When my friend Andy Nelson sent me a message to say he was free mid-week and wanted to do something, I knew the exact thing that he would love as a climber and skier. Although we had both started the guide scheme at the same time, Andy and myself had never had the chance to spend any time in the mountains together and I was psyched to get he chance to do an Alpine route with Andy. Andy at http://www.infinitymountainguides.co.uk is one one the most professional , well trained and talented guys I know, in both climbing and skiing disciplines. Along with Andy Townsend and Paul Chidlow they put us to shame during our guides training! Neither of us had climbed for months so something fun rather than technically challenging was the order of the day. In fact the Charlet-Gallet traverse of Mt Dolent had been on the list for some time and as an intensive period of spring skiing was coming to an end, my friend Emily Roo had jogged my memory at the perfect time. Neither of us had been on the mountain before or had read anything about it so it would be a little adventure.
The route should have been straightforward but after about 200 m we were both weighing up the decision to continue or rappel off. Under a bombardment of rockfall I had seconded up to Andy with my head down below my skis to collect the gear while he looked down wincing as football sized boulders narrowly missed decapitating me. As I reached Andy he dropped the gear down the rope and I climbed as fast as I could and kept going until we broke out left onto the ramp. Now clear of the rockfall we were able to relax a bit and it was Andy’s turn to wade up steep faceted mank to the headwall. Much to my horror he took a belay there and it was my turn to experience some deep facets over rock while looking desperately for a rock anchor amongst the shattered weetabix. I was pretty relieved to reach the col and some sound spikes where I chilled out and took in the view down the Argentiere basin.
A quick traverse to the rimaye under the North Face and we were able to put our skis on and descend the exposed Gallet ridge. Just before flipping the ridge we had to change to crampons for a 10 m section of ice on the traverse but we were back on skis on the crest of the ridge with the pub beckoning. All that separated us from the pub at La Foully was a 1500 m 10 minute meadow skip down the glacier right? Wrong, its pretty complicated crevasse territory and difficult to read onsight. And did I mentioned the 2 inch crust? Holy Jesus it just about ripped my face off when it caught me unawares, once minute supporting you, the next trying to eat you.
Anyways we made it to the bar. 1.5 hours later. The bar maid started to treat me like a local as I had been skiing so many routes to there and soon had 2 pints of ‘red’ on the table for each of us. ‘Service’ as they say in Switzerland.
The shrund went easily after resculpting it to be ski friendly
When the first incoming rock exploded on that rib on the left I nearly shat myselfClimbing fast while salvoes of rock zinged past
This is John McCune’s Poopy Pants traverse – see his topo below. He was soloing over sugar coated slabs and I was under fire from rock fall so have no recollection of it as I was maxed out trying to go as fast as possible. Andy and all the classic ski lines of the Argentiere basin in behind Taking a breather now we are out of the rock fall zone. Pierre Tardivel skied to this spot in his ski descent in the late 90s.Faceted death mank, my favourite especially combined with the weetabix rock. I guess some Alpine rock experience in New Zealand didn’t go to waste.Andy nearly as excited as me to get off the 60 degree sugar coated rock.
The final ridge Under the summit shrund about to ski On the Galley above and about to put skis on below after traversing onto the ridge crest
Beer time. Last look at that weird rock formation above La Foully
Its been a while since I posted on my blog because I’ve been really lucky and had a run of routes in the mountains and not much time at home. Michelle had 10 days off work and timed it perfectly with the arrival of 80 cm of powder. Enrico Mosetti was also visiting from the Julian Alps and I had the pleasure of showing him around the mountains for the week. We had a day on the Midi skiing a Rond and Cosmique with Minna Riihimaki and Dave Searle which got the juices flowing. Usually I ski around 200 runs off the Midi a year but this was only my 6th day on The Mothership – its definitely been a unique season. The next day we could have easily kept hoovering lift access powder off the Midi but I just want to ski in the mountains by this stage of the season so we decided to get some solitude and tour 800 m up to the Col du Capucin. I’d not been there since 2011 and no one had been there this season. At the col I was pretty sure the abseil anchor was on the left and we set about digging down to find it. With no traffic this year the 50 degree couloir had filled in to an extent that I’ve never seen. As I rapped in and sunk up to my chest I regretted not rapping with skis on. The rest was beautiful deep sluffy cold pow and the only issue was avoiding your sluff, certainly my best powder run of the season. Over