Sunday, 28 February 2010


No blogging recently as conditions have frankly been dire. The Foehn wind has blown in, bringing in warm and wet weather, with rain in town for most of the last 5 days. Les Houches was ok but murky on friday and GM good yesterday, but it is now wet again and today is looking like a dry tooling day. Or drinking.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Bellin Couloir, Brevent

Looking down the Couloir from near the top
Emma demonstrating faultless, immaculate, perfect technique. Obviously.

Emma with the top of the Couloir behind

With a bit of time off in the middle of a work day we decided to go and ski the ENSA couloir on the Brevent, but bad vis and cornices put us off once we got to the top of the cable car. A quick look in the book revealed the Bellin Couloir nearby so we went and had a look. With really easy access (traverse under the Brevent rock face and you arrive in the Couloir where the summer rock rock "Frison Roche" starts) it is a nice line and well worth knowing about. We found very icy conditions near the top, and very heavy snow near the bottom, but some nice stuff in the middle.

The top is a solid 40 degrees and I reckonned it was maybe fall and die territory given the ice, but Carl fell over right at the top and managed not to die, so what do I know. The rest is maybe 30 degrees ish, and would be brilliant under powder. See you there after next snowfall!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Lillaz Gully

Abs getting to grips with her first "Scottish"route

Looking down from the lead on the M4 pitch

With Abs keen to climb and me keen to double check my arms still worked after all this skiing, we decided on a day out in Cogne. Damien and Greg came along too and tried to shame me into climbing something really hard, but they failed and so Abs and I climbed the Lillaz Gully (II,4,M4).

The route consists of a few steepish steps of ice and some snow plodding, and then a pitch of M4 at the end. This pitch is the undoubted highlight - ever decreasing amounts of ice leading to a brief section of bare rock, and then back onto a final 10 metres of easy ice. Really interesting climbing and with 2 pegs just where you want them.

The route is in really good nick right now but is completely hooked out - most of the footholds are big enough to take half your boot - so it isn't too challenging. That said, the sun was shining and although easy, the climbing is really nice, so we had a superb day. The lads meanwhile shamed us by climbing Repentance (5+/6) and said it was brittle ice but well hooked. 

Still plenty of good routes left in Cogne, so with continued unsettled weather on the way it will be a good option this week.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Keen for a day of exploring, touring and steep skiing, Alison and I decided (somewhat randomly!!) to head over to Chatel, and try to ski Mont de Granges. A combination of staying in bed too long, heavy traffic and a long lift queue meant that we didn't start skinning until midday, but with only 850 metres height to gain we weren't too worried.

The snow was pretty loose in places and the visibility was pretty poor so we decided about 3 that we weren't going to go to the summit, and we definitely weren't going to ski the Pertuis Couloir on the north west face like  we'd hoped. With 100 metres of 50 degrees followed by 400 metres of 45 degrees it didn't seem like the place to be in bad vis and dodgy snow! 

Slightly disappointed we ended up dropping off the West ridge which we'd climbed, and skiied a really nice powdery face. So we didn't manage the Pertuis but managed some skinning, amazing powder skiing and saw a beautiful new area - can't be bad!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Best laid plans and all that

Distinctly off piste at Le Tour
Tom's usual cautious skiing!

With a forecast of a decent morning and poor afternoon, Tom and I had plans of heading across to the Helbronner over in Italy and having a look at the Aiguille de Toule and the Toula Glacier. Waking up to find it raining wasn't part of the plan though, and so we switched to a lazy morning then a cruise up to Le Tour.

Hoping we might find some good visibility in the trees we opted for skiing the Vallorcine side, and although there were patches of nice snow, most of it was so heavy and wet that turning was all but impossible (for me anyway). Suitably disappointed we got the train back to Cham and noticed that it was suddenly snowing pretty hard, so we went up for a run off the Plan de L'Aiguille. As ever it didn't disappoint - superb, deep powder all the way, albeit with pretty bad vis.

