Wednesday 26 June 2013

Contamine - Grisolle

With no real idea of what conditions were like up high, Tristan and I were scratching our heads for the best use of a final sunny day. Through the power of the internet, reports began filtering through of there being some powder on the N face of the Tacul, so that was us psyched for a ski.

Neither of us are keen on being in danger for any longer than necessary, so instead of climbing up the serac-threatened Tacul normal route, we decided to do the Contamine-Grisolle on the Tacul Triangle instead. 

The Midi was really busy this morning, so despite getting there at 7 (10 minutes before the lift opens), we were on the second bin, and by 8 o'clock we were down at the Col du Midi swapping skis for crampons.

Tristan at the Col du Midi

You know you got up early when the moon is still out!

The route itself was great, and save for the odd bit of black ice, conditions were excellent. There isn't really any proper technical climbing, but it's all nicely sustained at a level that keeps you interested. Best of all, the route is pretty brief so you get your fix of axes and crampons, and then you're done; no cramp, exhaustion or fear - a nice contrast from lots of alpine routes!

We moved together all the way as we'd heard (Thanks Joel and Emily!) that there were some awkward chimneys, and we weren't keen on negotiating them unroped and with skis on! Furthermore, I'm not into soloing, and opportunities for having a breather every now and then are much more common when using a rope.

Amazing views across one of the Tacul seracs

Tristan near the top of the route

Once on top of the Triangle there is a spectacular and exposed snow plod to the Tacul summit ridge. We decided to unrope here, as we were both heaving from the altitude and it seemed wiser to go for "every man for himself" instead of having a rope on! 

Tristan heading for the Tacul summit

Once at the top, we quickly got our skis on, and got underway in an attempt to escape the brutally cold wind that was blowing on the summit ridge.


Once on the skis, things just got better and better, with some amazing powder, especially in the middle section of the face. After the winter we've had, I knew I'd be skiing some sort of snow in late June, but it never occurred to me that it would be cold powder! Result.

Me skiing, with the Midi behind. Photo Tristan Wise.

The one unpleasant bit of the day was slogging, unacclimatized, back to the Midi. That trudge up the ridge never gets any shorter! 

My taxi arrives

So conditions are still pretty snowy up high, and anything without a track into it will provide some very tough trail breaking. The snow conditions are a bit funny too, with some areas feeling firm and secure, and others bottomless and spooky. Many of the classic rock routes are dry though, so I would stick to rock climbing or snow routes with a decent track.  Having said that, the next couple of days don't look too sunny, so things could all change, but there isn't major precipitation forecast so I doubt it. 

Grand Montets opens at the weekend, so summer truly is here, but no-one seems to have told the weather Gods!