I had had some pretty big ski tour days and was looking forward to some rest to recover my sore legs. But, with some inconsistent weather approaching, and no end to it in sight, we decided to get out and make the most of the last sunny day for a while. With a pessimistic weather forecast that had been wrong all week, impacting and cutting short plans, we took the 65% sun prediction as an opportunity to get into the high mountains for a long tour!
With a strong wind forecast to make its assault on all the north faces that day, a plan developed to climb and ski the Croulante Couloir on the South side of Les Courtes. In order to avoid the wind from the north we decided to go the long way and approach directly from the South.
To make things even more interesting, rather than taking the preferred and easier overnight stay in the hut, we planned to try and complete the climb and ski in a day. This entailed getting the first bin to the Aiguille Du Midi, skiing the Vallee Blanche, crossing the Les Chaux Glacier to the base of the Talefre basin and then skinning 1000m up to the furthest point on Les Courtes. From here we would then have to boot pack the 700m to the top of the Croulante – a long long way for a day hit on heavy ski touring kit!
Although I was excited about the plans, I was also nervous. Les Courtes is the crucible of steep skiing and although the Croulante is one of its easiest ski lines, it can still be intimidating in poor conditions. We were also going to have to work really hard in order to ensure we summited and were down before the poor weather and sunset arrived.
The impressive South face of the Les Courtes and The Croutlante Couloir marked in red. This entire ridgeline offers many steep ski descents ranging in difficulty and exposure.
I woke that morning feeling tired form the previous days adventures and still a little apprehensive as to what I had committed to. My apprehension and dread grew further as I skied down the Vallee Blanche with chronic lactic acid burn in my legs and feet. But, as the sun came around, I found a steady rhythm against the increasing altitude and slowly begun to settle in my mind and body to enable me to start enjoying the adventure in the shadow of the most inspiring mountains in the world.
After 4 hours of hard skinning we finally reached the base of the Couloir! I was pretty happy for the rest and bite to eat before the hard boot-pack began.
Halfway up the Couloir. Being so early in the season I was really struggling with the altitude. I had to count steps to try and keep my mind focused and break down the goal into smaller more manageable chunks. I allowed myself a rest every 50 steps!
The view from the top of the Couloir, looking down the ski-line. The first two turns are the hardest as the muscles and mind try to quickly adjust from climbing to skiing, made even harder at altitude. I try and spend 5 minutes jumping on the spot and getting my balance muscles back before I set off skiing.
The ski down was mainly firm but had pockets of soft manageable snow that we could rip down – fun! The predicted 65% sun forecast was more like 90%, which was really lucky for us. But, with increasing cloud cover building towards the evening, we rushed back to Chamonix before the light got too flat and the sun faded completely.
I had been looking at this line for the last two years wondering if I could ski its steep face. I was so happy that I finally managed to ski it, but to do this route in a day was an even bigger achievement for me. It did take me quite a few days to recover from this adventure. I am not sure I would go the long way around again in a hurry!
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