5.2, E2(?), TD (Number 1)
The Cunningham, also known as the Passarrelle couloir lies beneath the main bridge on the Aiguille du Midi. It’s a steep, hugely aesthetic couloir with around 400m of skiing at 45 to 50 degrees before you reach the Glacier Rond.
The couloir has a unique entrance in that you must rappel from the side of the bridge, with usually a minimum of 3 x 60m abseils needing to be done. We ended up doing 4 which was very time consuming but good experience.
We were tense but excited. I was nervous for sure.
Once on the rope you lower yourself from the right side of the bridge in a fairly unsettling manor. The first 60m abseil is mostly free hanging before you reach the rocks far below. I span around a few times in the air unintentionally as I lowered myself and took in the views down the couloir we were going to ski and looking out further towards the Dome du Gouter, and then as I spun around up to the Midi bridge now in the distance and through towards the Arete. An incredibly mythical place to be. We all whizzed down the first ab with sore forearms.
It took us a while to make the next two abseils but eventually we got down to the top section of the couloir and Fergus set off smoothly jump turning through the narrow rock band on soft snow with crust underneath.
Meanwhile Lewis and I began pulling in the rope from above but it was jammed. It would not come so Lewis set himself up to climb back up and tend to the poor jammed ropes. It was a tricky situation that we managed well in a tight, awkward, steep, cold place. I got his crampons on his boots and kept him on the rope as he started climbing back up. Soon we saw 2 other skiers following us down from the bridge so we shouted up and asked if they would release our rope from its jammy situation in the above anchor. They cheerfully agreed so Lewis down climbed back to me and we waited a few minutes for them to reach the anchor and help us out.
I wasn’t keen on skiing the first few turns as most of the fresh snow had been scraped by Fergus, and Lewis was still to retrieve his ski pole which had fallen on the first rappel. One last rappel and we were good to go.
We opened up the line in deep, cold fresh powder, making big turns as we exited the couloir and joined the exit couloir of Glacier Rond. Epic skiing!
We were all stoked but didn’t say too much to each other as we skied the tracked exit couloir down to the Bossons glacier and then traversed round to the Plan de l’aiguille station in the baking sun. It had been hard work and we were all a little bit f*cked.
Soon it sank in as we sat there that we had quite an epic day. Looking up at the tracks on Col du Plan and drinking the champagne that Fergus had lugged along (nice one mate!). For me it was the best day of my Winter. It wasn’t the steepest, longest, or deepest line, but it was full of adventure and variety and camaraderie. We skied first tracks in excellent conditions and we dealt with challenging situations at times. I guess it felt a bit like a culmination of all we’ve learnt over these past few months. I’ll remember this day for a while.
Here’s the video I made.