a beer Elevation in the hot afternoon sun we decided to go East facing the next day – I had a little project that I’d meant to do for a few years that would test our endurance to the max. The plan was to skin up 1200 m to Col Tour Noir Superior at 3690m, ski the 5.2 50/45 degree East Couloir, then skin 700 m up the scorchio South facing slopes to Col du Saleina at 3419m, finishing with the grind up the Saleina Glacier and over Col du Chardonnet at 3223m. The route weighs in at circa 2500m of up, 4000 m of down, a lot of time in the dry air above 3000 m and getting microwaved from the inside out on South facing glaciers in the super hot sun. Enrico didn’t know better and was up for adventure and Michelle didn’t bother checking it out or listening to the numbers so came expecting it to be easy – I was surprised she thought I did easy things! Usually I carry 0.5 litres and decided 2 litres might just be enough. In the end 2.5 would have been ideal but 2 worked. The first climb gets the sun early and I’ve been cooked on this climb before. Fortunately a chilly wind kept us cool and we arrived at the col having not sweated much fluid. Looking down the sunnyside we were pleased to see the couloir was full of snow. We were skiing on sight without any knowledge of conditions over there. After some steep sugar turns, things mellowed out to 45 degrees and we rode the couloir in 2 or 3 pitches on a combination of creamy spring snow and chalky powder. The next skin lived up to all expectations of being hotter than hell and we stripped down to white base layers and just got on with it loosing fluids and salts at a stupid rate. Just before the col Saleina I had to get my swollen feet out my boots as the crushing bone pain was becoming pretty bad. Enrico and myself ran out of water about here. Unfortunately for Michelle, she thought it was a ski down to Cham from here and didn’t take the news too well that we had 2 hours to the next col. I’m sure she is going to heavily scrutinise any of my future plans in minute detail! After force feeding her and with no technicalities left it was pretty easy for an ex-ironman triathlete to rally and get up to Col du Chardonnet. There we were rewarded with golden glow of the late evening sun and soft spring snow down to Lognan where we stepped of our skis after 11 hours. As the spring skiing in the A Neuve Basin had been so good, I decided to do another route there, this time just with Enrico. I’d never skied Passage D’Argentiere so that was the obvious choice with only 1000 m of skinning and the main difficulty being negotiating the large cliff at the base on sight. A quick rap off the col with skis on and we were away skiing soft spring snow in big turns and having a lot of fun. Then Enrico hit a trigger point and a metre deep wet slab ripped out – he did so well to point it out and ride clear – we were still above a large cliff at this point. With our nerves jangling I took a look at a picture of the face to find our exit and we mange to link some ramps out right and get off the face without taking our skis off. The snow turned to shit lower down the mellow glacier, having not frozen the night before It was collapsing under the tails of our skis or sucking at them at different rates. I stopped half way down and turned expecting Enrico to be there, but no sign. After waiting 5 minutes he appeared with blood pissing down his face. In the gloop he had tomhawked and taken the tip of a ski through his mouth – oW! OOOOOOWWWWWW!!!! He just stood there spitting out blood as it filled up in his mouth and shrugged it off with ‘is it beer time?’ Sure is, its past noon now! Somehow Enrico was allowed onto La Fouly’s Terrace bar despite looking like he had killed a wild boar by biting through its Aorta! I could see small upset children running to arms of their parents who had concerned looked. Backwoods Switzerland is pretty conservative and a bearded bloodstained man yielding an ice axe would be treated with caution in most places perhaps with the exception of Fort William. Enrico got cleaned up and amazingly we got served. After a pint (or 2) Michelle came and picked us up and took us home – what a star! For Enrico’s last day I had a long day in mind – a North-South traverse of Les Courtes. Up Cristeaux, along the ridge and down Croullante Couloir. After a 1000 m climb we hit the ridge and a beautiful traverse took us towards the Aiguille Croullante. 1997 was the last time I did this ridge and it was a real pleasure to do it again surrounded my magnificent scenery in all directions. We rapped onto the North Side to traverse below this pinnacle and found some horror show 55 degree sugar ontop of a mixture of black ice and weetabix rock. I couldnt get a pick placement and just teetered on my feet while I pulled the ropes. Getting my backpack (with skis) off and balancing it on my thighs to secure the ropes was probably the hardest manoeuvre I’ve been faced with in the hills. I quickly joined Enrico at the col and we put our skis on the super exposed knife edge separating the Croullante Couloir and the 800 m North Face of Qui Remue. A lassoed spike let us rap over a boulder and after packing the ropes we discussed if we