Tuesday 25 February 2014

Breche Puiseux

After a few sunny days in the mountains, Phil, Jack and I thought that things would have stabilised enough for us to go on an adventure to the Couvercle hut. However, Phil went for a recce on Sunday morning and found that whilst it had only snowed a couple of centimetres in town, the high mountains had got hammered on Saturday night and that there was far more snow than we'd realised. Time for a new plan.

After much discussion we agreed that we were all keen for a night out in the mountains and that we should just go for a night at the Requin hut and see what took our fancy. You can do virtually all of the tours from the Requin off the first bin but we wanted to be nice and early, ahead of the crowds and the heat. There was also an element of quite looking forward to a few beers looking at the view from hut, but as Jack said "Things are bad when this constitutes a lads' night out!"

A quick beer at the Midi before heading down the Vallee Blanche.

The Vallee Blanche at sunset was pretty special.

Home for the night. 

After a brilliant ski down in perfect powder we were greeted with a MASSIVE feed! Best of all there was no-one else staying in the hut so we actually got some sleep, aided by several beers and glasses of wine. A good night was had.

The next morning dawned clearer than our heads (must be the altitude...) so we decided to head up towards the Col du Tacul and see what looked good. Unfortunately Jack had put his back out on Sunday so once we'd crossed the Salle a Manger he headed home and Phil and I continued. 

There are several options for skinning up the Glacier des Periades, all of which involve being under seracs. Some people had gone hard right and then crossed the glacier higher up but this really does put you in the serac firing line so we instead went straight up the middle for about 100 vertical metres before cutting into the narrow gully on the left. You're still threatened by seracs but you're much further from them and there are also fewer of them above you.

Unfortunately the track up had been blown in by winds overnight so we ended up trail breaking for about 400m vertical, which felt tough but it was amazing to be on our own up there, ahead of the hordes who would be on the first few Midi bins. We made good time up here - a serac over your head is an amazing motivator - and then chilled out once we were higher up and checked out our options. 

We were both tempted to go for the Capucin Couloir but with no track up to it, lots of fresh snow and no reports of it having been done this year, we decided that there were too many unknowns and that we weren't brave enough to go and drop into it without more info. By this stage some of the people from the first bins were catching us (not a word of thanks for the track from any of them - the cheek of it!) so we opted to head for the Breche Puiseux and got on with it. The Breche Puiseux is my favourite tour in the Valley and if there's a better ski tour in the Alps, I'm yet to find it so we weren't too disappointed to be going for "plan b".

The skin went smoothly and so did the bootpack but by the top we were really feeling the altitude and our earlier trail breaking efforts but the views were just incredible and we managed to do the whole ascent in the shade so life was good. 

Touring towards the Breche Puiseux. This traverse had some funky snow on it and would have felt pretty dodgy with the hot sun on it. Glad we stayed in the hut!

A couple of punters.

Just before the bootpack.

Phil bootpacking.

Some more people heading up the bootpack as the sun hit.

Me abbing off the far side of the Breche.

Once on the Breche we got off the far side as quick as we could and skied down the whole of the descent without seeing another soul. The scenery off the back of the Breche is amongst the best in the Massif and the view of the Grandes Jorasses is mind blowing. As if that wasn't enough, we got superb powder most of the way and even the stuff lower down was still pretty good.

Me with the Jorasses behind. Photo Phil Ebert.

Me in the powder higher up. We stuck near the other tracks because there are enormous crevasses the whole way down and we weren't keen on locating any. Photo Phil Ebert. 

Another Jorasses shot. Photo Phil Ebert.

Phil skiing faster and smoother than I had done on the lower section. 

Safely down on the Leschaux Glacier. From here we checked out the Capucin Couloir and it looked pretty grim and wind blown. Good shout. 

Near the end of the glacier we found a tiny pitch of nice powder so Phil opened them and I closed them. Who said romance is dead?

Hard to get lost on the Leschaux Glacier!

Having negotiated everything else with ease, Phil stacked it hard on an almost flat track. It happens to the best of us, Phil. 

Once back in town Jack was good enough to come and pick us up so we headed for a late lunch and a beer. It might not have been the "raddest" option in Cham but we had a great couple of days and the Breche Puiseux delivered as ever. I've now done it 3 times and I'm sure I'll be up there again soon.

The forecast is calling for a lot of snow over the coming days so things are looking good for the skiers out there. Climbing conditions remain generally pretty poor and I don't think they'll be improving for a while so it's more powder, powder, powder for the foreseeable future!

Friday 21 February 2014

Tete de la Sallaz, Couloir de la Sallettaz

Try saying that quickly! On the way back from Grenoble, Sharon and I couldn't help noticing that the sun was shining and that the mountains were looking amazing so we pulled over for a quick ski tour. 

