TR: Chamonix 2012 Day 5 – SE Couloir of Tour Ronde to Brenva Glacier

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After yesterday’s successful mission on the Italian side skiing the Aiguille d’Entreves we concluded that if the weather remained the same our best chance of skiing some steeps was in a similar location, and now that Jerome had tested how I’d cope with some basic climbing we set our sights on a larger objective – climbing the Tour Ronde via the ‘voie normale’ on it’s East Face and descending it’s SE Couloir on to the Brenva glacier.

The Brenva Glacier is a wild location on Mont Blanc’s Southern Slope. Formed in a cirque below Mont Blanc itself and its gendarme Mont Maudit, it cascades down to the Val Veny with its enormous moraine a reminder of its extent prior to its recession in the more recent, warmer years.

This time we were joined by some old friends from Mt Buller, Samala and Christophe. With their family they now spend the winters in Chamonix and I was stoked to finally ski with them over here.

As the climbing would take longer and we wanted to time the sun hitting the corn snow we had an earlier start, although this was partially stymied by large queues at the Helbronner Cable car Jerome managed to wangle our way through a little earlier than they would have liked.

Sardines in the Helbronner Cable Car
Sardines in the Helbronner Cable Car

After the usual sardine conditions we headed to the top and then started the day in an almost exact fashion as yesterday, except when we approached the Col d’Entreves we veered right to the E face of the Tour Ronde. We were in a hurry & Jerome was setting a cracking pace so I finally managed to refrain from taking dozens of photos in this now familiar part of the world.

Skinning up to the E Face of the Tour Ronde
Skinning up to the E Face of the Tour Ronde

Once we reached the base of the E face it was time to transition from skis to crampons & piolet and begin our ascent. I am still very much a beginner at snow & ice climbing so I was ably led by Jerome on a short rope – I must admit that at times I felt like a tethered dog, but on the odd occasion where I broke my own rule and looked down I was extremely appreciative of his assistance. And before somebody gives me shit about it – yes Jerome did carry my skis.

Climbing the E Face of the Tour Ronde
Climbing the E Face of the Tour Ronde
Almost there.....
Almost there.....

The climbing was not particularly difficult for a seasoned climber (which I most certainly am not), and I managed to avoid skinning my shins which was my main goal (as well as no more holes in my pants). But it was no picnic either and topping out just shy of 3800m we found the top of the couloir and had a quick bite to eat before transitioning back to skis. We did not climb the 50m or so to the summit of the Tour Ronde as we were keen to get on the slopes at the correct time, so that is something we can do again later.

Once again the views were spectacular, especially underneath the Italian summit of Mont Blanc – many of the peaks were familiar but it was by far the closest I had ever been to them.

Christophe & Samala at the top of the Couloir
Christophe & Samala at the top of the Couloir
Samala and Christophe getting ready to ski
Samala and Christophe getting ready to ski
Mont Blanc from the Tour Ronde
Mont Blanc from the Tour Ronde
Top of the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
Top of the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde

After a quick snack it was time to put on the skis and drop in to the couloir. It was tight at the top with some rocks below so Jerome put me on a rope as a precaution, we had to sideslip the first 50m before we started skiing properly. The pitch was not quite as steep as yesterday, so after the usual nervy first couple of turns I started to relax and had a ball in the couloir down to the glacier below.

Richard skiing the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
Richard skiing the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
Richard mid-jump turn on the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
Richard mid-jump turn on the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
Richard skiing the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
Richard skiing the SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde
SE Couloir of the Tour Ronde

Yesterday’s highlight was the steep skiing as the snow was a little crusty and manky below, but what awaited us on the Brenva was kilometres and kilometres of the finest corn snow I have ever skied. It was just superb. We weaved our way through the seracs, just waiting for the snow to turn ugly and it never did. It was amazing skiing with great friends in a wild setting and we were just ecstatic.

Richard, Samala & Christophe - Best. Corn. Snow. Ever.
Richard, Samala & Christophe - Best. Corn. Snow. Ever.
Richard & Christophe on the Brenva Glacier - Best. Corn. Snow. Ever.
Richard & Christophe on the Brenva Glacier - Best. Corn. Snow. Ever.
Richard, Samala & Christophe on the Brenva Glacier
Richard, Samala & Christophe on the Brenva Glacier
Jerome & Christophe, Arete de Peuterey behind.
Jerome & Christophe, Arete de Peuterey behind.
Samala on the Brenva Glacier
Samala on the Brenva Glacier
Brenva Glacier, Courmayeur in Background
Brenva Glacier, Courmayeur in Background
Christophe on the Brenva Glacier, Arete de Peuterey behind
Christophe on the Brenva Glacier, Arete de Peuterey behind
Samala on the Brenva Glacier
Samala on the Brenva Glacier
We started waaaayyyyyy up there....
We started waaaayyyyyy up there....
Brenva Glacier, Mont Blanc top Right
Brenva Glacier, Mont Blanc top Right
Christophe on the Brenva Glacier
Christophe on the Brenva Glacier

After what was literally kilometres of some of the finest spring snow I had ever seen it was time to negotiate the icefall at the foot of the glacier to ski down in to town. Icefalls are never a fun place to be and while Jerome selected a safe route we skied as fast as we could until we re-emerged into the sunshine on the moraine below, stoked with our accomplishment for the day. The feeling in the icefall was ominous and proof once again that the mountains only barely tolerate our presence and they are to be treated with the utmost respect.

The Icefall. Scary place to be.
The Icefall. Scary place to be.

The moraine was yet another long stretch of rollercoaster fun corn snow and we finally reached town.

Skiing to the bottom of the moraine.
Skiing to the bottom of the moraine.
Richard on the Brenva Moraine, Icefall above.
Richard on the Brenva Moraine, Icefall above.
Richard on the Brenva Moraine, Arete de Peuterey above.
Richard on the Brenva Moraine, Arete de Peuterey above.

But as with all good days in this area, there is always a sting in the tail at the end of the day, where we took our skis off in Val Veny was still quite a distance from the car and we began the long uphill slog. It felt trivial to complain about walking uphill in mild temperatures and low altitude considering what had happened over 2000m above, but all we wanted was a nice Italian meal and coffee, which we naturally found in Courmayeur.

Richard slogging back to the car
Richard slogging back to the car

It was a fantastic experience for us all – Christophe and Samala have skied much of what Chamonix has to offer but never the Brenva, and for me it was a great opportunity to continue to add climbing skills to my repertoire and also ski some superb snow in a truly breathtaking location.

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)

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