Two Days on the Midi: Cosmiques, Rond, Passerelle, West

Our friend pete has been having an amazing week the week just gone! Here is his write up!

Pete Houghton

Cosmiques Couloir, 18/04/16

Charlie Edwards, approach to Cosmiques Couloir
Pete rapping into Cosmiques 180416

Swirling clouds with the occasional tiny patch of blue. A light on-off drizzle in town. There are six skiers in the nearly-empty first bin at the Midi, along with a few teams of climbers armed with either approach skis or snowshoes. Under a bright blue sky, Dan and I are the first to clip in to our skis on the ridge, perched high above the clouds down in the valley. We each have a go at knocking sluff down the south face before the traverse to the west, where the four of us take it in turns take it in turns to stamp down the new snow on our way up to the col.

We have a quick look at the Rond, but the entrance is dry and wind-scoured, a tangled mess of the old cable car wires and grey ice. The top of the glacier looks…

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Whymper Glacier

Today was another addition to the amazing snow we currently have! Dan and Pete had various plans for todays adventures, the first was annoying cut short due to a rail strike….no need to get up at 5.30 for the non existent 6.30 train… it was always going to be a long day! We sauntered home from the train station to re pack our bags as we decided to head up to the Argentiere Glacier to find something to ski tour up and then ski down. There were a few options but we decided on the Whymper glacier which leads up to Aiguille du Argentiere. Once that decision was made the next was the descent. We decided to come back down the way we went up but to hang a right and drop into a central couloir in the middle of the Chardonnet Glacier. Such a good choice it turned out!

We turned around at the top of the Whymper and skied some pretty hard unpredictable snow which constantly changed from horrid wind crust to soft powder for about 400m. We popped over a shoulder and from then onwards the snow was soft, cold and beautiful in the shade. Once we got to where the sun had been warming the snow for an hour or so it just started to change into spring snow, 30 minutes later and the couloir might not have been the best place to be, timing is everything! Once we had negotiated a way through the glacier we dropped into the couloir and blasted down 40º of loveliness to the Argentiere Glacier and then home for beers and lunch in the sun!

 

A Funny Winter!

There has been a lot of negativity about the winter we are having in the Alps and I can kinda see why, Christmas and New Year were pretty disastrous with warm temperatures and brown ski pistes. The ski shops had their mountain bikes out for rent instead of skis; it was that bad! The odd snow day has come with strong winds and general blergh kinda weather. There has also been much rain! Now, however, I think that we have had one of the best snow years for skiing in the 7 years that I have been here. Perhaps I’ve been out less than previous years (its quite easy to role over and hide under the duvet when its blowing a hooooley outside) but each time we have been up it has been absolutely wonderful! Yes, you have to accept that you may have to ski in zero visibility but thats surely a good thing every now and then?! Its all good practice at the end of the day! This week especially has been a week of contrasts but there has been a common theme and that is beautiful snow!

At the start of the season Dan brought some massive skis from a ski sale and picked up some second hand bindings and had them mounted a few weeks ago. They sat inside looking out the window feeling sad and neglected waiting for the next storm to bring enough snow to warrant taking them up the hill.

The storm blew in!  Dan, Pete and Aine all grabbed their enormous skis and ran excitedly to Grands Montets in the worst visibility that Dan has skied in (he could only just see the end of his skis), the snow was cold and bottomless and his big skis were purring excitedly. The next day the sky cleared so the three plus Georgie and Olly decided a Vallee Blanche was in order, again with the big skis. It was fantastic, we were the first down our particular route so had to spend a while wading through deep deep powder on the flatter sections, teaming up with some Frenchies, working together to put in the track. As soon as the gradient got up we let rip!

 

Today Dan and Pete headed up to ski the north face of the Belvedere. They broke trail to the col so were the first to ski the steep north face the other side. Beautiful blue sky on the way up but some murky cloud on the way down made the face look very atmospheric and slightly terrifying. Dan chose to absail the steep 50º section at the top, Pete blasted the whole thing! Another awesome day out in absolutely perfect snow!

There was also the Col du Passon x 2, an afternoon in Le Tour, two stunning mornings in Flegere……..all in amazing snow!

Lets hope this continues for the remaining weeks to come!

 

 

 

 

 

Ups and Downs

Such a long time between posts and quite a lot has happened!

This summer has been full of ups and downs hence not so much writing. We have still been out doing what we do though! Georgie has had a great race season, firstly finishing in a superb position in the CCC which is in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc series and then taking on her first competitive half iron distance triathlon, again finishing really well.  In the CCC (Courmayeur (Italy), Champex (Suisse), Chamonix (France))  she finished 149th overall out of 1900 starters in a speedy time of 17 hours 35 minutes. She was 12th in her category and 14th female overall which was 2nd British female! Two weeks later she entered the inaugural Evergreen Triathlon. This was a brand new event organised by friends of ours and was super environmentally friendly. Georgie entered the half distance which still was 2km open swim, 95km bike ride and then a 21km run! she came 3rd female overall! Stunning! She was even taking it easy under Dan’s orders as she had over done it last year and made her self poorly so she perhaps could have come 1st! All in all a stunning racing summer! She has a new running blog –www.wheresgeorgie.wordpress.com which you should all follow and keep an eye on whats she has been up to!

