Monday 28 March 2011

Trappier & Cosmiques Couloirs

With my friend Ian over from Switzerland the pressure was on to get 2 big days out in the mountains despite the shaky forecast. Matt and Tristan were keen too, so it was yet another sociable weekend in the mountains, which is always good.

The first day we decided to go for the Trappier Couloir above Les Houches. Despite it's relatively low altitude the route is pretty serious due to a long, complicated and potentially dangerous approach and also the fact that it is a known avalanche blackspot. In fact, Mr and Mrs Trappier were both killed in the couloir that they had made the first descent of many years before when they got avalanched in 2008. Despite all this we were very confident that it would be good, and so were a few people I know who had done it before.

The approach begins with the Bellevue cable car and then a shuffle over to the Tramway due Mont Blanc railway line, where you put skins on. From there you head up to the Col de Mont Lachat, which you can't really miss as it is right next to a huge old lift station and furthermore there is a signpost telling you where you are. It isn't immensely obvious from there but basically you need to cross the big bowl above and exit onto the left ridge by whichever route looks safest and easiest. I've put a photo below which hopefully makes it a bit clearer.

Our route across the big bowl, taken from the Col de Mont Lachat

Skinning up the Tramway du Mont Blanc

Mid way across the bowl

From the far side of the bowl you take skis off and walk up the shoulder for 100 metres or so and then put ski and skins back on and cross the next bowl. At this stage you change into crampons, climb the couloir and then have a final skin to the entrance to Trappier. Quite an approach. The problem for us was that the weather was turning (Forecast - 80% sunshine, reality - snow and black cloud, thanks Meteo France!) and the snow in the couloir that we were trying to bootpack was bottomless, insecure powder. None of us were very happy about the situation by this stage so we headed down. On the way we still managed to ski some good powder, and also de toured to go over the top of Mont Lachat which looks like it would have some amazing ski lines off the summit and down to Les Houches if snow cover was better.

Matt and Tristan just before we turned back

Ian and Tristan on top of Mont Lachat

Despite not making it to the couloir we had a superb day and I am really keen to go back. I think the Trappier would be in really good condition and everyone who has done it raves about it. This bad weather might mean it gets left until next year but I'll be back at some stage.

On sunday Ian and I went up to the Midi to do the classic Cosmiques couloir. For a variety of reasons I was feeling pretty rubbish, and this coupled with the fact that the route is fairly icy right now meant there was a bit of side slipping at the top (not by Ian I might add) but further down it was a bit better. Overall though, I wouldn't recommend it right now as there is quite a bit of ice about. Furthermore the glacier is a nightmare, and required 2 abseils (including one where I had no choice but to leave a screw behind as I had no V thredder - beer for anyone who returns it) and a terrifying crevasse leap that we belayed.

Once back under the Midi north face we decided to ski down to the Mont Blanc tunnel and were rewarded with some nice powder followed by some horrific bush whacking and combat skiing! So overall, a bit more of a beasting than we anticipated but good to be out with Ian and a good laugh overall despite the poor conditions. No photos I'm afraid - forgot the camera.

One last thing - a video of Tom explaining why we failed on thursday's Aiguille Croulante mission, plus a short clip of him skiing the NE face of the col des Cristaux after we'd decided to bail. Pure comedy!