snow.  SAM_0014

Y Couloir (TD, 45 degrees, 5.1/5.2 600 m) as seen from Col des Courtes. Its the big line branching below the summit of the Aiguille d’Argentiere (3901m). P1020001Y Couloir with the 60 m step at the base with the stunning golden granite spires.20150318_11560120150318_131236

Julbo Aerospace goggles – the ultimate variable venting bootpacking and touring goggle. The big lines of Couturier and Au Coeur du Monde or Col Aiguille Verte right hand (1st and only? descent by the Scottish extreme ski legends Paul MacLeod and Ewen Moffat with the Dane Thomas Husted in 2001).20150318_131958

The North Wall of the Argentiere Glacier – a lifetime of extreme ski dreams in one place. 20150318_132000
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Me happy on the summit. 20150318_133459

I was really happy to see such good conditions and lots of direct sun.
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Matthieu skiing cautiously between softer patches. The Black Crows Navis Freebird is an astonishingly good ski.20150318_144318

Kirsti skiing ice axe in hand!11074943_10153079292175932_2036905535_o

Me in the upper section, Thanks to Kirsti Lehtimaki for the photo.11076554_10153079292225932_1955151801_o

Still on firm snow at this point and putting in the chop turns to avoid any uncontrollable build up of speed.SAM_0016

Col des Courtes and Aiguille de l’Amone

At the end of last season my ski partner Dave Searle and myself got lucky and found these two lines in perfect conditions with a foot of cold untracked powder. The Col des Courtes was a line that I had attempted on numerous occasions (9!) and had once made a swift ski retreat from the mid height rocks when  Foehn storm rolled in.  This was going to be the last time I trekked up the Argentiere glacier to see if it would go. We were joined by Rob Stokes and this was the first time I had skied with him which was fun. Stokes and Searler’s constant banter kept me continuously entertained throughout the day. Thanks guys. The slope is definitely one of the steepest things I have been on and I was glad of the powder, without that it would have been a very different game.

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The next day Dave and myself returned to the Argentiere basin en route to the Amone. With the hot May days we had to go at race pace up the glacier and climb the SE couloir to before things started to fall to pieces. We were at the Col at Midi, able to relax and have some food. Dave has a similar metabolism to myself which means repeated days on the go eats into our muscle mass and we simply just cant eat enough food.  A nice scramble over the arrete brought us onto the face. Thanks to Cedric Bernadini and Luca Pandolfi to recommend this route as it enables the route to be done in a day as long as you are fast.  The upper 45 degree slopes didnt feel that exposed after the previous day on Col des Courtes 55 degree slopes but I am sure they would if you havent got accustomed to this type of skiing, especially with the 400 m cliff at the base. Looking back up the face from below it reminds me of something Shane McConkey would have loved for a ‘ski to base jump’ hit with the 400 m cliff. This is probably the most esthetic ski line I have ever done with unbroken skiing from the summit, only Couturier rates higher in my book. Possibly the best two days skiing I have ever done, thanks guys.

Getting back from La Foully was easy due to the efficiency of the Swiss, initially on post bus then train to Martigny. Once we entered France chaos ensued with the train driver stopping at Vallorcine, switching off the lights and announcing the timetabled connection wouldnt run and pointing us in the direction of the local hotel for the night. At 9 pm food and watering was long over due and I wasnt that impresssed to say the least. We hid all the kit in a bush and Dave started to thumb a lift in order to pick up the van from Argentiere and come back for me. The road was like a tumbleweed Wild West outpost and eventually  Dave got picked up while I sat and shivered. Dave appeared with the van alot sooner than expected, turned out that the Russian that picked him up thought he was a formula one driver and was testing his wallowing quashquai to the max, taking the blind apex atr Col des Montets at 80 kph and verring onto the wrong side of the road for 50 m. Dave got out at the earliest opportunity and walked the rest contemplating how hitching had turned out to be the most dangerous part of the day.