Let the games begin...
May 2008. Chamonix, France
"We invite you to, somethin epic, y'all know?
Where we hustle out of a sense of, hopelessness
Sort of a desperation
Through that desperation, we 'come addicted
Sorta like the fiends we accustomed to servin
But we feel we have nothin to lose
so we offer you, well, we offer our lives, right
What do you bring to the table?"
Building on my exploits of skiing and climbing in the Sierra Nevada,
I wanted to test myself in the playground where legends are made and the reality of failure glares at you with fiery eyes at every moment. I rolled around bumping Dre and Jay rocking a headband and jersey and not giving a @#$^. The opening quote says it all.
Train drop off point high in the valley. Solo. Top of the Chamonix Valley, Mont Blanc Massif
Arriving at the top of the Grand Montets.
Chamonix Aiguilles, Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Blanc
Looking up at the famed north face of Les Droites and Col d'Aiguille Verte
Party on the Argentiere!!! Tons of folks enjoying perfect May conditions.
Touring around the glacier was mesmorizing. The scale of the Argentiere basin is mondo. I figured I'd warm up with a descent of the Northeast Face of Les Courtes.
A dude offered me a belay over the rimeye. Sweet. A long climb up. Fantastic views. It was clicking into my skis that I began to grasp the hugeness.
The descent was challenging, I was viewing a lot more exposure than I am used to given the consistent pitch of 48 degrees for something like 2000 feet.
Tricky snow conditions kept things interesting. Its a bit of weight on your back when you have a 60m rope and two tools...After shredding down to Lognan
I ran into some Apocalypse Snow monoboarders and busted up laughing before going to chill out on the deck and eat chocolate. Then I took the train back
down to Montreux, Switzerland where I was staying with a friend to wait out oncoming weather.
Lake Geneva..."Presidential suites my resedential for the weekend"
A few days later, a weather window opened. Time to make a pilgrimmage to the Aiguille du Midi!
Early am turns down the Vallee Blanche
This time my goal was the classic Couloir Jager. Averaging 50 degrees plus for 2400 vertical feet. A spectacular line, pencil thin compared to the neighboring
Couloir Gervasutti. Passing the rimeye no problem I climbed for three hours before reaching the choke near the top...
I found some nice rocks to chill on and eat lunch. A big drop to the glacier. This is where things began to get interesting.
I waited until about 11 to begin my descent. Being only a few hundred feet from the top with a wierd mixed ice bulge to deal with, I figured this was a good place to start.
Until a roped pair with skis on their backs climbed past me. Exchanging greetings, they continued. One had a ponytail! And they were going up! I was not about to let some Euro
ponytail roped up dudes ski this thing from the top with me descending from below! Up I went. They placed some pro in the ice bulge. I soloed. I had never climbed true water ice
before. With over 2000 feet of air below, I figured this place was as good as any to learn. Well, at least I could rappel over the bulge with the Euros' rope (didn't bring mine).
I pulled over the bulge and continued up the final snowfield to the summit ridge. Exchanging high fives and top photos with my new friends, I asked if they were excited for the descent.
"Oh no, we do not descend the couloir Jager, we will go back to Cosmiques hut via the north face route (I skied this in storm conditions the day before, a fun run, but not what I came to do...)
I replied, "Okay, well I am going for it." "Good luck," they said, "Be very careful for it is late, and we will see you again here!" With that they set off and I began to prepare myself for
a very scary descent.
The Aiguille Verte and I!!!
Since we're talking about it, here is the north face of the Tacul. This avalanche path, I believe, is the one that buried quite a few folks late in the season. It is perpetually active,
as you can tell...and bazillions of people wander about in this zone every day.
Amazing first turns. Steep, exposed, perfect soft spring snow. Then to the choke. No rope to rappel. Downclimbing over the bulge scared me. I opted for the loose, steep rock with a few mixed moves
to the left. I spent a good twenty minutes downclimbing the scaryness. Getting back on snow was a great relief. Until I realized the growing shadow in the couloir and the hardness of the snow.
A long descent was about to take place.
"Tryin to keep peace like a Buddhist" on rock hard sketchiness
Wasted. Ski extreme at its finest. One and a half hours of sideslipping, SCARY turns, some ice axe belayed side slipping, and a whole lot of HOPE.
"Happy to be escapin poverty, however brief"
Woke up late the next day to slide something easier. This time the North Face of the Tour Ronde. Wasn't sure how the choke was gonna be, but I figured to go have a peek.
Touring in the neighborhood
Climbing up to the choke, I found it to be pure ice. No rope, and I was not going to downclimb all the way, not after yesterday. But the lower zone had a nice pitch to throw some turns. Note black ice.
The click in and drop zone was steep and a little bony
First turn, mmmm, second turn, ssssssssskkkkkkkkkkkttttttt along the underlying water ice!!!!! Whoa! Couple more of those before epic June powder on a perfect pitch. Notice blue ice in upper turns. A key survival
skill in the Alps is to be able to control yourself in this type of terrain when black ice lurks beneath the surface. The DRAGON...
It is hard NOT to have hairball descents here! A nice long cruise back up to the Midi in afternoon clouds
You want to kiss the ground once you step off the telepherique in Chamonix. Life is so easy down here, no worries...
This is for The FACTOR!
Another few days in Switzerland wandering around gardens and fountains as I wait for good weather to get back into the hills. A break comes and I race for the Midi. The line today is the Petite Gervasutti Couloir,
on the West Face of the Tour Ronde. About 50 degrees for 1000 feet, this one feels like a Sierra descent. Very aesthetically pleasing. Full of awesome pow pow. Feel the ambiance...
Cool double fall line action
Can I live? Yeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhhh...
The next morning, the glow of the finest alpine Cathedrals, the East Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul, warms your soul (ahem, with fear). I am completely in love with the Couloir Diable and its little partner in crime,
the Couloir Isolee. The Diable is the dead center line, the Isolee is hidden, and to the right is the super classic alpine testpiece the Supercouloir (ED2) and the amazing Gervasutti Pillar (TD). The Couloir Diable
has two cruxes of steep ice in the lower third. I was halfway up the first crux when I was getting bombarded by debris and scared of the commitment of the ice, so I turned tail and ran.
Bad weather resumed for a long period of time. The Monsoon drenched the valley and plastered the hills for weeks. I moved life from Switzerland to Chamonix, settling in an AWESOME camping called Camping Mer de Glace.
Located in the forests of Les Praz (a 15 minute walk from Chamonix) it is the best place to stay hands down. I lived here for over two months. Relatively cheap, infinite hot showers, free internet access, indoor
places to eat and chill, and a four minute walk from the bus and train stops. Perfect. Alex is the caretaker and an awesome dude. You meet tons of folks here which is fun as well.
The weather finally improved, I wanted to ski the Couloir Diable, so we went to the Mer De Glace and practiced ice climbing. One tool. Amazing what you can do.
Get some religion.