Chamonix Ski Touring May 2015

The idea of this years trip was a bit different to last years trip, we wanted to try and explore some of the big, wild skiing that Chamonix and the Aiguille du Midi had to offer.

We arrived late on Saturday afternoon after lots of umming and arring we finally decided to book an apartment as opposed to living in the van for 2 weeks! We got to the apartment early evening, dropped our stuff made some dinner and went to bed. We weren’t planning to rush out skiing on the Sunday as we wanted to work out exactly where and what we were going to do.

Sunday came round, we walked around town, did some shopping, had a nice lunch and worked out and packed for our adventures starting on Monday morning. The plan was to head up the Aiguille du Midi cable car, ski tour towards the Col d’Entreves and then ski back down the Vallee Blanche to the Montenvers train station and get the train back to Chamonix.

View from Chamonix looking up towards the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc

A sunny Sunday morning in Chamonix, looking up towards the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc

Monday morning arrived, we were up early to make breakfast and prepare the last bits of kit for the days outing. We were out of the apartment and heading to the Midi at 8.45am, both of us were a fraction nervous but combined with the feeling of excitement, neither of us had been in this sort of terrain before with all the added kit we had to lug up there with us it was going to make for an interesting day.

Standard kit for a day skiing in Chamonix

Standard kit for a day ski touring in Chamonix

There is much hype surrounding the midi, and not for no reason. It drops you off in some of the craziest terrain in the alps, where it would be all too easy to be lost forever in the maze of glaciers and peaks, a place that even photos can’t do it justice.

In the queue the nervousness turned to excitement and then as we were heading up over the north face of the Midi, which towers menacingly over Chamonix, the excitement turned to nerves, big time nerves, wondering what the hell we were thinking!

On the bridge at the Midi

On the bridge at the Midi

Mont Blanc over my shoulder

Mont Blanc in the background with the Mont Blanc du Tacul north face in the foreground

At the top of the midi, we looked around took some photos and then wanted to get on with the skiing. The safety rope, that allows you to safely get down the arete, had been taken down, which meant as soon as you were out the gate, the only think to stop you falling 1000m down the north face, which is amount 1 meter away from you, is your own skills. So we opted for the ‘belt and braces’ approach, we put crampons on, roped up together, axes in hand, we set of down the knife edge ridge.

It was such a surreal feeling, I have dreamt of walking down here and skiing in this range for years, and I was finally here!

Walking down the arete

Becky leading down the arete, Chamonix town to the left

Part of the arete behind me

The Aiguille du Midi arete with the steep north face dropping away to the right

After a steady walk down, we got to the shoulder ready to clip into skis. After a quick map and route check, we were ready to set off. Skiing down the Glacier du Geant was amazing, we were at 3842m meters getting ready to ski, it was 10am on Monday 11th May, if anything reminds you why we do seasonal work, this is it!

The snow was fantastic, compact but soft spring snow, the surrounding terrain was mind blowing, with the huge faces and ski lines towering above, terrain that I can only dream of climbing and skiing, for now anyway.

We got to the area to put skins on, the guidebook mentioned to be aware of the hanging serac above when putting skins on and believe it or not, it was correct. A huge hanging serac was looming over us, we kept out of the line of fire while we changed to touring mode and roped up as the next sections we had to weave through crevasses and seracs, which meant for interesting route finding!

We got through the maze of crevasses and seracs and headed straight up to the col, situated next to the Tour Ronde, a famous peak siting at the top of the Vallee Blanche, it has some amazing routes on it. We watched as a team was climbing the north face, which as well as being 50-55 degress at the top, also has an ice fall in the middle of it, which makes it an interesting face.

Becky amongst the crevasses and seracs on the glacier

Becky amongst the crevasses and seracs on the glacier

Crevasse selfie

Crevasse selfie

We made it to the col, around 30 mins longer than the guide book suggested, slow and sterady got us there in the end. It gave us incredible views of the east face of Mont Blanc. With the crazy hanging seracs pouring down the face, the scenery really was mind blowing. The other way we could see along the Italian border, up to the Dent du Geant and Grandes Jorasses and then low down in the valley we could see Courmayeur around 2000m below. It really was an incredible place to be.

Reached the col

Reached the col

Looking back at the east face of Mont Blanc from the col

Looking back at the east face of Mont Blanc from the col

After a spot of lunch we left the col, which sits at 3527m, at 2pm heading down the Vallee Blanche towards the Montenvers train station situated at 1913m. We were both looking forward to the long ski ahead, after all this is what we had come to Chamonix to do.

