BD athlete Ptor Spricenieks skis Col des Pinchettes at La Grave, France
Black Diamond athlete Ptor Spricenieks sent us the following recap and video of his possible first descent of the Col des Pichettes outside of La Grave, France with Colin Samuels and Mathieu Bonnetbleu. A photo of Samuels' from the descent became the cover of our 2009 Ski Mountaineering brochure.
It’s not often these days that a cover shot for a catalog comes from out of the past. This year's Black Diamond Ski Mountaineering catalog is such an exception. It was great to see the dramatic image taken by Colin Samuels of Mathieu Bonnetbleu and myself at the crux of the Col des Pichettes as a memoir of a truly rare and special ski descent.
It was the spring of 2004 in La Grave and I was wallowing in the rainy gloom of the end of ski season, further dampened from a broken relationship and living in a broken down camping car in the parking lot of the pizzeria. However, May is classically the time when the big lines in the Alps come into condition and this particular year was no exception. When the rains finally cleared, Mathieu, my regular partner and I ventured up to the Vallons de L’Homme, a valley discretely hidden behind the peak of La Meije, to ski the classic Col Claire. The peaks were plastered in awesome powder snow and glued on by the cold temperatures that had returned.
The Col Claire was exceptionally stable knee deep powder and on the way out we saw that the neighbouring Col des Pichettes and it’s full pitch of Grade 3/4 ice that divided the line in two was also in prime condition. With the temperatures remaining cold we contacted Colin, our other regular partner who had been scheming and dreaming about it’s possibilities, and organized our return. This window of opportunity would not go unfulfilled.
After an alpine start in the dark, we arrived at the base of the 1000m line at dawn and continued upwards in the same unaffected powder as the day before. At the crux, the icefall looked to be in perfect condition. Skis on the back, Colin took the lead. After the three of us topped out on the most enjoyable pitch of ice, I remained behind to set a rappel anchor as the others began kicking steps in the 55plus degree tube. Soon I rejoined them and took my turns in the rotaion of breaking trail.
Nearing the top of the Col, the angle rolled back and we were warmed by the sun. Fearing deterioration of conditions by warming, we made haste of snacking and dropped right in. As the turns tightened after the wide open entry, the amazing lack of slough preserved the flat powdery surface of the tube and while swapping leads, the third man in the rotations still had great snow. Amazingly steep, rocky and narrow, it would have been scary as hell in any other conditions. As I arrived at the crux first, I set the rope and slithered off the amazing exposure to wait below.
The second half was a series of steep hanging shelves that definately required good snow stability. Here we had our only glitch as Mathieu accidentally clicked out of his old Emery bindings and was lucky to be able to downclimb and retrieve his ski incredibly still lodged just above a hundred meter cliff band. We were then all able to enjoy the final 800m of cruisy corn snow down to the river and a sunny spring day.
So here is my little production of Colin’s photos and camera video accompanied by my still shots of that special day. We have no knowledge of any other descents. It was definately one of the best runs of my life, partly because it was an ideal ski-ice-mountaineering project (my favourite stuff) and partly because of the ambience and conditions, but especially because it was shared with great friends. The reward for my presence and preparedness was a return of contentment and purpose in my twisted ski-freak soul. Enjoy.