Friday, 28 September 2012

Patagonian Adventure Part 3 – Failure And Success On Cerro Grande

We have travelled to the other side of the world to do create an adventure.

I talked earlier about the analogy of a good adventure and a high jump competition where, if you aim high, there is a big risk you walk away with nothing. On this trip we have aimed high in our goals and we have failed in most of our objectives – except, luckily, the biggest one on the Whillans ramp over at Poincenot.
Skiing on the East Ridge of Cerro Grande, Cerro Torre Massif, Argentina

On our last little excursion Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, we walked in once again to the Torre valley to try to ski the most beautiful line we have spotted there – the north face of Cerro Grande.

The walk in took us nine long hours with heavy packs. Then we pitched our tents on the glacier, ate some, slept some, ate some more and then left for the mountain at 4:30 AM.

Refrozen breakable crust awaited us in the dark on the steep slopes on the side of the highly crevassed glacier. It was impossible to walk with the skins, it was way too slippery, and instead we had to boot pack 1000 meters in the boot deep crust.

At nine something we made it up to the plateau under the north face of Cerro Grande. We got welcomed by a really beautiful face in great conditions, but after my mind game at the Whillans ramp a couple of days earlier I got a bit intimidated by the seemingly really steep face. I used to think that anything with snow is easily skiable, but after our last adventure I wasn’t that sure anymore.

When coming closer though, I could see that this face was like any other – just a steep and easily skiable ski run – and all my fears for steepness disappeared.

Another thing worried me though, and that was the warmth. It was really warm this early, and almost no wind. Warmth in the mountains when you are there to ski, is usually not a good sign, at least not when you have snow covered rock faces and ice mushrooms above you.

Bjarne followed me up the face to the bergschrund, but during our half hour climb, ice and rocks started to fall down the mountain with higher and higher intensity.

I wanted to ski this line so badly, but we had no other choice than to turn around.

In the mountains you have to have a great up-craving to get anywhere, but you also have to turn around when your gut feeling or your intellect tells you it’s a no-go.

The friction that the craving to fulfill an idea and real mountain sense creates – it´s one of the most painful feelings I know of in the mountains. When you are there it hurts, but when you come home you’re proud you didn’t “fail upwards”.

Usually it goes well even though you know you should have turned around, but inside of you, you know you were playing the game of fluke.

I have learnt that you have to nourish both sides of the coin: both the “up-craving” and the will to run away, because it’s the balanced dance these two are dancing that creates the power for accomplishment and the will to persevere.

At the bottom of the mountain we sat down and had lunch. We had walked a long way to get here and we were not able to live this beautiful experience that was waiting for us.

After this quick stop we walked around to the east side and Bjarne, once again followed me over the bergschrund and then skied over to a spot on the plateau for filming. I climbed the East Ridge as high as I found snow, about 50 vertical meters under the summit, and then skied down this line. I found some really technical passages, but nothing that raised the pulse, and in the end I had a great ski down one of the most beautiful mountains in the massif.

The next day was even warmer and we walked back to town. In the end we got 16 hours of walking there and back for about 2200 vertical meters of skiing (Bjarne about 1500m).

I’m really impressed by the mountains here. They are definitely the wildest low mountains I have ever encountered. It doesn’t feel like it’s made for steep skiing as it’s so rough and wild, but there are definitely lines here for the coming generations to enjoy!

The last two days we have just rested in town and been exploring the bouldering potential. Tomorrow is another ski day, but this time close to the road.

The lack of photos here lately is only due to extremely slow Internet. We got plenty of photos, but if would take days to upload. :)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Tribute to Rémy Lécluse

Mika, Rémy and myself on the North Face of Tour Ronde direct 2009 (Photo: Tobias Granath)

I only got the chance to ski with Rémy Lécluse once, back in 2009 when Tobias Granath and myself met him and Mika Merikanto on the north face of Tour Ronde in the Chamonix massif. We had climbed the north face and they had climbed the Gervasutti couloir and we met at the top at the same time. Being acquaintances from before we decided to ski the line together. It was a great steep skiing season back then and Remy had thought the same thing as me, to ski the direct line without rappels that’s very rarely in conditions.

