Category Archives: extreme
On Saturday afternoon myself and Tom Grant caught a late lift up the Grands Montets with plans to ski on Les Courtes. We were joined by Luca Pandolfi, Ross Hewitt and Mikko Heimonen who were planning on skiing the Couturier. We had a quick scope of our line and decided it needed a little longer to be in perfect condition and the Couturier also still had its ice section, so we joined forces for the N-NE face of Les Courtes. We set off the next morning after a good nights sleep but unfortunately about half way up Ross turned back not feeling great. The boot pack was hard work in the deep snow but we reaped the rewards on the way down. When we were boot packing the summit slopes we were hitting hard ice under the 30 cm of fresh powder, so I made a couple of turns with Tom belaying to test if the snow was going to slab. When It didn’t I untied and we enjoyed perfect pow for nearly all of the descent. I managed to ski through the rocky crux section linking the summit slopes with the hanging snow field while the others made a couple of short rappels. It was another perfect day with great friends and great snow on one of the most beautiful lines I have skied. Thanks Guys!
The forecast looked good for wednesday morning and being a bank holiday i decided to head up the midi for a ski. The window wouldn’t be big enough to go far, so that narrowed the options down to the north face. I have skied all of the classics a few times and fancied something a bit different so after some inspection the previous evening through my binoculars i easily convinced Tom Grant the Frendo was the line to go for.
While we were waiting around for a weather window to ski it became evident that another team of Andreas Fransson, Bjarne Salen and JP Auclair were headed for the same line. I had a quick chat with Andreas and we both thought skiing on top of another team wouldn’t be safe so he kindly invited us to all ski together, a very nice thing to do as they were filming that day.
We didn’t have the best weather for the descent but this added to the adventure and it was an all round great day out in good company. A massive thanks to Andreas for leading all the raps and setting up some bomber anchors. The weather was making it hard for photos but the few i got where the lens isn’t covered in moisture are below (I’m sure Bjarne got some good footage though.) The line in the photo is now equipped for 60m rappels and conditions are looking good for next week so get on it!
Ever since watching the film steep I have wanted to ski this line, first descended by Steffano De Benedetti, its one of the most beautiful mountains the alps has to offer, the skiing is technical but the whole thing goes without rappel and it had never been repeated.
The last few years I have been following how the line looks in the spring, knowing I had reached a point in my skiing where i would be able to make a descent. My final decision to finally go came last Wednesday when I drove through to Italy with a friend specifically to take photos after seeing it was getting close to being good in the last few weeks. There was bad weather coming and I decided to go once it had passed, however the Following Tuesday I received a text while at work….
It had been skied two days before I was planning to ski it myself. At first I was dejected, not sure what to do. However I came to the realization it wasn’t that important to me to make the first repeat, it was more about the beauty of the line and i still wanted to go. So on Wednesday afternoon me and Tom Grant headed up to the Torino refuge.
I don’t normally use guardianed refuges and it was my first time in the Torino, the guardian was friendly and the food was excellent, but what else do you expect in Italy! We left at 1.30 am planning to head up the normal route on the Tour Ronde and ski its South face to access the Brenva glacier. As i reached the summit ridge on the Tour Ronde, Tom caught up with me and told me he had to descend back into France. His Son was ill and I would have made the same choice, he was happy to go down alone and i wanted to carry on so we agreed to stay in contact via text to let each other know we were safe.
The snow on the Tour Ronde South face was smooth and frozen solid, I enjoy this kind of skiing but lower down I soon hit a load of avi debri, not so much fun to ski on. The Brenva glacier is well filled at the moment and the route across the flat section is relatively simple, although with the current high temperatures I doubt this will last for long.
The climb up the face went smoothly on the refrozen snow but I was starting to feel the altitude for the second part of the climb. Luckily for the last 100m I was able to use the pervious boot pack where the snow had stayed cold and arrived at the summit at about 8.45 am.
I knew it would soon be hot and stopped only for 15min to eat drink and prepare myself to ski. The slopes from the summit are not too steep but you soon arrive at the couloir which allows you to access the face. This is probably the steepest part of the route and extremely exposed. A few jump turns in good powder snow and I was traversing over a small ridge to the main part of the face.
