Couloir Angelique – Traverse of Les Courtes

Nearly a year ago I attempted the Angelique with Dave Searle a couple of days after Andreas had repeated it. The south facing stuff wasnt in particularly loaded in this low snow year but neither was anything else and we had nothing better to do. With valley temperatures hitting 20C at the time we knew we would have to be quick and get to the top of the Courtes for midi from the first GM bin. At the bergshrund 2 snow bridges collapsed on me and third attempt lucky and a loss of 45 minutes we were on the NNE slope going up as fast as we could with heavy AT kit. The snow was variable with undercut slabs, facets, neve, ice, powder, anything but something useful. Toping out at 1 pm was akin to looking over the crater of a volcano and we could see the snow was turning and we needed to get going fast. The beta we had was 2 short raps and you could ski, 30 m down and I spent about half an hour pulling off loose flakes and crumbling rock to get an anchor, Andreas’ anchor another 20 m below. A couple more raps we stamped a ledge in the snow and put on our skis, 30 cm of wet snow, lots of rock showing below, rocks falling and the sun beating down. Dave and myself hadnt done that much together and I wasnt sure how I was going to sell him that this wasnt on and we needed to climb out and downclimb the NNE. We were too late for an alternative south facing descent off Les Courtes so it was back down the NNE slope, reversing over all the undercut steps the wind had created. Two climbers appeared above from Swiss route and we got lumps of snow knocked down on our heads. We were moving faster so there wasn’t much point waiting for them to catch up. We just had to take this disconcerting feeling as each lump hit you on the head. About 300 m above the shrund I’d had enough of down climbing and finding a strip of pow skied the lower 48 degree section to the shrund. We arrived back at the car at dark not very pleased with a day when most things went wrong.

This year the northerly winds have loaded up the south faces nicely and the high altitude winds finally dropped and it was time to go back. I wanted to go from Couvercle as it would all be on snow but the guys (Cedric Bernardini, Ryan Boyer and Brett Lotz) wanted a day hit which meant climbing the NNE in poor conditions. I woke up still coughing up green gunk so wasn’t sure how I would fire and to be honest I thought the black ice on the NNE might feel very insecure. It didnt let us down. Any powder that had fallen was accumulated at the base of the face and we had to trail break up the shrund. Michelle had made an awesome calorie packed chocolate fudge brownie and we devoured these rapidly at the shrund ready for the slog ahead. 150 m below the summit ridge we all tied on and Ryan led with us moving together with a couple of screws on the line. You never forget what a horror show black ice is, slow, teetering, brittle, swinging, swinging, swinging, swinging, F@cks sake!! With tired calves we arrived at the top late afternoon. That was my 8th time on this slope. With light skis a few years back I made it in 45 mins on snow. Yesterday it took over 3 hours. Alpine climbing at its worst. Chess is faster.

A quick rap, skis on and Ryan set off down. Very variable snow that didn’t look easy, he handed the lead to Cedric. This made me nervous but I told myself I would just take my time. The two banks are different aspects with different snow combining old pow, icy crust, lumps, bumps, rocks, facet holes and all steep in excess of 50 degrees. Ryan usually telemarks but took alpines for the day to have rigid boots for the climb up. His jump turns were impressive with all that telemarking quad power, like zebbedie out of ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Alot of you are probably too young to know what I am talking about so imagine someone on a pogo stick going airborne. My legs were pumping just standing still on my edges let alone blasting upwards into orbit! As we descended the snow became deeper and more consistent and bigger powder turns took us out of the couloir, down the Talefre basin and the Mer de Glace as the peaks glowed red in a magnificent sunset. We rolled into town at last light after a superb technical day out.

One thought on “Couloir Angelique – Traverse of Les Courtes

  1. Pingback: Les Courtes, Croulante Couloir | Ross Hewitt

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