 

Dan has spent a lot of time in the UK over the summer as his dad was very unwell and unfortunately died at the end of October. So a rather up and down year for him and everyone close. Dan did still manage to get some adventures in the mountains which kept him a bit more upbeat! The last of which saw Dan and Pete climb up the crevasses infested Glacier du Milieu route on the Aiguille du Argentiere which is a very pretty peak of 3901m. A long slog up hill of 1600m from the valley floor with heavy packs took them to the Argentiere refuge. After a brief night there they climbed a further 1200m crossing glaciers, dancing on snowballs and climbing steep snow slopes got them to the top. The hot summer has taken its toll on the mountains and some of the crevasses were enormous. There had been just enough snow the days before to cover the smaller crevasses. After crashing through some weak bridges and falling into some of the smaller ons, then being shut down by some massive holes they found them selfs at the top. We would like to point out that this is rare for Dan and Pete to actually get to the top of anything they climb together! After the top all that followed was the knee smashing 2700m descent down to the valley! What a long day out!

We have been back in Chamonix for a few weeks. We have brought new skis each, Georgie has some ridicules Dynafit PDG super light weight uphill race skis to allow her to train and maybe do a few Skimo races this winter. Dan has a pair of Black Crows to hopefully find some nice snow with! After a massive dump three weeks ago that got all our hopes up we have had a massive high pressure system sitting and not moving, all we need is for it to go and some snow to come! We are sure that good things come to those who wait!

 

 

 

 

July

Chamonix is BUSY! July and August are the busiest two months of the year with more people visiting than the whole of winter. The thing about winter is that they tend to be skiing and town is still relatively quiet, summer, however, is different, they are everywhere! In the hills. In the mountains. In the swimming pool. By the lake. But mostly in the super markets…all the time…..in the morning…..at lunch time….in the evening……ALL THE TIME!

As well as being busy with people it has been oppressively hot, in-fact its been a strange year with weather. A relatively warm winter, a very wet spring and now a scorching summer. All of these have meant for challenging conditions in the hills. The rain in spring caused flooding and substantial land slides. The heat we have had for the last month is making the mountains unstable and dangerous. Rock faces which normally hold snow over summer are bare and dry, the glaciers are melting faster than normal with big crevasses opening up and large rock falls from the mountains are common place at the moment. The famous Goutier route up Mont Blanc which is the normal route up has been ‘closed’ by the authorities and climbers urged not to attempt it. The Grand Couloir on the way up this route tends to throw rocks at people at the best of times but the heat has turned it into a contest shooting gallery of rocks….not a safe place to play at the moment!

Skinnylegs_624

The above image is the Argentiere basin with Aiguille du Chardonnet on the left, looking up the Argentiere Glacier to the right, everything is looking warm and dry.

The sensible climbers at the moment are heading to the places which are always snow and ice free in summer, big classic granite climbing is the way forward at the moment. A few friends headed to the Grand Capucin, a big, famous pinnacle of rock between Italy and France putting up some lovely photos on the internet to admire. We however are not that hardcore but nevertheless we have had a few good adventures recently.

At the beginning of the month Pete suggested the Voir Normal route on Aiguille du Moine. This is generally the descent route off the mountain but can be climbed also. We got lost on the face and ended up climbing things that were much harder than we set out to do. We didn’t get to the top. The walk in over two glaciers, climbing exposed ladders, a lovely bivi with a great view, freeze dried dinners and some comical belays and rappel points were enough to let us have a fun two days. That is of course the whole point of this being outside malarky so we were happy!

The lead climbing would cup started its tournament in Chamonix in July with some of the big names in the climbing world showing us their stuff on the 20 meter climbing wall that is constructed in the the Place du Mont Blanc every year. Very impressive stuff!

Skinnylegs_623

The crowd warming up!

We were also asked to be models for the fantastic mountain training facility in Scotland called Glenmore Lodge and also for the British Mountain Guides. We headed up to the Aiguille du Midi with our friends Andy Townsend a IFMGA mountain guide who works at Glenmore lodge and the British Mountain Guides along with another friend, Howard King, who was the amazing photographer. We spent two days up in the high mountains with a night in the Cosmiques Refuge at 3630m. Being high without much acclimatisation took its toll on all of us and was quite hard work. Georgie was the main model as she is much prettier (more marketable!) than Dan. Dan mostly kept Howard safe, stopping him falling in crevasses or off rocks while he was taking the photos. Obviously a more stupid model was needed to fall in a crevasse so Dan was up for that one! With a traverse of Point Lachenal (avoiding the big rockfall in the middle), glacial rope work skills and a few pitches of good rock climbing this was a great two days up high with great people.

