Friday, 24 January 2014

Couloir Posettes


When we woke on our last day, it was clear there'd been a bit of a dump overnight. Grandes Montets would have been the pick, but because of lectures we couldn't get away early; and by the time we got to GM, the cable-car wasn't yet running and the queue was at least an hours' ordeal. It seemed everywhere would remain on hold until it had been bombed. Everywhere except for Vallorcine.
On our first run, wide from the top chair into Switzerland, we set of a few significant slides, and soon it was apparent that whilst the fresh snow was superb, the avalanche risk was significant. On our next run we came across a half dozen folk probing avalanche debris - fortunately for lost skis, not bodies.
Then Jerome got a phone-call from a friend and fellow guide who seemed to be in trouble with his clients after a much bigger avalanche. The wind and poor reception made communication difficult. We had another run trying to find the group in trouble with no luck, and so Jerome made the call to the ski patrol, and then left us to our own devices as he headed off trying to sort things out.
Eventually it turned out that a client had been hurt (not buried), and three skis lost. Jerome helped get the involved skiers down off the mountain, and then we headed off to find some lines.
By this stage, the clouds were lifting with some pretty speccy views towards Mt Blanc.
A fifteen minute skate/hike from one of the drag lifts led us to the top of a renowned couloir, which Jerome felt wouldn't have been as exposed to the wind which had caused the slab activity up higher.
I must say, I was a little hesitant as first - seeing all those people probing had freaked me a little, but once I'd linked a few turns in the upper part of the couloir, I relaxed a bit. It was a thousand metres of vertical magic.
Still we played it safe, taking all the regular precautions.
 Jerome though, had proven once again a guide's utility. In addition to keeping us (and others not even under his responsibility) safe, he had found probably the best and safest untracked option in the entire Chamonix Valley on a day of elevated risk.
We had a quick and tasty tartiflette once back in Vallorcine, and then raced back up to do it again.
I can honestly say that this last run of my week in Cham was the best run of my life. 'That's what you always say!' said Jerome. The late light was sublime, the pitch perfect, the snow deep and excellent, and the adrenaline so high that I even felt compelled to huck a cliff (which I didn't quite pull off).
It was all so surreal that down in the forest I even disturbed and gave chase to a couple of deer. 
Then back in the VW for Derek to give his presentation on Everest, under the alpenglow illuminating Le Drus, completing a great week with Moz, some new Kiwi friends, and fantastic guiding under Jerome.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Courmayeur Couloirs


After two prior big days, Jerome had worn out everyone but me. In retrospect, I wonder whether Wednesday had precipitated a bit of acute mountain sickness in Morry. Skinning up to 3800m when jet-lagged and a little unwell mightn't have been such a good idea, so he thought he'd sit on the bench for a day.
That meant that I had Jerome to myself, which was a bit of a bonus except that the weather in Chamonix was atrocious. After thinking about calling the day off, J instead packed some ice-climbing equipment for something different. Just before we headed off though, we checked the Italian webcams and were 'surprised' to see Courmayeur still bathed in sunshine. As it was my second last day, I decided that skiing had to trump any other novelty, and so we headed off through the tunnel. Exiting the tunnel, we had to put on our sunnies. We thought about skiing the Brenva Glacier, but there was a little too much high cloud to make it safe, and so we started off in-bounds.
I love the top cable car at Courmayeur - it resembles the Nautilus from 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Jerome and I had it to ourselves all day. With a few burly boot packs, we were able to find beautiful fresh tracks in awesome snow in the sun for most of the day.
The back couloirs of Courmayeur are seriously steep in places, with narrow chokes and terrain traps almost the norm. Whilst there are a couple that are relatively safe, they tend to get tracked out early (and you still need to know how to navigate in to hit them). We basically did a bit of 'exploring' hoping we wouldn't stumble on anything higher than the 15m of rope that J was carrying. We found a few epic lines in very steep, gladed sunny powder - and only had to down-climb the last 40m of our last line, which, whilst sketchy, was kind of fun. I even got him to take a tumble!
Except for a momentary stop for some top Italian tucker, we skied fast and furiously, which is why the photo count for the day remained minimal.  
Photos for the previous two days will remain to be sorted for a while yet...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Glacier du Geant


Wednesday was a bit of a given: the day before had been a massive climb leaving us a little sore, and the weather was finally looking to be clear over the entire Alps after several days of snow. This meant that the Aiguille du Midi cable was going to be packed. Because of our conference, we couldn't hope to get first in line, and by the time we got there (and sorted out the fiasco that our hotel had made of lift passes), it was nearly 2 hours before we found ourselves plodding down the arete in the usual congo line. It was great to see the Refuge Grands Mulets (on top of the rock in the middle of the second photo), and my line down Mt Blanc from another perspective.
We steered hard right, around past Cosmiques Refuge, over the Col du Gros Rognon, and then all the way down through untracked soft snow to the start of the icefall at around 2800m. Jerome roped up to Derek (who was best placed to pull him out of any crevasse), and we slowly made our way back up to the Col de Rochefort, where we had some unbelievable views of the Alps to the east (Italy), and south as far as Le Meije. We could also see the mountain we'd climbed and skied the day before - on the telephoto it is even possible to see our tracks, and the avalanche that we started in the couloir.
We then continued skinning up to a rocky platform under the Dent Geant for a most panoramic lunch looking across to Mt Blanc. Morry was struggling with the altitude a bit, so we left him there and continued on up to the limit of the snow at around 3800m for a very satisfactory descent down through magical powder. Derek and I linked as many powder turns as possible, savouring every billowing pitch, whilst Jerome free-rode the entire thing in about three turns. Then on down under the crazy cliffs of La Noire besides seracs the size of buildings, and all the way down the right hand side of the Vallee Blanche, which neither Derek or Morry had done before (today was the first time Derek had literally set foot in Italy: too much time spent in the Himalayas...)
All in all a glorious day, with the result that far too many photos were taken...