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TR: Chamonix - 2013 Edition

post #1 of 36
Thread Starter 
For the 4th year in a row I'm fortunate enough to find myself in Chamonix - the birthplace of mountaineering and the cradle of steep skiing.

My first few days in Chamonix have been somewhat monochromatic. The first two days were basic piste skiing which isn’t worth writing about but it served the purpose of getting the legs moving, having not skied since October. Clouds and flat light had dominated these days – and Chamonix with its dramatic peaks overhead is quite the melancholy place in poor visibility. It makes you feel like the mountains towering over you go forever & you can’t quite imagine the delights they permit in better weather.

Day 3 – Glacier de Toule & Combe de la Vierge

But on Saturday it was go time. Through most of Friday there had been rain in the village and snow above about 1500m so we decided to go high and check it out. Our initial plan was to ride the Aiguille du Midi, skin across the Vallee Blanche to the Helbronner and assess whether we would drop into Italy or if the weather was deteriorating just ski the Vallee Noire back to Chamonix. I had never done the Vallee Noire, which is the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche, and skiing the Glacier de Toule is always a great option

Mont Blanc in the background, previous steep skiing descents in the foreground:


Looking across to the Aiguille du Midi


Skinning across to Combe de la Vierge, 'Les Trois Monts' in the background


Looking down at the goods:




More pics and words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-3-glacier-de-toule-combe-de-la-vierge/

Day 4 – Vallée Blanche Gros Rognon

Yesterday’s grey skies yielded some lovely powder but there’s something about sunshine that adds to the overall quality of the day, even though it does nothing to enhance the powder and in fact damages it at the right elevations and aspects.

So with this in mind there was not much decision making to be done when we saw the forecast for sunny skies, and we reserved our place in the first cable car up the Aiguille du Midi at 8:10am with our friends from Australia, father and son team Phil and Jack. Phil is another former instructor, and Jack is 19 and coming to the end of his first season instructing in Austria, and his youth combined with 3 months on snow already meant his skiing was strong. They had visited Chamonix before but it was their first time up the Aiguille which is always an occasion.

Yesterday while skiing the Combe de la Vierge we spotted some nice untracked powder in the Gros Rognon area, which is generally regarded as a place where the deeper snow settles in the Vallee Blanche, so we rode the cable car, roped up for the Arete and then made a beeline for the pow:

CG on the rope conga line in the ice tunnel:


Looking back up at the Arete


My line from yesterday hugging the cliffs:






Nicole and Jerome:


Ducks & Jerome:


Screwing around on the Glacier:


More pics & words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-day-4-vallee-blanche-gros-rognon/

Day 5 - Courmayeur

After yesterday’s epic on the Vallee Blanche and Grands Montets, the forecast was ordinary and we had low expectations. Because Phil and Jack don’t have touring gear our options were limited and Jerome and I were at a loss at what to do. The snow down low in the Chamonix valley is dust on crust and up high is all tracked.

So we decided to go to Courmayeur, mainly because it was a change of scenery and skiing in Italy was always fun. So we headed through the tunnel and rode the mismatch of lifts and finally found ourselves at the top. And with a surprise. There was a foot of fresh snow.

From the top of Courmayeur there are two main off-piste areas that extend to each side of the resort. There was some cloud about so we simply decided to go to the one that looked more clear, which turned out to be the Arp Vielle area which drops down into Val Veny with the wild landscape of the South face of Mont Blanc looming overhead.

Scoping the line:


Couloir below with some distracting background:


Kinda steep.



Nicole testing her new skis:


Now over to the other side:


Nice pow:



Jack likes the snow:


Myself and Phil:


More pics & words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-5-courmayeur/
post #2 of 36


post #3 of 36

Thanks very much. I'd like very much to go to Chamonix.  How do you learn the area?  Did you initially hire a guide?  And how do you find a guide?


Sorry for JONG questions.



post #4 of 36

Absolutely stunning. Just one more place that is a must ski.

