Friday, March 14, 2014

Trip Report: L’Epaule du Tacul, Alps

Finally the month long storm has subsided here in Chamonix and we have high pressure forecasted for the foreseeable future. Not that I'm complaining about all the storm and pow riding we've had the past month , it'll just be nice to get out in the mountains and accomplish some bigger objectives!

Dave Searle, Emily Roo and I went for a mellow ride down the Mer de Glace the day before to get a look at the Aiguille du Tacul. The snow was deep and dry and the Epaule looked good!

Yesterday was the first sunny day of what looks like many. I've been wanting to ride the Epaule du Tacul this entire season. I rode it for the first time last season and it's one of my favorite lines in Cham. It's pure freeride (except for one small rappel in the middle). I've heard a couple horror stories of this line ripping out huge, so it always makes me a bit nervous especially with the blind powdery convex rollover at the top. If this rips there's no hope for you. It's in the middle of the Mer de Glace at the junction of the Leschaux and the Tacul Glaciers so it's exposed to lot's of weather and wind slabs can form easily. The line isn't super steep as you ride down the clearly defined, wide ridge but has tons of exposure with each side dropping down 4,000 feet below you. It's not the steepness that's the main hazard in this line but snow conditions, sluff management and sharks getting to the rappel. Pic taken from

Stoked to get out with Paulie for this mission (fellow splitboarder) we set off from the Midi to send it. I thought we'd be breaking trail to the top but lucky for us there was a vrai extreme ski randonnée frenchman in front of us. Both his skis were as big as one of ours so we broke the other half of the track I guess, haha. Thanks anyway mystery dood! As we approached the bootpack we see two others catching up to us and it was Ben Briggs and Brendan, another splitter! They were off to ride something much more extreme but apparently it wasn't in condition... and for these two it must have really not been in condition.

Brendan approaching the top.

At the top. The blind rollover scares me to death. If it had been just Paulie and I, I'd have probably had him belay me over the convexity and stomped around in there a bit. The snow felt really good but there was a lot of it and this isn't a spot you want to rip for it would mean certain death.

But vrai extreme ski randonnée mystery frenchman was eager to open it. I watch him disappear over the rollover. Brendan got to a spot where he could see him and he said it looked good. Ben disappeared then Brendan, then I got up a bit to watch Paulie shred it. It's always a relief to get over the rollover and see that it's not that steep, is super wide and the snow is ideal.

The Honey Badger's eager!

Brendan shredding the lower section.

Paulie rips it.

Getting to the rappel can be kind of tech because of route finding and sharks, but we managed. A short rappel then another 1,500 feet of freeride down the open 35 degree moraine.

Then for the scooch out the Mer de Glace.

I love this line. Super beautiful and really fun, cuz that's what it's all about right?

I got home and looked at my footage. Despite my memories of exposure and big turns in deep, light powder the most entertaining stuff on my GoPro was us wiping out. This inspired me to make this video:

--Liz Daley, AAI Instructor and Guide

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