ADVENTURE JOURNAL

#Chamonized

#Chamonized

A trip two years in the making.


Jared Åkerström takes it down the fall line from the Col du Diable (Ski:5.2/E3) Photo by TJ David


Two years ago in a small van in Patagonia, Jared Åkerström elated me through stories of a mythical place where snow clung to blue ice, couloirs were backdropped by the glaciers of Mont Blanc and seracs overhung slopes so steep only the legends of our sport had ever dared to arc a turn down their chalky surfaces. He described a place so rich in ski history, so unique to anywhere else he’d skied, or I, that I knew a trip to that special place was imminent.
 
 
Many, many days in the mountains later I finally found myself in that special place. Chamonix.

Always in awe of these mountains. We’re looking at at least 3,000 feet of relief off the lower col’s on this ridge. Photo by TJ David


A mystical morning in the Argentière Basin. Photo by TJ David


A story doesn’t quite do justice to the scale and magnitude of the mountains here. A place well suited for alpinists, but rewarding to the patient skier, Chamonix has been like nothing I’ve experienced. And, something every skier needs to see for themselves to fully comprehend. Nowhere else is the consequence of a mistake so blatantly obvious. So potentially tragic. Nowhere else can a skier find limitless opportunities for progression, or a greater and more accessible place to test their skill set.


An A+ day in Chamonix.


Matt Luczkow and Ross Herr watch Mike Arnold open up the route down the NE Face of the Aiguille d’Argentière (ski 5.3/E3) Photo by TJ David


I had formulated one central goal for my time in Chamonix: to not leave a day in the mountains here feeling like I’d gotten away with something. That I’d gotten lucky. I wanted to push myself by testing my skill set just outside my boundaries and through challenging myself intelligently, safely and responsibly. Restraint and respect for this very special place would be paramount. 


Your gateway to a land of infinite possibilities…Photo by TJ David


Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft) Photo by TJ David


A “bin” heading into the tram station at the top of the Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft) Photo by TJ David


The famous Ârete. Photo by TJ David


One thing I like to do on trips like these is leave something that’s within my grasp undone. Motivation for the next go around. A little practice in patience, but even more so an exercise in restraint. The mountains here have an incredible ability to draw you into their unforgiving grasp. They consume you, totally. The possibility of progressing every day keeps the goal oriented skier pushing harder and harder. Going further and further and constantly finding objectives where they can test their expanding ski set. Leaving things undone, halting the progression, showing the self-awareness and willingness to say enough when the objectives start to fall a bit out of your reach are no easy task. The allure to push forward constantly surrounds you. But, in this case, we’ve done just that many times over.


Incredible views for 360-degrees. Photo by TJ David


Whats next?


I am proud of a few routes from this trip. Not for their steepness, or necessarily their exposure or difficulty, but because each one of these challenged me to push myself in important ways. They represent small benchmarks in the progression of my skiing that were achieved thoughtfully, cautiously and with respect for the seriousness of this place. They have allowed me to not only return home a better skier but a better mountain person. They’ve built the foundation for all future trips here. And, just as all of these successful skis represent the culmination of all of the days I’ve spent in the mountains since that night in the van in Patagonia, each day thereafter represents the possibility of returning to take on some of those goals left undone during our time here. Their significance can never be understated. The progression continues.


Col du Tacul, Capucin, variation (ski 5.1/E2)

The north side of the Col du Tacul, Capucin sit mid photo, just lookers left of the huge rock band (ski 5.1/E2) Photo by TJ David


The Col du Tacul is an instant classic. A combination of an early ride to the top of the Aiguille du Midi with the surreal downclimb of the icy ârete. Quick preparations for the long descent into the Vallée Blanche are made with anxious anticipation for a long climb beneath giant seracs and a steep boot pack to the narrow Col du Tacul. An airy rappel into 50-degree ski terrain only accentuates the necessity of having mastered a variety of skills to complete this route. Steep skiing in Chamonix is not something given, it’s earned through years of practice. And, like Capucin, which requires the combination of your entire mountain skill set, we’re reminded here to not take any of our previous training and experiences for granted. 

 

 


Incredible glacial formations. Photo by TJ David


Mike Arnold and Jared Åkerström on the way to the Col du Tacul. Photo by TJ David


Jared Åkerström leading the rappel into the Capucin (Ski 5.1/E2) Photo by TJ David


Jared Åkerström into the meat of the line. Photo by TJ David


Mike Arnold on rappel into the Capucin. Photo by TJ David


Mike Arnold in the crux of the ski. Photo by TJ David


Into the variation, Mike Arnold in the lead. Photo by TJ David


Les Courtes, Northeast Face (Ski 5.2/E2)

Taking it all in. Photo by Jared Akerstrom


They say to ski the northeast face of Les Courtes is to enter into the realm of steep skiing. Certainly a benchmark ski, the northeast face of Les Courtes is the 5.2 rated line in the Argentière basin in which all other 5.2’s are compared to and rated. Perhaps the “crown jewel” of our entire trip, this line, boasting 700 meters of 48-degree fall line skiing is absolutely the longest, most sustained, steep skiing line I’ve ever completed. A test of both my physical and mental endurance, as well as my coolness under pressure, this line will always stand out for me. To any ski mountaineer whose background into the sport encompasses a strength in the skiing part of ski mountaineering, this is a line that simply can not be passed up.

 


Working our way up Les Courtes.


Jared putting in steps. Photo by TJ David


Jared Äkerstrom cautiously making his way through a section of blue ice. Photo by TJ David


Looking on from a safe spot 100 feet below the col. Jared in the meat of the face. Photo by TJ David


I topped out solo on the top of the col after about 100 feet of mixed climbing. One tool was just enough to make the knife ridge at the top and I had just enough composure to snap this quick pick looking back down the line.


