Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trip Report: Urinal Couloir

Since my last trip report full of epic billowing white smoke, Chamonix conditions changed almost overnight. It's pretty insane how fast the weather and snow changes in these big mountains with various systems coming through constantly. We'd been riding nothing but bottomless blower for almost two months with one or two days of high pressure then BOOM! Tropical meltdown commences. Super warm temps, stable high pressure and violent winds have been warming S/SW faces to climactic mankalanche festivals and have blown all our powder away leaving behind gray ice or sastrugi on north aspects.

In search of good snow Powdherb and I decided to check out a new zone for us, the Couloir Pissoir (Urinal couloir). Not sure why it's called this, no sign of more than usual piss or poo in this part of the Alps. Super nice tour from the Grandes Montets, over two cols then down into Trient, Switzerland. The red line:

We found some nice sheltered snow by the Trient glacier, but up high it was pretty nasty breakable croustillants.

Photo cred: Marq Diamond

The next day my lil buddy and teammate Caroline Gleich and her friend KT Miller had arrived in Chamonix to get rad and shred steeps. Being as though it was "Black Weekend" in Chamonix, where everyone parties super hard till the wee hours AND since the snow was crap I wanted to indulge in the festivities rather than ride some steep death gray ice with them.

The next day was brutal. We decided to go on a tour with massive headaches and upset stomachs. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, how could we not? The sun had never felt so hot, I winced into the reflective snow with a throbbing headache as we climbed an icy slope from Le Tour.

We were headed to ski some GFP off the backside of Le Tour when we started to feel better. Sweatin' out the booze, we decided to climb to a bigger peak in the distance. We looked off the backside and found this sick looking couloir! It looked as though it had already totally slid out at the bottom but the top looked a little rotten. After some boulder hucking and deliberation we dropped in and rode high fructose corn to the Le Tour glacier below. Caroline Gleich iphone photo:

It had to have been around 80 degrees. Me, Caro & KT #gunshow #3girlsonecouloir #sunsoutgunsout

Next day off for a two-day trip that starts in Courmayeur, Italy to traverse the Domes de Miage and ride the Armancette glacier down into Contamine, France. It turned out to be around a 33 km journey. Team of perfect proportions we were, 3:3 chicks to dudes, Americans to Brits, skiers to splitters. We were inherently dialed for success.

After 5 hours of side-hilling and a slight route finding error we arrived at the Robert Blanc hut. I drank some vin rouge and chopped wood. Chris fixed the broken window. Paulie told inappropriate jokes in a funny british accent. KT got the shot. Caroline giggled. Tom ate our dinner. And Daddy Yankee serenaded us over my jambox.

Tom Grant and his general bad-assery.

Climbed up to the Col des Glaciers in the am and rode down ~1,500 ft of epic snow. Not sure how the wind and sun didn't damage this slope. Paulie didn't turn once! Then headed up the Tre la Tete glacier towards the Domes.

Caroline tells epic stories of Equadorian volcanoes while Tom talks Cham steeps.

As we approached the ridge a couple were retreating because of the consistent strong wind with occasional violent gusts. This titillated the desire for adventure as we came closer to the ridge, making it seem a bit more exposed than it already was. It was hard not to au cheval at some stages on this walk as the wind was tres fort. Wouldn't have wanted to tomahawk down the gnarly N face (which are some classic steep routes later on in the spring but 100% not in now).

Tom sends the firm windboard off the summit.

The ~9,000 ft descent into Contamine encompassed about every snow condition imaginable. Firm windboard>soft sastrugi>POW!>cream cheese>total mank>icy cat track>dirt. Thankfully we had an hour until the bus took us to the train back to Chamonix so we could stuff our faces with pain au chocolate, chips, beers and pizza. We saw some epic alpenglow on our route down from the bus.

We were feeling rather gritty and drunk and started taking silly pictures. #trashgirlz

That was enough suffer in the mountains for me for a couple days so we spent the weekend rock climbing on the beach...

--Liz Daley, AAI Instructor and Guide

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