Monday 7 February 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.
Mt Maudit

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

Max again

Aiguille du Midi and Les Grand Mulets hut

Max skiing in the sunset

Traversing over the glacier

Skinning back up to the traverse track

Headlamp skiing

Walking down to the tunnel

1 comment:

  1. tres belle photos du Mt Moblonc du FrAance,
    l'annee prochin je vais soumaitress de ce soumaitresse.... si j'aurai la chance
    a bien tot mot blanc