Broken..

After some skiing that I was super proud of earlier in the season came a blue run I’m not so proud of…

Georgie and I had another day off together as did a few friends. We all fancied a easy day, nothing adventurous, just a fun day out. The snow was naff, the wind was being windy but the sun was shining! Jumping in the car we set off for Contamine, a ski resort down the valley and up past St Gervais. Fabled for great pistes and easy access beautiful ski tours it was the perfect place for a relaxed day out. The off piste was crusty and cruddy so we decided to blast around the rather empty and lovely pistes. It was getting on for lunch time, the legs were telling us this as well. We were on the way up on a lift and noticed that someone had constructed a very very silly shaped snowman! So being childish boys we quested out to find it….I’m not sure why…. probably to kick it over or what ever childish boys do. We were the only people on the piste, the girls had taken a parallel, probably more direct, adjacent piste to lunch so could still see us in our quest.

The next thing I really remember was hitting the floor back first. Somehow in all the vastness of a quiet piste we had ended up having a high speed cuddle and were now sliding ski less down the piste. Coming to a stop I knew I had hit the floor hard. The girls said they had looked over, firstly giggling that the silly boys had managed to crash with no one else about but then were a little more concerned that neither of us had gotten up! After sliding head first backwards down the piste I was very unsure what had happened or how many pieces I was in…. I ran a quick systems check: wobble the fingers, they work, arms, toes, ankles and knees….they work, no pain….thats good I thought. I was a little dizzy from hitting my head, thankfully I always wear a helmet. I balled up and rolled over onto my knees…wow, THAT took my breath away…..shouldn’t have balled up….well, I’m here now I thought to myself. I was keen to check that Roeland was in one piece, I shouted up and although he was still down he said he was OK. Relieved, I stayed in my kneeling balled up stance clutching my lower back on the right side. The girls made their way over to us. I slowly got myself up. It hurt but I thought I would be able to ski it off. I was pretty annoyed too, I’d managed to rip a hole in the elbow of my lovely new Arc’teryx jacket! Clicking boots back in to skis brought sharp stabbing pains, very gingerly I skied down to the lift and got on. Getting more and more uncomfortable on the way up I realised that I couldn’t actually lift my leg up from the pegs….manually lifting it with my hands I flopped off the lift at the top letting out the manliest of yelps….it was home time… The wind had gotten up and the middle bubble lift had closed…it was going to be a slow painful ski down…The car journey home and the rest that evening were the two single most painful experiences of my life. The power of Codeine helped me through to the morning. We never found the snowman.

An X-ray and CT scan later revealed two broken Transverse Process bones, one on L3 and one on L4 vertebrae on the right side, a herniated disk and break of L5 and another little bit of damage to S1… apparently the herniated disk and L5 break were from having too much fun on some other adventure at some other time… its amazing what you find when you have pictures of your insides!

The Past 8 weeks have been dull and painful. The gang at the Clinique du Sport in Chamonix have been working their magic hands fixing me up. Hopefully I should be able to get out gentle rock climbing soon!

This forced down time has allowed me to go outside on little lift and car assisted adventures with my Camera so it hasn’t all been wasted time!

Its not all about skiing..

So the snow came and went….the sun started to shine again. Another high pressure cycle began, bringing beautiful blue skies. The stable weather does give perfect conditions for other passions not just skiing. The night sky had been beautifully clear and the stars were out in force. My friend Howard is also a keen photographer and was after a specific spot in the valley to take photos at night from. I knew the perfect place.

We clipped into our skis at about 7pm in the Le Tour car park and set off up the skin track. Already the stars were shining. We had a good feeling we were going to be able to shoot what we wanted to. Trying not to go to fast so we wouldn’t be freezing with sweat once we stopped we slowly skinned up to the mid station. We were excited so that was hard!

The snow cannons were blasting out snowy ice crystals with their lights on full beam, looking up as if they were signalling to the stars. Kinda funny as a few days before we had 50cm of real snow! The shape they were casting made for some really cool effects. Stopping briefly to see if we could capture them we snapped away. Suddenly the wind changed direction and it was as if we had been thrust on a north face in the depths of winter. Tonnes of spikey, spiney, cold, spindrifty little biting monsters were being blasting against our faces and down our necks. Time to carry on up!

Arriving on the ridge is was clear we had made a good call. Superb, clear views all the way down the valley. Hiding behind a little lonely tree which made a perfect windbreak I donned all my layers. It was cold. Two insulated jackets and a waterproof later I was a good temperature although I was very jealous of Howard’s down trousers.

Taking photos of the stars I find is very hit and miss, the first few that I take always seem to be a bit naff. It takes a while to get the right lens, right ISO, shutter speed in fact every setting needs to be perfect to get what you want. However, Once in tune, the results were super. After three hours outside we were pretty nippy and it was time for pizza! Blasting down the freshly pisted pistes with head torches on full beam we were at the car in a matter of minutes!

This is why I learnt to ski!

The best two days…so far…

Eventually it came.

On the 13th and 14th of January it snowed, it snowed quite a lot. We had about 50cm in town. There was excitement in the air.

