Text and pictures © 2007-2014 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/12/07
"I'm not sensitive about my accidents; I'm sensitive about being considered a bad or foolish climber. Apart from the avalanche and the ice climbing thing (those were my fault) the others were not my fault." — Joe Simpson.
Above: The Evettes field, with the namesake mountain hut on the left. From left to right: Mt Seti (right at home), Pt Bonneval, Pt Tognini, Ciamarella, Albarond and peak Regaud.
Above: Panorama taken from the Evettes field, with the ice near the summit of the small Ciamarella reflecting the sunlight on the left and the long ridge of the Albaron quite visible on the right. We plan on doing both. A few seracs are visible on the lower part of the Ciamarella glacier.
Jenny is out of the picture, cramming up for her exams and she positively does not want to see me hanging around home. After a round of email, the girlfriend of Frank, now an active Chamonix guide, is up for a few days of backcountry skiing over the 4-day weekend. We've never met so we chose neutral grounds: the Maurienne is halfway between Chamonix and Grenoble. At 7 in the morning, I'm right on time at the very end of the road when I get a phone call: "Well, I just bought a GPS and it led me to a pass closed in winter, so I now have to drive back and around". No biggie, she's only 1/2 hour late and we don't have a plan for the day anyway except go up to the hut and see what's around. Weather's supposed to be good for the next 4 days.
At least, this late in the season, we can drive to the very end of the road (never mind the sign that says 'road closed') and avoid an hour or so of flat ground. I have new skis (with already a crack in them from last WE), new boots (which are way too tight, never mind the assurances of the salesman), new bindings (which will start to fail later on) and new skins (which fall off 4 times in the first hour).
Right: Going around the seracs, we'll eventually turn around to go towards the summit visible in the middle of the image.
Left: Going up towards the small Ciamarella (there's a bigger one behind it), going the long way to avoid the seracs.
Right: The summit ridge proves too windy and we stop on the crest. Excellent powder snow on the way down. The Albaron beckons in the back
Left: The way down is more straightforward: right between the seracs and the rock face.
Right: Alice matching my tracks curve for curve, according to the rules of virgin snow skiin'. OK, we'll ignore the fact that there's an uphill track.
Left: Video taken while skiing down the Ciamarella.
Right: Video of the great descent of the Evettes Glacier.
While we are on the Ciamarella, 3 friends of Alice are doing a first descent, right in front of the hut and looking improbably steep. Upon meeting them at the hut, it appears that it's not as difficult as it looks and it will show up in the future guidebook they are currently 'researching'. We meet Yannick, Renaud and Thomas later at the hut.
Left: Early morning on the 2nd day. We leave for the Albaron 2 hours after the main groups... which we'll hardly see. Some went for other destinations while those who decided on the Albaron went up the wrong way and lost... two hours.
Right: Here's another group of skiers just coming back onto the right track after having to climb a gully exposed to serac falls. At this point, we are hoping that they'll do the trail with us...
Above: Panorama of the east face of the Albaron, a short section is exposed to serac falls. Alice is in much better shape than me that day and she digs the trail almost the entire way up.
Right: Upon reaching the shoulder of the Albaron, there's still a long way to go on a ridge traverse. It's not too exposed but the presence of some mixed climbing makes it safer to rope up. The Ciamarella of the previous day dominates the background (with a cloud on top). The Bessanese follows the natural ridge.
Above: Higher up and roped up on the Albaron ridge. Windy and surprisingly cold for the month of May.
Right: Summit of the Albaron, still with the Ciamarella in full view. The others are tailing us. It's windy and cold, so we want to make sure we are the first ones on the rappel.
While we are taking our time on the Albaron ridge, we can see Yannick, Renaud and Thomas taking their time up some mixed climbing on the north face of the Ciamarella, looking for a first descent.
Right: There's a rappel ring and a few pieces of rotten fixed slings just a few meters off the summit of the Albaron, going down its north-west face onto a wide plateau. It gets ugly: people going up, others going down... Fortunately we are there first to go. I lower Alice down and I wonder why it takes her so long. After I batman my way down, she explains that she doesn't have slings on her poles and had a hard time between holding them, traversing on the rocks, holding the fixed lines, etc.
