I spent the past two weeks working, making some money and testing new materials for my trip to Pakistan in June. I went for a couple of easy tours and a couple of Cosmique runs alone in the afternoon during my time off.
In February the weather was a bit crazy. We had polar temperatures for 10 days and then suddenly they rose to result in spring conditions, and as a consequence the snowpack has been really weird, hard and dangerous. The forecast announced crazy spring temperatures for the past Wednesday so I was pretty motivated to get back on the horse before the hot melted like an ice cream all of my dream lines.
A few days before, the Italian crew had repeated the mythical south face of Moine – the normal rock climbing grade 4 route to the summit. This route was skied for the first time by the extreme sports guru, Jean Marc Boivin, on April the 17th 1987 when, in a single day and with the help of a helicopter, he linked together the descent of the southeast face of the Moine, the south couloir of Les Dru, the Whymper couloir on the Aiguille Verte, the north face of Les Courtes and the south face of the Grandes Jorasses.
I went up to the Couvercle hut Tuesday afternoon with Ross Hewitt, motivated to have a look at the Moine line and with some alternatives in mind in case the snow conditions were not too encouraging, such as the Whymper couloir on the Aiguille Verte or the west face of Les Droites. Ben Briggs caught up with us on the way to the hut in the late afternoon. The place where the hut stands it is just magical and I always love to be up there. The view of the Mont Blanc range and big legendary peaks like Aiguille Verte, Les Droites, Les Courtes, the Grands Jorasses is breathtaking…I still have so much to do up there!
We lit the wood stove and spent a warm night sharing it with a French mountain guide from Verdon. We woke up at 4.30am, had a quick breakfast and set off at 5.30am. Unfortunately, Ross had some back problems and had to bail on the adventure. At around 6.30am, Ben and I were at the bergshrund and a few minutes after we passed the little rocky step that closes the way between the lower access ramp and the rest of the line. The climbing was pretty sketchy due to the rotten and inconsistent sugary snow but we topped out at around 9.30am and started riding at 10.
We hit it at the perfect time. The snow was good and soft enough to ride – but not so soft as to be dangerous – and made this complex descent a bit easier than we had thought it would be on the way up.
The south face of the Moine has all the features of a great mountaineering ski line: sustained steepness, constant exposure, complex route finding and a breathtaking environment. The tension never actually releases until you are off the line. I like to be in this bubble of concentration where you link a few turns, then traverse a bit looking for the way, link a few more turns, pass exposed sections and then link turns again. We were lucky to hit it at the right moment; I’m pretty sure that the next day we would have been forced to down climb at least a couple of sections.
Arriving on the top of the bottom slabs, we built a peg belay, abseiled down 5 meters and skied away along the exposed ledge and into the final little corridor that gives access to the bottom cone.
It was really hot and we were pretty happy to have skied it before it melted down and the “door” closed for who knows how many years again. It gives me such a good feeling to be in the right place at the right moment…it makes me feel part of the flow.
Ben skied down to work a bit in the afternoon while Ross and I spent the afternoon like lizards on the rocks enjoying the early spring and a beer. Many thanks to Ben for the adventure, to Ross for the company at the hut and to the Italian crew for the inspiration!…and of course to the visionary Jean Marc Boivin who showed the way 25 years ago!