Friday, January 31, 2014

Trip Report: South Face of Tour Ronde

I'm usually off to Chamonix at the beginning on January but this year I got asked to be a part of the "Deep Winter" photo challenge so I put off my flight for a couple weeks so I could attend. Conditions were pretty heinous in Whistler with way below average snow and 10,000 ft + freezing levels. So after a brutal week of shooting in terrible conditions, followed by the slide show and a dance party at Tommy Africa's until 3am I had 24 hours to drive back to Seattle, move out of my place and pack for three months in Chamonix. Not sure how I pulled it off but I made it!

Here's Jason Hummel's slideshow, we got 3rd btw! WOO HOO!

I met my friend Mia at the airport only to find her in tears because they wouldn't let her board the plane because her passport expired in less than three months. (Take note anyone traveling to Europe soon) She was coming over to Chamonix for the first time to watch her man, Drew Tabke compete in the Freeride World Tour. After arguing with, then begging, then bribing the front desk personnel, I realized I was going to miss my flight and had to leave Mia in a sad, pathetic, sobbing mess on the floor.

It was sadder than this:

I didn't sleep on the flight one bit because I was SO STOKEDDDD!!!! I should've gotten some ambien and been less stoked because I got to Cham and had to go right to work because Wednesday was the last blue bird day for a while. We decided to ride the South face of the Tour Rond, from Chamonix into Italy, down into the Brenva basin. A zone I've been wanting to go for four years but have been too intimidated. It's pretty scary, massive exposure, super broken glacier and sketchy exit. Never actually seeing the South Face of the Tour Rond with my own eyes made it even scarier but we had good beta from people who had done it the day before, also Ross had been back there before.

Many of you will recognize the Tour Ronde from Jeremy Jones's, "Deeper". The approach is to the left up a steep, sugary, mixed face then up the ridge. The South face isn't nearly as gnarly as North face but I'd say the exit is worse. This pic is a couple years old:

As Ross, Dave and I transitioned over to booting, we're almost ready to boot up and I see Ross's ski go airborne, flying down onto the Mer de Glace and disappearing behind a ridge. Whelp, that was it for Ross. Down he went, off to find his brand new ski. I was convinced it perished into a 1,000 ft crevasse, never to be seen again. (All superior pics by Davide De Masi)

Kind of sketchy mixed climbing, sugar on slabby rocks. Dislike.

Whatev's, up we go!

We were about 700 feet up the face and who do we see but ROSS HEWITT! Makin moves to catch up to us! Followed by a couple other friends including Britain's sickest freerider Dave Searle and Ally Fulton. We got to the top of the ridge and waited for Ross to catch up, which only took him like 10 minutes. He deadman'd his ski and rapped into a crevasse to retrieve his ski. Ross Hewitt, such a badass. The views from up there were some of the best I've seen in the Chamonix Valley. Absolutely spectacular! Forgetting about getting 3 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours or something we dropped in, avoiding sharks and getting into the goods.

The lower face mellowed out and the snow got better.

Little did we know, Ross had tomahawked three times at the very top of the face. As we stopped at the bottom he told us his perilous story. His pants were ripped to shreds and his ice axed had gouged a massive bloody hole in his knee. He got lucky. Oh yeah AND his car keys were in his pocket. Not killing it. He was just having one of those days. BUT, he's killin it here:

STOOOOOOOKED! After the 2,000ft + face we shredded another couple thousand feet of super fun pow until we got to the gully of death and had to traverse below the massive Brenva icefall.

Travelling one by one through the gully of death and going as fast as we could out the traverse under the icefall we made it to the top of the moraine where we ate snickers, gave high fives, planned a negroni session and talked about how we'd get home without Ross's keys. I would've never ridden anything back here if I knew we had to traverse under the icefall. Usually the exit is to the lookers left in this picture but the glacier was too broken up to travel across. Bummer. I won't be back here until it snows a lot more. It was scary. We met the Champ, Tabke in Courmayeur after the Freeride World Tour Italy comp and doused ourselves with negroni's and pizza. Great christening run in Cham. Now time to sleep. Oh yeah, and Mia got a flight the next day!

--Liz Daley, Instructor and Guide

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