Monday, 26 April 2010

Col D'Argentiere

Keen to get back in the hills after a weekend of eating and drinking, I went up Grand Montets with Rory today to ski the Col D'Argentiere.

The forecast was for 80% sunshine, so we were hoping we might get some good views and a bit of fitness. However, the vis came and went all day, and the forecast 20cm of fresh snow hadn't arrived, so conditions weren't great, but it was good to catch up with Rory and get some exercise all the same.

Rory rocking the Swedish look

View from the col!

The ski down was pretty good fun despite the snow - massive, fast turns all the way. It might not to be perfect powder but summer will be here soon and we'll have to walk down everything!

Saturday, 24 April 2010


With a good forecast for thursday, Tom, Sergei and I headed up for a bivi at Grand Montets and a plan to do Vivagel Direct (IV, 5, ED, 1000m) on the Aiguille Verte the next day. As it turned out we skipped the direct finish and did Vivagel itself (IV, 4, TD, 1000m). See line below.

Photo Courtesy John Cuthbert
After a very warm bivi in the cable car station toilets we set out early and after a short ski and skin up we started soloing up the low angled start to the Couturier. One party ahead of us had turned round due to lots of snow but we found it really easy, mainly because the track was already in place. Where the Couturier bent right we went left and began moving together up perfect, but seemingly never ending neve.

Sergei half way up the low angled bottom ice slope.

Having reached the steep headwall in good time we began pitching and found some pretty hard, black ice, which really slowed us down. The ice was steeper than it looked and brittle so we made steady but pretty unspectacular progress.

By pure chance a friend our ours was skiing along the Argentiere Glacier and got this shot of us arriving at the start of the technical climbing at about 9.15. Look closely!

Me leading through the initial technical section

Sergei and Tom following the first proper pitch. Steeper than it looks and quite delicate in places, but really good climbing.

After doing 5 pitches we made the decision not to do the direct finish due to the time, but started moving together again up towards the normal finish up more good firm neve.

Having done one last pitch on hard ice we crested the ridge and got a superb view of the Jorasses (see above) and finally got the weight off our feet. Nice ledges are conspicuous by their absence on this face!

Me and Tom on top!

We had planned to ab the face and knowing there continuous ice we set off on a marathon of V thread digging. Huge thanks to Sergei on this one - the World's fastest and best V thread digger! We lost count of the abseils, but between 15 and 20 is our best guess, followed by a long down climb back to skis and a long (but quite enjoyable) ski back down to Argentiere in the dark.

The inevitable consequence of "having a look at the top bit" when time is running out!

All in all a great route in pretty good condition, just allow plenty of time. Cheers to Sergei and Tom for their good company and ability to keep smiling long after it was reasonable to do so!

All the routes on the buttress look good and the Couturier must have had 20 people climb it during the day, all of whom descended the Whymper, so it is clearly the mountain to be on.
As ever, April is proving to be immense!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Domes de Miage

Just got down from 2 great days skiing the Domes de Miage with Emma. The approach to the Conscrits hut is frankly brutal - 1.5 hours walking uphill in ski boots and then 3 hours skinning. Worth it for the view though (see above).

Sunday started with sun and cloud so we headed up optimistically towards the Dome de Miage. The skin up is pretty long, and is followed by a ridge walk in crampons of about half an hour. We took about 4.5 hour in total but were very leisurely.

The summit is apparently one of the best viewpoints in the massif, but we'll have to take other's peoples' word for that!

We skiied off the summit and down the north facing Amancettes Glacier, and got some superb snow, but had to ski pretty conservatively due to bad visibility. The snow became pretty patchy at 2000 metres, but we managed to half ski half walk to 1500m then gave up and walked in the rain.

The downside of spring touring!

Chippendale Gully

Headed up the Midi with John the other day and did the Chippendale Gully (IV,4, 300m) on the Petit Capucin. We had originally planned to do the Valeria but with the amount of ice flying down we made use of John's local knowledge and switched routes after the first pitch.

Me heading up the second pitch of the Chippendale Gully

The route is in pretty good nick right now, and the second pitch in particular has some superb steep neve, but the middle snow slope is pretty cruddy.

Finishing the last pitch

The top 2 pitches are probably the hardest right now due to a distinct lack of neve, but overall definitely worth doing.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Col de Cristaux (nearly)

Col des Cristaux

Pointe Domino, Petit Viking looking in great nick.

John earning his turns

After a week at sea level in NW Scotland I was keen for an easy first day back so John and I headed up to have a look at the Col des Cristaux at the back of the Argentiere bowl. Despite a poor forecast the sun was out and plenty of stuff looked in great condition. There was a team high on the Ginat on the Droites N face, 4 people skiing the NE slope on Les Courtes, and plenty of lines looking in good condition on the verte/grand rocheuse.

Anyway, after a very pleasant skin through some amazing country we got to the bergschrund on the col but despite trying side stepping on skis and just about everything else, we couldn't make much progress. The slope is currently covered in about 60 cm of soft snow and although it would be a good ski, it would be a desperate climb, and neither of us was too fussed so we took the option of a nice ski down and looking at the views. Weather looks to be stabilising soon so here's hoping for a good week.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Only the best day ever.

Yesterday was quite simply the best day of the season. Started off with a run down the Glacier Ronde (difficile, 45 - 50 degrees) off the Midi, and found quite icy conditions near the top - not the sort of place to fall - but then perfect powder from half way down and throughout the exit couloir.

Unfortunately Dave never made it that far because about 150 metres down the Glacier his binding detached from his ski - not ideal. The ski shot off down the glacier and although Tom managed to intercept it, there was no way of re - attaching it so Dave had to wait until someone came down and then borrow their crampons (we had none, oops) in order to climb out. It took him 4 hours to reach the Midi....

Dave getting ready to climb, his ski visible way below.

Having seen Dave off we skiied the exit couloir and then traversed towards the Plan de L'Aiguille, before cutting off directly above the Mont Blanc Tunnel. The powder was untracked, deep, and the lightest I have EVER skiied in Cham. Simply unbelievable, and up there as the best set of turns I've ever done.

We made it back to the tunnel after some bush whacking and a short walk, and then having hitched back down we got 60 metre ropes and headed back up to do the Cunningham couloir (AD, 45 - 50 degrees). This is the couloir running under the midi bridge, and requires a pretty airy 60 metre ab straight off the bridge. We then did 3 further abs off bolted belays. The initial anchor off the bridge is on a stantion on the right as you onto the bridge, and then the next belay is about 55 metres down, slightly to the left as you look in. The remaining belays are on the right looking down the couloir and easy to spot.

Looking down the Cunningham. Cham skiing in a nutshell - steep, deep and uncompromising.

Looking up the Cunningham from the top of the Ronde exit couloir.

The couloir was again perfect, deep powder, and then we traversed easily across the exit couloir off the Ronde, and skiied more champagne snow back to the tunnel. With more snow on the way, the Plan de l'Aiguille and the runs down the midi face are just going to get better....but I'm now in Scotland for 10 days. You couldn't make it up!