The snow here had refrozen and was just softening, this part of the route never exceeds 50 degrees but is still technical. I would link a few turns then make a small traverse to gain another strip of snow or step past a few rocks.
As I got lower the snow got better and better and was soon perfect corn. Before I knew it I was at the steep couloir which joins the top of the route to the ramps. The snow was still a little hard here where it had got less sun but I could see more perfect corn below and shot through it at quite high speed.
I skied the rightward trending ramp in one shot, its only about 40 degrees here so no more jump turns until its end where there is one last small crux to exit.
I crossed an icy runnel and side stepped through a short rocky step and a couple of minutes and a few big turns later I was back at the Brenva Glacier only 45 minutes after leaving the summit.
Lower down leaving the glacier the sun was burning and the snow was like soup but I didn’t care by that point! I stopped on the moraine for a short rest and then got back to my car for about 11am. It was one of the most enjoyable days I have had in the mountains.
Thanks to Tom for coming with me and congratulations to Luca, Davide, Francesco and Julian for a well deserved second descent just before mine.
As I was alone the pics are a bit crap, but its hard to take photos of yourself skiing!
Back at the end of Feburary I headed up the Aiguille Verte again, this time with Tom Grant to ski the Whymper. The afternoons were still cold and we decided to climb up the Courturier from first lift. It was fast going until we reached the Calotte, where we found pockets of dangerous wind slab and some very open crevasses. We had to get the rope out and set up a few belays to pass safely and lost a lot of time trying to find the best way through. In hind sight it would have been better to carry on up the direct exit moving together over the grey ice. Determined not to get shut down so near the top we pushed on and finally arrived on the summit at about 2pm both feeling the altitude.
The snow on the ridge down to the start of the couloir was unstable so we walked down to the col, being battered by harsh winds. The effort had been worth it, the couloir looked in great condition. We found some nice soft snow at the top and then some crust lower down. The exit couloir was well filled and we skied through without a rappel and even found some cold powder on its right bank. The only thing baring the way now was the bergshrund, which looked huge. I didn’t feel like jumping it but also couldn’t be bothered to get the rope out so I managed to find a way through on the left.
Thanks to Tom for another great day in the mountains, the photos and my second Verte summit and ski in as many months
Yesterday myself and Jon Griffith headed up to the Argentiere basin for a bit of cardio training, the plan was to climb both the Couturier couloir on the Aiguille Verte and the Legarde direct on Les Droites. Unfortunately i woke up with a bit of a cough and cold so the plan changed to just one route. We got on the first lift up and i decided to take my skis up the route to see if any of it was skiable. We were stood on the summit by 12.30pm and although the skiing conditions were far from ideal with hard snow and ice close to the surface, i managed to ski most of the couloir, with one short down climb of about 15m and one longer one of around 100m. I would love to find this couloir in good condition one day and make a proper descent with no down climbing and GS turns but im still satisfied to have skied down this legendary line. Thanks to Jon for the day and his great photos, more here…
On the last day of the year i decided to head up into the Argentiere basin to check out how the North faces were looking… Nothing great until i turned the corner and saw the Col du Cristaux. It was completely full of powder and i couldn’t resist a solo mission on it. The snow was deep and the climbing was hard going with no one to share the boot pack and the recent excesses of christmas. Worth the effort as it was some of the best skiing i had all year, nothing beats making huge turns down a steep face.
Having seen the conditions i headed up for another solo mission on the 4th of January this time on the Chenavier. I knew it wouldn’t be like the Cristaux but did find skiable snow for the whole couloir, all be it a little more engaging than the powder i had been skiing a few days before. This time i took my gopro, its not great footage as i was just making jump turns but its hard to get any worth while photos when your alone so better than nothing! It also turns out i know nothing about editing and the video is quite long!<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/56865729″>Chenavier Couloir</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user15634603″>Ben Briggs</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
If you are planning on heading into the mountains yourself be very aware of the snow conditions where you are, there have been some high winds stripping some aspects and building slabs on others.
After scoping out the line from the Tour Rond, myself, Tom Grant Cedric Bardardini and Luca Pandolfi caught a last lift up the midi last Wednesday. We were hoping that the Cosmiques hut would be full of guides with clients leaving at midnight and putting a track up the 3 Monts for us… It was not to be.
