April was a fine month with good weather and stable snow conditions allowing many long days to the mountain tops from the valley floor – mainly with the Finnish crew of Mikko and Lauri. We went to the Chardonnet West – Trident linkup, Moine Banane (with talented photographer Aaron Rolph), Central peak of Tricot, Aiguille de Mesure North Face, Mt Oreb North Face.
Weird environmental seem to be happening more frequently these past years. From the 600 mm of rain that fell in the Alp Maritime in 12 hours this autumn, to this weird Martian day I woke up to in a strange bed heavily hungover after Searle’s birthday party, trying to make sense of what was going on. Turns out it was possible the biggest Sahara sand storm on record which transported sand as far as Finland. We went out kite skiing, enjjoying the wind and marvelling at the deposits of sand on our clothing, later to learn the sand had traces of Cesium 137 from the 1960’s French nuclear tests in Algeria – a paper mask might not stop covid but it may have been useful to avoid inhaling too much of that into our lungs!
A dry November and December was followed by the mother of all January’s. Without the usual ski resort avi control the steep sided Chamonix valley started to feel a little like it did in ’99 when houses were destroyed by avalanche with their occupants. Fortune seemed to favour us and the weather broke long enough for some essential avalanche control work by heli deployed daisy bell.
February was another drought and after skiing Pointe Percee North Face on disgusting snow, it was time to change tactics and look for better options. A ski and fly out the Pas de Chevre was a extrordinary experience for me, skiing those big open powder slopes then flying effortlessly over the combat zones down to beers in the sun at Argentiere. I’m a novice paraglider and it was my first time employing ski n fly tactics in the mountains. Pas de Chevre was one of my big goals for this winter and boom, it happened like clock work. For me ski n fly will be my future tactic of choice for the big lines like the Peuterey Ridge, I just need to keep building my experience and abilities slowly and surely.
While it was dry and hot we took to our bikes exploring Annecy venues around Semnoz, Talloire and Yeyrier, all so good and a pleasure to have bigger vistas than in our tight sided valley.
Another day I joined Ben Tibbetts and Valentine Favre (World skimo champion who just did Chamonix – Zermatt in 26 hours (https://runthealps.com/something-truly-badass-just-happened-in-the-alps/?fbclid=IwAR0pl0cuuOaaHf-2naRvW3cJRYl1SU_XJmcgkzgdkWIKJhbvAGzsavxL89c ) to ski up Mont Gele in Italy’s beautiful Valpelline. This is a great client day and there is a beautiful refuge and bivi hut to break the 1900 m into 2 days. The summit has incredible 360 views from Mont Blanc – Grand Jorasses – Grand Combin – Dent Blanche – Dent d’Herens – Monte Rosa.
Finally the snow returned and with it motivation to ski lines. The talented photographer Aaron Rolph joined myself and Tom for a lush day on the Premier Pointe de Tricot’s North East couloir which was almost despatched at pedal to the metal velocity. A few fabulous days at Skyway with friends followed, notably Luca Pandolfi. We skied Entreves, Marbrees, the lower trees – high quality snow on world class runs, just having fun, with lots of friends around us, eating and drinking like you do in Italy. It was an incredible shock and saddening to hear of Luca’s passing in an avalanche on the Monday in his homeland near Grand St Bernhard. His gentle loving nature, enthusiasm and happiness will be sorely missed.
Then it was time to hit the Swiss lift systems where we explored the untracked forests finding a plethora of untapped sick pillow lines down 40 degree glades. This was a massive moral boost and just so much fun having spent most of the winter touring for every single metre! During this period we revisited the Orny Couloirs, enjoying the return to the high mountain.
More recently my focus has been closer to home on the big runs in the Argentiere basin. After a lifetime of living out of hotels and refuges as an engineer or guide, I prefer to sleep in my own bed and have a longer day from the valley floor. In the last week we did 4 day trips to the basin to ski the Cristaux, Argentiere Y couloir, South Face of the Chardonnet and Col des Courtes. These are big days in anyone’s books and I’ve called upon my summer 5000 m vert bike missions on my Nomad to power a pair of 100 mm skis and maestrale’s up and back. I’d love to get my hands on a pair of Scarpa F1 LTs for the bigger end of season missions but seems Brexit and confinements is making my chances of getting a pair from the UK non existent. Oh well, I shall keep going with what I got for now!
A short film from last years La Sentinelle in Arolla Switzerland. I didn’t guide on that meet but I did on the previous 3 editions and plan to be at the Dolomites meet in 2021. Hope to see you there and enjoy the film.
Ski touring in a Christmas card landscape. The winter season is underway and despite the government keeping the ski lifts closed for the next few weeks, clients can go ski touring with qualified mountain guides.
The best ski runs from 2020. We started the season down under. New Zealand must be one of my alternative spiritual homes, a place I’ve visited several times and feel completely at home. For skiing it’s like my Super Bowl. You may make all the moves and just be out of luck with high winds making you question the sanity of opening the outside door. But make the finals and on ‘The Day’ NZ will show you her magic and allow you play your A game. With @davejsearle we added a 700 m line to the Caroline Face, skied the 2nd known descent of Bowie Couloir and did another lap on the East Face of Cook. Back in Chamonix just as the season got good lockdown came and we had a wait of 2 months confined to our homes before restarting the season with a run on the Midi North Face to start the high mountain season. Dreaming of skiing during lockdown 2, hopefully it will be over soon.