Monday, 9 March 2015

Valéria Gully, Petit Capucin.

Although there is good skiing to be had out there, Tom and I were in the mood for climbing yesterday so we decided to go and do a route on the East face of the Tacul.

The predictably unpredictable Compagnie du Mont Blanc nearly put a big spanner in the works when we turned up at the Midi 20 minutes before the advertised first lift, only to find that several had already run and so we wouldn't be first down the arete and onto the routes. Neither of us is interested in climbing ice when underneath other groups so not being first meant that our choices might be much more limited than we'd planned. Still, there's plenty to go at up there so we knew we'd find something good.

All the usual classics such as the Pellissier, Gabarrou-Albinoni and Modica Noury all looked super fat but were all busy so we carried on down for a look at the Valéria Gully on the Petit Capucin. The huge serac which threatens the approach released in a big way recently but in its current condition it doesn't look that threatening so we decided to give it a go. As it turned out, nothing fell off it all day but skinning up underneath it really was pretty intimidating and we were both relieved to be clear of it.

Tom walking/running (the debris was impossible to skin across) the final section of the approach, with the reason for the rush visible above him!

The route itself was really good, although the lower pitches weren't that exciting and with hindsight the best way to do it would be to start up the Chippendale Gully and then move into the Valéria, thereby getting the best bits of both routes. Still, the relatively easy climbing gave us plenty of opportunity for chatting, trash talking and generally enjoying the excellent ambience.

Tom on one of the lower pitches, which was basically 65 degree, friable ice and provided an excellent reminder of why I don't pursue water ice climbing as a hobby anymore!

With the lower pitches quickly dispatched, the crux section above was superb, with continually interesting but never "hard"climbing in a fantastic, atmospheric gully. 

Tom finishing off the crux pitch.

Having abseiled down, all that was left was a dusk ski down a chalky and enjoyable Vallée Blanche. Even the nice snow conditions couldn't save our legs though; I really had forgotten what hard work it is skiing with a heavy bag! 

We made it down fine though and little did we realise that Tom's highlight of the day was to come right at the end, when I managed to completely wipe out on my very last turn at the bottom of the Les Planards green run, in front of the gathering of ski instructors who were having some sort of evening do. There's really no way to rescue lying on your back, pinned down by a heavy bag and surrounded by skis and poles at the foot of a green run in front of a bunch of ski instructors so I took the humiliation and consoled myself that a coke and a burger were then only 5 minutes away!

The sunny weather looks set to last for the next 10 days at least so I think that if you're after good skiing, you'll be hunting spring snow rather than powder. If you're climbing, there is tons to go at, with all the Tacul classics looking good and lots of the high altitude rock faces dry. I really enjoyed the climbing yesterday and am keen for more but I couldn't help thinking that those people who'd skied into nice, sunny rock climbs had the right idea so I may well be joining them over the next few days.