And you have had it four times over.icon14.gif



post #5 of 36
Fabulous, Im coming next year. Save me one o them camo suits!
post #6 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by habacomike View Post

Thanks very much. I'd like very much to go to Chamonix.  How do you learn the area?  Did you initially hire a guide?  And how do you find a guide?


Sorry for JONG questions.



No it's a great question. On our first day in Cham a few years ago we knew we needed guiding of some description so we went in a group with the Compagnie des Guides. The day was great but the pace was a little slow so we booked the guide for the next day, he blew our minds so we booked him for the rest of the week and the rest is history.
post #7 of 36
Thread Starter 
Day 8: La Grave

After a flurry of initial activity that yielded some great skiing our legs began to tire and the weather turned again, so on Tuesday morning we slept in but felt a little guilty and wanting to improve our climbing fitness so we skinned 840m vert up to the mid station of Flegere. It was quite a mundane effort and didn't warrant any pics but I wore my Suunto Ambit so you can see what we got up to by clicking here. Wednesday was a clear day off as we wanted to get our legs ready for a three day trip to La Grave.

We had stayed at La Grave two years earlier but not technically skied there. We skied a long couloir over the back called La Rama but due to logistics it made more sense to have our car at Les Deux Alpes and ride the lifts there even though it could be accessed from La Grave.

We left Chamonix at 6am this morning and rolled into the carpark just before 10 - we were concerned with high winds we could see blowing snow on the ridgelines during the drive but all was calm at La Grave so we got our tickets and headed up the wonderful, ubiquitously French cable car system. Not before spying the local market and taking a picture of the cheese truck with La Meije towering overhead. We eat a lot of cheese in France and it is very important.


Too cold up top to take pics. Shame as the top poma is a scream.

Skied on the Chancel side to Couloir Banane:



Went back to the top, skinned up the glacier to the top of a scary line.


At the top of this face I uttered the infamous words "Too Steep". If you look closely you can see the brown stains. It angers me greatly that this pic makes it look like a pretty pedestrian effort.


Then it got good:





More pics and words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-8-la-grave/
post #8 of 36
Originally Posted by CM View Post

No it's a great question. On our first day in Cham a few years ago we knew we needed guiding of some description so we went in a group with the Compagnie des Guides. The day was great but the pace was a little slow so we booked the guide for the next day, he blew our minds so we booked him for the rest of the week and the rest is history.


post #9 of 36

This thread is filled with so many levels of awesomeness!

post #10 of 36

Pretty freaking awesome!


I will ski there some day. 

post #11 of 36

Ha!  If you have to crawl up on your knees to spy a line then "too steep" sounds about right to me.


Great trip report.

post #12 of 36
Thread Starter 
TR: Chamonix 2013 - Day 8 - La Grave - Bonus Pics

As mentioned in my previous report, as we were dropping in to the Pan de Rideau a couple of French walkers were up there with a nice camera. I exchanged details with them and they have kindly sent through a folder of photos, of which I am extremely appreciative. Merci Claodio F!







Looking up at the line and the traverse:

post #13 of 36
Thread Starter 
TR: Chamonix 2013 - Day 9 - La Grave

Our road trip to La Grave was becoming a success defined by its failures.

In this most wild of locations it's a fantastic place for skiers with ambition to test their abilities, yet commands they remain circumspect and humble, and much like Chamonix time and time again the mountain shows who's boss.

For second day in La Grave we had an ambitious objective, with a perfectly acceptable bailout Plan B. Our wish was to ski over the back of La Grave, skin about 900m vert around the backside, do a short rappel back onto the La Grave side and then ski a large glaciated line called Les Enfetchores. It was set to be a long climb at high altitude with some technical aspects, and if at any time we felt like it was time to bail out we could simply take off our skins and ski down to St Christophe & take a taxi back to La Grave. We had previously skied a couloir into this immense valley in 2011 & enjoyed it thoroughly so it was not a bad backup plan.

