Monday 4 April 2011

Breche Puiseaux

The forecast was perfect for Saturday so Matt and I met up for the first bin at the Midi with our sights set on the Breche Puiseaux, a fantastic tour on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche. I’d done the route before but it is, in my opinion, the best tour in Chamonix so I was more than happy to do it again. As usual when touring in that area, we crossed the VB to the Italian side and expected it to be open but not too bad. Luckily there was a guy ahead of us on his own who put in a nice track and so, figuring that unless we came to a crevasse with a bloke in it, we’d be fine. So it turned out until we were nearly out to the point where you put skins on, and the bloke appeared. “Ce n’est pas possible”. Nightmare.

Mont Blanc du Tacul from the Midi

Matt high on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche

We teamed up at this point and got the rope out so we could belay each other across the bad section. We tried one way and it was impossible, so we had another go right next to the rocks and just about made it via a sketchy traverse which I wouldn’t even consider without the rope. You basically ski on a foot of snow somehow attached to the rock and slither across, all the time with the biggest crevasse in Italy right next to you. Basically, don’t ski the Italian side of the VB right now – its death. You only gain about 100 metres height anyway so better just to ski the French side and cut across the Salle a Manger right now.

Matt plus random nutter who had been putting the track in on his own. "He won't die wondering".

Having lost a lot of time we eventually got the skins on and made good time heading up under the Dent du Geant.and were soon putting crampons on for the boot pack up to the Breche. By this point it was boiling so it was 2 sweaty skiers who emerged onto the col and started rigging the abseil. There are 2 short (25 metre) abseils down to the glacier and then you put skis on and the fun begins. Unfortunately our delay in getting over there meant that the snow had had a lot of sun, so there was a lot of slush and a bit of good snow here and there.  However, the view – particularly of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses – is just so immense that the skiing is almost secondary.

Heading up the couloir

Mont Blanc from the Breche

The reward

And again

The glacier is pretty wild, with enourmous crevasses everywhere, but there is a safe route through so not bad at all if you keep your wits about you. Once on the Leschaux glacier it is simply a case of straight lining it out to the end of the VB and the accompanying masses of people. The end of the Mer de Glace is pretty dry right now and you have to take skis off about 50 metres from the steps, and there is a bit of icy/rocky ground to negotiate. Does it make us bad people that we were giggling at the attempts of various VB skiers to get down this? Well whether it does or not it was a fun end to an awesome day.

North face of the Grandes Jorasses

And one more picture of skiing porn

If you get there early enough to get the good snow then this tour really has everything – easy approach (usually!), plenty of skinning but not too much, a nice boot pack and then really good skiing and incredible views. What a day.