Becky skiing past the seracs du Geant

Becky skiing past the seracs du Geant, all the avalanche and serac debris had come down from the rognon glacier above to the right of the photo

As before, the snow was great, soft spring snow for the first 1000m vertical of skiing, before it started to get a bit heavier, we then got to the Seracs du Geant, and area that made us nervous even just reading about it in the guidebook. We had hanging seracs above us from the Glacier d’Envers du Plan and crevases to negotiate, although there are tracks, it still doesn’t make you feel any safer. Especially as we spent a lot of time crossing serac debris and avalanche debris from slides and collapses the days before.

We finally got off the main bit of the glacier and towards the moraine, still covered in crevasses and glaicers hanging above us. It was time for skis on our bags, and time to start walking. We knew it was a fair walk, but we had to start walking much earlier than we thought, with the terrain under foot and weight of our kit, it was slow going.

Walking out along the glacier

Walking out along the glacier

Topping up water bottles with fresh glacial water

Topping up water bottles with fresh glacial water

We were planning to walk to the ice caves, get the bubble up and then be at the train station, to get the train back to Chamonix town centre, we finally saw the lift and it still seemed miles away, but step by step it got a bit closer. The last 500m were treacherous, the boulders were difficult to pass, even in trianers and sports clothes it would have been difficult, let alone in ski boots, with big ski bags and skis on our backs. As we got closer to the lift, I realised that it wasn’t moving, and then quickly worked out that it wasn’t open. It was a bit of a blow, it meant we had to walk up from the glacier to the train station about 300m vertical above, which does sound much, but when you have already been walking for 2 hours it adds on that extra bit that you really don’t need, and it was certainly the last thing Becky wanted to hear, as big blisters had developed on both of her feet.

We finally made it up to the train station at 5.30pm and were the hit with some much worse news, we had missed the last train. There was no other way home, we had no choice, we had to walk down from the train station back to Chamonix town. We had a couple of cereal bars, no water and we knew it was going to be about 3 hours until we were back home. We planned the days route meticulously and just assumed when we were back at the train station we were done, but unfortunately failed to check when the last train departed, a big lesson learnt!

Resting at the station, sorting out kit before the walk back to town

Resting at the station, sorting out kit before the walk back to town

We sat down, ate the last bits of food to get some energy, re-organised the kit to spread the weight evenly, somehow I ended up with what felt about 40kg of kit, while Becky had 5kg, but apparently that was fair, so I got on with it. 

Walking through the forests as the sun goes down

Walking through the forests as the sun goes down

We finally set off from the train station at 6.30pm, after a long, tiring and some what painful walk back, we got finally arrived back at the apartment at 9.45pm after quickly picking up a kebab from the takeaway.

After a 13 hour day on our feet and in ski boots, its fair to say that we were a bit stiff for a few days afterwards. What a first day skiing in Chamonix, one that neither of us will ever forget!

In the down time between skiing, we enjoyed some drives around the valley, walks, small bits of climbing and an evenings BBQ.

Evening BBQ

Evening BBQ

Some how, despite the aches and pains, we were desperate to get back up and ski some more, we had to wait a while for Beckys blisters to semi-heal, the weather also changed drastically, we had snow in the town and temperatures plummeted 20c in over night. So we enjoyed a few days relaxing around the town and waited for the next weather window.

Snow in the town in the middle of May!

Snow in the town in the middle of May!

We wanted to incorporate a night in a mountain refuge into the next ski which would mean 2 days up high in the mountains, with most huts being unguarded, it would mean we would have to take food and extra supplies that would be a lot of extra weight to carry, so we quickly decided to stay in a hut that was guarded, which meant we would have meals cooked for us and all the sleeping stuff there that we would need.

Scouring the maps, we decided to stay at the Torino refuge, which is actually located just inside the Italian boarder and sits over 2000m above Courmayeur and the Aosta valley. We phoned up the night before and booked ourselves into, it would be rather annoying to get there and it to be full, it turns out it was empty anyway.

