Saturday, 28 March 2015

Col du Passon

After spending Friday avoiding the crowds, we spent Saturday joining them for a trip over the Col du Passon, high above the Argentiere Glacier. It wasn't actually that busy and everyone seemed to disappear once we got over the Col itself so we had a great time skiing down to Le Tour by ourselves. I'd forgotten how cool it is to be skiing perched up high above the village below and I've also remembered that the Col du Passon should make it onto the "do it every year" list. Great times.

Heading across to the start of the ascent, which begins now with a short bootpack due to the lack of snow.

Finishing the bootpack.

The final couloir up to the Col. With the benefit of hindsight, putting crampons on would have been a good idea.

Sophie on the ski down.

Sharon loving the Le Tour Glacier.

Sharon skiing next to the toe of the glacier, being watched by an admiring crowd.

Stunning glacial ice at the toe of the glacier.

Me in one of the exit couloirs (whenever I do the Col du Passon I seem to find a different exit every time).

The weather looks horrible for the next few days but there's plenty of precipitation to come so this lean winter may have some life in it yet. After a day as good as today, I certainly hope so.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Pointe Alphonse Favre, West couloir

We've had a funny weather week here in Cham, with the forecasts constantly predicting a big snowfall that never quite seems to have come. However, there has been drizzle on and off and Matt and I figured that we could find some good skiing if we avoided the crowds and found something sheltered. 

Having noticed the stunning looking line of the Pointe Alphonse Favre west couloir a while back, it had long been on the to-do list and today was the day. The weather was due to improve throughout the day so we didn't even get on the Flegere lift until 10.45 but knew we'd still be fine for time.

Not an ideal start at the Col Crochues, which was cloaked in mist.


That'll do!

Matt booting up to the Pointe Alphonse Favre on the standard approach for the Glacier Mort and NW Couloir.

Final steps to the top. The line begins where the standard Glacier Mort bootpack hits the ridge.

Boom!! The couloir looked awesome from the top and didn't disappoint.

My favourite view.

The couloir turned out to be fantastic, with a thin layer of fresh snow on a firm, consistent base.

 Me in the upper couloir. Photos Matt Livingstone.

Matt giving it beans in the lower couloir.

The line. The Col Berard is in the bottom left of the picture.

With motivation still high, we carried on down below the Col de Berard and then skinned up to the Breche de Berard.

Matt booting the final section to the Breche.

Our efforts were rewarded with another superb ski down a surprisingly quiet Berard Valley, which held plenty of decent powder, most of which was untouched. The final track out was fine too and we only walked for about 50 metres near the end.

Matt enjoying more cold smoke in the Berard Valley.

Needless to say, one of the best ski days I've had for ages was capped with a pint in Le Buet, followed by one in Les Houches. Good times.

The west couloir really should see a lot more traffic and it seems strange that the Glacier Mort was really tracked out, yet everyone who'd skied it must have walked past our line. Management speak brings me out in a rash but it's hard to avoid the old "thinking outside the box" line here :)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Argentiere Glacier Conditions

With a couple of hours free yesterday morning I nipped up the Argentiere Glacier to get some photos of conditions. Basically the skiing was pretty ropey (there was lots of fresh snow but unfortunately it had either got a wind crust or had been cooked by the sun) but climbing conditions look superb. 

The north face of Les Droites looks super fat, as does the Grand Rocheuse/Verte north face. The rock faces behind the Argentiere hut had snow on the ledges but should be good to go after a sunny day or 2. The weather looks pretty changeable for the next week or so but I don't think things will change much conditions wise for a while. 

Let's just hope we get some sun! 

The Verte/Rocheuse north face and the Grand Montets ridge.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Pila Powder

Although Chamonix was still enjoying some good weather at the start of the week, all the forecasts were calling for heavy snowfall in the southern Alps. Much of Italy, the Ecrins and the Alpes Maritimes were all expecting tons of fresh stuff and with only one day free, I opted for a quick hit to Pila, high above Aosta.

