Sunday, March 27, 2016

Argentiere: skiing the Barbey

On the Milieu glacier, John checks his skins. We climbed to around 4000m, at which point Erik and John skiied the South face, while I dropped into the east face alone.
We toured up as 3, and I hinted that I might go down a different way. I told them I had a GPS and knew how to get back to France. I was interested in skiing a steep face, and like most of the skiing I had done this trip, I wanted to go alone.  I knew the sun would be leaving the face, and it was a race to beat the re-freezing that would happen around 11am. I was 'in a mood' and wanted the challenge of hard conditions in steep terrain. So, instead of dropping back down south facing corn with Erik and John, I decided to drop in blind (or onsight) on the East Face.
Looking back down the Milieu glacier/Sface route. The beautiful North faces of Les Droites at left and Aguille Verte at right.

The summit of Argentiere

This is without doubt one of the most beautiful faces I've had a chance to ski. The tour begins at Grandes Montets, from the valley in Chamonix. After skinning and then booting up the Milieu glacier, you arrive at almost 4000m, straddling the border between France and Switzerland. After that the plan was to ski back around the North face, and to climb up the backside of the Col du Chardonnet, skiing corn back into France in the afternoon.
Borrowed overview photo
The first few turns dropped off blind. Skiing a face like this "onsight" takes a certain amount of faith. I had one tool on my pack and another in my hand, looped through my ski pole strap. I trusted my edges to bite hard, but was ready to arrest anyway. I could have climbed out of a bad situation, so dropping in blind didn't feel entirely unreasonable.

The first half of the route is rocky and exposed, with a section over 50 degrees in full consequence terrain, given the E3 exposure rating.

reasonably good skiing above cliffs

After chattering, icy turns in the crux, I found pockets of soft, windblown snow that inspired confidence. Since it was still variable I didn't loosen up the turns much. I eventually got into heavy corn, and out of the exposed sections, making wide sloppy turns as fast as I could before it would re-freeze.
This guy knows how to relax. Here is the view back into France from the Col du Chardonnet

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