Left: From the summit of the Albaron, we cut across the large plateau and head back up a little bit on the right of the Grand Fond Dome without putting the skins back on. We see loads of people coming up from the Grand Fond glacier, but nobody our way, which makes us doubt we are in the right place: as we start skiing down the Vallonet glacier, we can't help but be impressed by the 600m vertical drop on the right side of the glacier. Not the right time to miss a curve. But the snow is a virgin powder that you now only hear about in the Alps in the stories of times past.
Right: The lower part narrows into a few short gullies, soon ended, before we join the now closed down ski resort slopes.
Right: A view of the Vallonnet glacier where our descent tracks are clearly visible.
After the Albaron, we head back to our car, thanks to a ride from the other 3. And after an hour drive we start going up again towards the Dent Parrachée hut. We get there early enough for apetizers served by its cynical and funny warden who will spent half of the evening telling outrageous stories about ridiculous customers (while other customers in their 60s sing drunken porn songs).
Left: At the Dent Parrachée hut. Appetizers and beer.
Right: An hour or so on wet afternoon snow takes us to the Dent Parrachée hut.
Left: Early morning start. We start together, intending to later split in two groups.
Above: The hut in the morning, with the Pt Echelle in the back.
Right: Going up towards Labby pass, with the Echelle peak in the back.
Right: Other groups going up to the Labby pass. We pass everybody on the way up, trying to keep the pace of the two rockets of the team. No time to eat, drink, dress or put on the blades until we get to the pass.
Right: Labby pass. We stay there for a while, discussing our options. Some of the others want to do the long traverse to reach the other side of the Nants to do a seldom skied steep couloir.
Right: They'll get there eventually, only to crap themselves on blue ice before deciding to turn tail... with a missing pair of crampons and axes... Our own target is the modest Labby point, on the left of the ridge on the image, and we can go at our leisure now that the others are gone.
Right: Going up the short couloir up Labby Pt.
Left: Summit of the Labby Pt couloir.
Left: North face of Dent Parrachée, plenty of steep couloirs up there, too steep to ski.
Right: Summit of Labby Pt.
Left: Skiing down the other side of Labby Pt, steep hard snow but very short.
Right: The other side of the Labby Pt, seen from the Rosoire glacier.
Left: Descent of the Rosoire glacier. Not the wisest itinerary: snow hard as ice and quite exposed with lots of short jumps.
Right: We can relax on the lower part of the Rosoire glacier where the snow is finally transformed. From there we have to go back up a long way to the Aussois pass where the heat takes all our energy away, and then attempt a long useless traverse to try to save some altitude before we get back to the hut. Yet another day with 1800m of positive gain. It's turning into a habit.
Left: Early morning going up towards the Dent Parrachée, the local big piece.
Right: Approach to the Dent Parrachée. This will turn soon more into mountaineering than into backcountry skiing.
Right: The normal winter route to the Dent Parrachée takes a couloir just too steep to go up with skis, leading to a wide shoulder. We take some time on it taking pictures before we cross the exposed section above.
Right: Panoramic view of the upper part of the Dent Parrachée. Underneath the south couloir beckons like an ominous death chute. It's skiable, but only if you enter it at the right place with the appropriate speed ! Indeed it was our objective for the descent, but too hot, too much soft snow and too late in the day we decided to go back down the way we came up.
Right: People standing on the summit of the Dent Parrachée.
Right: Cautiously skiing down the upper part of the dent parraché. Right above the deadly section, I feel my binding move: something's wrong with it and my foot rattles with it. It suck since it's brand new.
Left: Cautious diagonal traverse above the deadly section before we get back to the shoulder.
Right: Safely back on the shoulder.
Left: A guide with a client following us. It was 'funny' the way the guide stopped right on top of the lip and started to talk with us while his client was coming... and falling as he stopped to avoid his guide, stopping his fall by digging his hand in the snow. My heart skipped a beat as the guide, without turning, told him: 'be careful here now'.
Right: Descent of the west couloir, still in hard snow conditions.
Left: Jump curves down the west couloir.
Right: Bottom of the Dent Parrachée. The couloir is the diagonal going to the right. We can now head back home.
You can also check out Alice's blog about the weekend (in french).