Still Skiing in Chamonix: Nate Wallace Skis Arete Peuterey
Mont Blanc de Courmayeur is Italy’s wildest mountain, and towers above the village at 4704 meters. The Arete de Peuterey starts at the summit and follows the hanging snow field above the skier on the right, after disappears into the Couloir Eccles which lies behind the impressive rock and ice face of the Grand pilier d’Angle, and then exits the col behind the skier on the left. It is a magical line that passes through some of the most savage terrain of the Alps, and was first skied by Anselme Baud and Patrick Vallencant on the 31st of May, 1977.
Which leads us to 28th of June 2009. Yo Hachemi, Remy Lecluse, Glen Plake, and a journalist trying to ski a line of a lifetime.
We knew the Peuterey had only been skied three times, and was such a massive line, that getting conditions for all the different exposures, and pitches, would be difficult. Instead of climbing the line we would try to ski, we would spend the night in the Cosmic refuge, Climb Mont Blanc and drop it blind.
The Cosmic refuge. At 3613 meters it feels like a high altitude hotel. There is a reason for it’s name. The refuge often is sitting above a sea of clouds that makes the transition from day into night something that can only be described as Cosmic.
The sun set, and by the time it had come up, we were already pass Mont Maudit, and were having tea at the Col de la Brenva at 4343 meters.
Even with the other parties on the same route to the summit, it was easy to feel alone. Glen and Remy, feeling the warmth of the first rays of light, with the last bit of the climb lurking behind them. Standing at just under 4500 meters, this the altitude that slows everything down. Places that look close suddenly become far.
Glen, looking like he is at 8000 meters, but he is only a few hours away from the closest coffee shop
It is June. There are flowers and green grass in the valley bellow, and above is the needle of the Aguille du Midi, followed
by the sunny south east face of Mont Maudit.
Summit. Mont Blanc, 4810 meters. I had one friend who when getting to the top one spring day found a party making fondue and drinking wine. We found several guided groups.
Remy dropping, into no man’s land.
Notice the light nordic skiing poles, Peruvian wool sherpa hat, and ice axe combination.
And it’s good!
Yo Hachemi. Fly on the wall looking into the garden of eden.The skiing itself was not particularly difficult, or even that steep, but ambience of the surroundings was wild.
Remy about ready to head into the top of the Couloir Eccles, which we anticipated would be a little tricky. The snow leading into it was
perfectly smooth and like a wave to ride.
Yo and Glen. Ice axes out, unlocking the arete.
The bottom of the Couloir Eccles. The snow had meted out a little and we made quite a few turns on ice, but all and all the skiing was fluid. Until the traverse lookers right above. Yo, while climbing through the rocks, had a loose block move and pin him. While taking his ski off to free himself, the block moved more taking his poles, one ski, and a crampon for a ride.
After down climbing Yo then preceded to air the bergschrund on one ski. Crash flip head over head, and self arrest just before a open crevasse. As he climbed for his ski, we could tell he was hurt, tired, and pissed. Decision time. Yo waiting with a blown out shoulder as Remy, brings in the Italian heli rescue.
hey brought the bird nose in, and in one minute had picked up Yo and were on the way to the hospital in Aosta. Chow.
The rescue had made us late and we were well aware of the consequences. The last pitch of the descent was the Col du Peuterey, which ends up finishing around 3300 meters. An altitude that would be nuclear hot, and beyond dangerous.
But it looked so easy. And when you are standing at the top with your skis on, it is just too hard to not want to drop in. It skied, the top turns were solid steep turns on good snow, but after, the objective hazards were beyond reason.
Rock fell from two different sub peaks, the snow when cut fell in a wet cascade avalanche, there was a huge serac hovering above and there was one crevasse jump that was something you don’t want your mother to find out about.
By skiing without stopping and at full speed, we spent as little time as possible in the death zone .
Glen and Remy entering the heat zone and skinning into a basin filled to the hilt with seracs. We made it to a place of relative safety under the Col Moore, and after finding the bergschrund the texture of whip cream. We took the easy way out, and called for the heli for the second time.
Not the best way to finish.
But how far do you need to take it?
Does our descent count?
Did we chicken out?
Will those who write guidebooks and magazine articles give us credit as the fourth descent, and the first by an American?
Glen’s expression and raised hand answers those questions. It says, “oh well”, and most importantly, “who cares”. We just skied one of the
most unbelievable lines in the world, and are alive.