We headed up to the tiny (2 draglifts) "resort" of Romme (above Cluses) and took one of the draglifts up to gain 300 metres or so. A one way ticket is 2 Euros so you really would have to be tight not to pay!

From there we toured up to the Tete de la Sallaz via some stunning forests and a final summit ridge with some of the best views I've ever seen. We suspected that the snow might not be great but to our surprise we found some fantastic powder on the descent of the Couloir de la Sallettaz, which turned a good day into a great one.

Sharon arriving on the summit.

Thumbs up!

Panoramic shot from the summit.

Amazing powder in the trees.

More amazing powder in the trees.

Plus some really nice snow in the Couloir itself.

You can't win them all :(

The weather is now clagged in and it's snowing/raining hard in Cham. The sun is supposed to be shining over the weekend so we could be in for some epic skiing. Standby!

Monday 17 February 2014

La Grave

I'm currently down in Grenoble, doing bit of work and play. It should really be work to be honest but then it rained (snowed in the mountains) hard all day Sunday and perfect blue sky was forecast for Monday so work was binned in favour of a day at La Grave. Work is all well and good but come on, it's La Grave!!!!

Needless to say we had an incredible day, skiing the classic Vallon and Chancel routes as well as taking in the Banana Couloir and 2 laps on the Glacier de la Girose. By the end of the day it was decided that a week in La Grave should be a part of every winter season so expect more action from there to be appearing on this blog over the next few years.

The best powder day ever? What a place.

Getting excited....

Horrendous queues as ever in La Grave!

Sharon skiing the classic Vallons line.

Me on some mellow powder higher up.

Glacier de la Girose.

Still plenty of untouched, lift served snow at 4pm.

Sharon on the Glacier de la Girose.

A final look at the Meije on the last run of the day.

The legendary (and frankly rubbish!!!) La Grave lift.

All this was gone in about 30 seconds.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Big day in the big hills - Pas de Chevre, Petits Envers and Plan de L'Aiguille

With a day free in the middle of the week, sunshine forecast and plenty of fresh snow on the ground, I wanted to go for it today and ski myself into the ground. 

First up I went up the Grand Montets with Matt, Tom and John to check out the Pas de Chevre. We had a look at the Rectiligne couloir entrance but it looked pretty wind blasted so we left it and went down the normal route, where we found some decent snow but a fair bit of crust too. However, the skiing is always secondary whenever I do the Pas de Chevre because the scenery and situations are just so incredible. Every time I do it I wonder why I don't ski it more often - it really is an amazing place to ski and if you get good snow it's even better.

The lads at the top - beautiful cloud inversion behind. 

Matt finding the good stuff.

More goodness.

Nearing the bottom. Photo Matt Livingstone.

Well it wouldn't be the Pas de Chevre without a bit of messing around in a rocky gully! This was actually much trickier than it looks here.

Safely down on the Mer de Glace and skiing amongst some amazing ice formations. 

From whence we came.

Next up, Tom and I went up the Midi with no fixed plans but keen for some nice snow. We skied over to the Grand Envers but it looked a bit wind buggered so we dropped into the Petits Envers and found some brilliant snow. As with the Pas de Chevre, skiing the VB is always amazing but today felt even better than usual for some reason. Probably a combination of the best mountain scenery in the World, great snow and Tom's awful banter. 

All Midi shots Tom Moores.

Me loving it in the Petits Envers.

Dwarfed by the scenery.

Me loving it again.

After a second run down the James Bond track we found ourselves back in town and still not satisfied so we decided to do a final run down the Plan de L'Aiguille. 

Not often you have this much space in the Midi cable car.

Somewhat surprisingly, conditions were poor and there was evidence of a lot of avalanche activity so we pieced our way down the safest route we could find and retired for a well earned cup of tea.  

Chamonix beckoning us down after a long day - one of the best sights in the World. What...a...day.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Brevent & Plan de L'AIguille powder

We got a big dump of snow on Wednesday night and it seemed rude not to go and ski all the fresh stuff on Thursday. As ever on the first good day of weather after a storm, there was much umming and ahhing about where to go but we eventually settled on Brevent. A couple of laps on the Cornu were followed by a run off the top bin back to the mid station and then finally a descent of the ENSA Couloir. Needless to say, all delivered excellent snow and perfect views.

John deep in it.

Trey too.

One more gratuitous powder shot.

Abseiling into the ENSA.

Having got down from the ENSA and retired for a coffee in the bakery, I thought I might be done for the day but then Hugh arrived wide eyed and full of how good the Plan de L'Aiguille had just been. It seemed rude not to join him for a lap to see it for myself! It turned out to be one of the best runs I've ever had from the Plan, and that's saying something. Cheers Hugh!

Traversing over to the really good stuff.


A happy man.

Hugh going big. 

Looks like there is a truck load of snow on the way now so after a slow start it seems that winter 2014 is finally getting going. I'll be out over the weekend so I'll be reporting on how things are developing.