TR: Chamonix 2013 – Breche Puiseux

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Mmmm Glacier Pow!
Mmmm Glacier Pow!

With Nicole’s depature set for an ungodly hour on Friday morning, and poor weather forecast for Thursday and beyond, it was becoming quite apparent that the window of clear weather on Wednesday was our last opportunity to get stuck into a big objective.

Jerome suggested sleeping in the Argentiere Refuge and climbing the Milieu Glacier which cleaves the east face of the Aiguille d’Argentiere, but I suggested a ski tour in the Vallee Blanche up to a location called Breche Puiseux. Given our relative lack of climbing this trip due to the abundance of powder skiing straight off the lift Jerome was a little concerned that the 1100m climb including a 300m bootpack could be beyond us, but it was definitely a location that was worth the effort, and we could also turn back at any time.

I was drawn to the Breche Puiseux simply because every guidebook and blog I had read states that it’s one of the most stunning ski tours in the Mont Blanc Massif. We weren’t disappointed.

Aiguille du Midi
Aiguille du Midi

We weren’t the only people gunning for the Aiguille du Midi in the morning – it was clear that it was going to be the only sunny day for the week so everybody earmarked it as their day to go to the Vallee Blanche – even with a 7:40am arrival we didn’t get in the first cable car, but that was partly due to some signature French lack of organisation and queueing protocol. We raced down the Arete in record time which probably bought us back the 15 mins we lost by being in the second tram and we were soon on our way.

We decided to ski the Moyen Envers line as that would take us to the Salle a Manger where we would cross the glacier and commence skinning up the other side. It was a game of aspects, as is often the case in spring. There was a lovely coating of fresh snow on top but the consistency underneath varied and we veered way skier’s right to a more shady aspect that led to some lovely skiing.

Jerome and the Vallee Noire in the BG
Jerome and the Vallee Noire in the BG
Nicole's Tracks in the Moyen Envers
Nicole’s Tracks in the Moyen Envers

It was another line we had not yet skied in the Vallee Blanche so it was good to see a new angle on the features and lines we had previously skied.

Nicole and the Seracs du Geant
Nicole and the Seracs du Geant
Vallee Blanche and Mont Blanc du Tacul Behind
Vallee Blanche and Mont Blanc du Tacul Behind

From the Salle a Manger it was time to put on our skins and begin the 800m vert skin up to the base of the bootpack. Nicole forged ahead into the maze of kick turns set by the first people up the track whereas Jerome and I chose to go wider on to the glacier to avoid the wasted effort of so many switchbacks.

Jerome skinning up the Glacier des Periades
Jerome skinning up the Glacier des Periades

It soon became apparent why this tour is a true classic of the area – the valley we were climbing was capped on one side with the imposing Dent due Geant and the finer features of Les Periades on the opposite flank. It was truly stunning. Also the breeze kept the temperatures somewhat cool which undoubtedly aided our pace.

Dent du Geant standing guard
Dent du Geant standing guard
Skinning below Les Periades
Skinning below Les Periades

It was great to look behind us at the Vallee Blanche and check out one of our favourite lines, the Grand Envers du Plan.

Looking back across at the Envers du Plan
Looking back across at the Envers du Plan
Richard putting in the hard yards
Richard putting in the hard yards

800 metres was gained in a reasonable time of 3 hours meaning we were a little behind the 300m vert/hr that we often aim for. We had a quick bite to eat and it was time to put our skis on our packs, put on our crampons and grab ice axes for the long bootpack up the couloir.

Jerome made sure that we had the gas in the tank for the climb, as it was easy enough to turn around where we were, but downclimbing the couloir would have been horrid so we needed to make sure we had enough to get to the top. We didn’t hesitate so he put us on the rope and we started our way up

Time for spiky metal things
Time for spiky metal things
Bootting up the Couloir
Bootting up the Couloir

I never find bootpacking particularly attractive but we were lucky in this occasion in that the track was set by a petite, but totally bad-ass mountain guide, which meant nice small steps. Being a shortass, long steps in a bootpack are the bane of my existence, so despite it being 300m of pain going straight up, the conditions themselves couldn’t have been better.

Don't look down!
Don’t look down!