It turned out to be a pretty good shout and we enjoyed fresh powder all morning and then moved onto nice, soft pistes in the afternoon once the midday heat made the off-piste less enjoyable and more dangerous.

Skiing in Pila is pretty cool, as you can find untracked powder whilst enjoying a perfect view of a Roman city (Aosta).

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Col du Tour Noir & Argentiere basin conditions

With the good weather holding, I had a great, cruisy day in the Argentiere basin yesterday with Owain, Dane and Morgan (the only one without a blog. Loser.)

There was no firm plan other than to take in some nice views, check out conditions and (hopefully) ski some nice spring snow. As it turns out, we did all 3 by touring up the Col du Tour Noir and had the added bonus of enjoying a beer at the Argentiere hut on the way down. Not too shabby!

"Famous" Dane Burns.

Owain skinning with the Pointe Domino behind.

What a hero. Photo Morgan Sinclair.

Dane skinning up with Les Courtes and Les Droites behind. Every time I go into the Argentiere basin I forget just how big everything is. When you consider how good the skiing, climbing and scenery are up there, it would certainly be a contender for the single best mountain valley in the World.

Finally at the col and Owain shows off his pointing skills. Morgan, lacking a guides badge, can't compete.

Velvety snow on the way down.

Nice afternoon light on the ski out.

Dane cruising home.

While up in the basin I was able to get a good look at conditions and it seems that, despite the massive lack of snow, things are pretty good all round. 

The ski touring is thin but if you wait until the afternoon there's plenty of spring snow to be had and all the sunny lines looked nice. The classics cols and the Milleu and Y routes on the Aiguille d'Argentiere are all good, provided there is some warmth in the middle of the day to soften things up. The north facing lines are pretty wind battered though so I'd give them a miss and stay in the sun.

Climbing wise, there's plenty to go at. The rock routes behind the Argentiere hut are completely dry (although the ones further up, towards the Col du Tour Noir need a bit more sun before they're ready to go) and the north faces look good. The north face of Les Courtes was quite thin but the ice looked in good condition and there were several teams climbing it. 

Les Courtes N face. (This and the next 2 shots are high resolution, click on them to see them full size).

The steeper, top half of Les Droites looks really good but the icefield is quite black and accessing it looked thin too. Once you were halfway up you'd be fine but getting there might be tricky! There was no sign of anyone climbing it. The routes on the NW face looked really good though and I'd imagine that the Richard Cranium Memorial will see some ascents soon. The Lagarde couloir looked formed but the lower section is slightly thin.

Les Droites NE & N Faces.

Les Droites and the Verte.

Over on the Aiguille Verte, conditions looked really good. Vivegel, Late to Say I'm Sorry and the Couturier all looked pretty thick so they will likely be popular too. 

All in all, tons to go at, now we just need the sun to come back!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Valéria Gully, Petit Capucin.

Although there is good skiing to be had out there, Tom and I were in the mood for climbing yesterday so we decided to go and do a route on the East face of the Tacul.

The predictably unpredictable Compagnie du Mont Blanc nearly put a big spanner in the works when we turned up at the Midi 20 minutes before the advertised first lift, only to find that several had already run and so we wouldn't be first down the arete and onto the routes. Neither of us is interested in climbing ice when underneath other groups so not being first meant that our choices might be much more limited than we'd planned. Still, there's plenty to go at up there so we knew we'd find something good.

All the usual classics such as the Pellissier, Gabarrou-Albinoni and Modica Noury all looked super fat but were all busy so we carried on down for a look at the Valéria Gully on the Petit Capucin. The huge serac which threatens the approach released in a big way recently but in its current condition it doesn't look that threatening so we decided to give it a go. As it turned out, nothing fell off it all day but skinning up underneath it really was pretty intimidating and we were both relieved to be clear of it.

Tom walking/running (the debris was impossible to skin across) the final section of the approach, with the reason for the rush visible above him!

The route itself was really good, although the lower pitches weren't that exciting and with hindsight the best way to do it would be to start up the Chippendale Gully and then move into the Valéria, thereby getting the best bits of both routes. Still, the relatively easy climbing gave us plenty of opportunity for chatting, trash talking and generally enjoying the excellent ambience.

