Saturday, May 7th, 2011
Intense two days in Chamonix – Skiing on north face of Aiguille du Midi and Aiguille du Plan
Writing this I’m sitting on a plane in between New York and Seattle on my way to Alaska and are looking back at two really intense days in Chamonix. I got in to town on Wednesday late afternoon and spent my first hours in town meeting up with friends and sorting out equipment for the Alaska trip. On Thursday morning I had set up with Constantine Papanicolaou (CP), the filmer working with the upcoming Seth Morrison movie, for an interview and we went up to the mid station on Aiguille du Midi to get some good ambiance.
I had timed my days in Chamonix perfectly and a rainstorm had just hit town plastering the mountains higher up with perfect snow for steep skiing. I was figuring out that it would be good skiing on the north face of Midi, but being new in town and not knowing the conditions by heart, I wanted to wait one day for the snow to settle.
CP with his big camera and Aiguille du Midi in the background
But sitting down in the sun doing the interview I spotted some skiers slowly skiing down the Mallory. The snow looked super good so I directly decided to have a quick ski in the afternoon. Knowing the culture in town I where guessing it was going to be crowded on the face the next day. I called my friend and filmer Bjarne Sahlén and went home to get my skis.
The Mallory Porter on Aiguille du Midi
The north face of Aiguille du Midi. Mallory-Porter goes down in the centre of the photo
We went up with the 13:30 bin and where at the top at around 14:00. I started skiing straight away and where able to ski the first half of the run in almost one go – I had to wait for Bjarne once when he changed angle and for him to get in the lift, to film me as he was passing by on his way down. The snow was excellent and it felt great being back in Chamonix again and straight away be able to get some got skiing in.
After the intersection between Eugster and Mallory the small right trending couloir was not very well filled in. The party that skied it in the morning had rappelled the whole thing but I gave it a try and managed to ski it till just two meters from the left slanting thin traverse where one have to walk down on a rock slab and then do a small (really exposed) jump to get by. Three years ago I skied it in similar conditions in the autumn, but I guess I’m getting old and smart(er) – so I used the rope for those few meters.
Next followed the second big snowfield that felt more like freeriding than extreme skiing before I ended up on the second crux where I once again used the rope for a few meters, then skied down the third snowfield and then put up the obligatory rappel.
After the rappel the skiing get much less exposed and I calmly skied down a narrow arête in to the final couloir and then out on the big snowfields below the face. 5 minutes later I where back with Bjarne at the lift station looking back up the mountains.
Down in town we met up with photographer Tero Repo for a light après ski with ice cream and coke. With the conditions being that good we both agreed that it was time to get one of the most mythical faces done before the camera. Skiing the north face of Aiguille du plan the next day became a fact. But the day was not over just yet, I still had one more interview to do, this time with Trey Cook on Chamonix insider and then a lovely dinner with the best friends in town at Casa Velerio
On the top of the first big snowfield
And then on the second
Looking back at the exposed traverse after the small couloir
Above the second crux
Looking up after the obligatory rappel
And then down at the skiing
Bjarne Sahlén was filming the adventure
Tero Repo and Bjarne Sahlén enjoying ice cream aprés ski
Hard man Trey Cook at MBC
Skiing the north face of Aiguille du Plan (for the second time)
The first half of the north face of Aiguille du Plan, we skied the red line on the photo, except that we rappelled on the lookers right side of the big serac instead of on the left. (Photo: Tero Repo)
The next day I met up at Midi at 8 o’clock with filmers Guido Perrini and Bjarne Sahlen, photographer Tero Repo and snowboarder Xavier de le Rue for our project of getting some good material from the face.
The north face of Aiguille du Plan is not really a ski, its more of a mind game where problem solving and keeping ones head cold is much more important than the actual skiing. I already skied the face two years ago with Tobias Granath and then it probably was the first decent in 15 years, but this year it already had two successful descents. Last time I told myself I where not going to do the face again, and I guess I repeat that quote again after this repetition. You will understand why…
I would say this is the most beautiful skiable face seen from the Chamonix valley. It thrones up in between huge rock walls in the middle of the Chamonix Needles and is totally broken up by a big maze of seracs. The run finishes with a dead end above 300 meters of either active seracs or a compact slab. As a ski descent it is a rapp fest, but its also one of the biggest experiences one can get in the Chamonix range.
