We were faced with an unusual problem on the ski descent of Mont Buet today – too early! The stiff wind kept the upper slopes pretty firm whilst the middle & lower part of the descent were made on juicy spring snow, a real magic carpet ride! It feels like there is about the same amount of snow as when we made this ski ascent around the same date last year. Snow cover felt great in the upper Berade Valley and it was a pleasure touring up there once the also pleasant walk up the path had been done in trainers to 1750m.
There was complete cover from there to the summit with lots of great smooth spring snow softening up nicely for a mid-late morning descent. This could be quite a bit earlier without such a strong overnight re-freeze and without today’s cool breeze. It looked a lot cooler on Mont Blanc with a steady plume of spindrift getting blasted off the Bosses Ridge. Snow volume in the higher hills & glaciers looks good in general around the Mt Blanc Massif going in to the early summer season.
The ascent of Mont Buet provides magnificent views back across to the Mont Blanc Massif, on to the shady side of the Aiguilles Rouges, across to the Fiz range and also nearby Grand Massif and Portes du Soleil.
The spring snow at lower altitudes, below about 2800m on these sunny aspects, was a lot better than we found higher up yesterday on the Vallee Blanche, Periades & Mont Mallet Glaciers as we made the traverse of the Breche Puiseux, one of the classic Chamonix ski mountaineering routes. Snow conditions were less classic however today and the strong winds, strong late spring sunshine and strong overnight freeze had created a strong breakable crust!!
We skied a crusty classic Vallee Blanche descent to reach the Salle a Manger via the Italian side of the Geant Icefall, which was also pretty crusty! Lots of old tracks on the steep lines above the Combe Noire and Periades Glacier and we made rapid progress to the transition from skis to crampons at the base of the couloir. Then rapid progress up the couloir too thanks to the efforts of the teams ahead, and from yesterday, blazing the trail! There are 2 shiny new anchors now in-situ for the abseil descent from the Breche itself to the Mont Mallet Glacier. Double bolt belays linked with a chain and meaning the descent was made easily today with 2 abseils on a doubled 50m rope.
The skiing on the Mont Mallet Glacier got better as we got lower down, which was not hard as the upper slopes were well stocked with breakable crust! As the snow surface warmed lower down the crust got less nippy and there were even some enjoyable pitches, all under the awesome and austere dry looking North Face of the Grandes Jorasses…
We skied the direct route to the Leschaux Glacier via the soft exit couloirs which were well tracked leading down to the well filled in Leschaux Glacier and nice run down to the join the Mer de Glace. This got pretty ‘end of term’ at the bottom with glacier river skiing a particular highlight! Only 10 minutes or so of walking at the end however and no queues anywhere!
We also had a good ski mountaineering training climb on the little North Face of Pointe Lachenal. With a high altitude ski approach and 2 tools action this was good training and preparation for climbing the North Ridge of the Dome du Gouter as part of the Ski ascent of Mont Blanc. This dress rehearsal also made it clear how hard the North Ridge was going to be in current conditions, eg icy front pointing with a heavy pack with skis on…hard work!
Very few teams appear to be going this way at the moment and no track had appeared since the good weather over the last 3 days although plenty of teams had skinned up through the Plateau route from the Grand Mulets Hut, as well as making the easier ascent via helicopter from the Italian side! The winds on the Bosses Ridge were around 80k/hr yesterday and whilst some teams did make the summit, it was ‘beyond the limit!’ and no chance to carry skis up the ridge. This may not be a bad thing as conditions on the North Face seem pretty poor with the normal corridor route being very narrow and seemingly exposed, with very few teams going that way. The alternative line, hard over on the skiers left of the face near to the Bosses Arete, looks to have steep and hard slopes at the bottom and is also unappealing!
More appealing for some teams over the last few days have been the steeper lines off the Midi with descents of the Cosmiques Couloir, Glacier Ronde and with several teams rapping off the Midi bridge in to the Cunningham Couloir.
That wraps up our ski guiding programme for this season. Many thanks to all guests and guides who have been involved and we hope to ski with you next season. Best wishes for a great spring and summer in the meantime and for future ski planning… You can keep an eye on 2020 ski course dates here.