So we made our way up the byzantine lifts and poma system punctuated by a tow with a snowcat, and found our way to the top of La Grave where we inched over the Col into the Vallon de la Selle. This south facing bowl is exposed to the sun, but we had hit La Grave during an unseasonably cold period and the temps were approx -15C. This meant that the previously sun affected snow had frozen solid, and the north winds that were driving this cold snap had blown some snow over into this bowl, which had also made a thin crust. So we slid into the bowl with quite a bit of trepidation, and as we traversed from one side to the other to see if there was an aspect that was even remotely skiable, with dinner-tray sized slabs of crust breaking off under our skis it looked pretty grim. It wasn't overly steep, about what you would expect from a decent black run in a ski resort, but the snow conditions made it damn near unskiable. After a couple of shaky stem christie turns we realised that a) it was quite unsafe getting to the point where we would start skinning b) our skin track would be in this impossible kind of snow, and c) our bailout ski to St Christophe would be on that same aspect & therefore snow conditions. So there was only one thing to do - put our skis on our back and head back to the frontside of La Grave. At this point we were feeling pretty defeated by La Grave, which actually felt pretty good.

Naturally we didn't take any photos during the shit-show that was our shaky descent nor during the hike up. By the time we got to the top we were a bit buggered and also didn't have enough time to begin another itinerary so we decided just to cruise around the 'easier' classic runs of Vallons and Chancel, have a nice lunch at Refuge Chancel, take some photos and just soak in the ambience of this majestic location.










More pics & words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-9-la-grave-2/
post #14 of 36

Nice stoke dude


Question though: When you ski from Chamonix to Courmayeur, do you have to buy 2 lift tickets?

post #15 of 36
Thread Starter 
For our last day in La Grave we wanted to descend one of the big 'frontside' runs that make their way down to the valley floor - from top to bottom that's 2300m vertical. For reference most major North American resorts have a vertical drop of around 1000m. Jerome wanted us to check out 'La Vaute' - a classic couloir with a 30m rappel in the middle. Due to the previous warm temps the lower faces had thawed and iced up, but as today was warmer than the last few days there was a chance it would be soft in the afternoon so we decided to do a few runs and have lunch first before heading down.

So we did a warm up in Vallons and went back up to check out the Trifides couloir, which is another of La Grave's more famous lines. It was around 40-45deg in steepness and the snow was firm but grippy. After a bit of rockhopping in the entrance we were in the couloir and had a great time. Good challenging steepness without being too steep or scary.





After Trifides we headed up to the 3200m station for lunch as we wanted to give the lower face of La Vaute time to thaw. After lunch we headed up to the top of the poma at 3500m and skied some mellow glacier pow while looking for the entrance

As it rolled over and got steeper the snow became wind-affected and quite tricky to ski. Similar to the snow in Pan de Rideau but without the 50deg steepness attached, it definitely required some new techniques, some of which were more effective than aesthetic. The crust was definitely breakable and a jump turn would have had your skis buried and your body going over the high-side like an out of control motorcycle racer.

I'm fond of the saying 'It's not that you can't ski bumps, it's that you can't ski, and the bumps just prove it' - and the wind affected snow we were finding in La Grave was definitely proof that if you subsituted 'windslab' for 'bumps' in that sentence it would hold just as true. The legendary Doug Coombs who passed away in La Grave in 2006 also had a saying 'There's no such thing as shitty snow, just shitty skiers'. La Grave was proving this to us in spades. I can't remember a time when I learned so much about my skiing in just 3 short days as I did in La Grave.


The couloir gradually narrowed and steepened until we found the rappel zone, Jerome dug out the anchor and started preparing his rope. I had done quite a bit more rope work than Nicole in previous years including a couple in Chamonix in 2012 so I was quite comfortable with the setup but this was Nicole's first effort and she performed admirably.





