Sunday 20 February 2011

A busy few days

After some pretty average weather, Friday looked like a good day so Damien and I were keen to get on an alpine route. We decided to go for “Madness Tres Mince” (III, 5, 500m) at the back of the Argentiere basin, figuring that if we made it to the top by darkness we could ab the route and ski out in the dark without too much trouble.
Madness Tres Mince, route marked in red.

The approach was pretty tough due to Damien having his race skis on and me getting beasted trying to keep up, but it meant we got to the route in good time. The glacier just below the route is quite open but not too bad, so we were quickly into the lower couloir and moving together up some really nice ice. Damien doesn’t really place gear on ice (!) such is his confidence so we were able to climb 350 metres of the route in one block of moving together with just the in situ belays clipped.

Looking up at the crux.

The crux is at the beginning of the headwall is a tenuous Scottish 6/7 right now with very little ice. After that there is a further pitch or 2 of moderate ice but with hands and feet getting cold and with the route enveloped in cloud, we decided to get down so as to get as much of the descent done in daylight. The abs were fine, and we were soon downclimbing the snow slope back to the skis. However, we couldn’t find where we’d crossed the bergshcrund and Damien fell in it whilst searching for a way across. When it came to my turn I jumped it, which wasn’t much nicer.

Col Des Cristaux (left) and the NE slope of the Courtes from high on Madness. Tom and I skied both of these last month and I reckon they'll be really good again now.

At this stage we figured we were almost done but even the final 50 metres to the snow had a surprise for us. The snow was extremely deep and there were a lot of holes about so we were taking our time when suddenly the whole slope made an unmistakable “Whoomph” noise – not something I ever like to hear. It didn’t shift under me but Damien reckoned it all moved 2 inches under his feet. Needless to say we sped up considerably at this point! It was a relieved couple of climbers who skied away into the night shortly afterwards.

Sometimes a photo is worth 1000 words. Taken shortly after the slope we were on shifted under our feet.

Yesterday I had my mate Tom arriving from the UK and despite having driven overnight with no sleep he was keen to get out so we nipped up to the Col des Montets and did the Micro Goulotte (I, 4+, 100m) which was really good value. The route is pretty easy for the grade now, and the crux is really fun climbing although slightly tenuous in places. We took some nuts and I was really glad of them as I got a bomber bit in at the crux, and the belays aren’t beyond question so we backed most of them up with the nuts.

Tom soloing up the first pitch of the Micro Goulotte.

Me at the crux.

Today began with some serious pain, as the previous night’s excesses caught up with us, but a good powder day at Grand Montets restored morale. There is bags of snow right now although a lot of it is on top of ice so you can’t really gun it in case you break through or suddenly start sliding. Still, really good snow and a surprising lack of people meant plenty of fresh tracks and grins all round. At this point I should mention that Tom hadn’t skied since he was 11 (“and I was crap then”) and within an hour was shredding the off piste. Surely this is some sort of record for time taken learning to ski!

What a weekend!

Tom and Richie mid way through shredding GM.

Finally a little video of skiing today - sorry Richie!!!!