Location: Aiguille du Midi
Snow: 30-40cm powder
Weather: Bluebird, cold
I only have a week of skiing left this winter as I’m going to Finale for a few days’ biking next Thursday before heading to Glasgow for a week. So only a few good weather days left to get some good final descents in. Today: Capucin Couloir on the NE side of Col du Tacul.
I had a look into the Capucin four years ago but skied from the Breche du Tacul instead due to poor snow cover, and bailed from another attempt a couple of weeks ago when the weather closed right in. So a little redemption today, made all the sweeter by amazing snow conditions.
From our 8.30am Midi first lift we were the only ones heading towards the Rognon/Classic Vallee Blanche route, finding decent boot-top powder across to the Italian side where we stayed high right to start skinning 800m up the Periades Glacier then left towards Col du Tacul. We kept skins on for as long as we could before a bit of bootpacking when it got steep and a little firmer; just an axe for me today but crampons would have helped with slippage at times.
The entrance to the couloir on the other side of the col was pretty narrow with a few rocks showing and no doubt others lurking, and could have been skied very cautiously but it wouldn’t have been fun so we didn’t mind getting the ropes out for one 30m abseil.
Rich dropped in first with a few cautious jumpturns to start things off in good, deep, untouched powder before settling into a rhythm at low speed. About a third of the way down his sluff seemed to knock him off his feet and he went for a ride but was OK and got to a safe spot while Graham and I skied the couloir in short pitches.
The snow was great and we felt safe but we were producing a lot of heavy sluff which was tricky to deal with in a narrow space like this. Once the couloir widened halfway down and the gradient mellowed a little we felt more comfortable making bigger turns so it was easier to stay ahead of our sluff and duck for cover when needed.
All was going well until I hit a firm patch of snow under the surface, then my sluff started to catch my tails and I fought hard to stay on my feet, getting out of the way to the left but nailing a rock hard in the process. It’s a nasty moment when you stop to take off a ski and inspect the damage but I knew that it was a write-off even before releasing my binding. Damage report: 25cm edge ripped out and 15cm of sidewall missing; my trusty Wateas are toast but hopefully my mountain insurance has me covered at least partially. Somehow I lost my axe and my ice screw holster on the descent too and Graham lost his axe. No use crying over lost/broken gear though; still more good skiing to come.
Lower down, things mellowed out more on the Capucin Glacier and we let the skis run fast for some really nice long turns through some rolling features on some of the nicest snow I’ve skied all year, and a pretty straightforward route slightly skier’s-left got us out to join the Leschaux Glacier back towards Montenvers.
This might be my last big descent of the winter but hopefully not. One to remember anyway, and yet another first-time line that I don’t really want to return to unless I know that conditions will be this good again!