The snow remained windpacked and shitty, right up until the point where we transitioned into the zone where it had thawed in the previous weeks and refrozen, where we found wafer-thin drifts of fresh windblown snow resting as a thin veneer on top of the brown refrozen slush & frozen avalanche debris.

The warming that was forecast for the afternoon never eventuated due to grey skies forming in advance of an approaching storm.

I've often mentioned that in France you have to pay for an epic descent with a horrible runout, but this was taking it to the next level. Absolutely rock hard, sheet ice slick faces with the occasional mogul to get in the way. It was combat skiing at it's absolute finest, and we skied very gingerly as a fall would have resulted in a large slide.

It was actually so bad that it was good, the kind of skiing where you just grit your teeth and get stuck into it - again La Grave proving that the mountain is boss.



And so ended our trip to La Grave - Jerome hitchhiked back up to the car and came back down the road to pick us up and we began the 4 hour journey back to Cham with the excitement of a storm brewing and more powder.

I couldn't be happier with our three days in La Grave. I have wanted to ski there for a very long time, and it possesses that rare and exceptional honour of living up to it's reputation, and exceeding it by a great deal.

It is a true challenge of the all facets that make up an expert skier, technically, physically & psychologically. It exposes any weakness more brutally than any other ski area I've seen. Even Chamonix for all it's hardcore elements also has the more benign resorts in the valley allowing you to take a softer option.

I can't wait to go back.

More pics and words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-10-la-grave/
post #16 of 36


post #17 of 36
Thread Starter 
Sorry I'm being lazy. Done the TRs, not the forum version, it's late and I need to go to bed, and won't be in front of a computer until at least sunday night.

So here you go:

Scary Aiguille deepness / Grands Montes Braille Pow

Ermahgerd epic Couloir Rectiligne untracked pow:
post #18 of 36
Thread Starter 
OK sorry for being so behind on the TRs - I'll start the rest of it now:

Days 13-14 – L’Aiguille du Midi / Grands Montets

After we returned from La Grave the weather was forecast to turn and our bodies were weary so we opted for two days off.

The storm that was forecast materialised in spades and we were hit with powder fever. We hooked up with some old friends from Buller, Christophe & Samala, and her sister Naomi who area all spending the winter in Cham. They regularly ski with the guide ‘FanFan’ so we arranged a ski day after the storm to chase some powder.

It was a weird feeling – after our years working in the US it was common to get powder fever in the morning and race to the first lift. But Chamonix is a little different – if there’s been a big snowfall the lifts don’t generally open. There had been at least 20cm in the lower reaches of town with rumours of much more up high. As the storm had pushed up from the south there was even more on the Italian side but lifts weren’t open so there wasn’t much point in heading there.

Our plan was to head to the Aiguille mid-station and ski some powder in the trees – but as we were waiting at the station we found out that when the lift opened at 11 it would be all the way to the top, and furthermore when we got up there the sun came out! Fanfan suggested skiing the Couloir des Cosmiques but the reception to that was not overly welcomed. With two mothers of 5 total kids in the group the requirement was zero-risk so we elected to ski a more conventional Vallee Blanche line.

We descended the arete which is now becoming alarmingly comfortable for us, and traversed along the ridge to the top of the Grand Envers variation, upon which was had collected a conference of freeriders, each waiting for the other to drop first. 150cm had fallen during this storm up at the Aiguille and avalanche mitigation was front of mind.

After about 20 minutes of mexican standoff where nobody dared drop the first 45deg pitch we bailed on that idea and took a more shallow angled route.

After dropping in it was amazing – absolute bottomless pow, so deep that turning really wasn’t necessary at all, just some bounces with token pole plants to make it look like skiing. But at the bottom of each pitch some serious trail breaking needed to be done.

No action shots were taken as it was quite a serious situation – we were instructed to ski one by one from safe zone to safe zone with no stopping, so while I’d love to have proof of how good it was up there you’re just going to have to believe me. We did kick off a few minor slides as we went down but everything was manageable.

