Saturday, 7 March 2015

Grand & Petit Envers VB variation: Keeping up tradition...

FINALLY! The wind has died down and the midi is open! But unfortunately for Dave, he's heading home. However, he did make it all the way to the ice tunnel on the midi before heading back down via the lift as he didn't think he'll be back in time to get his transfer. Any way, me and Kev carried on down the ridge with our plan of skiing the Grand Envers. The sun was shining, the snow was good and off we went.
I'm not going to lie, I was feeling pretty nervous about skiing the Grand Envers. All the pictures I had seen of it, up close and from afar, showed a maze of big crevasses and teetering seracs for me to avoid. I'm confident in my skiing ability and that I could ski one of the harder variations of the Vallee Blanche, but at the same time, I still had that feeling in my stomach that no matter how well I ski it, there are still the uncontrollable factors: hidden crevasses, weak snow bridges, patches of glacial ice etc. I know these are all things we should and do take into consideration every time we ski on a glacier, but I was intimidated by this route, and it made me extra cautious.

Me at the base of the Midi ridge

Kev about to set off on the Grand Envers

 We set off from the base of the Midi and headed down some steep slopes towards the Gros Rongnon. Now, we were unaware at this point that this is not the direct start of the Grand Envers and that for the true Grand Envers we should have continued from the base of the midi and follow the Midi-Plan ridge. So what we really did was a combination of the Petit, Moyen and the Grand Envers. Regardless of this, It was still a great ski! We ended up joining the Grand Envers, from the Moyen, a little way below the Rognon du Plan. At this point, my nerves had eased. A lot of the crevasses were filled in, and the bigger ones easily avoidable, with some lovely powder to ski as well. Kev took lead most of the way as he'd skied this line before. We left the motorway of tracks that dropped down to our right and headed towards the South Face of the Dent du Requin where we found a very steep section at 50 degrees. It was short, about 100m but the skiing was great. Standing on a slope this steep took some time to commit to first turn, and it's an unnatural feeling to be able to lean and rest your hand against the snow whilst still standing, for me any way. Once I committed to the first turn, the rest followed with fluid, short turns and firm pole plants in the powder, showering Kev, who had now rejoined the motorway of tracks, in chalky powder.

On the Grand Envers before the short, steep section

We didn't bother with stopping at the Requin so continued to ski down under the Dent du Requin to ski one of the exit couloirs onto the Mer de Glace. We dodged the odd small crevasse and rocks then continued to ski a wide, steep slope down to where it narrowed and exited onto the Sea of Ice. Brilliant skiing to finish off an excellent line. Now for the long and tedious descent down the icy highway to join the cues heading up to join the James Bond track (which was probably the most dangerous part of the day!).

The exit slopes on the right of this image, half in sun, half in shadow. 

 The JB track was getting very thin in places, especially on the hairpin corners where rocks were being exposed, and as you get to and over the Montenvers railway tracks. We got back down to the bottom of the Planards piste where I decided to call it a day. However, Kev being super awesome and keen, persuaded me to join him on a second lap. So off we went again, trudging back across town to the Midi, which was massively quieter than this morning! Last seasons near epic was playing on my mind in this Deja Vu moment as we exited of the top bin and proceeded to head down the ridge for a second time that day. This time we had learnt from our mistake and made sure the weather was still perfect for a second run. We opted for the full Petit Envers this time and took it pretty easy, but still sought out the steeper lines.

The Geant seracs

Sunset at the top of the James Bond track on our second run
One final boot pack up from the Mer de Glace to join the James Bond track and we were now on the home run back down to town for a well deserved beer. We even had the opportunity to see the legend that is Glenn Plake, ski off into the distance, leaving us in awe.

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