Chamonix on a powder day is always a bit of a bundle, everyone is keen to be up first and get some freshies. Understandable really. Its really good fun! On the 15th I met Pete at the bridge behind my house at 8am. We skated through the woods and were at the lift at 8.10. There was already a queue starting to form. Taking our places we huddle, much like Emperor Penguins do, in the cold for the hour wait we had until they opened the doors.

Powder days bring out all the big guns. Not necessarily in terms of the caliber of the skiers but the actual skis. Individual skis that look like a snow board on each foot. Pete had his original 10 year old K2 Pontoons, the first of the big skis. These things are 132mm under foot. That’s enormous. I had my K2 Darksides, these are mere 128mm…still pretty big! You get an awful lot of float when you have planks of that size attached to your feet and the feeling when they are working is marvelous!  An holidaying Australian family wondered over to ask a question about what time the lift was going to open. The Gentleman took a look at our skis, then at his piste skis. Chuckled to himself, wished us a good day and wondered off to the ski shop to go and hire some bigger skis..

It was a cold day, a cold windy day. The top lift was on standby, not sure if it would open. In this situation you have choices to make. Very serious choices. Do you queue for an unknown time in the hopes that they will open the lift while the less fussy rip up the powder from the open lifts, or join them and reap the rewards.

Meeting up with Alex, Grant, Nick and James, we decided the latter was the best use of time…actually skiing rather than standing in the cold! We chose well. Two stunning runs off the Bochard left us ready for the top. It was 1030. Sliding into the main station we heard that they were going to open. There was one lift of people ahead of us in the queue. There’s enough mountain to go around.

Standing in the cold munching on bacon sandwiches the blingyblongy tannoy goes off. A French voice explains that they are just making the last arrangements to open and that it was cold….minus 22ºC ambient and minus 50ºC with windchill. A hesitant high pitch sigh waves through the building. Some folk leave the queue…. We put another jacket on.

They were right, it was spankingly cold but the snow was worth it. The wind had had her fun with patches but the more sheltered stuff was deep and predicable. Like flying through clouds, such a good feeling. One magical run down the front face and I was done. I’d had my fill for the day. Also chasing the bigger boys all morning was hard work. I bowed out and skated down the home run to town and was home for tea shortly after.

(you can only see the video on the blog site  if your reading from the email :) )

 

The high pressure is back and persisting….sigh…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swinging some picks!

There is One good thing the cold is good for and that is growing ice!

Ice climbing is fun, really really terrifyingly fun.  The trouble is I do little of it so I’m always a little rusty when i do get the chance to get back on it. There are a few super easy to access ice climbing areas locally. The Cremerie is the closest, about a 30 minute uphill stroll from Argentiere. Normally its a snowy approach but when we went it felt like autumn. Orange glowing pine needles on the floor in place of snow and an fresh autumnal smell in the air. Teaming up with Tom we spent an enjoyable morning climbing pretty good quality thick ice. We managed about 5 pitches. Probably we should have left the last for another day…..the temperature had gotten gradually warmer over the morning, Tom set off, climbed about 50m and made a belay. By the time I started climbing the ice had turned to mush, you could practically push in and pull out the screws….time to bail! We had had a good morning though!

Every year I notice some ice falls which form on the right hand bank of the Argentiere glacier, below Aiguille du Chardonnet but never get the time to go and look at them. I believe they are called Cascade du Passon. Skiing back from Aiguille du Argentiere the other day they were looking really good and fat.

The weather decided that it would turn, we were excited for some snow but all we got was cold and storm force winds. Nevertheless a keen team of Tom, Fay, Georgie and Jack were game for an adventure. The lift was closed due to the wind. Tom and Fay set off on foot while Georgie, Jack and myself skinned in. An hour later and we were standing below the 100m wall of ice. It was looking great. A few different lines stood out, nothing too hard, maybe WI5 in the middle and 3’s and 4’s each side. Jack, Georgie and myself picked a line to the right. I set off leading the first pitch. It swallowed all the long screws I threw at it. Super fat, amazing.

I was slow, still trying to remember how to ice climb. The others were cold. I made a belay and brought them both up, the wind was viscous, cold and cutting. Time to bail again! We were all content. It had the feeling of a proper mountain adventure. The ski back was fast and we soon were home drinking hot chocolate.

The Drought Continued…..

Weather….it depended which forecast you read.  The tourist predictions kept on promising an unstable period which would bring snow…..this was a lie, every time. With the high pressure persisting conditions were pretty dire…. The die hard (bigger boy) skiers kept heading up in to the mountains. Searching, scratching, scraping, to get every inch of the snow that remained from the November deluge. Pete has a great write up of probably the third descent of the Frigor Coulior…it aptly describes the conditions.

I had sowed the seed with Pete that perhaps we should try and get up Mont Blanc. I though that would be a pretty cool objective in late December. It was a good idea given the current conditions. It was cold, the snow that was about was good and stable. However, acclimatization was going to be my problem having been in the valley working for all of December.