We headed for the Midi at 9.30am knowing that we should be in the refuge by mid-afternoon, the second time down the Midi arete didn’t make it any more comfortable, it was still a nerving experience. We skied to the same spot as previously to put skins off and then we would head off towards the refuge. Just as we got to the area to put the skins on, we heard a loud rumbling, knowing what was above us, we both quickly looked up, we could see what at first looked like an avalanche or serac fall coming down above us, we then quickly both spotted that there were skiers high on the face above and it was just the sluff that they were creating rolling of the end of the glacier and down the serac. It still wasn’t comfortable hearing the rumbling, we repositioned ourselves as best we could to try and get out the path if anything bigger came down, we quickly got kitted up and then got the hell out of there!

Debris from the huge serac fall, we were standing to the left of the debris flow, but it would have been a close one

Debris from the huge serac fall, we were standing to the left of the debris flow, but it would have been a close one

The week after we got back I found the photo above, it shows the area where we had stopped to put our skins on, the serac that loomed above us had collapsed and wiped out the area where we had stopped to put our skins on, for us, a strong reminder that there are somethings that are way out of your control and being in the wrong place at the wrong time could be catastrophic.

En-route to the refuge, Dent du Geant in the background

En-route to the refuge, Dent du Geant in the background

We headed through the maze of seracs and crevasses and made our way up to the refuge, it was a short and pleasant tour, with the sun beating down on us it was seriously sweaty work. Around two hours later we were at the refuge, ordered a beer and sat on the terrace in the sun for the rest of the afternoon, perfect.

Balcony of the refuge

Balcony of the refuge

Relaxing at the refuge for the afternoon

Relaxing at the refuge for the afternoon

That was us done for the rest of the afternoon, it took all afternoon to take in the scenery, and I still don’t think it was enough. We were perched at 3371m and could see all the way down to Courmayeur at 1224m and the summit of Mont Blanc at 4810m, I have never been anywhere where you can see that much vertical, it is seriously impressive, the towering east face of Mont Blanc is mesmerising, and to work out where at the ski lines around the area are unbelievable when you realise how steep it is.

That night we ate in the refuge, a lovely 3 course dinner was included in the stay, cooked by the crazy Italian chef who talked to his cat, Pippo, like he was his brother. All we heard most of the afternoon was him shouting ‘Hey Pippo!’.

Becky annoying Pippo

Becky annoying Pippo

It wasn’t an early start, certainly not as alpine starts go, but we heading down for some breakfast, got sorted and headed out, we were back on the mountain for 8.30am. The plan was to head down to the Montenvers train station and hopefully this time actually catch the train back to town.

Early morning sunrise with the cloud below in the Italian valleys

Morning sunrise with the clouds below in the Italian valleys

We walked out of the refuge, the sun was already high in the sky, we were the only people there, it was amazing to think that there were probably on a handful of people exploring in the valley at the same time as us. We decided to scramble up a small peak called the Petit Flambeau, it was only a short 20minute scramble up a ridge, but the extra vertical meters, gave us the most spectacular view of the valley, a complete 360 degree view of the valley and the amazing peaks that surround it.

No one around as we get back out skiing

Admiring the valley with no one around

The clouds suddenly started coming in, so we quickly got going, clipped into our skis and set off, fortunately they soon disappeared. The snow at the top was soft spring snow, but unfortunately, due to the orientation of the main slopes it hadn’t been in the sun long enough, so we ended up skiing on rock hard compact ice, a fall would not have been deadly but with it being so hard you would have easily slid 500m down the slope to the plateau at the bottom.

We rejoined the section of the Vallee Blanche that we had skied the previous trip, what amazed me was how quickly the glaciers can change, a crevasse that was only a few inches wide the other day, had turned into bottomless pit with just enough snow coverage to get across. As we were constantly trying to keep our speed, it often wasn’t until the last moment that we would see the size of the crevasse we were trying to cross and even then, it was only when we watch the footage back we realised how lucky we wherein a couple of occasions, a fall into one of these and you would be 30/40 meters down right in the belly of the glacier. All we could think about when watching the footage back was the film Touching The Void, where Joe Simpson crawled through a glacier for days to escape!

Becky crossing a crevasse during our first outing

Becky crossing a crevasse during our first day skiing

Crossing a crevasse in the same section, frightfully open and deep, a fall wouldn't have been ideal

Crossing a crevasse in the same section, frightfully open and deep

Anyway, we made it to the end of glacier and into the awful moraine again, but this time, as opposed to walk to the bubble lift that was closed we decided to take the ladders which accesses a footpath, leaving a short walk back to the train station, meaning it saves walking up the 400+ steps.