Tom on one of the lower pitches, which was basically 65 degree, friable ice and provided an excellent reminder of why I don't pursue water ice climbing as a hobby anymore!

With the lower pitches quickly dispatched, the crux section above was superb, with continually interesting but never "hard"climbing in a fantastic, atmospheric gully. 

Tom finishing off the crux pitch.

Having abseiled down, all that was left was a dusk ski down a chalky and enjoyable Vallée Blanche. Even the nice snow conditions couldn't save our legs though; I really had forgotten what hard work it is skiing with a heavy bag! 

We made it down fine though and little did we realise that Tom's highlight of the day was to come right at the end, when I managed to completely wipe out on my very last turn at the bottom of the Les Planards green run, in front of the gathering of ski instructors who were having some sort of evening do. There's really no way to rescue lying on your back, pinned down by a heavy bag and surrounded by skis and poles at the foot of a green run in front of a bunch of ski instructors so I took the humiliation and consoled myself that a coke and a burger were then only 5 minutes away!

The sunny weather looks set to last for the next 10 days at least so I think that if you're after good skiing, you'll be hunting spring snow rather than powder. If you're climbing, there is tons to go at, with all the Tacul classics looking good and lots of the high altitude rock faces dry. I really enjoyed the climbing yesterday and am keen for more but I couldn't help thinking that those people who'd skied into nice, sunny rock climbs had the right idea so I may well be joining them over the next few days.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Plaine Joux touring

Despite all the fresh snow that came on Wednesday, good skiing doesn't seem to be that easy to find right now, probably due to the hurricane force winds that accompanied the fresh stuff midweek. With this (plus the high and unpredictable avalanche risk) in mind, Sharon and I decided to head up to Plaine Joux for some easy touring and to admire the view.

The plan was to do the Pointe Noire de Pormenaz, the prominent summit to the north of the Brévent. You can ski in from Brévent but I don't know the terrain and didn't fancy onsighting it with the current avalanche risk so we decided just to do a "there and back" from Plaine Joux. 

This was probably the steepest bit of the Plaine Joux resort.

The mighty Rocher des Fiz, towering above the forests.

Sharon at the end of a long shuffling section.

Stunning views across to Mont Blanc.

All went well until we'd shuffled over to where you start to skin and realised that the route was not nearly as safe and easy as it looked on the map. Plenty of people had skinned our intended route, up to the Refuge d'Anterne but there was a huge amount of avalanche activity above the line and we really didn't fancy it. This being Chamonix, plenty of other people seemed to be completely happy to do it! (Judging by Facebook, people seem to have been swarming all over some of the dodgier slopes of the Aiguilles Rouges so maybe I'm just being overcautious. Then again, maybe not.)

Having still not had skins on by this point, we carried on descending via a fun little forest track to the Lac Vert. 

Lac Vert looks even better in winter than it does in summer, which is saying something.

A short skin took us easily back up to Plaine Joux and a not-very-well earned coke. 

Plaine Joux may well have the best view of any ski carpark in the World.

All in all, not a great success ski wise, and we didn't even really get much exercise either! Still, some days are for going hard, others for enjoying the scenery, and today was a very enjoyable case of the latter.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Kühtai, Austria

Friday saw heavy snow in Chamonix but I had a long standing trip to Austria booked, leaving me slightly concerned that I was going to drive for 6 hours and leave behind an awesome powder day! Fortunately, there had been plenty of snow over in the East too and we had a superb day at Kühtai, skiing with the guys from Ski Bartlett and Black Crows.

It might not be super steep but easily available powder, non-existent queues and good beer really do make a nice change from Chamonix sometimes!

This is lift served terrain at 3.30pm on a sunny weekend powder day and there's barely a track in sight. Like.

It looks like we could be in for quite a bit of snow over the next 48 hours so there should be more powder days coming up. After a poor start, winter seems to be making an excellent recovery; long may it last.