should try make Montenvers in 35 mins or suffer the ball-baggery of walking to Cham. I elected to go for it and 8 mins later we were below the shrund after sending the line on perfect velvet corn. That definitely ranked in my top 5 big mountain ski descents for snow quality. We schussed down the Talefre glacier passing Pierre a Beranger. Slowing only for a rock slide and some slabs (sorry skis) we arrived below Montenevers just in time for the ‘last lift in 5 minutes’ announcement. A sprint up the stairs ensured we got the training effect that we may have missed earlier in the day! What a great day and a perfect finish to a week skiing with Enrico. I’m looking forward to going and visiting him in the Julian Alps next season. The last run that I’ll post here was with Luca Pandolfi and Tom Grant. The plan was to do the South Face of the Dent de Geant, which although I have skied before in pow, would be fun on the corn. Leaving the Helbronner we were met my a bitingly cold North East wind and on the way over we decided things were unlikely to soften at 4000 m. Instead we headed for the ‘Petit’ variation that sneaks onto the face 200 m or so lower. On the ridge the wind continued to howl and we hid behind the rocks, relaxing and laughing while waiting for the snow to soften up. I took my Atris for this freeride face and had a lot of fun arcing out the turns on the creamy corn. Down at the alpages we swapped ski boots for flip flops and strolled down through some of Italy’s prime real estate to Lou’s cafe and tunnel pizza. There was one more hit before the run came to an end, over Mont Dolent. With Andy Nelson we climbed the Charlet and descended the Gallet ridge – I’ll post that next! Heading to the Col CapucinOne rap in, Michelle skiing Me trying to avoid getting sluffed with the sluff train down over the shrundEnrico chargingMichelle enjoying the powder under the CapucinThe reward for the best pow run of the season Enrico and Myself of Col Tour Noir Superior Enrico blasting down the East Couloir Michelle skiing Me getting my shot in Enrico big mountain wave riding Michelle Enrico about half way downMichelle exiting the couloir Michelle underneath the Gallet Ridge of Dolent (left) which we skied later in the week and the stunningly beautiful North East Face of the Amone on the right which I skied with my good buddy Dave Searle one sick weekend in 2011. Did I mention it was hotter than hell skinning up this South Facing glacier?Final treadmill session was eased by the milky late afternoon light and cooler temperatures. The final wee bootback on Col du Chardonnet, fixed rope handrail Savouring the moment, nearly 8 pm. Ripper corn on the West facing slopes Passage d’Argentiere – Enrico blasting offFreeride down to the big cliff Enrico spitting blood after tomahawking in rotten slop and getting a ski tip in the mouth on flat glacier In the zone!Traverse of the Courtes – up Cristeaux, along the ridge and down Croullante. The 2 Norwegians followed along on our heals the whole way but seemed reluctant to do any work instead letting an old man like me put the booter in. If I was 20 again there’d be no way I’d wait for some old codger.On the RidgeI had not been here since 1997Enrico contemplating the traverse around the CroullanteOne of the most precarious spots to step onto skis on a knife edge ridge with 800 m Qui Remue behind and 600 m Croullante Couloir belowExcited about the perfect conditions on velvetEnrico on the 10 m rapTime to rip – 4 pm and Montenvers last gondola at 435 pm, about 6000 feet and 7 miles to cover.The couloir rode smooth and fast – 8 mins including camera stops! In Elevation by 5 with a hell of a thirst.Next! Sheltering out the wind and waiting for the snow to soften on the South Face of Dent de GeantBeautiful setting. While Waiting for Luca and Tom I skinned over to the top of the Marbree seen behind to pay my respects to Dave Rosenbarger who died in an avalanche there earlier this year. It was the first time I went there this year and an emotional moment to be there on the col. Me enjoying the creamy spring snow with Marbree behind.
Corn harvesting on Bel Oiseau south west couloir from the summit to the dam with Minna Riihimaki and Tommasco Cardelli. The day got weird near the end.
Getting the angle on the line to see if there’s enough snow. Complicated terrain below, looking for the deepest gully that will have snow. Guides training coming in useful!
Bush trimming done.
Into the Hobbit hole.
A long walk in the dark with only a phone as a torch. We found some strange things. Before Tommi opened the door to freedom we were climbing this ladder in the pitch dark trying to hold our only source of light, a phone!
Its always a pleasure to travel under the North Wall of the Argentiere Glacier and study the big ski lines and dream about the few hours they might be in condition in April or May. We hoped to ski some of the mid altitude couloirs in the hope they were more sheltered from the wind but in the first I wasn’t able to ski cut the new snow – it would slide a couple of metres then stop, not exactly inspiring confidence. After hanging out at the col and enjoying the surroundings we opted for some meadow skipping back home.