We accessed Aiguille du Plan from Aiguille du Midi via the Midi-Plan traverse in about two hours. A helicopter was booked for the photo/film crew for 12 o’clock so we knew we where in no hurry. Arriving at the start of the ski run, just bellow the top pinnacle we realised how good the snow where. Perfect light powder snow awaited us, but we still had to wait almost an hour in the cold before the heli would come. To warm our heads up, we got to witness a huge serac fall on the north face of Midi, reminding us in what kind of terrain we where going to enter.
Soon enough the boys arrived and the game was on. We skied the first 250 vertical meters fast and smoothly, but arriving just above the biggest seracs the snow got super hollow and slabby, so we had to start making good use of the rope as Xavier belayed me over the traverse to set up the first rappel. Then we rapped over the seracs, and arriving bellow them the snow was not any better so we kept on using the rope and placements to cut the slope for half the right slanting traverse as well. The sun had transformed the snow on the skiers right hand side, so from there we where fine to ski again. The hidden couloir awaited us with great snow, but we had to climb over some rocks in between snow patches to get down it and after this we skied down the last big snowfield and set up a rappel at the top of the last seracs.
From here one has two choices; either rap fast straight down the seracs or trend skiers right down the compact slabs. The first alternative means much higher objective danger the second means a real challenge in finding good enough cracks to build secure anchors. We choose the later alternative and trended right, finding some of my old anchors from before but had to mostly redo the procedure. I blessed my last knife blades and all the stoppers I had in the middle sizes. On the last rappel we where almost free hanging on two small nuts and a knifeblade, a situation not at all unusual when climbing, but a different story with ski and snowboard gear on a ski mission. Just when Xavier commented on the situation the serac fell on the easiest way down under the hanging glacier (the alternative one that I where talking about before) making even this awkward situation feel like paradise. Getting back down on solid ground I packed the ropes and let Xavier go first as we didn’t know when the last lift down would go and he is a bit slower on a board on traverses.
We ended up getting down in good time for the lift and celebrated with a Coke and a Twix at the little café on the terrace.
Taking my boots of at the perking lot I discovered something that explained the bad feeling I had on the top. Just before I took of I double-checked my boots and bindings like always, but this time there was a small gap under the left heel allowing me to lift the boot up and down 1 cm in the binding. I thought the bind was just getting old or something, but taking the boots of I realised the boot was broken and the metal piece on the heel was gone. Skiing was fine without it as long as I stayed on the middle of my foot, but I did not want to go to Alaska with a broken boot and my flight was in the morning the day after. So while the others enjoyed beer at Elevation I run of to Kai at Chamonix Freeride Centre and begged him to sort the boot out. I would have no time to get a new boot sorted for my feet before the next day so I was lucky to have one of the best boot fitters there is to get them back ski condition. Damn that was a hectic day – Then over for dinner, doing the last phone calls, do the packing and then of to bed for a few hours of sleep before the flight in the morning.
Xavier de le Rue on the top of Aiguille du Midi with Aiguille du Plan in the Background
Xavier walking over to the first pitch of Grand Envers
Xav talking to his Go Pro
Xavier de le Rue on the top before dropping in
Myself on the top
Xav with the heli in the background
Xav setting of
Xavier on a rappel with the upper half of the run in the background
Getting on to the slabs
Looking up at Xavier and the last rappel
Happy and relieved Xavier de le Rue at the mid station
Xavier with the Finnish maffia who just came down from skiing the Macho couloir
Thanks Chamonix for a two great days and thanks Max and Zoe for the stay, Bjarne, Xavier, Tero, Guido, Trey and CP for the missioning!
Now it’s Alaska time! Don’t wait for any updates in the next month, ill be beck in Sweden the 14th of June with a rapport!
All the best / a
In the meantime Check these spots out:
Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Aiguille du Chardonnet – West couloir
Today I had a little solo mission to ski one of the first routes I lay my eyes upon when I first came to Chamonix years ago – The west couloir on Aiguille du Chardonnet. Its one of those routes that one can see from Argentiere as well as the Grand Montets skiarea. But the direct version is still very rarely skied and it has a reputation of never being in good condition.
The West couloir on Aiguille du Chardonnet
As Im just back from Sweden and wanted to get a good workout and get acclimatised without to much objective dangers it felt like a good option, specially when going alone.