Also, there were a few pretty dodgy bits of loose and slabby snow, and it seemed worst on eastern aspects, and every single gully on the track leading back into town was full of recent avalanche debris, so choose your lines carefully. If you manage that it will be epic tomorrow.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Aiguillette des Houches

Keen for a steadier day today we took the Brevent lift and skinned across the Aiguillette des Houches. Getting across to the peak is pretty amazing - there is a huge amount of good terrain in that area, and very little traffic. The skin up to the peak itself is pretty brief - less than an hour - but there are loads of other good looking slopes to go at.

From the summit the snow was pretty cruddy but good fun, and we finished with a long ski down the summer walking track all the way to Les Houches train station. I wouldn't be able to describe where we went, suffice to say it was fast, narrow and hilarious skiing!

Tour Ronde Climb and Ski

The North Face

Keen for a good climb/ski combo, Tom and I headed up to the Tour Ronde after catching the first midi bin. The classic north face route looked good from below so we shot over and after an amazing effort from Tom to cross a very powdery bergshrund we got onto the lower icefield and so began the epic.

The lower snow field is currently deep powder snow - tiring, time consuming and a bit scary. We eventually made it onto the crux and found it in pretty good nick, nice neve with the odd bit of brittle ice about as well. Once off the crux and onto the top snowfield we then got some more soft snow, then some nice neve and finally some hard, black ice.

We moved together on the entire route, often with no gear between us on the easier sections, but progress was still slow, and by the time we'd got off the summit darkness was apparoaching. Having done the descent in summer  I was confident I could get off, but the descent couloir had less snow in it than it did in June! We managed to sideslip and ski most of it, albeit with a brief down climb and 2 abs (one wearing skis), and then finished off with a vallee blanche in the dark. Bit tired back down in town but nothing a greasy burger and chips couldn't sort out!

Overall the route isn't in now, but you can tell that if in condition it would be excellent and quick - definitely doable in a day off the first midi lift, and later in the season the ski off will be nice too.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Cosmiques Couloir

View from the Midi
First turns in the Couloir
Say no more.

Tom showing me how it's done!

With an unreliable forecast for 30% susnhine we took a chance and headed up the midi, hoping to do the uber classic Cosmiques Couloir. It was soon obvious that the gamble had paid off as we found ourselves above the cloud with perfect, warm weather.

We did 3 x 30 metre abs to get into the couloir, and then found it in pretty good nick. The snow varied from powder to crust and to corn, often within a couple of metres, but there was no ice to speak of so it all felt pretty ok. The book of death gives it "Difficile, 45 degrees", and although it is steep, the couloir is pretty wide and doesn't feel too intimidating. We stuck left and then cut back right for the exit in an attempt to avoid any windslab, and it all felt pretty solid.

Having got down the couloir we had a bit of a walk/pole/sidestep across to the old midi mid station, and found quite a lot of dodgy snow. A few slabs had avalanched, and the whole slope generally felt pretty unnerving, so we were relieved to get on to the customary perfect powder once we got near the Plan de L'Aiguille.

From there it was great snow, initially in nice trees, then in pretty thick trees, then in a jungle, but it seemed like a small price to pay for such an awesome descent.

After a few cups of tea we headed up for a final lap off the Plan de L'Aiguille and (obviously!) got great snow, and some really steep stuff, most of which Tom jumped over and I side slipped. Need some big skis...and ability.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Grand Montets and more Chatelard

John on Pitch 1 of le Pesseus
Couple of great days out with John recently. First up was another trip to Chatelard, where we climbed Le Pesseus, II,3 during a few hours off from work in the middle of the day. The first picth is steep right now, about 4 ish, and the second easy but delicate ice mushrooms. Great route though and ideal for a quick hit if you've got a few hours spare.

Today we headed to a very foggy and snowy Grand Montets for some superb tree skiing and coffee drinking. We stuck to the trees due to bad vis and found some awesome snow.Loving it.