I needed some altitude. Pete was keen to go up Aiguille du Argentiere. Climb the Whypmer Glacier, then the X Couloir, round onto the north face and then to the summit. Descent would have been down the normal Milieu Glacier. I was keen, a 3900 meter summit would be great. Straight off the lift we were skiing over Sastrugi….. i wasn’t overly impressed…. Pete beamed at me with his normal enthusiasm for being outside. Looking up at the almost summer like Chardonnet Glacier it was obvious that it wasn’t going to get much better…. But its nice to be outside and not at work I kept saying to myself.

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We ventured on, skis on, skis off, skis on, over bare ice until we could skin. The snow was odd. Really wind compacted, hard to touch, skins wouldn’t stick and ski crampons just cut through like butter making upward progress really hard!

We made it to the junction of the Chardonnet and Whymper glaciers and decided it was prudent to rope up. There were some rather scary looking cracks about. Slow, very slow uphill progress ensued…mostly at this point because I was getting spanked by the altitude.

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At the top of the Whymper it was pretty obvious that we wouldn’t make the summit at my sorry speed, the towel was thrown in.

In true British mountaineering style we sat in a slither of sunshine on a ridge and had a cup of tea. It was wonderful.

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Fueled up we skied down, still roped up until we were off the Whymper. Our poor skis felt the brunt of the descent with rocks and gravel everywhere. A few minutes of combat skiing got us off the Argentiere Glacier and back in the ski area to home


The High Pressure persisted…..as did we….

Wheres the snow?

It all started on the 6th November. Winter came…..so early….a record in fact, 70cm of snow in two days, you could feel the excitement in the air. ‘This is it, This is the ONE, this winter is going to be amazing’….. The dump of snow was perfectly timed for the Grands Montets opening weekend, if you didnt mind a bit of wind and storm with your snow! The lifts at the bottom of the Lavnche bowl were not open, so with skins in bag Alex, Pete and myself dropped in with zero vis…. bottomless blind powder. Amazing. Then, all of a sudden we popped into clear sky’s and a beautiful last pitch of skiing before the skin out. The clear sky was temporary! Lap after lap there was no one there. We had the place to ourselves. It’s great when they don’t open all the lifts!

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But then…..that was it…..a confused super high pressure weather system sat on us for pretty much 8 weeks….blue sky’s and sunshine….for 8 weeks! Sounds lovely, and it was beautiful….just not great for skiing! Another record for the least amount of snow at the start of a season.

Undeterred we have been heading out when we can to make the most of what we could find…

As it was early season, a little light reminder of how to ski should be in order. First of all we thought a little foray up the Tour Ronde would be nice. The plan was to ski over from the Italian side and climb the normal route up the south east ridge with the intent to ski the same line down. After a bit of early Bergschrund negotiation we were heading to the ridge and in a short time we were at the summit. It’s a truly magnificent summit. 360° views up the Combe Maudit, down the Vallée Blanche and across into Italy. I could have sat there for hours. We peaked out heads over the west face and looked down into the formidable looking Gervasutti Couloir –  a long, consistently steep couloir which runs down to west side of the mountain. A big tick on any steep skiers list and certainly more steep and serious than anything I have ever skied. Pete said it looked it the best condition he had ever seen it and that we would get so many points for probably being the first people to ski the line this winter….it was only the 8th December. We left the summit and traversed the mountain round to the west side. As I was down climbing the rocky top section of the couloir I had a sudden stark fright that I was actually going to try and ski this beast. I carried on down past Pete, maybe 30m more, who had stopped to clip in at the top of a narrow section. If I was going to ski this I would need all the width I was allowed! The snow was lovely, soft but not deep, predicable and forgiving. Clipped in, I watched Pete, gracefully as ever, glide down and past me to a safe stopping point. With encouragement from below I took some deep breaths and started my tentative descent. Ski in control, plant the pole, hop and turn….easy….stay focused and in control I thought  to myself swearing repeatedly with terror. It was amazing….I was doing it, skiing the Gervasutti!

The bottom section is the steepest. Pete lead the way to find the rap points to get us over the Bergschrund, all I had to do was just concentrate on the skiing. With one rap down and the ropes plugged into the second I set off to see how big the schrund was….it was pretty big….. I was standing about a meter back from the edge….I was at the end of the rope…. all of a sudden there was a raging roaring noise and the world disappeared below my feet as the schrund collapsed. I gripped the ends of the rope tight looking at the slippery, icy, double Italian Hitch knots on my Carabiner (I had forgotten my belay device) and hoping they wouldn’t slip. I came to a crashing stop up against the new headwall of the schrund. Iv stopped, I thought, nervously giggling to myself …..now what… I was literally just before the knots in the end of the rope. The collapsed schrund had blocked up the gaping hole beneath me. My skis could just tickle the snow, I gave the snow the best kick I could and it seemed solid enough. Undoing the knots I tentatively lower myself off the remaining ropes, at the last minute lunging for the downward edge of the schrund. Nothing else collapsed. I stood up and smirked at Pete, he smiled back. He slid down the ropes further to the right. Pulled them free of the anchor and jumped a narrower section of the schrund. After a quick skin we were at the Torino lift slurping on thick hot chocolate and feeling very proud of ourselves.

The high pressure went on. The conditions got worse but we still ventured out…

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!