Aiguille du Chardonnet- West couloir direct
After the great late season powder skiing, the steeps were finally starting to fill with snow and we had seen the west couloir on the Aiguille du Chardonnet looked in great condition. So myself, Tom Grant, Brendan O’sullivan and visiting American Blaine Horner headed up to the Argentiere hut with the idea of climbing the South couloir and traversing the summit ridge to drop into the west couloir.
All was going to plan until climbing out of the top of the south couloir. I was leading the boot pack and was confronted with a short section of technical climbing to gain the ridge, the climbing looked easy enough so i continued on up a chimney where i found an overhanging plug of ice blocking my exit. I was committed by then so i pushed on and was just breathing a sigh of relief as i pulled round and stood up above the bulge… then it collapsed beneath me leaving me hanging from one axe. I quickly scrabbled my feet back on and dropped my lightweight axe in the process. I got into a bridging position to catch my breath with my feet on ice and my back pressed against the rock. After composing myself i climbed up to the ridge with the one remaining axe and shook my self off! Brendan was hit by the falling ice but was lucky just bruised and able to continue.
After this incident we decided to rope up for the top of the Forbes arete to the summit which had lots of loose snow on it and were soon at the top of the west couloir getting ready to ski. There was a lot of cold snow and it looked like we were in for a good descent. I dropped in first checking out the snow conditions, there was a small wind slab but fine to ski, we were in.
The first section of the couloir is easy angled and big turns were the order of the day, staying left the couloir starts to steepen and narrow and we skied some great snow here down to the traverse. The traverse is super exposed above a terminal cliff but at the end of it we were rewarded with perfect powder on the mellow slope down to the direct couloir entrance.
This is where the skiing gets serious, first you have a narrow rocky section to enter. After ten meters or so of side stepping through the rocks the couloir is sustained and narrow and a narrow band of snow allows us to pass an icy section in the middle crux. After this its only a sort way to he final constriction and exit, looking down we could see ice that would be impossible to ski and a rappel anchor from previous descent. Wanting to make the descent with out rappel we scoped out an alternative dropping over the crest on the right and down through some snow-covered rocks before traversing further right to another exit cone. After Brendan and me had skied through Tom and Blaine decided it was too rocky set up a 15m rappel.
Once all safely out of the couloir we enjoyed perfect corn down to the Argentiere glacier before rejoining the piste and skiing all the way to the car park.