DEEPER by Xavier DE LE RUE...

Xavier DE LE RUE
15/Jun/2009

DEEPER by Xavier DE LE RUE...

Riders in this news :   ; Xavier DE LE RUE

" Deeper is definitely the word. Two weeks ago, Jeremy JONES showed up with his filmer Chris in Bruson Switzerland to film the last segment of their season. The goal of that mission was quite unclear, ride some steeps, use no heli, sleep in the mountains.... As I arrived on Saturday morning with my daughter from the Pyrenees, I did not know what to expect from that trip. The weather was pretty unsure for the next few days and after discussing the whole situation, it seemed that all obvious options had to be done with at least one overnight in a refuge. No way we could get that first window on the next morning. Fair enough, we decide to go climbing in 'La fully » that nice big boulder facing one of our projects: 'L'aiguille de la Mone ». That face looked big but totally doable in terms of conditions. At five o'clock, as it's time to go home, we look up one more time and decide that there is no way to seat around and miss that short but good window. We're gonna go for it, and in the worse case we won't make the summit.... that's not the end of the world... At least, we're gonna start getting things going.

Three hours later, after a rich Swiss diner, we leave our car all geared up. We're all excited with the mission... It's 10 o'clock and we have 9 hours ahead of us to get to the top of the run at 7 in the morning.  I'm not going to mention that we got lost around the car for over an hour until we found the right trail, but we finally got to find it and get things going. It's amazing how time goes by quickly when you climb at night. Our rhythm is great and after 6 hours of hiking, the sun starts to give the first colors far on the horizon. We finally reach the base of our face, it's just gorgeous. Enormous glaciers surround us and as we keep on hiking, and going over Bergshrungs and crevasses to reach the final big hanging snowfield, we get enchanted by this most incredible sun rise painting us with pretty much all the colors of a rainbow. We get to the top a little later than expected, around 8 o'clock. Jeremy gets to see what the Alps can offer in terms of steep riding at this time of the year. We are surrounded by the most incredible panorama. Bassin d'Argentiere, Triolet, Mont Dolent, Aiguille Verte.... And “l'Aiguille de la Mone” that's standing under our feet...
The ride is amazing. At that time of the year, snow conditions become way easier to read and to trust and really allow you to enjoy safely these kinds of exposed runs. It feels great... Mission #1 is accomplished; the trip starts right away with an epic adventure. When we reach the car at 10 am and that the clouds start to cover the face, we can feel really thankful that the mountain didn't shut us down. There's gonna be two days of bad weather, two days to rest from that big first one...and all that with a big smile on our faces.

Our Next mission is gonna be on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. The Benedetti couloir on the Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey. That line has been riden once in 1977 by Mr Benedetti him self, and has never been riden by any one since then. It's quite rare to have such an impressive and obvious steep line that hasn't been riden much in the Chamonix area. We are about to find out the reason why. The first day of access to the hut is already a mission in it self. From the Punta Helbronner, above Courmayeur, we get to split for around two hours across the glacier to reach la Combe Maudite and this big range of « small » couloirs below the famous Kufner ridge, one of them giving access to the our hut, the Bivouac de la Fourche. At the bottom of the couloir, Jeremy, Fan Fan (our guide) and I get to cross the bergshrung and start hiking in the steep when we hear that woom noise. It takes us a few seconds to realize that Chris just disappeared into the crevasse. The reality of the high Alpine strikes us and brings us back to reality. Chris is safe, and shortly out of the whole, but we just got to be reminded that no rules have to be forgotten up there. Being happy and all motivated, we've started that climb without all the needed attention and right away we get this (luckily with no consequences) huge slap in our faces. It's just the beginning. And it appears that this area is really wild and demanding, especially at this time of the year.

