trip for skiing
We left Slovakia for Chamonix the last weekend of April. At the Torino hut we made appointment with our friends from Prague – Pavel Pospíšil and Marek Holubec – the elite of Czech extreme skiing, their reputation is great. They have on their account such performances as are skiing the West face of Eiger or Brenva spur of Mount Blanc or Pallavicini couloir of Grossglockner... This way we took a chance to brush off the long lasting tradition of Czechoslovakian expeditions.
After three days of acclimation on the Geant Glacier and waiting for better weather we are heading on 2nd of May across the Mer de Glace Glacier to the Couvercle hat (2 687 m). Snow conditions and weather forecast are pretty optimistic and after a short sleep at the hut we are settling for Whymper couloir at about 2 am. Unfortunately, the snow conditions got unrealistic. We are reaching the beginning of the couloir still in the night and at 8 am we are reaching the pass „Col de la Grande Rocheuse" (4050 m) bellow the summit of Aiguille Verte. We are not in hurry, as the weather is closing down and sun is not enough strong to change icy snow to acceptable firn. We are waiting for better conditions next two hours but in vain. At least, we are taking the decision to start about 11 am.
Extremely unfavourable snow cover is asking for cautious start, just for a case with snow axe in a hand. Eventually, after 150 m the snow is becoming better and we are trying to do some skiing. Hardly to talk about some fun at all. The exposure is enormous and it is so important to be concentrated. There is no chance to survive if anybody felt down. My friends get through the lower, narrow gully, nevertheless of deep gutters – the remnants of an avalanche. To be on the safe side, I am making decision to abseil this lower gully. Weather and extremely bad snow conditions made this downhill much harder as we proposed and at the end we are happy to be down healthy all.
detail of couloir
video from this tripVIDEO
Facts about Whymper couloir: Ski degree: TD+(swiss alpine grades) /45-55°(5.3 - toponeige ski rating), south/south-east
about ski ratings
Vertical distance in descent to Couvercle hut:1430 m, narrow couloir itself 550 m
The Swiss skier Sylvian Saudan with his partners made the first descent of the Whymper Couloir on 11th June 1968. Having decided to wait until the middle of the day and for the snow to soften, Saudan avoided the afternoon avalanches and descended to below the bergschrund before the climbers. The latter, however, were caught up in a snow slide and after being catapulted into the air they were swept over the couloir´s rocky section. Although badly bashed about, they were alive and Pierre Meunier managed to alert the mountain rescue team who took them off the mountain. This proved to be an important date in the history of extreme skiing as it marked the arrival of “skiing the impossible” for Sylvian, and gave some of the discipline´s future adventurers something to dream about.
In July 1973 Ansleme Baud and Patrick Vallencant made the first repeat descent of the Whymper in soft snow and good conditions between 8 and 9 o´clock in the morning.
a) from Aiguille du Midi via Valleé Blanche to the Couvercle hut (2 684 m), AD- : descent 1660 hm, ascent 540 hm, 3h.
b) from Montnvers via Mer de Glace to the Couvercle hut (2 684 m), AD- : ascent 1030 hm, 3h.
From Couvercle hut climb up the moraine and join the right bank of the Talefre Glacier. Follow the base of the “ecclesiastical” chain of mountains and go past the foot of the Moine ridge that comes down from the Aiguille Verte (3350m, crevasses). Take care not to set off up a similar looking couloir just after the Cardinal (turn off your head torches to get a better look!). Higher up, from a sloping plateau, you should be able to identify the base of the Whymper Couloir and the bergschrund that you cross on the right. Join a secondary couolir (comes down from the Grande Rocheuse) that has rocks above it. Move back left on to a small headland that you follow for a few metres before continuing up the left bank of the couloir. There are now two or three gullies to cross and then you climb directly up to the Col de la Grande Rocheuse (4050 m). The access to and the descent of this peak are not very interesting on skis. You spend most of your time side-slipping diagonally with an ice-axe. But is still quite a special moment to stand on the summit of the Aiguille Verte.
The upper section of the start of the couloir becomes steep very quickly (55°/100m). It is funnel-shaped and when the snow is hard it is very exposed. Lower down, the right bank is less awkward but the gullies are quite deep. Turn left. You may need to set up a rappel to pass the final section and the bergschund.