Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Food

I'll have to say I really love the food in France, and there's no doubt it's a part of the fun for my yearly visit. It's good food, but additionally, my food intake goes through the roof when I come here because it's proportional to my energy output. So I splurge at the epicerie and then I don't leave my apartment without an assortment of meats, cheeses and other snacks in my backpack.
The fromage isle can be kind of overwhelming at the carrefour. I usually think to myself, wow, look at that one! Only a Euro?May as well try it. And then I end up with loads of delicious little cheeses, and some not so good ones too.
In addition to the cheese, the cured meat items are far superior to those available in the USA. Butter, milk, eggs, and yogurt are supreme as well.
Pictured here is a solid kilo of cured meat. I'll smash that sausage in no time, but I could have my work cut out for me to finish that chunk of pigs leg before I leave...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I'm Back!

I am so excited it's spring in Chamonix once again, and I'm back in town to take advantage of it. I showed up on Wednesday morning and made a few laps on the Aiguille du Midi just to check things out. A quick lap down the Cosmiques couloir, and then back up the Aiguille to head down the Vallee blanche for some sightseeing. Beautiful. The steeps are not nearly as filled in as they were last year, but there's still time.
Thursday we did a climb and ski on Les Courtes in Argentiere. There's some confusion as to the name of it, but in my fairly recent copy of Baud's guide it's 82. b, Northeast spur of Les Courtes. Super cool line on a hanging snowfield and then snaking through some chutes.

Dusene, Jim, John


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pain du Sucre

Aiguille du Midi seen from South face of Aiguille du Plan

The Pain du Sucre is the scariest looking run in Anselme Baud's Mont Blanc and the Aiguille Rouge: A Guide for Skiers. In the title photo of this blog the pain du sucre is visible in the snowiest part of the rocky face below the sk of skiing. I was pretty much all ears when Andreas mentioned we should ski it. He showed me some better pictures of the route and was all for the direct ridgeline traverse, a seldom talked about approach to the Pain du Sucre, not that people are heading for the run all too often as it's only been skied a handful of times.

Pain du Sucre from the South Face of Aiguille du Plan. We dropped into the other side from the top of the visible chute, to the left of the little spire.

Andreas is dialed in on anchors and gear and is a ski mountaineering animal and a fantastic skier. Tobias is a professional hockey player, equally good skier, and was in from the start. I was fired up and feeling confident and couldn't say no.

Looking up the South face of the Pain du Sucre
The approach was sick. It was a fallaway icy exposure to a several thousand foot ciff for much of the traverse up toward the Aiguille du Plan. No reason to overthink it, just one foot in front of the other, go. Pretty neat place to be. Then there was another sweet little pitch to ski before we started booting it up the little couloir to the top of the Pain du Sucre.

It was similar to dropping into Corbet's, but steeper and narrower with a several thousand foot longer tomahawk pattern. The rope was necessary, this time.

We skied and navigated, solidy, slightly cautiously, and the ground kept falling away below us for a glorius 6000 ft of amazing views and warming conditions. Looks like we skied right into summer.
The sun beat down on the glacier scattered with boulders, cracks, streams and rivers. H2O, rock, sunshine. Then we scaled up several hundred vertical ft of rock on ladders of giant rebar staples punched into the walls.
Then, pastry time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Couturier

The Couturier is probably the biggest run I had all year and also one of the most idyllic runs I've ever skied. Smooth and steep and long, a solid 45-55 degrees for 3000ft. It's the king of the numerous super sick runs in the Argentiere basin.
We checked it a bunch while the Grand Montet was still spinning, but there was a long stretch of blue ice over the steepest section, so we had to keep waiting. Plenty of stuff to ski in the mean time...
Several weeks later, it was a perfect warm and sunny spring day when we started hiking at the parking lot of the Grand Montet. Fueled by the tastiest french carbohydrates, with over sixty pounds of crap on my back (minimal stuff), we started up the Pierre a Ric in our high tops. At the end of a big ski day the Pierre a Ric is one of the craziest drunkest most crowded pistes ever, so I thought we'd find a bunch of goods and money on the hike up since we were within a week of snow turning to grass, but we found hardly enough euros to buy a pitcher.
Things started looking pretty grey as we were nearing the top of the Pierre a Ric, and sure enough it began raining as we finished buckling our ski boots.

