TR: Chamonix 2012 Day 4 – Steep Skiing – South Face of L’Aiguille d’Entreves

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After yesterday’s aborted mission on the Glacier Rond we figured if we wanted to ski a steep line a better option would be to head over to the Italian side which is the South Face of the massif, and basking in sunshine we were anticipating being presented with some lovely corn snow.

So after heading through the tunnel, we jumped in line and bought tickets for the soon-to-be-replaced cable car. While we were waiting for our allotted time we jumped into the cafe for a coffee, a must when in Italy, and we were not disappointed. I had been drinking shit coffee for almost a month and I was over it, but the Italians delivered in spades, and with that I was ready to face the day.

Due to it being a weekend the time spent lining up and waiting for our alotted cabin meant we were later up than we were hoping which struck a line through one particular route, but as it happened we were not to be disappointed. We jumped on the series of three cable cars to the magnificent Punta Helbronner where I proceeded to yet again take dozens of photos of peaks that I already have dozens of photos of. But it’s just so beautiful up there that I couldn’t help myself.

Punta Helbronner Cable Car
Punta Helbronner Cable Car
Aiguille d'Entreves is the peak directly below Mont Blanc, we skied the steep slope that disappears behind the ridgeline
Aiguille d'Entreves is the peak directly below Mont Blanc, we skied the steep slope that disappears behind the ridgeline
Top of 'Italian Vallee Blanche'
Top of 'Italian Vallee Blanche'
Richard with Dent du Geant behind.
Richard with Dent du Geant behind.
Dent du Geant
Dent du Geant
Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc du Tacul
Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc du Tacul

We then set off to the skier’s left as if we were skiing the Glacier de Toule which we have done several times previously. But in this case we would be skiing further to reach the Col d’Entreves, which afforded us a short section of lovely powder before we fixed our skins.

Combe Maudit, North Face of Tour Ronde on LHS
Combe Maudit, North Face of Tour Ronde on LHS
Richard skiing Powder below the Punta Helbronner
Richard skiing Powder below the Punta Helbronner
Jerome Skinning, Tour Ronde ahead
Jerome Skinning, Tour Ronde ahead
Skinning up to Col d'Entreves
Skinning up to Col d'Entreves
Richard Skinning up to Col d'Entreves
Richard Skinning up to Col d'Entreves, Vallee Blanche and Aiguille du Midi behind

The skin up to the Col was a basic affair, great snow, not much elevation gain and epic scenery. We were well above 3000m and my lungs did very well which was a great sign. At the col it was decision time. One option was to climb the East Face of the Tour Ronde to ski the Brenva glacier but the delays in the morning meant we would likely be too late in the day, also Jerome wanted to test me out on a smaller climb before we committed to that. The other option was to just ski straight down from the Col on the headwall of the Glacier d’Entreves. We didn’t feel like we had done enough work yet so we elected to climb the arete towards the Aiguille d’Entreves and ski from the highest point. This would afford us some extra vertical and also some even steeper terrain, plus it would give Jerome the chance to see how I coped on the rock where I have very little experience.

Glacier d'Entreves
Glacier d'Entreves
West Face of Tour Ronde, future climbing route
East Face of Tour Ronde, future climbing route
Arete towards L'Aiguille d'Entreves, ski slope on right
Arete towards L'Aiguille d'Entreves, ski slope on right
Col d'Entreves below, Arete de Peuterey behind
Col d'Entreves below, Arete de Peuterey behind
Richard Climbing with the Arete de Peuterey behind
Richard Climbing with the Arete de Peuterey behind
Richard Climbing with the Arete de Peuterey behind
Richard Climbing with the Arete de Peuterey behind

Climbing the arete was a pretty simple affair, as much a scramble as a climb. It let me practice using a piolet both in the snow/ice and also as a dry-tooling aid. With no major issues we made a fairly airy traverse to a nice ledge where we had our lunch, it was also at the very top of the skiable snow and a previous skier had dug out a lovely trench which we could use to put our skis on. The view from this ledge was absolutely outstanding. We had a 180 degree panorama and could see just about every significant peak in the Western and Southern Alps. It was also the first time I’ve eaten a sandwich while being tied to a piece of rock.

View from Lunch (Grand Combin, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa)
View from Lunch (Grand Combin, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa)
View from Lunch (Aosta Valley)
View from Lunch (Aosta Valley)
View from Lunch (Courmayeur, Vanoise)
View from Lunch (Courmayeur, Vanoise)
View from Lunch (Aiguille Noire, Barre des Ecrins)
View from Lunch (Aiguille Noire, Barre des Ecrins)

Once we had finished our lunch it was time to put on our skis and make the descent. The top was very steep and very exposed, we did some poking around to find the aspect that the sun had softened the best – initially we thought we might descend the headwall into the Glacier de Toule but as it worked out we went right into the Entreves.

The top few metres was quite rocky so we mainly stepped until we could traverse into a more defined couloir and from then it was pure steep skiing on corn snow. I don’t know the exact pitch as this route is not in the guidebook, but it had to be around 50 degrees at the top as my first few turns I did not want to link, I was happier coming to a complete stop in between. As we descended the pitch slowly mellowed to a point where you could make linked jump turns and I was a little happier. The snow was well bonded and there was no chance of setting off a wet slab avalanche so we skied with more confidence until we crossed the rimaye and got on to the glacier.

Richard on the top slope. Steep.
Richard on the top slope. Steep.
Richard on the top slope. Steep.
Richard on the top slope. Steep.
Top of the slope. Steep.
Top of the slope. Steep.

Once on the glacier the pitch mellowed and we could let it rip a bit. As the aspects changed the snow varied from lovely corn to ‘crusty mank’ and everything in between, which we experienced between the enormous and imposing walls of the Combe d’Entreves.

Mellower slope, corn snow, speed. Bliss.
Mellower slope, corn snow, speed. Bliss.
Looking back up from the Glacier d'Entreves
Looking back up from the Glacier d'Entreves

Once we descended the glacier we cut hard left below the Glacier de Toule to the Pavillion which is the mid-station of the Helbronner Cable Car, a cold drink was definitely on the menu and then we descended the cable car and returned to Chamonix.

It was a quintessential Chamonix day – a cable car direct into glaciated high alpine terrain, skied a little powder, a short skin to an amazing zone, a little taste of alpinism, sandwich lunch with an amazing view, skiing something really seriously steep and then returning in all kinds of difficult snow.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that thinks like crampons and piolets & ropes are starting to feature more and more in our adventures, it seems to be the progression in Chamonix and I’m happy with being able to access more of the mountains. I’ve also arrived with a far higher base fitness than our last couple of trips which is probably the main reason Jerome is happy to drag me into more committed zones, and for this I am extremely pleased.

Once again none of this would be possible without the amazing guide Jerome Para – he is a full UIAGM/IFMGA Qualified guide working with the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix. For any Chamonix adventure be sure to get in touch with him either through the Compagnie des Guides or via email: [email protected] (not hotlinked to prevent spam – cut & paste into your email client)

2 COMMENTS

  1. I only learned to ski 5 years ago in Chamonix but am totally hooked. I try to go back to Chamonix as often as I can afford (like tomorrow!) and am just dabbling in off piste terrain now. I love your blog and your pictures in particular – very inspirational!

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