The powder was untracked from the top to the glacier below, only in the lower reaches did we start feeling the bottom but even then we could work the aspects and have a smooth run.

Then it was the usual conveyor belt along the Mer de Glace to the lower reaches of the glacier, then the moraine hike and the James Bond trail to town.

We got back in good time and felt like another run, so we headed to the mid-station and traversed far skier’s right and skied some great pow until it got warm down into the trees. Even this area was quite active with avalanches so we obeyed good protocol which again meant no photos!

This sounds like quite a benign day and lack of photos to support the evidence, but it really was quite a remarkable day. There was an unfathomable amount of new snow up on the upper reaches of the Aiguille and on the pitches where it was steep enough to actually ski it, the quality was superb. But the euphoria of the snow was tempered with the graveness of the situation regarding the safety, we were in extremely good hands and never felt particularly unsafe, but by the same token people not under such expert supervision could have been far less lucky.







Day 14 – Les Grands Montets

After the previous day’s blue sky powder bonanza, round II of the storm rolled in. We headed to Grands Montets as the top tram didn’t open the day before but was set to open.

Unfortunately I totally fucked it up by forgetting my beacon, only realising when in the line for the second tram. Jerome had some spares in the car so I headed down but that meant that we were on the 4th top tram instead of the second.

The first run down was untracked but slightly heavy powder in really flat light. It was nice, but I was just not feeling right. In hindsight forgetting the beacon showed that I was not quite with it. I was tempted to call it after that run but there was a Dynastar demo center at the mid station so I went in and asked for some fat skis. It was the second time in two days that I was offered something narrower and shorter than I walked in holding – Dynastar Cham 97 175cm vs my 180cm 98mm Blizzard Kabookies. When I stopped laughing I grabbed a pair of 189cm Cham 127mm and headed back up.

Unfortunately the fog had really rolled in which meant no chance of heading on to the glacier so we had to stick to the beaten track which was pretty chopped powder. The skis helped but it was still pretty average. This pretty much finished me off so I headed inside not wanting to wear myself out further or hurt myself, and Nicole and Jerome headed up for 3 more laps. They said the vis came and went, they found some good snow and did one run where they skied along the tongue of the Glacier d’Argentiere which was fun until it turned into the usual low down combat skiing.

Not a day for photos – here’s one from the first run:


More pics & words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-days-13-14-laiguille-du-midi-grands-montets/
post #19 of 36
Thread Starter 
Day 15 – Couloir Rectiligne

Today was a special one.

In fact, I think this was probably the best skiing I’ve done in Cham in 4 trips over about 10 weeks in the area.

We left Grands Montets yesterday during a snowstorm and knew that if we returned early today we would be rewarded. The sun was out this morning and we got there early – I even had my beacon this time – and made it on the first tram to the top which is always a treat. Jerome had an inkling that the Pas de Chevre sector would be good skiing, but we were slightly cautioned by the aspect and the wind direction of the storm. This turned out to be completely unfounded as after 2 turns on wind affected snow it became magically light powder.



We decided to ski the Couloir Rectiligne which is a classic of the area, a direct shot of about 500m vertical with a pitch of about 42 degrees. As the slope rolled over Jerome had us stand in a safe spot while he inspected the entrance to the couloir, there was no evidence at all of windslab so it was safe to ski. The top few metres was a bit of a sideslip, but due to the massive snow this season it was pretty benign, apparently in lower years the entrance can be a bit hair-raising.


Once we were in it became apparent that we had totally scored. We were the first people to ski it since the big snowstorm. Jerome couldn’t believe his luck – we have had a joke over the years that in Cham you’re never first – there’s always someone fitter, faster, more motivated or crazier than you who will get it before you.


But here we were standing at the top of an untouched couloir, no more than a couple of hundred metres from the top of a ski lift.

