Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Col de la Glière

Feeling frustrated with my total lack of alpine climbing this season and having spent a brutal weekend working (admittedly with a Petit Envers lap of the Vallee Blanche in the middle of it!) I really wanted to take advantage of the forecast and get something done in the mountains. Only restriction was that I had a transfer for my flight home at 11.20am… Plenty of daylight before then but not much time after first lift up anywhere; definitely not enough time for climbing or queuing off the Midi. Then I remembered the Col de la Glière, perfect for a quick hit but would I be up and back home fast enough for my transfer?!
A few avalanches crossed the skin track on the traverse.
As soon as I got off the Cornu lift, I knew I could make it and stopped being stressed about timing. There was a skin track already in, but it only had two kickturns, managed to traverse the entire face and had 3 substantial cornice collapses across it. So of course I put in my own track on the totally unthreatened right hand side! When I finished the traverse across from the Lacs Noirs, I realized that no one else had skied down from the Col de la Glière itself. Bizarrely there was a skin track up it with a long traverse to the col. Someone else had skied off the skin track, but nowhere near the normal descent so I got fresh untracked powder the whole way down, more or less to the piste!
A high traverse gave a few more powder turns, quite a few people have skied the Pourrie if not the Col de la Gliere.
Still untracked snow just above the ski area!

I got back to the bus stop at Flégère an hour after getting off the Cornu lift so comfortably (ish) made my transfer PHEW! Although nothing like as long as my last solo ski adventure (the Aiguille d’Argentière at the end of April) it was good to get out in the hills for a little bit! May well be my last mini alpine adventure for a while as I’m spending most of the next few weeks in the UK. Hopefully climbing conditions will be amazing in the last half of March though when Chamonix quietens down again!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Glacier des Améthystes

Face shots all the way down from GM! (photo by Jack Doyle)
Finally, on Monday, the sun came out in Chamonix. As we wanted to take full advantage of it Jack, James and I headed for a days ski touring up a south facing col! As I had to make some beds before skiing we missed the quieter queuing time at GM and got fully embroiled in holiday traffic... A two hour wait before we could start skiing was a good reminder to get up earlier now! With it being the first morning of half term, holidaymakers were obviously being cautious as the Rognon glacier was still pretty untracked. The thigh deep powder provided some amazing face shots but it would have been more fun if we hadn't had to pole our way down the less steep sections...
Trench warfare.... (Jack Doyle)
Chasing the sunrise.

As we were a bit late and started skinning at midday, we had a bit of a race to get back into the sun away from the shadow of Les Droites. The temperature difference between the shade and sun was ridiculous and we were soon trying to think of ways to wear less clothes without getting sun burnt! By the time we got to the hut, there was a decent skin track up the Col du Tour Noir as well as the Col d'Argentière. James had done most of the Col d'Argentière a few weeks ago so we opted for the first col, which I hadn't done either.

Heading up (Jack Doyle)
Slowly, slowly getting there! (James Matthews)
The skin up was pretty long and brutal in the heat - maybe not the best idea for the first ski tour of the season! We got most of the way up but ran out of steam just before the final steeper section to the col itself and decided to call it a day. As only five other people had skied down the right hand bank the ski down wasn't exactly tracked out! Although the snow wasn't quite as good as coming past the Rognon it was still pretty fun, until we hit a short section near the bottom that had refrozen.

A few face plants as well as face shots.... (James Matthews)

Even though Monday was not a technically challenging day, it felt amazing to be back in the mountains at last and back in one of my favourite basins. It was even nicer to escape the holiday crowds at GM and to see more or less no one else for the whole day! Thanks to James and Jack for good banter and for letting me steal their photos (I forgot my camera and had to use my phone instead.) In spite of crashing and landing on my head a couple of times, Monday was definitely a day to remind me how good it can be to live in Chamonix!

Back into the shade and sun burn free!
(James Matthews)

Friday, 14 February 2014

Not quite an alpine route but not a bad day out!

Sometimes (quite often really...) I get scared of alpine climbing... I find my winter alpine psyche is a very fragile thing. On Wednesday, a missed top bin reservation, not being sure where the route actually started and putting in a high ski traverse above a lot of big crevasses, all took their toll on my motivation. The final straw was realising that I still haven't replaced my decrepit climbing gloves and I couldn't feel my fingers after just 5 minutes of skiing. Luckily for me, Dave was already wearing all of his spare clothing and didn't mind running away to the temptingly sunny slopes below.

Running away to the sunshine!
We then had a good old walk-pointy ski explore of the Rive Gauche ice falls. This felt slightly more adventurous than it should as we were guidebook-less and trying to remember where stuff was by memory. Turns out everyone had the same idea that day and most of the ab points had multiple sets of skis waiting for their owners. Fortunately as we finally sauntered down to the EMHM cascade the final climbing pair were just topping out so we had the ice fall to ourselves. After I pulled the ropes from our abseil I ummed and ahhed about leading the first steep pitch with only five ice screws on our rack. Then I remembered just how blunt my four ice screws were and managed to persuade Dave that he wanted to lead both of the pitches. Not that he really had much choice in the matter... Good job he's a beast and made short work of the route!

Running it out with our minimal ice climbing rack
By the time we skied down to the bottom of the Pierre a Ric I felt like I had had an alpine day out! Skiing for the first time of the season with a climbing bag is always a shock to the thighs. Although we only did a short route in the end, we skied further than we would have done if we had gone up Claire Chazal. Dave also has a report of our lovely day out here, who says you need to be scared to enjoy climbing?!