With the majority of people now thinking about their summer sun holidays, the steep ski season has just started in Chamonix. The warm sunny spring days brings in frequent thunderstorms with wet snow that sticks nicely to the high mountain faces making for perfect spring skiing conditions. With a fresh coating of spring wax on my skies and a change from thermal clothing to sun protection I have been getting out and skiing some of the bigger mountaineering lines that have been on my tick list for a while.
Col Des Cristaux
I have been wanting to ski this line on the north wall of the Argentiere basin for years now, but finding people to go with who haven’t yet skied it or who have the motivation to climb its big face is hard. So it was on a beautiful April sunny morning with my partner that we had planned to ski something bigger and steeper on the same wall. When we arrived at out the base of our intended ascent with blue ice showing it was obvious we were not going to achieve our first objective. Time for plan B, the Cristaux. I was secretly hoping that this would happen;).
The boot pack was steady and we found our rhythm pretty quickly reaching the right summit route at the same time as the lead team on the direct route. The angle of the slope is a nice 45 degrees only ramping up to 50 degrees on its top section. As we changed from crampons to skis the snow was perfect spring conditions and we got down the steepest section quickly.
It was at this point, just before skiing over to the main face that adrenaline surged through my body, giving rise to crippling fear as I heard screams coming from below. A quick check for my own safety I stopped securing myself into a safe spot to check out what was going on below.
A second large team of climbers had decided to ascend the face a good 2 hours after the lead team on the direct route. As the lead team started to ski down they were knocking large volumes of snow over the late climbers just in front of me. I turned away not being able to watch as one of the climbers got swept off his feet and hanging onto his axes and his life as his team screamed for the people above to stop skiing. The climber was lucky, he was strong enough to hold on and we managed to mediate a conversation with those above to allow time for the climbers to get out of the way.
I have always been taught that if there are teams above I must seriously consider the risk of climbing under them. I have always had the philosophy that if I am not there first, or can’t ascend safely then I don’t get to go. This team got lucky, but I don’t think they made the right decisions that that day.
I quickly gathered my head together and skied down really quickly after that – I wanted to get out of the area and off the face fast before anything else could happen. Luckily the ski down was wonderful powder and we were down within 10 minutes. This is a route I know I will go back for again and again but I will always make sure I am out of bed early to get there first, and may be a bit a bit more choosy about the days I pick to make sure it is not quite to busy.
Climbing up the main face
The view from below.
The top of the direct route. Can you spot the skier about to descend?
Nice powder on the descent
Dome De Miage – Skiing the Armancettes Loop
This is not a hard route but it is a bit of a long schlepp (especially at this time of year in Mid may) making this journey a bit of a challenge. I went with a couple of good friends on this two-day tour and in spite of being long and not getting the soft spring snow conditions we were looking for it was great fun. This area is also so beautiful and holds really exciting potential for ski mountaineering. I have vowed to go back next year to explore more.
The LONG walk in………..
Early morning start and skin up to the summit ridge of the Dome De Miage……..
The Ski down……..
The LONG walk home…….
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