It's incredible how strongly we've had had these signals that reminded us that there is no way relax up here until we would get our foot into the actual cable car. Between huge hanging seracs, slabs, bergshungs, falling stones, crevasses, cornices.... there's been messages all the way. We've had to be 100 percent focused on what we were doing as well as on the environment surrounding us. We finally get to that hut and it's definitely mystical. it's basically a little box hanging on a rock that is supposed to be able to « lodge » 12 people lying, .... 8 people being already almost too much, but anyways we didn't get the chance to test that limit. At 3 o'clock when we got out of it for our first attempt, it's been really cool to start the day (night) with a rappel in the dark with the board on the back, crampons ice axes... At the end of the rope we would land into this 45 degrees icy couloir. Pretty interesting to ride that in the middle of the night. Slide sleep would be more of an appropriate word for the technique in that passage. After crossing the big Brenva Glacier and all the hanging glaciers, we quickly got to realize that less and less stars would shine upon us and that slowly the clouds were getting stuck on the Mont Blanc above us. By the time the sun would rise, those few clouds became a snow storm.... retreat was the only option. The next few days would be bad and going up in bad weather was not an option. Out there, the way back is pretty much a mission too. Between steep mixed climbing, descending an icy couloir and crossing these exposed glaciers... it's only a good five hours later that we get to the Torino hut, ready for our descent to the valley. After three days up there, that face is definitely a major goal for us.

We've studied it under all possible angles, we know all the accesses, the timing the conditions, all we got to do is to get it right. In that period, Jeremy and I got to feel quite comfortable about riding that face, all the mission around it became less and less mysterious for us and seemed totally doable. After that bad weather, we got to face a really hot south weather getting us to postpone such a big project. We still chose a two days period to get up there and ride some smaller lines in the Combe Maudite. As soon as we start accessing the goods, La Tour Ronde area becomes more or less our zone. Our first run is a quite open 300 meters face with the usual nice open bergshrung at the bottom. At the top we get to climb our first pieces of blue glacier ice. It's good to be in more human sized runs, and definitely a great way to feel the atmosphere and get used to cruse around up there. Jeremy and I start to get well connected in the mountains and we get to have the time to rally up the Gervasutti couloir on the west face of the Tour Ronde right after that. 450 meters of a nice long straight couloir. By the time we reach the summit, snow is falling, but the visibility in the couloir is still great...  and so is the ride. Our first run together on nice firm and soft corn snow, really enjoyable...

The next day aims us towards the North Face of the Tour Ronde. Jeremy is not really confident about it but once more, it seems to be adequate to start hiking and see on the way up if we reached our limit or if the conditions start to be critical. The middle part of the face is a steeper blue ice section needing ice screws and proper belayed climbing. Jeremy is really stocked to get to discover all these new alpine mixed climbing techniques, and when we get to the top to get the board on our feet, it seems more than comfortable to ride down that face.
After a few hours the whole ascent has gone more than smoothly and it's great to be at the top of the run and know exactly what you're gonna get on your way down, definitely something we don't have when we hit these big faces with a heli.

At that time, the Italian couple we passed on the steeper section is still hanging on the ice bellow us in the middle of the face, and it seems that Chamonix on the week end makes these pics quite busy when you start to see all these roped up teams showing up from all different directions... After some discussions and being able to get infos from the film team that these guys are well protected on the belay, I get to ride and reach these two Italians, that finally (after discussion and help) decided to turn back and not keep challenging that big snowfield leading to the top in the middle of the afternoon of one of the hottest days in the month. It was quite difficult to see how stubborn and most of all not at their place on that day these guys were. 5 hours to climb half of the face and wanting to continue at twelve o’clock on the warmest day.... They were not happy that I made them turn back, but I'm glad I did...

Anyways, La tour Ronde is standing in our back now. It's been great to get that piece of run and climb behind us and the Benedetti couloir seems to be the next objective. These two days definitely got us more comfortable and prepared to go and hit the big one. It's been definitely a great thing for both of us to process that way slowly but surely. It seems quite obvious to us that as soon as we step into our boards we have absolutely no problem to feel comfortable in these steep runs even if the conditions are not perfect. The combination of a good front side edge with the two ice axes is definitely rock solid. It's been an option not to use a rope on the way down and straight line the piece of ice but that whole dealing with the Italian made us want to go down and maybe not challenge the whole thing too much.