I was abit slow in the morning and only made it up with the third or fourth bin, but after traversing the glacier I was in front of the mornig race. I climbed the south couloir and joined the last part of the classic Forbes arête before I stood at the start of the West couloir. It was lots of snow in the south couloir and I was swimming in the snow making the track and in the end when putting my skis on I got joined on the summit by two frensh boys. I waited for them to get ready and then we skied the first half of the decent together with them before they left me alone for the direct finnish. The snow was great and about 15-20 cm deep, but with a hard layer underneath helping you to keep the concentration level up. In the last couloir I first used the rope to get over a small rockband and then skied all the way down to the finishing goulotte in one go. There I did three short sheltered rappels on the side of the couloir and then got back again finishing with a jump over the shrund. A few hundred vertical meters of good spring skiing awaited me here before I got down to the glacier and skied back down to town.
It was a good day up on the mountain with fun skiing and a worthy workout…
Aiguille du Chardonnet and Aiguille Argentiere seen from the Argentiere glacier
The south couloir
The south couloir seen from the top
The famous traverse
At the start of the direct finish
A weird track
Saturday, March 12th, 2011
Aiguille Verte – Another good day in the mountains, but with a bitter aftertaste
Yesterday I went up climbing Aiguille Verte with my friend Will Sim. The plan was to do a fast ascent via the route Vivagel on the northeast face. But a slow party where camping on the route. By the time we had climbed 600m, they had done 30m, and lots of ice where coming down so we decided to keep on going to the Bettembourg-Thivierge gully. A Chamonix rule of thumb; no solo climbing underneath happy campers.
Arriving to the gully we discovered that it was not in very good conditions with hard dark ice covering the whole thing. But we still thought it was much more fun than just doing the Couturier so we kept on going. With this brittle hard ice soloing together was no longer an option so we pitched the steep section and then run up the ridge to the top of Aiguille Verte.
It was a great day to hang out on the top of this beautiful mountain. Almost no wind and it were really warm in the sun. We had planned to down climb Couturier to get back, but lots of black ice made it much more logical to go down by rappel. I think we did over ten abalakov anchors on the way down and then replaced slings on some more so one could now say that the decent is properly equipped for anyone interested in climbing Verte in the next couple of days.
Everything went perfectly well for us this day, but I still came home with distaste from the day. I don’t know if it’s only me, but it seems like the objective dangers have become much bigger in the mountains this season. When we got down to the bergschrund at the end the day, the whole thing had collapsed. Skiing down the glacier also feels like walking around on a minefield in the midst of a war with black bottomless holes everywhere covered with brittle bridges. And coming home to town we get to know that one of the parties doing the traverse under Cordier after us got hit by a serac fall; one dead.
It’s a weird year up there right now with a lot of good people getting in trouble.
Its on thing to take risks depending on ones own skills in skiing and climbing or just being in the mountains, but playing the game of Russian roulette with a clip full of bullets in the world of objective dangers. That really sucks!
Now awaits a vacation from the big stuff to recharge the batteries…
Thanks Will for a good day out…
Will Sim getting ready to rock
On a cold belay
Looking down the Whymper
Will taking it easy on the summit of Aiguille Verte
One of many abalakovs
Getting over the bergschrund
Mt Dolent in the sunset
And Chardonnay and Aiguille Argentiere
Will skiing skinny skis english style, really fast though
Droites and Verte in the twilight zone
Friday, February 11th, 2011
Les Droites – Ginat – Motorway up one of Chamonix’s classic north faces
Yesterday I did the Ginat on Les Droites with good friend and mountain guide Jimmy Halvardsson. It was a great day out on this 1200 m big ice and rock face. Over a month of good and stable weather has turned the route in to a must do at the moment with super great conditions making the route relatively easy.
The north face of Les Droites
We came up with the first bin in the morning, had a great climb, topped out in late afternoon, had a walk back to town and ended up at Chambre 9 for a couple jugs of water, and then I continued over, still in climbing clothes to Lapin Aigle for wine with friends from home.
Another great day in the mountains – thanks Jimmy!
If you want to hire a mountain guide, or just want to check out this awesome guy and great climber – visit Jimmy’s website at www.ascentdescent.com.