There was only one thing to do – rip the shit out of it. Once Jerome had checked out the top section he pulled over and let me ski the bulk of it first.



It was quite simply the best skiing I had done in Chamonix, and perhaps the best pitch of skiing of my life. Hundreds of vertical metres of steep, untracked, bottomless powder, all in a stupendously aesthetic setting of a dead straight, perfect couloir with enormous walls on either side and a great view ahead.




When I pulled up at the end of the couloir I literally had a tear in my eye I was so taken by the quality of what I had just skied. There are no words.

From the top of the lift to the bottom of the glacier we skied 1000m vert of perfect powder where the only tracks we crossed were our own.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Not by a long shot.

We had a think about what to do next – we could race down to the bottom and then head somewhere else for sloppy seconds, but we looked around the valley we were in and there was not a track to be seen & we knew we could do something special. So we skied down to the bottom of the glacier and then put our skins on with the objective of climbing up to the base of the Dru – the massive monolith that towers over Chamonix & one of the most challenging mountaineering ascents in the Alps.






Everyone opened the taps and had an absolute blast all the way down to the moraine.

Despite the Pas de Chevre being a Chamonix classic it was our first time in this area, there are a number of reasons why but the condition of the exit to the Mer de Glace being one of them. On the three occasions earlier this trip where we have skied down the Mer de Glace and climbed the moraine or to the Montenvers train I’ve looked across at the final descent from the Pas de Chevre and not been particularly excited, But it really wasn’t that bad.

More pics & words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-15-couloir-rectiligne/
post #20 of 36

"at the end of the couloir I literally had a tear in my eye I was so taken by the quality of what I had just skied. There are no words."


Great TR and an amazing trip!  Congrads on both.  It's very cool that you really appreciate the once in a lifetime conditions you had as a visitor to Cham.

post #21 of 36

All I can say is...




Thanks for an incredible trip report.  

post #22 of 36
Thread Starter 
Oh there's more to come!

One particularly stunning day in there too.
post #23 of 36
Thread Starter 
Day 16 – Col du Passon

After yesterday’s epic on the Rectiligne we were keen for more high alpine fun. The weather forecast was for clear skies but warming temps ahead of a weekend of average weather. We made the decision to do a classic Chamonix ski tour – the Col du Passon. It’s a great option as you get to ski from the top of Grands Montets which is a lovely descent in and of itself, then after a 700m vert skin/bootpack you have a 1500m descent to Le Tour. Last year I had skied the Tour Glacier in spring conditions and loved it so it was a good chance to give it a go in some pow.

We started early and got on the first tram at Grands Montets, and after a quick coffee it was time to get stuck into it.



We went wide skier’s right on the glacier and found some lovely powder snow. It’s not for the faint hearted out there due to the crevasses but as usual Jerome found a route that was entirely safe and with untouched snow. 900m of virgin powder to get the day started is always nice.



You then cross the Argentiere glacier and put your skins on & climb up the opposite side. The first section was the hardest with steep kick turns on the moraine, and then it was a pretty pedestrian 600 or so metres of climbing. The weather certainly warmed up and the heat sapped our pace a little bit, but there was no need to rush so we took it all in our stride.



It’s nice exploring new areas as you get new views and perspectives on the classic Chamonix features. This time it was a great view back to Grands Montets and no doubt these photos will be studied to find some nice lines.


We reached the base of the couloir and transitioned to bootpacking, Nicole elected to be short-roped with Jerome whereas I preferred the freedom of going solo with Ice Axe and Crampons. The snow was perfect and the crampons were probably overkill but they don’t detract from the climb so it was good to have them. Before long we were at the Col and ready to ski down.


The skies began to turn grey in anticipation of the incoming poor weather for the weekend, but while the light was a little flat you could still see well enough to have a great time.




