TR: Chamonix 2013 – Grand Envers du Plan

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Aiguille du Plan and Aiguille Verte above the clouds
Aiguille du Plan and Aiguille Verte above the clouds

After a well-earned day off it was time to ski again.

Low cloud in the valley but some visibility up top, plus some recent new snow, led us to the Aiguille du Midi where we would ski the Grand Envers du Plan line, but around the Refuge du Requin we intended to put on our skins and climb about 400m to ski an isolated couloir.

As is often the case we punched through into the blue on the lift, and made our way quickly down the Arete and traversed into the Grand Envers. We did notice the cloud rising and that only the highest of peaks were poking through like the Grand Jorasses/Dent du Geant complex, and also the very tips of the Aiguille Verte and Les Courtes. This was a portent of things to come.

Aiguille du Plan and Aiguille Verte above the clouds
Aiguille du Plan and Aiguille Verte above the clouds
Arete & Grandes Jorasses above the clouds
Arete & Grandes Jorasses above the clouds
Aiguille du Midi Ice Tunnel
Aiguille du Midi Ice Tunnel
Aiguille du Midi Arete
Aiguille du Midi Arete
Aiguille du Midi Tram
Aiguille du Midi Tram

This was my third time skiing this line and for a number of reasons I had skied the top 45deg pitch very tentatively and it had been irking me for years. Not this time, everything was perfect and I made lovely GS turns in the powder all the way down.

We then skied the second drop in a similar manner, big turns in nice snow, only a small jump over the crevasse that crosses this pitch and things got a little murky when we reached the safe zone at the bottom of this pitch.

Second Drop - Grand Envers du Plan
Second Drop – Grand Envers du Plan
Nicole Skiing Second Drop - Grand Envers du Plan
Nicole Skiing Second Drop – Grand Envers du Plan
Nicole Skiing Second Drop - Grand Envers du Plan
Nicole Skiing Second Drop – Grand Envers du Plan
Richard & Nicole - Grand Envers du Plan
Richard & Nicole – Grand Envers du Plan

As you can see from the pics of Nicole skiing the second drop the visibility was beginning to deteriorate.

A few hundred metres lower and we were in an absolute pea soup that even Mt Buller would be proud of. Normally we don’t care about fog as we’re used to it, however in this case we were on a steep, open glacier with crevasses everywhere and had to descend about another 1500m to safety.

Jerome’s familiarity with the area was our saving grace, as the fog rolled in and out he was able to spot various landmarks and use them to assist our tentative descent. The worst part was that the skiing was dust on moguls – in visibility he would have been able to find a different aspect line with smooth snow underneath but the visibility forced us to ski from landmark to landmark. We found our way to the Refuge du Requin where we stopped for a coffee and bite to eat – our ski touring objective was well and truly canned by this stage and we just needed to survival ski down to town. We skied the last face below the refuge down to the Mer de Glace and then poled along the 10km or so of flat glacier with perhaps 5m of visibility. Someone had put a track in but we stopped regularly to make sure that it was the correct thing to do to follow!

It was like skiing Baldy at Mt Buller in typical fog conditions, but perhaps for maybe 20-30 times its length – pretty much wearing a white blindfold! Eventually we reached the stairs to the Montenvers train, it was only about 1pm but the entire valley was socked in, so the only thing to do was to head to Elevation for a beer and a burger and plan tomorrow’s skiing!

Richard & Jerome with an Elevation Burger
Richard & Jerome with an Elevation Burger

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