skiing the triple crown – Episode 2 : THE WEST FACE

last spring, ross hewitt joined forces with a few ski partners to challenge a beautiful trilogy in the northern alps: the brenva spur, the west face of mont blanc and the east face of the matterhorn. a ten days adventure related and illustrated by the instigator himself, posted hereinafter in three episodes.

3 days later we were back at the Cosmiques hut. Once again the alarm pulled me from my sleep at an ungodly hour, but my excitement levels rose as I looked out the window and was greeted by the rest of the galaxy twinkling in the night sky. We each made our final preparations in silence, eating a meagre ration consisting of 2 slices of bread with nutella and a single cup of coffee. Hardly adequate for a 6000 calorie day, however, we spotted the juice machine was out of the Guardians view and we downed as many glasses of orange juice as possible in an attempt to make up the deficit. I made my way out into the cold predawn air joined by a few of the strongest ‘under the radar’ skiers you could ever meet: Mikko Heimonen, Jesper Petterson and skier-journalist Guilhem Martin Saint Leon.

For the next few hours we just needed to keep to time, eating and drinking on the move and avoiding any unnecessary stops. As we skinned up Tacul, the massive glaciated peak (4,248m) that dominates the foreground view from the Aiguille du Midi, the temperature continued to drop and the cold wind increased in strength making it feel pretty hostile. On Col Maudit the wind was driving snow and we stopping to put all our spare clothes.

Jesper Petersson on the west face. Photo ©Ross Hewitt

Jesper Petersson on the west face. Photo ©Ross Hewitt

Suffering in silence we plodded on feeling the altitude and trying to keep our extremities from freezing. On the summit it was a relief to drop down the Italian side a few metres and get out of the North wind. Mikko made the short understated comment: “that took the prize for the worst day of the season”. Below us the West Face rolled over out of sight in vast featureless snow slopes and we were filled with excited nervous anticipation.
The top few turns were pretty scratchy and we could feel the glacial ice underneath, but after 100m we got onto good snow alongside a buttress. Below we skied a fantastic enjoyable long pitch on what must be the highest spine in Europe.

We were all working hard, like race pace hard where you smell the blood in your nose, trying to keep to time knowing that would be the only way to negotiate safe passage through the glaciers 2000m below.

ski model : navis freebird Ross Hewitt on the West Face. Photo ©Guilhem Martin Saint Leon

ski model : navis freebird
Ross Hewitt on the West Face. Photo ©Guilhem Martin Saint Leon

A short traverse over a rock rib took us into the South facing Saudan line, a 50° couloir that fell away below us for a 1000m. Now that the exposure had eased we could relax more and enjoyed good consistent snow which continued all the way down to the lower apron. We had now recovered from the cold and took time to strip off shells and down jackets in preparation for our descent into the inferno below. As we crossed the bergshrund we had been skiing hard for an hour and half we were still above the top of the 3424m Petit Mont Blanc.

Mikko Heimonen on the lower section of the West Face. Photo ©Ross Hewitt

Mikko Heimonen on the lower section of the West Face. Photo ©Ross Hewitt

Our route from here was to skin to the shoulder above the ancient Quintino Sella bivi hut and then ski the west-facing couloir down to the Dome Glacier. Our timing was perfect and the 600m couloir skied so well on creamy spring snow we skied the whole way together without stopping in under five minutes. The Dome Glacier had been a big question in our minds but after roping up it only took a few minutes to cross and the weight of uncertainty was lifted, a few hours more effort would get us to the road where a friend would pick us up.

skis model : navis freebird Guilhem and Jesper at the roadhead after a 15 hour day. Photo: Ross Hewitt

skis model : navis freebird
Guilhem and Jesper at the roadhead after a 15 hour day. Photo: Ross Hewitt