Success and failure in Chamonix Mt Blanc.
Last night the cheap Semuse lager in the local tasted good.
This is not a usual occurrence as Semuse tastes of shite.
At gone 10pm last night a couple of friends and I stumbled out of a dark snowless forest, and then straight into the pub, after a long day in the mountains above Chamonix. It was a strange old day filled with last minute decisions, failure, cold fingers (and my nose), flat camera battery’s, GNAR ego boost’s, touring, shitty snow, first lifts……and last lifts. People talk of first lifts and I have been on first lift many times, but I have never been on the very first cable car from the valley and the very last one…..in the same day
So the day started with Searler getting uncomfortable seeing me get up with a semi-lob on and then rushing out the door at 7.30 to get the first bus. Rather annoyingly the bus wasn’t even scheduled to come until 8.20. The bus stop is about 23 seconds from my apartment so time was wasted in the local Spar browsing the Branston pickle and 12euro bars of dairy milk in the English aisle.
An hour or so later we were traversing out of the resort towards the Argentiere Glacier where a quick tour took us up towards our goal, The North east face of the Courtes. A classic steep ski line at just under 50degree’s with 800m of decent, said to be an introduction to true Chamonix extreme skiing. The line looks spectacular from the approach, a face plasterd with snow rising, seemingly vertically from the bergschrund to close to the summit of the Courtes.
So we skin up very variable snow toward the base of the route, the higher we get the steeper and harder the snow becomes…..just a few metres before the ‘srund I start shitting myself on the skins and hard snow and transition to crampons and axe for the rest of the accent. Looking above we could see a faint line of tracks from another party heading up probably close to a 700m of vertical. My legs were tired just looking up. Plus it looked nearly vertical looming above us. We climbed up a bit father and inspected the bergschrund which had moved considerably since the previous people had been by, we had a little look round and decided it ‘might’ be passable on the far left.
The snow we had found on the apron had been variable at best, so it was time for a wee discussion. Conditions were mostly pretty bullet proof with patches of wind crust. Not ideal on a line where a fall could easily be fatal. It was time to go down.
It is always nice to know that you can turn around……It is hard not to get caught up in the obsession of ticking a line you have been thinking about, especially if you have already been touring or climbing up for a few hours already. Humility in the mountains is very important. We will be back!
A couple of hours later we were sat on the bus heading back down the valley and a mate Josh rang. It was a full moon that night and wondered if we wanted to go for a night ski…..A quick phone call to the office confirmed I was not starting work the next day until 9 so game on. We grabbed some pasta then it was straight up the last bin up the Aiguille du Midi. We got to the top at 4.15 so we were prepared for a cold wait in the tunnels until the moon rose. The last bin went down with the last of the tourists and lift workers and we were alone at 3800 odd metres.
It was fu*king freezing.
A quick explore revealed that the toilets had been locked (the only room with heating) so we sat down in a corner out of the wind and ate some grub….and got the old hip flasks out. Apparently it was -37 in the wind so needless to say we didn’t last more than an hour or so sat on the cold icy tunnel floor.We escaped the tunnels and descended the exposed ridge in the red alpen glow of sunset. My face went numb in seconds.
As soon as we got on the lee side of the ridge and out of the wind it wasn’t too bad…..I even took the down mitts off in favour of something I could actually feel my ski poles in. There were some clouds coming in from the north and we were not quite in agreement weather we should bunker down for a bit and wait for them to pass or try and beat the clouds, as obviously clouds are a bit of a pain when your trying to ski by moonlight…..we had a debate and decided to go for it now. It was too cold to sit around. Besides I wanted to go to the pub.
We made the right choice, we descended the Grande Enver in magical moonlight. The north face or the Jorrasse in front of us was glowing, the Midi silhouetted behind us with the bulk of Mt Blanc behind it was unreal as we descended towards the cloud on perfect cold chalky snow. Once we got into the cloud the visibility obviously went from bad to pitch black making it exciting navigating through the crevasses and serac’s down 40degree slopes in the small bouncing bubble of the headtorch.
After a few GNAR points in the form of a couple of mid-ski pisses and ego call outs of ‘Look at me I am the best skier on the mountain!’ eventually we arrived on the Mer de Glace and headed down to the tongue of the glacier. We had brought our crampons envisaging a brutal icy farce to get off the glacier but in fact we skied over load of rocks and ended up in a massive boulder field (with no snow on) without any problems. If you ski out of the Valley Blanche in the day you have a nice train ride to take you back to the town. If you ski it at night, rather selfishly, the lifties have buggerd off to go and smoke, drink wine and do other shit frenchies do, so we were on our own. We put the skis on the bags and started to climb up the boulder field. Josh thought there might be some fun pillow lines to hit, but as you can see from the following picture, in reality the snow cover on the potential pillows was a little thin.
After about an hour and a half on foot we emerged out of the forest and Josh fell over in the middle of the road. We laughed.
Then we went to the pub.
I sat down in the pub and felt like a twat when I realised I still had my harness and headtorch on.
I had 2pints and was pissed.