That North face is quite impressive when you look at it from the front but it's still way easier to get down there surely than to hit some wicked film lines with big jumps high speed and tons of pow.... As stupid as it sounds it's a good thing to feel as it is pretty much super important to kow your possibilities when you get into the steeps.
Looking back towards these two days, it seems that it's been great to get these into the process to go back to la Blanche de Peuterey and that we're gonna benefit a lot from that time spent up there.

A few days later, that colder front shows up, after a pooring thunderstorm. It seems to be the window that we've been looking for. We get to repeat the whole process to get to the hut. The whole film crew is really well dialled up and fully independent to capture the run on the next early morning day. Same thing, an hour later this time because of the colder conditions. At 4 o'clock, the sky is cloud less and everything seems to be lined up to get to our goal. When at 7 we start to climb the final steeper pitch of the face, we realize that the 50 km/h north wind that's blowing on the face and that's gonna intensify through out the day is enabling the snow to soften up. It's been snowing less than what we thought and that old snow won't defreeze today. Jeremy and I still see the descent possible. Snowboarding is a great tool in the steeps, especially with ice axes, but at that point, there's no way to split up the team. The out run is pretty much the sketchiest open glacier and we'll have to stay the three of us till we get to the dry valley floor. The vibe between us becomes strange at that point. 


Everything looked great up to then but suddenly that weird feeling comes when Fan Fan starts to doubt big time on the evolution of the conditions. It's really hard to take decisions but after a while, we choose a more « tranquille » option and the col de Peutery becomes our B plan. Way less interesting, the snow is kind of brownish but it seems that within a small hour we should be able to reach the summit and get ready to ride. The way out of that zone is really exposed and as time goes by it seems that this easier option becomes the only reasonable option. Everything seems clean but on our way up I get hit on the arm by a flying stone and we all three get to barely avoid that slushy slide that's descending in our way. At that point, it's already 11 in the morning and it becomes clear that we should head down.

Too many signs play against us and since we've given up our main objective, the motivation is definitely not the same any more. The way down is by far the most radical open glacier run I've ever gone through. Until we get through these two really chunked up portions, we don't know if we're really gonna be able to make it through. After crossing this huge mined seracs field, we get to ride... descend... roped up over all these whole and below these exposed slopes to reach the bottom of one of the most impressive glaciers in the whole area. Quite an adventure. When we get out of the ice, the first thing that comes to our mind is of course a little regret. Sooooo close.... It's hard to say no in the mountains especially when you get to feel the whole thing really possible and that no real obvious sign get you to turn back. It is still obvious that we could have done it, but it also appears clearly that in a long term perspective you wanna have such a grandiose line in good conditions before you get to hit it and have the whole team fully ready to commit to it. You can always go for it and most of the time get away with it, but at the end of the day, Jeremy and I feel right... We didn't force it. We tried hard, but not too hard. And as basic as it sounds, we got down in one piece, knowing that this pretty lady would still be there in the future and that we'd still be there as well to go and get acquainted with her.... Two hours later, as we called Anselme Baud to share a moment for an interview to hear about his long term steep skiing experience I get the news that one of my very good friends and one of the strongest female snowboarder in the world, Karine Ruby just died falling 20 meters into a crevasse after her two clients next to the Tour Ronde. It's just incredible, her, on that totally harmless glacier roped up, disappearing like that so suddenly when we get to go, at the same time, through the one of the worse places in the whole area. There's definitely a message there, but at the same time we just don't know what to think any more. So much beauty, so much cruelty at the same time. That place is seriously wild and even if we got to spend one of the best trips of our lives, it's just almost impossible to get confronted to such reality. It's summer time... time to let time help us digesting this horrible but really important lessons... "

Xavier DE LE RUE

More infos: www.xavierdelerue.com

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