Leaving our comfortable bivi in the aiguille du midi at 4am having stashed our sleeping bags ect we made our way down the arete. I chose to ski but the conditions were marginal due to a strong north wind and after hearing the scratching of my skis the others sensibly walked down.
Slowly we navigated our way through the mess of the Mont Blanc du Tacul northface, bootpacking through deep snow where it had been deposited by the wind and front pointing where it had been scoured. Luca was feeling ill and moving slower than the rest, to avoid him coming off of the rope we swapped bags(mine about half the weight with super light movement bond x series skis and atk race bindings).
I have never enjoyed the boring plod up the 3 Monts but to be the only team on it making the bootpack and taking in a beautiful sunrise was great. Being well acclimitised and the easy pace also helped the usually hatefull experiance!
Once over the shoulder on Mont Maudit we worked out where the route starts from. I headed over first and looking down i knew it was the right spot. I excitedly shouted to the others who soon joined me. After a little food and water, at 9.30 i was making the first turns down the rarely skied face.
Its pretty scary dropping into a big line you havent climbed, not knowing how the snow is going to be or exactly where it goes. After a couple of turns in cold powder the top layer of snow soon became heavy from the early sun. There was an edgeable crust under it and although the top layer was sliding away it was controleable and enjoyable skiing.
I navigated down to the first rock band which was much bigger than it apeared from afar and so was the menicing serac above us! The Line i took was not the easiest so the others traversed slightly further right into a narrow passage where we joined up again. Cedric headed off through this first crux which passed easily and we were soon on the second snow field.
Tom headed down to find the best place to pass the second crux and found a a gully through the rocks which required only a few meters of side slipping to pass. From here the only thing in my head and i imagine everyone elses was to ski as fast as possible on the bottom slopes and away from the serac danger. A well filled burgshrund aided this.
Once in a safe spot we sat and watched Luca complete the bottom slope and then my phone rang…
Brendan O’sullivan who had been working the pervious day and couldnt join us was on the other end of the line, “did you ski it?” he asked “yeah, what are you up too?”, “im on top of the Maudit, was it good?” he had got a first bin and quickly soloed up our track, i was shocked for a moment but quickly replied “the snow is getting wet but go for it if your quick!”
We climbed back up to the kuffner arete and sat watching Brandan snowboard the face before the final section of steep skiing for the day down the aproach couloir for the bivoac de la fourche. The snow was very hard here and although we were tired concentration was vital. Brendan soon joined us at the bottom and we skied down to the montenvers train alltogether.
What a day, it is definatly the wildest place i have been skiing!
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.
Jon has just put together Black Diamonds alpine catalogue, there is loads of great photography and one of the pics is of me(6th one). Check it out.
Luca Pandolfi and I also made the 4th descent of the South face of the Aiguille du Moine today which was first skied by Jean Marc Boivin in 1987!
Heres Lucas report- http://www.lucapandolfi.com/2012/03/moine-southeast-face-29-02-2012/s
Ross Hewitt was also with us to ski the line but unfortunatly had back problems, heres his take on things-
On Wednesday afternoon myself and Luca Pandolfi caught the last bin up Grandes Montes with the aim of climbing up the N side of Les Courtes and skiing the south face. We headed for the swiss route early in the morning but soon after crossing the Burgshrund we realised there was a lot of hard ice on the route and Lucas snowboard boots would be too soft to climb the route safely. We quickly came up with a new plan to rappel off and walk round to the NE face so all was not lost.
We made quick progress up the start thanks to our new Spanish friends we had met the night before, who had already started putting a boot pack up the face. Unfortunately one of them wasnt feeling good and they turned around, so we carried on alone.
For any one interested in the general conditions in the Argentiere basin, the North faces are icy although the NE face is just about skiable at the moment with good snow low on the face and a small strip of skiable snow in the large ice patches in the top section. However the south-facing couloirs such as the Y on the Aiguille D’Argentiere and the S couloir on the Aiguille du Chardonnet look very good.
Once we arrived at the top of the NE face a short ridge traverse took us to the summit, where I down climbed a little to check out the two entrances. We decided the couloir was filled enough to ski from the summit using the direct entrance. The snow was deep powder on the top half and just a bit heavy lower down where it had been warmer in the sun. As there was so much snow and it hadn’t undergone any freeze thaw cycles the hardest part of the descent was controling our slough!