Traverse of Col du Tacul: Capucin NE couloir

After the usual evening chatter discussing what to ski the next day, a few routes had been thrown in the hat. The col du Tacul, particularly the traverse of the col du Tacul ending with the Capucin couloir gained most interest.

8:00 at the Aiguille du Midi the following morning, Fergus, Barney and myself took our place in the lift queue. The mood was an exciting one. None of us had been to this corner of the Mont Blanc massif before.

aiguille du midi view
The panoramic view from Aiguille du midi
grands jorasses and dent du géant
The Grands Jorasses and Dent du Geant
gervasutti mont blanc du tacul
The Gervasutti couloir of Mont Blanc du Tacul with a massive hanging serac at the top. (If you look closely you can see 3 skiers, bottom right of the photo for scale)

After a leisurely ski down the ‘classic’ vallee blanche, we reached the Salle a Manger basin and switched to uphill mode. A 900m ascent on our skis was made light work by the generous shade offered to us by the towering Grands Jorasses and Dent du Geant.

Col du Tacul
Barney and Fergus on the approach to Col du Tacul
col du tacul
Olly taking a breather on the approach
col du tacul
The way up. The dent du Geant (top right) towering above us
col du tacul
Our destination, Col du Tacul, is right of Aiguille du Tacul. Two skiers head up on the left towards the west face of Aiguille du Tacul.
col du tacul ski tour
Looking back to where we started. Aiguille du Midi is the peak on the right side of the horizon.
col du tacul
Final push up the col du Tacul

After ski touring as high as we could go before the slope became too steep, we switched to boot-packing which proved to be extremely difficult and time consuming. The snow was waist deep and sugary, making it hard for the poor guy in-front of us to kick in good steps. By the time we’d reach the steps they’d be filled in again so it was a slow process. The sun had crept over the peaks and was now burning down on us as we struggled for the final 150m to the col.

Col du tacul
Bootpacking col du Tacul
col du tacul
Barney moving across loose rock
col du tacul
Final few steps to the top of the col du Tacul
col du tacul
Olly, Fergus and Barney at the top of the Col du Tacul
capucin couloir
Olly rappelling into the Capucin

We reached the top and looked down the other side into the Capucin couloir. It looked like a few abseils would be needed to navigate the rocky entrance and access the slope lower down that looked good for skiing. The 2 guys in-front of us had 2 60m ropes and set off. We had 2x 30m ropes and thought we’d be ok, having read somewhere that 30 ‘should be enough’.

*Note to self: always know for sure what gear is needed for a route.

The Capucin couloir is a beautifully steep 600m long couloir. With the top section at 55 degrees, and the rest a sustained 45 degrees, its a serious line in the Mont Blanc massif. Tying our 2 x 30 ropes together, I set off into the couloir.

It wasn’t long enough to reach the first anchor. Looking down the couloir, it was obvious we would have to make at least 2 more rappels before we’d be able to ski, so we had a decision to make as we didn’t have much daylight left and a long way still to go.

We decided to continue descending the couloir rather than me climb back out and us descend the way we had come, so I made an anchor where I was, 10m above the main anchor we had aimed to reach. Fergus then belayed me down to the main anchor, then did the same to Barney, before rappelling down himself to join us.

It was cold, and almost 17:00. We had about one hour left of daylight, with two thirds of the couloir still to descend, plus navigating the glacier below and making a safe return to Chamonix.

Concerned at how quickly time was flying by and how long we still had to go, we knew we had to be efficient. Once we were all 3 at the first main anchor, 45m below the col, we made a second 30m rappel where once again we had to make our own anchor because our ropes didn’t reach long enough. A third 30m rappel got us to the open slope where we could clip in to our skis and start our descent. Mine and Fergus’ boots had frozen in ‘walk’ mode which made skiing down the 45 degree slope a pain in the arse. Walk mode is a clip that loosens a ski boot to make walking comfortable, the opposite of what you want on a steep slope. We just wanted to get down. And quickly. It wasn’t pretty, and there certainly wasn’t any thought to take any more photos.

At the bottom of the couloir we needed another 30m rappel to cross the rock band. Once out of the couloir and on the open lower slopes, just as daylight was disappearing, we knew we just about had it in the bag.

col du tacul
Skiing out, all alone, along the glacier after the Capucin descent.

We skied along the glacier until we reached the final climb out to the winding track that lead us back down to the bright lights of Chamonix. It was now pitch black dark. I’d forgotten to pack my headlight, but luckily Barney and Fergus hadn’t.

Thanks to Fergus and Barney for a big day, exploring new terrain and learning new skills how to move through the mountains.

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