If someone asked me to climb some ladders, the last bit of kit I would wear would be ski boots and ski clothing, let alone carry a big rucksack and have skis on my back, but there was no other way. We decided to try and do it as safely as possible, we used the little clips that run next to the ladders and clipped a rope in as we went, which effectively meant we were belaying each other up. But after having to do this 3 times up 100 meters of ladders, we got impatient and thought it would be quicker to just climb the rest of them solo, only in Chamonix would you have this sort of thing!

The ladders that we had to climb up

The ladders that we had to climb up

Becky nearing the top of one of the last sections, Mer de Glace can be seen, we had walked the entire section that you can see

Becky nearing the top of one of the last sections, Mer de Glace can be seen, we had walked the entire section that you can see

On the train heading back to town

On the train heading back to town

We finally made it, the train station was open and the trains were still running! We couldn’t have been happier, after a quick cold drink, we hopped on the train and enjoyed the 20 or so minute train ride back to town, much more appealing compared to the 3 hour walk! We made it to our favourite snack bar, Elevation 1902, and enjoyed a delicious lunch and a beer. Crazy to think that while we were sitting in the 25c heat with blue skis and sun, just a few hours ago we were at over 3000m enjoying the skiing, again only in Chamonix!

Enjoying some lunch in the sun safely back in Chamonix

Enjoying some lunch in the sun safely back in Chamonix

What a trip it had been, something that I had dreamt of doing for years and that we both had our eyes on since our last trip a year ago. Chamonix is such an incredible place, somewhere that I am sure I will visit for years to come, this town really does have it all and with enough ski and climbing lines to last a lifetime. It is a very down to earth place where some incredible athletes really push the boundaries, we couldn’t have done anything more basic, but we were happy with that, we had been self sufficient in an environment that can catch people out, even the best sometimes don’t make it home.

We are both looking forward to and already planning our next trip, until next time………..

We made a short edit of our trip, click the image below to watch.

Click to watch the video

Click to watch the video

Avalanche Accident 28/02/2015

It’s been over a month since I was caught in an avalanche, which has given me plenty of time to think about what happened, it has been a long process of working out what happened that day, but it has helped by actually getting out there again and skiing off piste again. I don’t think there has been a day since the accident that I haven’t thought about it, every day I go skiing or drive up to Tignes or Val d’isere I can see the face and the couloir that I got swept down, so there isn’t really any getting away from it. I am glad I have waited until now to write up my account of the accident, it has given me a chance to really analyse what happened that day and for me to work out what went wrong and what, if any, mistakes that I made.

I posted a video of the accident on my Vimeo page which has been shared on social media websites and has now had over 25,000 views on my page alone, I have taken many of these comments with a pinch of salt but not ignored them either, it gives me more to think about, and each comment I have seen I have thought even more about the accident.

So.

The day started like any day would, a bit of work in the morning and then mid morning it was time to go skiing. The previous day had been snowy, with about 15cm of fresh falling, after checking the avalanche report for the day, despite the fresh snow it reported the Avalanche risk was 2/5, with no aspects being highlighted for increased risk. What the forecast did highlight was that there had been no wind when the snow fell, meaning there was little risk that the snow could have been blown around and accumulated into the loading of slopes and the possibility of a 30-40cm wind slab being formed.

We had skied the Tuf de la Toviere 2 days earlier, and thought a fresh covering would have covered up our tracks from before, so that’s where we headed, to look at the skiers right, where the face had an orientation of North to Northeast facing.

Standing at the top of the face before the first run

Standing at the top of the face before the first run

After the short 10 minute hike along the ridge line we were at the top of the face, we opted for the line furthest skiers right, the same line we had skied 2 days previously. At the top looking down the couloir it looked nicely freshened up and the soft snow from before had been topped up with 10/15cm, I skied the line first, the snow was good, we regrouped half way down the face beneath a cliff face, before skiing the lower section out.

The snow was good, no evidence of wind with the fresh snow and no sluff following us down. It was so enjoyable, we decided to get the lift back up and go and look again at the face, I mentioned that there was another couloir a bit further skiers left that the last one, it was narrower and steeper that the one we had just skied, but it might be worth a look.

10 minutes later we were back at the top of the face, we stood on top of the second couloir, it is a line that I had skied previously and knew the blind rollover got to a narrow section where you had to point your skis and go in the fall line for a while before it opened up again where you could go back to doing some bigger turns.