Jared Åkerström entering the crux of the line. Just a few centimeters of snow on blue ice through the fall line. Photo by TJ David


Jared about to make his way down the crux of the ski line. Only a few inches of snow on blue ice here. Our only section without perfect powder conditions. Photo by TJ David


Col du Diable, East Couloir (ski 5.2/E3)

Col du Diable (ski 5.2/E3) sites in the lookers left third of the photo. Follow the blue serac up the hanging glacier toward the narrow peppery route to the col on the summit ridge. Photo by TJ David


The Col du Diable is one of the lines I’ll always look back on happy I completed, but one that I’m not anxious to repeat. Truly a push just beyond the limits of my climbing skill set, this one tested me from the top of the 50-degree access couloir, across the hanging glacier and up through its maze of rock, shallow snow and ice to its ridge line col. The test piece of our trip. A combination of coolness under pressure, intense climbing, and an epic descent of an interesting alpine route. This route taught me the necessity of mastering the art of breaking down objectives into pieces, taking each part one at a time in order to not get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the entire objective. It also reminded me that for me, skiing is the easy part, and the only way to truly excel beyond this level is to become a better mountaineer. A better climber.
 


Under the Diable. Photo by TJ David


Roping up above the serac and below the Bergschrund. Photo by TJ David


Jared and Mike toward the Col. Photo by TJ David


Making my way up to the col. Just a few inches of snow on blue ice here. Photo by Jared Åkerström.


Jared Ākerström taking it down the ridge. Photo by TJ David


The famous dry skiing of Chamonix. Mike Arnold leads the way. Photo by TJ David


Jared in the crux. Photo by TJ David


Perfect turns in steep places. No falling please. Mike Arnold demonstrates perfect steep skiing technique. Photo by TJ David


Mike Arnold leading the way down the maze. Photo by TJ David


Another view of the Diable. So many skiable lines here under the right conditions. Photo by TJ David


Aiguille d’Argentière, East Face, Barbey, left alternate route (ski 5.3/E3)

The North East face of the Aiguille d’Argentière. Also known as the Barbey, we skied its variation right off the summit, lookers left in this photo up in the sun star. Photo by TJ David


The Barbey was my one and only true summit ski of the entire trip. Fighting through my first bout with fatigue since I arrived in France, I topped out just behind the rest of the team on tired legs. The summit of the Aiguille d’Argentière (12,799ft) offered incredible 360-degree views and strong northerly winds. We had a variety of different ski options, with more southerly lines like the classic Y-Couloir, and different options off the east face and back down our boot pack. The Y looked too runnelled and wet for a safe descent. The east face, directly off the col below the summit, was nothing but blue ice and its rolling horizon left us wondering about snow conditions lower on the face. Another option, skiing back down our boot pack, seemed a bit anti-climactic after such a long approach. As we searched further, it became increasingly clear that a careful decision would be necessary to securing a successful descent of the peak. After evaluating our choices, it was the Barbey variation off the top that looked to hold the best snow. A slight Northeast face. However, this had the steepest, most consequential entrance. A mistake was not an option. Keeping our composure and axes in hand we slipped into the east face, slowly and deliberately. Mike led the way and I brought up the rear, taking photos. We had hoped the protected northern aspects of the line would give way to deep powder and our gamble soon paid off. A lesson in the importance of good conditions for the success of a ski descent in Chamonix. Another perfect day. Perhaps my favorite?


The team at the top of Grandes Montets. Beautiful light. Photo by TJ David


Skinning in the Argentière basin. Photo by TJ David


Human-powered fun. Photo by TJ David


Matt Luczkow on the knife ridge to the summit of Aiguille d’Argentière. Photo by TJ David


Mike Arnold beneath the summit searching for our descent route. Photo by TJ David


Ross Herr into the second pitch. Photo by TJ David


Matt Luczkow takes it down the northeast face of the Argentière. Photo by TJ David


Ross Herr enjoying powder on the protected northeast face. Photo by TJ David


Matt Luczkow heading into the final piece of the puzzle w/ Mike Arnold and Ross Herr below. Photo by TJ David


Mike Arnold working his way through the pepper fields. Photo by TJ David


No previous trip I’ve ever taken has had such a profound impact on the way I view skiing. No other trip has taught me about the absolute importance of having the right progression into terrain, about not overstepping. No other trip has made the consequences of my choices so evident or placed the potential outcome of a mistake so sharply into the forefront of my mind. However, and above all else, the above descents represent more than just progression, or restraint, or good conditions, but what was of chief importance on this trip. That something greater lies beyond refining your technique and becoming a better and stronger mountain person. That that one thing that allows you to be successful here, or anywhere else in the mountains, is a deep self-awareness. An intimate, honest assessment of the self and of your abilities that can only come through time, experience and inward looking. Nothing is more important. Without it, the ambitious skier is all too likely to fall into the trap set by the objective driven ego, thus making a meeting between the overstepping of the skier’s boundaries with the severe consequences of a mistake imminent.

 

I’d like to say that we hardly scratched the surface of what’s possible in this special place. And yet Chamonix still forced me to utilize every experience I’ve ever had in the mountains. The outcome of all of those experiences were these incredible descents, which I will never forget. Had I known, back in that van in Patagonia, that every day after would directly affect my time in Chamonix, I may have done a few things differently. Refined a few more skills. However, I take solace knowing that this trip has provided just the right amount of motivation to return with an even stronger skill set, and a deeper understand of what I’m capable of. Until then I remain forever Chamonized.


Jared, completely elated. Photo by TJ David


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