Signal Forbes – A Night In The Mountains

There is a magical point in the Chamonix Valley called Signal Forbes, it sits above Montenvers and the Mer du Glace and has the most spectacular views of the Drus the Grands Jorasses and the Grands Charmoz. We have thought for a while it would be an ace place to go to and watch the light show that the sun produces on summer evenings.

At the moment we have our friends Pete, Sarah and their little boy Freddie over from the UK for a short stay . Pete and Sarah have been here a few times before and each time we have found an awesome spot to bivi in the hills, this was to be Fred’s first alpine bivi experience so the Signal Forbes seemed like an awesome place to go!

Armed with all the cameras – the digital SLR, GoPro and a shiny new iPhone 6 (these things take pretty good pictures) we all made our way up. Dan’s climbing partner Pete also tagged along for the adventure, he fancied a gentle evening out after having just completing the Chamonix 80KM race. He absolutely smashed it placing 110th overall out of 1000 starters, go Pete! Petes’ Blog tells a magnificent tale of suffering and hardship, click here for a read!

Dan, the Petes and Fred caught the train up to Montenvers and walked the 45 minutes up to Signal Forbes from there. Georgie and Sarah walked up from the valley. The boys were using good excuses for not joining the girls in walking all the way up; Pete’s legs were tired, Fred only has tiny legs as he is three etc etc…. We all rendezvoused at Signal Forbes, fired up the JetBoil up for dinner and sat in awe watching the sun go down. It cast amazing colours, shadows and shapes on the mountains as it disappears behind the Aiguille Rouges, it really is a magical sight.

Dan had hoped to get some good start trail shots over the mountains but the moon was out it all its glory which made star trails hard to shoot as it was very bright. Instead Dan and Pete played with long exposures with some fun results, the Drus and Jorasses truly are very photogenic giants in any sort of light!

Combe du Pouce

During the summer Dan and Pete climbed a rock route on the south face of the Pouce, one of the largest rock faces in the Aiguille Rouges. On their way to the route they commented on what a lovely ski down the Combe under its big face would be, so, with a good weather forecast they set off to do just that! Now, skiing at this time of year can be both glorious and very hard work. The snow is softened in the warmth of the spring sun and then re-frozen during the cold nights. If you get the sweet spot of timings just right the skinning up can be a breeze on slightly sun warmed snow and the skiing down can be beautiful in buttery soft deliciousness – it can also be the complete opposite – be bullet hard or yoghurty wet. Unfortunately they found the latter. The sun had not been on the south side of the Gliere long enough to warm it for their first skin. That did however, make the steep top section easier to climb with a nice hard bootpack in place! Once over the ridge and onto the north face the snow was hard packed but perfectly skiable down into the Combe du Pouce, probably the best snow they found all day! Once in the Combe it was a bouncy hard rollacoaster all the way to the exit couloir. They hadn’t held very high hopes of the couloir being any better and unfortunately they were right, narrow, icy and avalanched filled rubble fest! excellent! After the combat ski down the couloir they inhaled some go fast caffeine gels, swallowed some water and started the long 900 meter skin back up to get into the Berard valley. The sun by-now had most definitely had its way with the snow. They chose a slightly higher but safer route out sticking to ridges as much as possible and headed for the Aiguille de Berard. Working hard in the sun to get off the slippy sun baked slopes they got back onto cold icy snow and made it down into the Berard Valley. The ski down was a bit hard and bouncy to say the least and after a bit of stream hopping and marble run skiing they made it to Le Buet for a swift beer before the train home.

Some interesting extra bits from Pete here on our fun day out! http://wp.me/p2jrSj-qC

La Noir

The snow has settled itself a little thanks to a two week spell of high pressure which brought blue sky’s and sunshine. Temperatures in the valley were warm, mid mountain had some great spring like snow and high up was glorious. Cold enough to keep the powder soft and fulffy. Because of the lack of snow so far, the crevasses on the glaciers have not been as well filled as they can be at this time of year. This has made the high mountain quiter that normal, which is great!

Dan, Pete and Siôn made the most of the quiet hills with a glorious run down the Noir side of the Vallee Blanche. This is generally a quieter line to ski and it looked as if only a few had ventured that way this season. After catching a leisurely 0930 cable car they were up in the sunshine and skiing towards Italy. After a quick ski they switched to skins and climbed upto and over the Col du Flambeau, a short ski and another quick skin later they were at a high point on the Glacier du Geant. The ski down was great, cold powder snow on the whole. Dan had a missuserstanding with a small area of windslab snow and had a tumble losing a pole, not the place to go digging around for it on top of crevasses and dodgy snow, so the rest of the ski was done one polled for him – all good practise!

The weather men keep promising snowmageddon this week so we shall see what appears!!