Looking down the couloir

Looking down the couloir

I explained to Becky and Alex how the line goes and, from the top, the snow looked good, my only concern was that as it steepens there may not be much snow covering the rocks and that we may need to hop over the rocks, but I explained that when I got to the bottom I would radio to let them know what the snow was like.

I turned to look down the line one last time, and dropped in.

Dropping into the couloir

Dropping into the couloir

I knew I had to ski it fast as I didn’t want my sluff to catch up with me and I certainly wanted to stay ahead of it when I got to the narrowing, the first 4 turns were great, as I got over the rollover I could see the rest of the line opening up, I did one last turn to the right to kick a bit of speed and line up to point it through the couloir. I hit rocks, it set me off balance and I started to cut across the couloir. Moments later, I was off my feet. At first I wasn’t sure what had happened, I thought sluff had just knocked me down, but as I tried to stand up, all the snow from above suddenly hit me.

As the snow fractures around me

As the snow fractures around me

That was it, it felt like I had been put in a washing machine, as I started to get rag-dolled down the mountian, I knew there was no way I was getting out of this, I reached for my ABS and pulled the trigger.

My airbag inflated, which pulled me to the top of the slide, but by now my goggles had come off so I couldn’t see a thing, and my mouth was so full of snow I was struggling to breathe. As I came to the top of the slide, it meant I could cough out some of the snow for a split second before I went over some cliffs and then started tumbling again.

I finally started to slow down and eventually the slide came to a stand-still, I was on top of the avalanche which had continued around 50 meters past where I had stopped. After coughing and gagging to try and get the snow out of my throat I finally managed to breathe normally again, after what had felt like an eternity.

Looking back up the face after the avalanche

Looking back up the face after the avalanche

I got the radio out of my pocket to contact Becky and Alex, who were still stood at the top of the line, I was still short of breath, but I explained what had happened and that I was ok. The last thing I wanted was them to come blasting down the face to try and find me and cause any more problems, there was no immediate rush, I was safe, I was moving and I was alive!

We quickly got off the face and back to the ski slopes, I went to the Pisteurs hut at the top of Toviere to explain what had happened and that I was ok, for all I knew someone could have seen it and called the rescue. They seemed glad I come out unscathed, one of them joked and said I should have been buried so his dog could have found me, its good to see some people manage to keep their humour when accidents like this happen. For my first avalanche accident I was hardly in the most jokey mood, I wondered how many avalanches or rescues he had been involved in? Quite a few I thought, bearing in mind he could laugh about it. I left on a good note and their last parting words were ‘Be careful’.

So what have I learnt?

The reality of avalanches is a frightening one, many people die in them and lots come away with serious injuries. I was lucky, I came away with a few scrapes and bruises and had a very stiff back for a few days, but a week later, I was pretty much back to normal. Since the accident lots of people have asked me if I thought I was going to die. The answer is simple, no, not at any point did it even cross my mind, but I knew that I was going to have to fight to get out of it and every time I tumbled I was waiting for a part of my body to be in sudden pain.

In the GoPro footage, it is so obvious when the snow fractures around me, but unbelievably, I didn’t see it, I was too focused on the other aspect, which was skiing the line smoothly, it turns out I didn’t even manage that! It doesn’t matter how much or little skiing you have done, if your not careful out there, you can easily get caught out and it doesnt matter how comfortable you are with the snow, you can never forget about it, until you’re are in that situation, you never realise how quickly it can go wrong.

I hasn’t stopped me skiing off piste or going ski touring, its what I love, but every time I am moving through the mountains or standing on the top of a line ready to drop in, I will never forget that feeling and the thought of what could happen if I got it wrong.

Click the image to watch the movie

Click the image to watch the movie

I made a short edit of the accident, just using the raw footage. Click on the image above to watch the movie.

The Perfect Day

Day off was around the corner and the forecast was good, this meant that we were hopefully in for a good day. I had previously looked at the Couloir des Nettes on the south face of the Grande Motte, a few days before, it is just slightly skiers left of Couloir 3500, a line we had skied the week before, since then we had a small amount of fresh snow and it was looking in good condition.

Green showing the ski line with the abseil in red

Couloir des Nettes, the green showing the ski line, with the abseil in red

After speaking to Paul, we thought we would look at the couloir in the morning, before it got too warm and then head and look at the Pramecou north face, knowing that this hadn’t yet been skied this season we were keen to open it.