We started down the route, me first, then Rémy and Mika following us. We skied the face with great care and took our time, enjoying every great turn.

We were chatting the whole way down and I remember Rémy cursing my kick turns and arguing how I should use the double pole plant technique in my skiing. At the mixed section further down we all got quiet, concentrating while down climbing the rocky passage with skis on. At the bottom we shock hands and said we should do it again sometime.

We never did. Winters pass by quickly in a skier’s world and he was busy guiding and I was busy doing my thing. Every time we met in town, we talked about lines and dreamt away on what we could ski together.

Time flies, and so do life.

Rémy and his climbing partner Greg Costa are missing after the avalanche disaster on Manaslu, the world’s eight highest mountain, a few days ago that took 11 lives.

He was one of the best and most experienced steep skiers of all time with more than 500 first descents from all over the world under his belt. He would go “out there”, in to the mountains, often solo, to “live, think and breathe” mountain skiing.

But it’s as a guide I’m mostly impressed by Rémy Lécluse. Never have I heard clients be so euphoric by any guide as by going out in to the mountains with him. We would give his clients the best days of their lives, all the time – as a profession. If you get judged when you die by something or somewhat, then bringing meaning and joy to so many will count for a lot.

Also know for wise decisions, mountain sense and gentleness towards the others he will be remembered and missed by all who had the chance to cross his path.

Thoughts and love goes out to all the departed, their families and friends! 

Read more about the accident at:

Lyngen Descents – Episode 1

Last spring the Salén brothers and myself went to the Lyngen Alps in the north of Norway for three weeks of ski touring and ski mountaineering. We were extremely lucky with the conditions and even though we got to turn around a lot we managed to pull of six first descents and experience the magic of this amazing place among friends.

This is the first episode out of three. For more movies from our adventures together check out Bjarne’s video blog at

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Patagonian Realizations - Skiing the Whillans Ramp on Poincenot

Skiing the Whillans ramp on Poincenot, Cerro Fitzroy massif, Argentina. Photo: Bjarne Sahlén

Last Wednesday Bjarne Salén and myself walked in towards the Fitzroy massif from El Chaltén. After about 5 hours we arrived at Laguna Los Tres and pitched our tent. From there we skinned up about 600 meters to get some good skiing and check the conditions. We found great snow conditions and skied down to our tent in the sunset.
The next day we woke up early and started skinning in the dark and about five hours later we arrived at the Whillans ramp on Poincenot. The weather was ok, but far from perfect with really hard winds, and clouds coming and going.
I changed to crampons and ice axes and started up the ramp in powder varied with breakable crust. It was steep from beginning to end and always slanting out towards the huge cliffs below. It was so steep and unstable ground that I didn’t feel like I could stop and relax so when I found a belay one forth up I clipped my self in and backed it up with another nut. In my mind I imagined a rappel there just as a back up on the way down.
Then I continued traversing to the left. At one point I was climbing on slabs with only 20 cm of snow on top. This was the scariest moment. But I came trough and the upper section eased of a tinny bit from extremely steep (for skiing) to just really steep. I continued up to the top of the field and then built a platform with my ice axe to put my skis on.
Bjarne had told me to talk to the camera and describe my feelings on the way up and down. I realized, that if you are able to talk to the camera, then it’s not that difficult. I only managed to take one photo and put on the Go Pro– then I set of.
It was a wonderful feeling mixed with plain fear. The skiing is always skiing, and not that complicated, but I was concerned about the traverse with the rocky slabs with far from perfect snow lower down.
When I got there I hit steps with my pole in front of me, held on with the ice axe on my left side and traversed slowly forward. It took time, but I never lost control. It was really steep. When I got down to the anchor I clipped myself in and by a reflex I started rappelling, but realizing this was much easier than what I had just skied I stopped after 15 meters and skied/side stepped the last part down, and then climbed back above the seracs and skied all the way down to Bjarne. 
For me, there is not even a pre made trail to follow when it comes to reacting on what I just did. I don’t know if I should feel pride, joy or shame. What happened was simply something that occurred and something I had to do in my inner world of adventures.
Skiing on the upper snowfield on the Whillans ramp