After the suffer-fest we had made it, 1100m ascended which was our biggest ever ascent in a single ski tour. There was a whipping wind at the top which meant for a quick addition of layers, and our gloves which had become wet in the climb froze absolutely solid.

Cold at the top!
Cold at the top!

Somewhere along the way nobody had warned Nicole that there was going to be a rappel after the climb. Not sure what she was expecting after booting up a massive chute, but after admonishing the boys we waited for a couple of skiers ahead of us and made our way down. It’s becoming quite comfortable and I went down so quickly that I ended up going off-line which was interesting, if the rope unhooked itself from the rock that I diverted it over that could have been an interesting, but all worked out well.

Richard rappelling
Richard rappelling
Nicole rapelling
Nicole rapelling
The rappel
The rappel

At the bottom of the rappel we raced to get our crampons off and skis on so we could get out into the sun and get some feeling back into our fingers, at which time it dawned on us the sheer, completely and utterly stunning setting that we were standing amongst.

The delicate towers of the Periades reminded me of the National Parks in Utah that I frequented during my time in the US but the imposing feature on the far side of the basin was the immense monolith that is the Grandes Jorasses. The North Face of the Grandes Jorasses is one of the prized mountaineering ascents in the Alps and just as when we climbed to the base of the Dru earlier in the week it was a privelege to see such an enormous climb up close. It dominated the landscape and occupied our camera lens!

Les Periades. Stunning.
Les Periades. Stunning.
Richard & Nicole under Les Periades
Richard & Nicole under Les Periades
Grandes Jorasses North Face
Grandes Jorasses North Face

Forgoing a steeper exit to the Mont Mallet glacier that we were ascending, we veered skier’s right in order to chase some more consistent snow conditions. There were about a dozen ski tourers ahead of us on the climb but their tracks were nowhere to be seen and we laughed our way to the valley floor with hundreds of turns in the fresh.

Mmmm Glacier Pow!
Mmmm Glacier Pow!
Richard & Nicole w/ Grandes Jorasses
Richard & Nicole w/ Grandes Jorasses
Mmmm Glacier Pow!
Mmmm Glacier Pow!
Mmmm Glacier Pow!
Mmmm Glacier Pow!
Richard scoping his line, Grandes Jorasses above.
Richard scoping his line, Grandes Jorasses above.
Glacier pow under Grandes Jorasses
Glacier pow under Grandes Jorasses

For some reason I decided to do some Powder 8’s in Jerome’s tracks, this kept on going for literally hundreds of turns, Nicole was in hysterics as she came down behind.

Powder 8's
Powder 8’s

After what seemed like an eternity of fresh tracks we made it to the flat glacier floor of the Leschaux Glacier where the vista to our right began to be occupied by the Talefre Basin and the Aiguille Verte.

On the Leschaux Glacier
On the Leschaux Glacier
Looking up the Talefre Basin and Aiguille Verte
Looking up the Talefre Basin and Aiguille Verte

In fading sun we cruised along the flats to the junction of the Mer de Glace and finally began to see some other skiers who were late in their descent on the Vallee Blanche.

On the Leschaux Glacier near Mer de Glace
On the Leschaux Glacier near Mer de Glace
On the Leschaux Glacier near Mer de Glace
On the Leschaux Glacier near Mer de Glace

The shadows were lengthening and the slush was refreezing, it was quite late in the day and we narrowly missed the last train to Montenvers. I was quietly very happy with this, I don’t mind the hike up the moraine wall and it was such an epic day I felt that the only true way to complete it would be to ski to the valley floor. The track had deteriorated in a couple of spots so we needed to take off our skis and walk a little. I didn’t care in the slightest.

It was an absolutely epic day. I was so glad I had insisted on this itinerary, even given Jerome’s doubts we would make it up the climb.

It had absolutely everything I look forward to in a day in Chamonix – express lift into a high alpine glacier, gut-busting ski tour to a remote location, endless powder turns and amazing scenery. Everything that I had read about the Breche Puiseux ski tour was correct and if anything understated. While the pure powder in the Couloir Rectiligne was probably the best skiing of the trip, this was easily the best day.

A true classic and a privilege to have completed it.

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