TR: Chamonix 2013 – Couloir Rectiligne

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Richard skiing pow under the Dru
Richard skiing pow under the Dru

Today was a special one.

In fact, I think this was probably the best skiing I’ve done in Cham in 4 trips over about 10 weeks in the area.

We left Grands Montets yesterday during a snowstorm and knew that if we returned early today we would be rewarded. The sun was out this morning and we got there early – I even had my beacon this time – and made it on the first tram to the top which is always a treat. Jerome had an inkling that the Pas de Chevre sector would be good skiing, but we were slightly cautioned by the aspect and the wind direction of the storm. This turned out to be completely unfounded as after 2 turns on wind affected snow it became magically light powder.

Lenticular Cloud over Mont Blanc from Grands Montets
Lenticular Cloud over Mont Blanc from Grands Montets

Nicole in powder at top of Pas de Chevre
Nicole in powder at top of Pas de Chevre

We decided to ski the Couloir Rectiligne which is a classic of the area, a direct shot of about 500m vertical with a pitch of about 42 degrees. As the slope rolled over Jerome had us stand in a safe spot while he inspected the entrance to the couloir, there was no evidence at all of windslab so it was safe to ski. The top few metres was a bit of a sideslip, but due to the massive snow this season it was pretty benign, apparently in lower years the entrance can be a bit hair-raising.

Jerome checking out Couloir Rectiligne
Jerome checking out Couloir Rectiligne
Nicole sidestepping in
Nicole sidestepping in

Once we were in it became apparent that we had totally scored. We were the first people to ski it since the big snowstorm. Jerome couldn’t believe his luck – we have had a joke over the years that in Cham you’re never first – there’s always someone fitter, faster, more motivated or crazier than you who will get it before you.

Jerome can't believe we're first!
Jerome can’t believe we’re first!

But here we were standing at the top of an untouched couloir, no more than a couple of hundred metres from the top of a ski lift.

There was only one thing to do – rip the shit out of it. Once Jerome had checked out the top section he pulled over and let me ski the bulk of it first.

Richard loving it
Richard loving it
Nicole loving it
Nicole loving it
Richard in the Distance
Richard in the Distance

It was quite simply the best skiing I had done in Chamonix, and perhaps the best pitch of skiing of my life. Hundreds of vertical metres of steep, untracked, bottomless powder, all in a stupendously aesthetic setting of a dead straight, perfect couloir with enormous walls on either side and a great view ahead.

When I pulled up at the end of the couloir I literally had a tear in my eye I was so taken by the quality of what I had just skied. There are no words.

From the top of the lift to the bottom of the glacier we skied 1000m vert of perfect powder where the only tracks we crossed were our own.

Richard at the bottom
Richard at the bottom
CLAIM!
CLAIM!

But that wasn’t the end of it. Not by a long shot.

We had a think about what to do next – we could race down to the bottom and then head somewhere else for sloppy seconds, but we looked around the valley we were in and there was not a track to be seen & we knew we could do something special. So we skied down to the bottom of the glacier and then put our skins on with the objective of climbing up to the base of the Dru – the massive monolith that towers over Chamonix & one of the most challenging mountaineering ascents in the Alps.

Skinning under the Dru
Skinning under the Dru
Checking out the Serenity
Checking out the Serenity
The crew under the Dru
The crew under the Dru

Looking up it was hard to fathom that the top was a whole kilometer above. As usual in Chamonix your sense of scale constantly needs recalibration and this was no exception.

After our climb we transitioned into ski mode and found the most lovely snow imaginable, all the way down to the moraine.

Boot to knee deep blower pow on top and not a skerrick of base to be felt underneath – this is a very seldom skied part of the range. Fast, open turns were the order of the day for another 1000m vertical.

Richard skiing pow
Richard skiing pow
Richard skiing pow
Richard skiing pow
Nicole skiing pow
Nicole skiing pow
Jerome is happy!
Jerome is happy!
Nicole skiing pow
Nicole skiing pow
Richard skiing pow under the Dru
Richard skiing pow under the Dru

Everyone opened the taps and had an absolute blast all the way down to the moraine.

Despite the Pas de Chevre being a Chamonix classic it was our first time in this area, there are a number of reasons why but the condition of the exit to the Mer de Glace being one of them. On the three occasions earlier this trip where we have skied down the Mer de Glace and climbed the moraine or to the Montenvers train I’ve looked across at the final descent from the Pas de Chevre and not been particularly excited, But it really wasn’t that bad.

There was a short fixed rope over an icy steep drop, but given we were wearing our harnesses & Jerome had a rope he took the precaution of rappelling us down, and after some route finding on the moraine with pretty mixed conditions we found the exit chute, which was nowhere near as bad as it looks from across the valley. Apart from the fallen rocks mixed into the snow, of which I think I hit every one. My poor skis.

Short rappel
Short rappel
Exit couloir
Exit couloir

We then crossed the base of the Mer de Glace and joined the hike up the opposite moraine with the hordes of Vallee Blanche skiers and then took the James Bond trail all the way down to town.

It was about 2pm at that stage, and we could have made a run for the Grands Montets again, but would have been cutting it fine and also just skiing slops, so given the quality of the day we decided to put it in the bank and call it quits. It was just a sensational day, we are still pinching ourselves at the quality of what we managed to ski.

The Dru
The Dru
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1 COMMENT

  1. Such an incredible day! We definitly need more of this!
    I’ll go checking a bit of this before you come, just to make sure;)!!

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