Paul and I were joined for the day by Koen Bakkers, a dutch freerider, who had travelled from La Plagne for the day and was keen for an adventure.

The weather was perfect and heading up towards the Grande Motte the timing seemed to be great with it not yet too warm, we got to the top of the Vanoise chair lift and the next stop was the Telepherique, but what we encountered, was probably, the longest queue I have ever seen, knowing that if we waited in the queue we would have to wait for about 5/6 cable cars and therefore miss our window and it would be too hot by the time we got to the top of the couloir, so we quickly decided we would sneak into the ski school queue, straight away we were sandwiched between 2 ESF instructors, hoping we wouldn’t be questioned by them we kept our heads down, next thing we knew we were through the gates and on the cable car, saving ourselves about an hour wait, result!

Paul getting ready to abseil in

Paul getting ready to abseil in

Koen half way down the abseil

Koen half way down the abseil

To access the couloir it requires an abseil before you even start the skiing, having spent 30 minutes the other day searching for the anchor point, we got straight there and I got the rope out and set up ready for the 3 of us to abseil in.

Abseiling to access Couloir des Nettes

Abseiling to access Couloir des Nettes

You have to ski an open field before you reach the start of the couloir, it was great spring snow and reaching the main entrance to the couloir the snow looked equally as good in there. After skiing down halfway, I pulled up and waited for Paul and Koen.

Paul heading down the top section

Paul heading down the top section

In the couloir

In the couloir

Paul and Koen skied it out and Paul radioed back saying there was another narrower couloir to the skiers right, and that after some rock hopping at the top, he thought was skiable, I had a look over, it was much more shaded/ protected and the snow looked even better in there. After a bit of scrabbling around on my skis I was in and skied amazing snow until it finally opened out to the valley floor.

Scrabbling around to access another couloir

Scrabbling around to access another couloir

We managed to traverse along way before having to put our skins on for the last 15 minutes, it was a great line and its always nice to ski something you haven’t done before.

Back to the lift area, the next stop was the Pramecou. After crossing the bottom of the glacier, scrambling up the rock band, skins were back on, half an hour later we were on top of the Pramecou.

Skinning to the Pramecou with the Grande Casse in the background

Skinning to the Pramecou with the Grande Casse in the background

We first looked into the main face, which had been completely destroyed by the wind, I thought it was borderline unskiable, we then traversed across the ridge to the first rope in couloir, which we know is more protected than the main face and we were hoping that it was in better condition.

We go the the abseil point and looked in, the face looked in perfect condition, not affected by the wind at all.

Paul abseiling in

Paul abseiling in

Halfway down the abseil

Halfway down the abseil, looking down the face

We got ready to abseil again, Paul went in first and stayed on the rope while he checked the snow, it seemed good, he unclipped and Koen followed in. I went in last and had the joyous task of pulling the rope through and putting it back in my bag, a job I never really enjoy when your standing on a 45 degree slope.

We were all packed away, all that we had to do was ski it out, in traversing across to a safe spot, Paul had set off quiet a slough and we knew that during the ski we were going to have slough on our tails, the last thing you want it to do it to catch up with you, if it does your off your feet before you know whats going on.

First turns on the Pramecou

First turns on the Pramecou

I was lucky enough to go first, after putting in my first turn the slough was right behind me, so I knew I had to go a little bit faster. The snow was incredible, different to the snow in the previous couloir, it was cold dry powder, not deep, but that didn’t matter. The whole way down the face I could just see the slough pouring over rocks out of the corner of my eye, the next thing I was out the bottom with the biggest smile on my face. Paul and Koen followed down, the cheers as we all ended our run showed how good the run really was.

Looking back at our tracks on the face

Looking back at our tracks on the face

After a short boot pack we were heading back towards the ski area, it was the biggest day so far this season, timings seemed to be perfect and we didn’t think we could have picked any better faces to ski, the first 3 tracks of the season down the Pramecou belonged to us. Thanks to Paul and Koen for a great day, thats it, winter is back on!

 

Couloir 3500

After finishing skiing P4 we decided to check out the Couloir 3500 on the south face of the Grande Motte. We were too late for that day as it was incredibly warm, but it looked good enough to come back the day after and as it was day off the next day we could get there a bit earlier before it got too warm.

