Saturday, 12 May 2012

Tour Ronde & Leschaux Hut

With winter seemingly back in full swing, Will, Blaine, Gilles and I headed up the Midi on Thursday morning along with all the other Chamonix “locals” in search of good skiing. Most people were heading for the classics such as the Ronde & Cosmiques but with a couple of good days forecast we’d decided on a 2 day link up, starting with the Gervasutti Couloir on the Tour Ronde.

Easy skinning, Mont Blanc behind.

Looking up the Gervasutti as the others push on.

The approach to the line is pretty easy, and after 45 minutes of steady skinning we were swapping into crampons for the bootpack. However, as soon as we started climbing it was obvious that conditions were awful – a thick crust on top of powder. I wasn’t keen to put in the effort of climbing up only to be rewarded with a steep and scary ski down crust, so I downclimbed from mid way up the Couloir and left the other 3 to it.

At the top of the Gervasutti the Couloir joins the north face route, which already had tracks down it and which we’d seen people climbing up with skis on their backs earlier in the day, so my mates were going to decide which line to ski when they got up there. When they did arrive some people had just dropped into the north face, and after 4 turns one of them fell whilst still high on the upper snowfield. Only Will actually saw him tumbling, but the other guys had seen 4 people skiing only to turn back and see 3 a few seconds later.
Understandably this destroyed any psyche for the north face and they decided to come back down the Gervasutti even though conditions were worse. Will had called mountain rescue from the top of the north face and by the time we were all reunited the helicopter had come and gone. Gilles spoke to his friend in the mountain rescue later in the day and it turned out that the guy who fell was dead by the time the chopper got there.

This coupled with sky-high temperatures meant that we were all felt pretty freaked out and not very interested in seeking out any steep skiing. Still, having brought plenty of food we decided to carry on to the Leschaux hut as planned, and just enjoy the views. We were all pretty low about what had just happened, but I for one was keen to just stay in the mountains for the night and have a good old think about things. As it turned out the Leschaux is a perfect place for a chilled night in the hills, and we had an great evening looking at the view and chatting away.

Gilles and Will skiing away

Blaine approaching the Leschaux hut. Note the huge avalanche debris.

Will climbing the ladders to the hut, Grand Jorasses and yet more avalanche debris behind.

Sunset views.

This morning (Friday) the temperatures were still high so we just skied down to Montenvers and then walked down the tracks back to town (the train being closed due to storm damage from a few weeks back). 
There is still a huge amount of snow up high, but it feels like winter underfoot and summer in the air. Fresh snow, incredibly high temperatures (30 celsius in town today), and avalanche debris everywhere and on virtually all aspects tells you everything you need to know.

Climbing the Montenvers ladders carrying/wearing ski kit - fun for all the family.

The Montenvers train was closed but there were some Compagnie du Mont Blanc staff up there having a BBQ so although they couldn't give us a ride down, they did provide us all with a glass of wine! Sante.

I’m sure I’ll be reading blogs over the next few days about people doing some great skiing, but you have to honour what is right for you, and playing it safe and leaving the skiing to someone else for a few days is right for me. I’m really keen to ski more but I’ve had an amazing winter and I’m not prepared to take massive risks to eek out a few extra days. There is plenty of dry rock, and there will be even more if it stays this warm, so with lots more sunshine forecast my advice is to play it safe and enjoy the first real taste of summer.