On the route we met friend and climber Korra Pesce who was out on just another adventure soloing the Jackson and then from the top down climbed (solo again of course) the Ginat. An impressive feat! To see an edit by Seb Montaz with this climber in action; click here.
Jimmy loves candy, yes he does!
Me enjoying (Photo: Jimmy Halvardsson)
Jimmy on the lead
At the top
Valle blanche by night
Monday, February 7th, 2011
Mont Blanc – The wild way – How to walk away a cold and get powder skiing in the sunset
I have, ever since I came to Chamonix the first time, wanted to climb (and of course ski) Mt Blanc early season when you get to be by your self, when there are no tracks and you have to do all the work your self. In a sense – I wanted to climb Mt Blanc when its only me and a friend on the mountain – when the most popular mountain in Europe would just be like any other mountain in the world.
So yesterday I had a go for the realisation of this little dream together with my friend Max Turgeon. I was not to sure about my shape having a fairly heavy cold weighting me down, but two days of rest hadn’t changed the conditions at all so I thought I give it a go.
We went up first bin in the morning up Aiguille du Midi and skied over to the north face of Mt Blanc du Tacul aiming to do the ascent via Tacul and Maudit towards the summit of Mt Blanc.
The north face of Tacul was fairly easy to climb, mostly with skins on but with a few passages over crevasses and seracs slowing us down. Its a completely different story climbing Mt Blanc putting in the track than following the normal motorway that you will find here in the spring or summer. Two years ago I did the climb in three hours from Midi, and now it took a bit over four and a half – being in much better shape.
The north face of Mt Blanc du Tacul
Continuing up the north face of Maudit we found lots of deep snow on places sinking down to our knees in powder snow costing a lot of energy for both Max and me. Add lots of hidden crevasses to jump, climb and avoid and you will understand it took some time getting up the mountain.
The last little rise towards the summit of Mt Blanc was luckily hard making it easy to skin up with ski crampons and finally walk with crampons.
I think we both felt like we got the workout we came here for when we clicked in to our skis. But the day was by no means over yet. We had hoped to ski down the west face, normally giving cruisy skiing on open faces down to Val Veny on the Italian side of the mountain, and had taken a chance that we would get some good spring skiing keeping in mind the isotherm was on 3500m and the face is facing the sun.
We had also got warned by our Italian friend Davide Capozzi that the face might be pretty icy, but we wanted to check it out ourselves. Experience says you don’t know too much about conditions before you are actually there, so we went down on the west side to have a look.
However, fifty meters down I found out that what looked like nice easy snowfields rather where a one cm snow layer on blue ice. There was nothing left to do than just put the crampons on and go back up to the ridge and ski down towards Chamonix.
We had now spent about two hours waiting for the sun to warm the snow up and walking back up again the fifty or so meters we had skied down. Trying to do Mt Blanc in a day from first bin, tracking the whole thing and hanging around at the summit for two hours only mean one thing in beginning of February; you wont have to much time to go before it gets dark.
So realising this we started skiing down the hard slopes of the north face. After some crevasse crossing and traversing we ended up on the right track and quickly lost meters skiing various snow conditions with everything from hard transformed snow, breakable crust and a turn here and there in soft snow.
Further down closer to the Grand Mulets hut the snow changed into great recycled powder snow that we would have for the rest of the decent. Imagine this, powder skiing in the sunset with Mt Blancs grand north face as a back drop.All in all that descent gave us about ¼ of shitty snow, 2/4 of so and so snow and ¼ of great powder on a day where the actual climb was the goal and the skiing was done with fairly low expectations.
We got of the glaciated terrain before it got dark and traversed over to the old lift station where we skied down to the track and from there walked down to the tunnel in perfect time for dinner.
The cold, it most have got walked out of my system, because today, I feel great again – although a bit tired in my legs.
Thanks Max for another good day on the mountain.
And Lotti (and Felix), thanks again for the pick up, I realise we are starting to owe you a couple of days taxi service!
Max climbing up Mt Maudit
Climbing Mt Blanc early season involves lots of this
Max and me on the top of Mt Blanc
Max skiing the top ridge of Mt Blanc
About to start skiing the north face of Mt Blanc
Max skiing the north face of Mt Blanc, try to find him – he is in the centre of the photo
Aiguille du Midi and Les Grand Mulets hut
Max skiing in the sunset
Traversing over the glacier
Skinning back up to the traverse track
Walking down to the tunnel