Friday 25 February 2011

Pellissier Gully, Col du Bonhomme and just one of those days.

With Tom out for a week and him keen for any missions, we started off with a go on the uber classic Pellissier Gully (III, 4, M5, 220m) on the Pointes Lachenal. Tom had only skied for 3 days but he seemed a fast learner, so I figured the VB would be fine. As it turned out the snow at the top was pretty wind hammered and both of us had a couple of tumbles, mine obviously being much less frequent(!).

The route was fine but unfortunately all the new snow meant that getting from the skis to the start of the proper climbing took over 45 minutes, and its only about 70 metres. Despite my lungs almost exploding from wading through waist deep snow I apparently wasn't fast enough for the Swedish pair behind us, who asked Tom if we were planning to go at that speed all day! I didn't hear this (the sound of my own breathing drowned it out) but had I done I would obviously have suggested that they might like to break trail instead of following mine! As it was they turned round in a huff, but I figure that if someone beats you to a route then breaks a trail for you, you either find a different route or keep quiet! Anyway, we had a good laugh about it and then got stuck into the climbing.

The route is in pretty good nick, the first 2 proper pitches being nice ice and with good protection, but the third pitch (described as "50 degree snow" in the guidebook) was desperate. There is a little bulge you need to get over and from below it looks like a walk. However, the snow above and below it is so rotten that on my first attempt to get over it my axes ripped. With pride dented I threw in a load of gear and got over it second go.

For the final pitch we went left and it is really good, easily protectable climbing. Hard to give it a grade but I guess about IV, 6 in Scottish terms. Bags of gear but steep and not much for the feet.

Tom at the top of the crux.

One little word of warning - I finished the final pitch and found myself on a very exposed snow ridge with pretty crappy snow and no anchors. Assuming I'd gone the wrong way I looked up at the ridge and saw rocky slabs covered in sugary snow, and had "a bit of a moment" whilst I worked out the best solution. I opted for going up instead of trying to downclimb and almost immediately upon making the decision, my axe caught on something - the belay! In other words, don't panic when you reach the top if you can't see the anchor, its a metre or 2 to the right. Wish I'd known that!

Tom "A Cheval" on the snow ridge, getting ready to ab down.

The VB went fine but the deep snow at the start of the route held us up so much that we missed the train. Getting off the Mer de Glace was pretty grim but amazingly we were then able to ski all the way to town down the James Bond track, save for a 50 metre walk near the bottom. This is not to say theres no rocks though....

Drus and the Verte from the VB

The following day was just one of those frustrating days. We started with a plan to go ice climbing at Chatelard but got turned round at the Swiss border due to none out of 4 of us having our passports. I've never been checked there before but I suppose it was our fault really. Didn't stop the border guard getting a good slagging whilst we drove back though, Peter's theory as to why he was so miserable being particularly memorable.

A new plan was hatched to go up the Argentiere icefalls. Tom M(the only one of us who doesn't live in Chamonix) reckonned he knew the way so we followed. As it turned out he took us to the top of Nuit Blanche, which is right in the middle of the 2 areas we were thinking of climbing at. Oops. By this stage morale was low so Tom and Tom opted to top rope Nuit Blanche and Peter and I decided to retire for coffee, but not after making an illegal ascent of a pylon.

At least we climbed something.

Today (friday) was forecast clear so we decided to go touring in Les Contamines. The plan was to head up to the Col du Bonhomme and just see what looked good from there. The skin is pretty easy but very long for such a small height gain, so there was plenty of stopping for admiring the view and water drinking.  

Tom and Peter an hour or so into the skin.

On the way up the snow seemed really good so we were pretty excited when we finally got to the col after about 3.5 hours. With the weather turning a bit and with Tom needing to get down in order to drive back to UK, we decided just to ski from the col but not before a nice leisurely lunch.

Nearly there

Peter and I at the Col du Bonhomme.

As it turned out, our long lunch meant that by the time we skied the snow had had a lot of sun, and was pretty heavy. Doh! Still, we got some really good turns in at the top and the ski out was still really fun despite the heavy snow. The track at the bottom was even ok, and we were quickly back at the car.

The reward

One thing that amazed me today was just how much good terrain there is in the area around the Col du Bonhomme and the Tetes des Fors. There are some really good looking ski lines and the views are incredible too.

 I will definitely be heading back there but think I'll get up earlier and go a bit quicker next time.