January 22nd 2013

Courtes - Swiss Route

The winter of 2012/2013 has definitely been a skiers year which sucks if you want to fight gravity rather than use it. Last week was no exception with a meter of fresh snow, 60mph winds, and the coldest temps we’ve had all winter; not exactly alpine climbing weather. But weather windows have been so few and far between that you just have to try something….anything. So with that in mind I rang around to see if I could convince anyone to ditch the skis and pick up their axes for some winter suffering in the hills. Tim Neill was the man for the job. The idea was to pick something big that we could solo thus avoid freezing our tips off in the predicted -25 degree temps and strong winds. So the Swiss route on the Courtes North Face it was.

I was sure that it would be buried, the approach would be a nightmare, the face would be spindrifting heavily, and the top would have a scary layer of wind blown snow on top of hard ice. So we went heavy with a rope and enough screws and tiblocs to move together. Most crucially on this kind of mission you need a partner who is 100% on board. With the given forecast and snowy conditions even the slightest bit of doubt at the shrund is enough of an excuse to bail- thankfully Tim is, as Dougal put it, “the most psyched man in Wales”. Win.

Big Tim arrives at the shrund

Big Tim arrives at the shrund

Catching the lift up the next morning we toured up to the Courtes. It’s a strong indication of bad conditions when there isn’t even a ski touring track up the Argentiere Glacier, but the weather seemed much better than predicted and we were buzzing. We opted for the social tour in to the Courtes putting in two side by side tracks and shortly after we arrived at the shrund. No winds, no spindrift, and the route looked in bomber nick; no need for that rack and rope after all.

The route went by without any hitches. The start was perfect nevee, the crux was nicely formed, and the top 500m of 50 degree ice was the traditional calf burner. I had a fun time carrying my little approach skis whilst Tim had a ‘fun’ learning experience working out how the hell you swing an axe without smacking them in to your skis. I felt like I was cheating a bit with such a light pack compared to Tim’s expedition size looking pack…but hey i would get stung on the descent.

Starting up the route

Starting up the route

Squeeky Nevee heaven

Squeeky Nevee heaven

Smiling Tim

Smiling Tim

The crux pitch

The crux pitch

Endless calf burner

Endless calf burner

Summit slopes!

Summit slopes!

Topping out to the next weather system sweeping in from the West, we quickly hurried down to the Col de Droites where we deployed the skis and aimed for home. The top few hundred meters were characterised by huge scary slabs, but we had come mentally prepared for this, and after slowly and very gingerly negotiating our way down these slopes the slabs gave way to champagne powder and we ‘shredded’ back down to town. ‘Sick dude’ as the freeriders would say…’safe finally’ was what we would say.

Thanks to Tim for an awesome day out…enjoy Wales!



Right let's get these skis on...

Right let’s get these skis on…

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