The last few hundred metres were a pretty sloppy affair, but before long we popped out on the beginner piste at Le Tour. This ski tour is unusual in that you aren’t punished for an epic descent with a horrendous combat ski along some creek bed which is often the case over here. Even though the snow was pretty snotty for us, this has the potential to have epic powder right to the valley floor in the right conditions.


We then jumped on the bus back to Grands Montets to get the car and Jerome drove us to Vallorcine so we could take the train to Verbier for the weekend. Jerome had a long-standing booking with clients for the weekend so we thought we would do some sightseeing and we were fortunate enough to find a gap in the bookings for legendary Australian Mountain Guide John Falkiner who would show us around his adopted home area of Verbier.

More pics & words at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-16-col-du-passon/
post #24 of 36

Verbier as well?



post #25 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Dane View Post

"at the end of the couloir I literally had a tear in my eye I was so taken by the quality of what I had just skied. There are no words."

Great TR and an amazing trip!  Congrads on both.  It's very cool that you really appreciate the once in a lifetime conditions you had as a visitor to Cham.

Thanks for your kind words but I certainly hope it's not 'once in a lifetime!' - I plan on going back often!!! biggrin.gif
post #26 of 36

Thanks for posting up this superb TR.

post #27 of 36

The pictures, the scale, and the degrees of difficulty, thanks for sharing with one who probably will not experience it first hand but enjoyed all of your level of skill and thirst for adventure

post #28 of 36
Thread Starter 
I've decided to skip a few days that were a bit pedestrian - you can check them out on the blog if you're keen but they weren't much to write home about.

This day however was the opposite.

Day 21 – Breche Puiseux

With Nicole’s depature set for an ungodly hour on Friday morning, and poor weather forecast for Thursday and beyond, it was becoming quite apparent that the window of clear weather on Wednesday was our last opportunity to get stuck into a big objective.

Jerome suggested sleeping in the Argentiere Refuge and climbing the Milieu Glacier which cleaves the east face of the Aiguille d’Argentiere, but I suggested a ski tour in the Vallee Blanche up to a location called Breche Puiseux. Given our relative lack of climbing this trip due to the abundance of powder skiing straight off the lift Jerome was a little concerned that the 1100m climb including a 300m bootpack could be beyond us, but it was definitely a location that was worth the effort, and we could also turn back at any time.

I was drawn to the Breche Puiseux simply because every guidebook and blog I had read states that it’s one of the most stunning ski tours in the Mont Blanc Massif. We weren’t disappointed.


We weren’t the only people gunning for the Aiguille du Midi in the morning – it was clear that it was going to be the only sunny day for the week so everybody earmarked it as their day to go to the Vallee Blanche – even with a 7:40am arrival we didn’t get in the first cable car, but that was partly due to some signature French lack of organisation and queueing protocol. We raced down the Arete in record time which probably bought us back the 15 mins we lost by being in the second tram and we were soon on our way.


We decided to ski the Moyen Envers line as that would take us to the Salle a Manger where we would cross the glacier and commence skinning up the other side. It was a game of aspects, as is often the case in spring. There was a lovely coating of fresh snow on top but the consistency underneath varied and we veered way skier’s right to a more shady aspect that led to some lovely skiing.

It was another line we had not yet skied in the Vallee Blanche so it was good to see a new angle on the features and lines we had previously skied.




From the Salle a Manger it was time to put on our skins and begin the 800m vert skin up to the base of the bootpack. Nicole forged ahead into the maze of kick turns set by the first people up the track whereas Jerome and I chose to go wider on to the glacier to avoid the wasted effort of so many switchbacks.




It soon became apparent why this tour is a true classic of the area – the valley we were climbing was capped on one side with the imposing Dent due Geant and the finer features of Les Periades on the opposite flank. It was truly stunning. Also the breeze kept the temperatures somewhat cool which undoubtedly aided our pace.

It was great to look behind us at the Vallee Blanche and check out one of our favourite lines, the Grand Envers du Plan.