This time, Becky and Alex came along, Becky had done some touring but for Alex this was going to be his first tour, and for sure one that he would remember! The top was rocky and very firm snow, I took along a rope and set up an anchor so Becky could be lowered in the top section as a fall here would have resulted in a long slide, which no-one wanted.

Becky getting ready to abseil in

Becky getting ready to be lowered in

Becky being lowered in

Becky being lowered in

After we had all got down the steep top section, we regrouped in a safe spot beneath a big rock face, after this we skied one at a time from safe spot to safe spot, as it was the first time for both Becky and Alex, we weren’t going to ski the face in one, its a big face and the conditions certainly didn’t mean you could charge it.

Half way down the face

Half way down the face

Paul heading down

Paul heading down

The conditions were firm at the top and got softer as we descended into the valley, towards the bottom, the last 300m vertical was soft spring snow which was lovely to ski. When we got to the valley floor, we admired our tracks beneath the majestic south face of the Grande Motte and then it was time to put the skins on and get ready for the tour out, it is such a sun trap in the valley and it felt as though it was 20c.

Alex about to head down the last half of the face

Alex about to head down the last half of the face

Getting ready for the tour out

Getting ready for the tour out

The views in the valley are breathtaking, you can see the summit of the Grande Casse with its hanging seracs, so off we went on the skin back to the ski area, a skin that usually takes around 1 hour 15 minutes.

It was Becky and Alex’s first bigger ski line and ski tour of that length, so I was expecting it to take a little longer, but after 2 hours we finally made it, but to be fair Alex did have the heaviest setup for touring, which weighed in around 3 times heavier than mine and Pauls lightweight dynafit rigs, and with boots with no walk mode he did well, a hard but, hopefully, enjoyable intro to ski touring!

Starting the ski tour out

Starting the ski tour out

Grande Casse in the background

Grande Casse in the background

We finally made it back to the bottom of the lift, which meant we were nearly home, a good intro for Becky and Alex and another fun line for the season!

P4

This is a line that Paul and I had looked at 2 seasons ago, but just missed out on safe conditions before the heatwave started and everything decided to slide. After that we both were injured so we never got back to it.

Ski line shown in green, abseil shown in red

Ski line shown in green, abseil shown in red

It is an interesting couloir and because it involves an abseil it very rarely gets skied. The top part is a short ski, this instance we made our way down careful avoiding most of it as it had been sitting in the sun, I got to the abseil point, which sits right above the 25m cliff, and was going to take off my skis and strap to my bag, as it would be much easier to abseil in boots, but in the precarious position I was in, I thought it would be much easier to leave skis on feet. After getting the rope organised and ready to abseil, Paul came down to join me, he clipped in and was safe so I started the abseil, it wasn’t too bad with skis on, admittedly it would be easier in boots but certainly wasn’t the end of the world.

Throwing the rope, getting ready to abseil

Throwing the rope, getting ready to abseil

Half way down the abseil

Half way down the abseil

I was incredibly relieved that we used a 50 meter rope, as it was only just long enough to get over the last few rocks, we thought that this is as long as the abseil will ever be, in normal seasons there will be a lot more snow and therefore the couloir will be filled up a bit more. After the abseil, I pulled into a safer position and waited for Paul to come down, the first few turns were steep and narrow in the couloir, it then slowly opened up a bit more, after Paul had abseiled, he pulled the rope through and I stashed it back in my bag.

Just off the rope at the top of the couloir

Just off the rope at the top of the couloir

All that was left to do then was ski, we found a mixture of snow, powder, crust and then spring corn towards the bottom. The conditions didn’t really matter, it was fantastic to tick this off the list, of course would have been better in perfect powder but would also increase the risk significantly, as I wouldn’t want too much snow sloughing or following me down the top part of the couloir.

Nice spring snow out the bottom

Nice spring snow out the bottom

I made a short edit of the day, it wasn’t all about the skiing, the enjoyment was the whole day, from the abseil to the skiing and the adventure in the mountains, it was also nice to tick off another line.

Click the image to watch the movie

Click the image to watch the movie

 

Ice Climbing in les Brevieres

With there not being too much snow, we decided to go and check out the ice condition in the valley beneath the dam. We found some good ice and after 2 days of ice climbing, made this short edit of the fun.

We are looking forward to going back when it cools down again and try some of the different routes that are there and maybe even give it a go leading one of the routes.

Click the image to load the movie.

Click to watch the movie.

Click to watch the movie.