A special adventure amidst the most precipitous mountains in Europe
I wake up to rain. It is pouring down. The mountains of the Tofane are covered by thick, white clouds. The sound of the rain falling on the roof keeps me in bed. The scent of May, of spring, is in the air, but it is still to bear its fruits. I've been forced to stay home, on the climbing wall, for days now and dream. I dream about going back to enjoy the mountains.
I've been thinking about the North West for a while now, about the great glaciers and about Chamonix, the Mecca for mountaineering and extreme skiing. They are environments different from our Dolomites. Environments where spring holds the best outings. I call Philippe, a good friend of mine who lives in Bonneville, a small town a few kilometres from Aiguille du Midi. I met Philippe on Cristallo, at the top of Forcella Cristallino to be precise. We were firm friends from the get-go and we skied down the most iconic descents of the Dolomiti Bellunesi together, astounded by the Dolomites. The weather looks good in the South of France, so I set off towards Mont Blanc. The van is full. I've got everything and I'm ready to explore new terrain, filled with determination and passion. And I'm happy to be able to go back and do what makes me feel good. I spend a pleasant night in the van parked in Chamonix. I'm near the famous cable car that takes you above the clouds, high up and close to the peaks of Europe, to the Aiguille du Midi. I'm excited about the next day.
I finally meet up with Phil at dawn. It's great to see a dear friend again and be brought together by a great shared passion for the mountains. We take the cable car up, which has been visited by thousands of Asian tourists for several years now. We have one objective: to ski the Col du Plan, one of the most iconic descents for extreme skiing in Chamonix. It starts at 55 degrees over seracs that are more than 150-metres high, then becomes a channel that is perhaps 2.2-metres wide. The view leaves us both speechless. It is fascinating, captivating, but also intimidating.
Reaching the top of Aiguille du Midi is always thrilling. It is the gateway to the most appealing playground in world mountaineering. All the great mountaineers have passed through here at least once.
We get to the top of the pass. A few ropes around a mass of dark granite joined by a quick link mark the entrance to the descent. We abseil down an almost vertical wall of bare ice and finally touch down on snow. It looks good and I finally realise that we'll be skiing soon! Once we've dealt with the rope, we start our descent. The knowledge that we're on giant seracs does not diminish the pleasure of a few powdery curves. The snow is fantastic. My legs react exactly how I want them to. It's amazing to be skiing again, especially in such a great location. At the bottom, 2500 metres below, you can see Chamonix. One false step and you're in the town. This is what extreme skiing is all about: a compromise between euphoria and focus, heightened attention and fun. After all, what sense would there be if you didn't have fun? We enter into a long descent in the narrow, steep channel that leads to the base of the cable car.
Unfortunately, the conditions were different here with a lot of ice and little space for maneuvering. I'm concentrating heavily. All my movements are carefully controlled. If you fall, you're dead. Luckily, we can start skiing again after a few dozen metres. Jump turns and a lot of attention get us to the final plateau. What an incredible thrill it was. What a day!
We top off our descent with a good craft beer in the centre of Chamonix and then we go to Bonneville. After a nice night as the guest of the Delille family and playing with little Malo and talking with Charlotte, we set off for Chamonix again.
My only thought is of Mont Blanc du Tacul. We intend to climb the Couloir Jager, a thin strip of ice, snow and rock, and come down on the famous Couloir Gervasutti, the historic descent on the Mont Blanc massif. A long and tiring approach at around 4000 metres leads us to the first ice goulotte. We prepare our kit. Suddenly, out of nowhere, ice and stones fall from above. We hold on tight to our poles and keep our heads down: luckily we only get a few dents in our helmets. However, we decide to go back: it's too hot and too dangerous. We return to Chamonix through the incredible Vallée Blanche. We're satisfied and happy about the team we've created. After all, as my good, dear friend taught me, “una retirada a tiempo es una media victoria”.