Story By Julien Herry. Photos by Hensli Sage and Alex Blaise.
The Aiguille du Peigne on the Mont Blanc Massif is one of my favorite playgrounds for summer mountaineering. It has a short approach, many interesting climbing routes and a unique view from the summit. In the winter, however, the Aiguille du Peigne is a much different beast. There is nothing easy about this mountain for snowboarding. I can see the North side of the mountain from my house and I’ve been looking for rideable lines on the face for many years.
In 2014, I made my first attempt at riding a line on the Aiguille du Peigne. We ended up retreating due to poor snow conditions. Early last season I start looking at lines again with Sam Favret and Alex Blaise. We spot a line on a hanging ramp on the looker’s left side of the face, but it is not quite filled in enough, so we decide to save the project for later in the season.
After a crazy winter of very low snow in the Alps, conditions finally feel right to try again on May 15th. Sam, Alex, Hensli Sage, Fabian Bodet and I leave the Plan de l’Aiguille mountain hut before dawn. Sam and I will climb, while Alex, Hensli and Fabian document the adventure from below.
On the lower part of the route the snow is pretty bad, really crusty. Our hope is that the sun will melt that crust later in the day. We move pretty fast until the first rock step where we have to use a rope. A few meters of mixed climbing leads to a horizontal traverse across a snow ramp and then another short pitch of ice climbing. After the ice, we gain the main snow ramp and move quickly to the top.
Dropping in, the snow is really good for the first few turns, but then it slowly becomes harder as it’s affected by spindrifts and the sun of the past days. Riding on the ramp is really impressive and the closer we get to the exit (100m of rappel), the more we can feel the void below us.
We search for a place to make a rappel belay but nothing appears. The rocks are all covered in snow and spindrift keeps pouring down on us from the face above. We decide to minimize the rappel risk by avoiding it all together. We had ridden the interesting part of the line so we decide to climb back up the ramp and ride a second line we had spotted just adjacent to this ramp.
Switching boards to crampons, we quickly climb back to the top of the run where we spend some time in the sun. After relaxing for a bit, we climb for another thirty minutes to the top of the main line at around 3020 meters. Eyeing up the line, the first slope looks somewhat dangerous with a fresh layer of snow on sugar snow. We decide to ride on a rope for the first few turns to test the slope. The slope is stable and soon we enjoy the best turns of the day before the first 20m rappel.
The rappel leads us to a horizontal traverse and then a second 25m rappel. Now we find ourselves at the top of the exposed diagonal above the slabs. We must accept to ride it in firm, very challenging conditions as we can’t wait for the sun to melt the snow. Exiting the diagonal we finally hit good corn snow and enjoy a few easier turns. A last short rappel leads to a tricky traverse and then we are safe on easy terrain in the out run.
Two first descents in one day! Definitely my best adventure of the winter in the Alps.