Thursday 21 February 2013

Trappier Couloir, Aiguille du Gouter

The weather continues to (just about) hold here in Cham, so Matt, Peter, Will and I decided to go and check out the Trappier Couloir above Les Houches. This is a legendary line, which has a pretty serious and avalanche prone approach, and offers a huge 35 degree descent back to town. I'd tried the line once before but turned back due to avalanche danger on the approach, and I'd always been keen to go back. The problem was that I wanted to be sure that it was in condition, and preferably know that someone had skied it already. We were all pretty confident that conditions would be good, and then word filtered through that steep skiing legend Glen Plake had skied the line yesterday, so we were on.

The approach starts from the Bellevue cable car, and winds up along the Tramway du Mont Blanc line, before branching off into a bowl and across to a pretty exposed shoulder. The bowl itself seemed OK, but it feels dangerous for some reason, and we spread out to cross it and were relieved to reach the far side.

Looking back at the Les Houches ski area

The lads on the skin up the first bowl

Will at the end of the dodgy feeling traverse

Having done the bowl and the shoulder, there is a short bootpacking section which turned me round the last time I'd tried the Trappier, but this time the snow was firm and the bootpack already established.

Will approaching the handy ladder at the end of the bootpack

Finally into the sun after a cold first couple of hours

The Trappier Couloir is named after Pierre Trappier, who made the first descent in 1982 and I'm told then went on to ski the line every year thereafter. Unfortunately he and his wife were killed whilst climbing the bootpacking section in 2008, and this plaque has been installed to commemorate them.

After the bootpack there is another hour or so of skinning, and then you arrive in a spectacular spot to start skiing.

Will at the start of the ski

Peter at the shoulder where you take skins off and start the descent

Looking into the couloir from the top, with the Aiguille du Midi behind.

Will making his first turns

Despite appearances from above (it looked epic), the snow was actually pretty variable, and whilst there was some good powder, there was more windcrust. As we got lower the quality improved, and we found some great snow in the bottom half of the line, but overall it wasn't classic. However, the whole feel of the Couloir is incredible, and the atmosphere is pretty amazing, so snow quality isn't the be all and end all on this run. 

Matt on the lower section

And Peter

Will in the trees low down

I'm not convinced that we found the correct exit!

Despite the not so great snow, we all felt that the Trappier is a fantastic adventure through some very impressive scenery. However, the approach and the Couloir itself both need to be very stable in order for this to be a good objective. If you didn't know the way or didn't have a track to follow the route finding would be really tough, and it would feel pretty serious all round. I've wanted to do this line for 4 years and have only just got it done, so don't do it until it's right - it's worth the wait.