2500 ft in, 6500 left to go and it's raining, it's easy to forget that 3000 ft up it's dumping a perfectly moist snow to stick to 55 degree blue ice. The precipitation that soaked me to my bones and left me shivering and hungry for the rationed food in my pack is the same precipitation that will make tomorrow worth every step. Gotta think of the big picture...
Moral wasn't soaring as we attempted to drain a puddle from the top of a relatively flat rock that happened to be floating down the glacier, but other than wet, cold, tired and hungry we were doing excellent. We put our puffies on, pitched the tent and then stood around in our ski boots shivering and waiting a few minutes for our shells to dry in the cold wind. During this time we were able to distract ourselves from self pity by admiring some weather moving swiftly up the valley, filtering sparse rays of sun among rolling clouds and grey smears of falling rain.
Not wanting to go to bed too early, but anxious for our sleeping bags, we finally removed our boots and crawled into that little bibler tent with all our wet crap. We smashed some bread and cheese, salami and chocolate, then sunk into our bags listening to rain and wind.
It wasn't ideal sleeping conditions, but we were happy to be resting in our down bags and dreaming of that gigantic funnel of a run that was pointed basically right at our tired heads.
We took an alpine start to begin the roughly 4500 feet we aimed to hike that morning. My pack felt super light at not even a quarter of the weight I started with, and things were looking prime as we cruised along the glacier in the dark and began the climb toward the shimmering peak of the Aiguille Vert.
We made great time with our skins on and then switched to crampons a few hundred yards before the bergschrund. Our pace slowed as it's pretty tough breaking trail in a foot of dense fresh snow on a 50 degree slope. Five hours later...
It's a totally sweet view of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley from the top of the Aiguille Verte, but it was cold in the thin air and we were anxious to get going, so we didn't stick around any longer than necessary.
Dave dropped in first and then we leapfrogged down the huge run, skiing as fast as we dared on such a steep slope. I was lauching at how in every single turn of one or two seconds I was surpassing 20 minutes of sweat and pain. The harder it is on the way up, the easier it is on the way down? Not really, but there's definitely some sort of inverse relation ship between work/pain and joy or the like. It was totally epic.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Mallory

The Aiguille du Midi is one of my favorite things. It make me happy for mankind that we would build such a contraption, though it would be appropriate to site the French and give them sole credit. The second cable car in the Aigullle du Midi series completes the upper half of the 9000 vertical ft rise on a single span 1.5 mile long cable that ends in a vertical rock face. People frequently cry. It's awesome.
The terrain under the lift is hair raising, but like always from a chairlift, you are given a unique perspective to scope out the conditions and then step up to the plate should you so desire. In this case, the pitch of snow that meanders and magically connects through the cliffs directly under the Aiguille du Midi is called the Mallory, and may be the gnarliest run under the chairlift, in the world.

Years ago I spent a winter in Chamonix, studying this run every lift ride, but never imagining people were crazy enough to ski it. When I eventually heard that it did get skied on occasion, my hairs rose and heart rate increased. I wanted to ski it too.

On the ride up that morning things looked good, but man what a scary looking run. I'd pretty much extended my trip in hopes of the conditions that morning though, so Dave and I didn't have to do much more than nod at each other before racing through the slippery cavern hallways to make sure we got there first.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How to Stay Alive in Chamonix

You have to eat. And I could just about blow a fuse in the cheese isle here. In the united states of north america, it's the strict pasteurization rules that ruin our access to all these little hockey puck gems. I still appreciate old Louie and everything, but snow snakes to the government bureau that misinterpreted that information. Also the poor american cows eat crusty old corn instead of fresh green grass like they deserve.
In Chamonix the cheese will go straight to your thighs. ;)

Here I demonstrate a proper layering technique. Butter, salami, cheese.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

God is great God is good, let us thank him for this food (rhymes with good)

Now, it's not technically Raclette without the cornichons and cute little onions, insists Mr. Plake. But it's safe to say we were thoroughly satisfied with the meal nonetheless.
It's a dream of a spread for a multi-tasking mini food lover, and with raclette you get to eat for hours! But you can't just drop in hot and think you'll stay on your feet. You have to pace yourself if you want to maximize your consumption of nummy little meats and veggies with potatoes blanketed in melted cheese.
We thank the lord for happy hearts, for snow and snowy weather, we thank the lord for this our food and that we are together.