800 metres was gained in a reasonable time of 3 hours meaning we were a little behind the 300m vert/hr that we often aim for. We had a quick bite to eat and it was time to put our skis on our packs, put on our crampons and grab ice axes for the long bootpack up the couloir.



Jerome made sure that we had the gas in the tank for the climb, as it was easy enough to turn around where we were, but downclimbing the couloir would have been horrid so we needed to make sure we had enough to get to the top. We didn’t hesitate so he put us on the rope and we started our way up



I never find bootpacking particularly attractive but we were lucky in this occasion in that the track was set by a petite, but totally bad-ass mountain guide, which meant nice small steps. Being a shortass, long steps in a bootpack are the bane of my existence, so despite it being 300m of pain going straight up, the conditions themselves couldn’t have been better.

After the suffer-fest we had made it, 1100m ascended which was our biggest ever ascent in a single ski tour. There was a whipping wind at the top which meant for a quick addition of layers, and our gloves which had become wet in the climb froze absolutely solid.


Somewhere along the way nobody had warned Nicole that there was going to be a rappel after the climb. Not sure what she was expecting after booting up a massive chute, but after admonishing the boys we waited for a couple of skiers ahead of us and made our way down. It’s becoming quite comfortable and I went down so quickly that I ended up going off-line which was interesting, if the rope unhooked itself from the rock that I diverted it over that could have been an interesting, but all worked out well.




At the bottom of the rappel we raced to get our crampons off and skis on so we could get out into the sun and get some feeling back into our fingers, at which time it dawned on us the sheer, completely and utterly stunning setting that we were standing amongst.



The delicate towers of the Periades reminded me of the National Parks in Utah that I frequented during my time in the US but the imposing feature on the far side of the basin was the immense monolith that is the Grandes Jorasses. The North Face of the Grandes Jorasses is one of the prized mountaineering ascents in the Alps and just as when we climbed to the base of the Dru earlier in the week it was a privelege to see such an enormous climb up close. It dominated the landscape and occupied our camera lens!



Forgoing a steeper exit to the Mont Mallet glacier that we were ascending, we veered skier’s right in order to chase some more consistent snow conditions. There were about a dozen ski tourers ahead of us on the climb but their tracks were nowhere to be seen and we laughed our way to the valley floor with hundreds of turns in the fresh.



For some reason I decided to do some Powder 8′s in Jerome’s tracks, this kept on going for literally hundreds of turns, Nicole was in hysterics as she came down behind.


After what seemed like an eternity of fresh tracks we made it to the flat glacier floor of the Leschaux Glacier where the vista to our right began to be occupied by the Talefre Basin and the Aiguille Verte.

In fading sun we cruised along the flats to the junction of the Mer de Glace and finally began to see some other skiers who were late in their descent on the Vallee Blanche.

The shadows were lengthening and the slush was refreezing, it was quite late in the day and we narrowly missed the last train to Montenvers. I was quietly very happy with this, I don’t mind the hike up the moraine wall and it was such an epic day I felt that the only true way to complete it would be to ski to the valley floor. The track had deteriorated in a couple of spots so we needed to take off our skis and walk a little. I didn’t care in the slightest.

It was an absolutely epic day. I was so glad I had insisted on this itinerary, even given Jerome’s doubts we would make it up the climb.

It had absolutely everything I look forward to in a day in Chamonix – express lift into a high alpine glacier, gut-busting ski tour to a remote location, endless powder turns and amazing scenery. Everything that I had read about the Breche Puiseux ski tour was correct and if anything understated. While the pure powder in the Couloir Rectiligne was probably the best skiing of the trip, this was easily the best day.

A true classic and a privilege to have completed it.

More pics at: http://aussieskier.com/trip-reports/chamonix-2013/tr-chamonix-2013-day-21-breche-puiseux/
post #29 of 36
What a great trip. I hope to be able to do something approximating this one day.

I'm in awe.

post #30 of 36

Well done!

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