I don’t see the point in repeating something dangerous when you have already reaped the rewards, and I can’t see any more rewards coming out from this trail, so therefore I feel it’s highly unlikely I would do something like this again.
It’s arguable if skiing on this level is skiing anymore and as I sidestepped about half the run I wouldn’t call it very stylish. On the other hand, in my reality, in these conditions I would be extremely impressed if someone would ski the whole thing with “style”, and although surely possible it would be a game with very low odds of success trying to do turns where I could barely get my skis to stick while sidestepping.
For me this whole business comes down to two things: where does extreme skiing stand as a sport within the skiing game and how are we supposed to judge anything that is done in the mountains? 
I sometimes look with disgust at the subjectivity of my own sport. That is, of course, only when I lower my self to judge what others are doing in the mountains. For me the question how has always been more important than the question what. In other words, it has always been more important how a line has been skied than which line that was skied. Doing stylish turns was always more worthy than sidestepping the line. Down in the valley it can sound like two different persons skied a line when one did it with big turns in a fast time and the other sidestepped the whole thing in a day.
But when we are arguing about these things we have kind of lost the thin red line of purpose in the first place.  If we are thinking of these things, then there is a risk that we are playing this game for others and not for ourselves. Is it worth risking your life to make others think you are cool, a great skier, have courage, are a great alpinist or something else?
American freeskiing legend, Doug Coombs, used to state that: “The best skier is the one who have the most fun”!
I think he was on to something here, but I like to modify the statement to: “The best skiers are the ones following their own path”, or; “The best skiers are skiing with heart”.
For me, skiing and what we do in the mountains is beyond fun, it’s a way of living with all the up’s and down’s life includes. Sometimes I’m full of joy and sometimes I’m feeling down and sometimes I’m not feeling at all. Life is just what happens to be everyday, of course it’s the way I made it, and I’m a skier, so I go up there on the mountain and make my turns. It can be as simple as that. Skiing with heart, then, means that I’m truly up there on the peaks skiing because that’s what I happen to love to do, what comes out of the day comes out – let it be any possible feeling I could think of.
Skiing becomes the platform from which I live my life. Obviously one can change skiing to something else – like, surfing, yoga, climbing or what else?
Doing things with heart also means that you sometimes do things you can’t explain – Like skiing a really difficult line because you feel it will add something to your life.
I had been looking at skiing the ramp on Poincenot for years and at the same time I have, since I started skiing, been looking for a line that would demand the best out of me. You have to be very fortunate to find this right combination of variables coming together on one spot at one time and then happen to be ready to face the situation.
Skiiing the Whillans ramp on Poincenot

The mountain has to be formed in a perfect way making for difficult skiing, but easy enough to be possible to ski. The snow conditions have to be just right as well as the timing and the weather. If you happen to be on an expedition and you don’t live at this spot, then you have to be very lucky to just happen to be there when it all comes together.
You also have to be ready in your mind and be ready to face your inner demons and the consequences of your actions. This might be the hardest.
This whole thing was just something I had to go through to get past my folly of looking for limits. Blake said:
“Let the fool persist in his folly and he will become wise”.
I will by all means not pretend to be wise, but I have been living for skiing my whole life and I have always been looking for this border that I just come this far to find.
250 vertical meters of snow, ice and rock might seem insignificant, but like anything in life, if the timing is right it can also be magic because enchantments sees no limits.
For me this was magic and I got what I came for. I understand the different feelings people get from this but be aware: If you start looking down judging what others do, first look in to your own life and all your own little battles. We are all here to learn, and it might just not be so, that reality is built up exactly like you where thought in school. 

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Twitter: @ndreasfransson