Voie Gabarrou, Aiguille d’Argentière

Yesterday everything aligned perfectly for us. Magnus and I had the plan to climb Aiguille d’Argentière via the Milieu Glacier, a climb of 1200m vertical gain and an outing we had already done together at the end of January last winter. It’s a nice ski tour, in a magnificent setting and a worthy summit in the range at 3901m.

But Magnus is in town for just a week, and I’d been subtlety suggesting we go bigger and ski couloir Barbey, an 800m long 45 degree couloir on the north east face of Aiguille d’Argentière instead of skiing back down the classic route. We agreed we’d have a look and decide on the summit.

Skiing Couloir Barbey would mean another 500m of ascent over the col du Chardonnet to get back to Grands Montets. It would be a big day.

We set off on second bin from Grands Montets and skied the high traverse to the glacier d’Argentière in warming temperatures.

col l'aiguille verte

aiguille d'argentiere glacier du milleu

milleu glacier aiguille argentiere

olly alkema milleu glacier

aiguille argentiere milleu

aiguille d'argentiere summit

aiguille argentiere summit

olly alkema aiguille argentiere

We reached the summit at around 14:00 after a mellow paced climb in the heat and a small delay. I dropped my camera on the boot pack, and luckily a guide was a couple 100m below us and picked it up for me. I down climbed a little to grab it back and thank him.

We relaxed and ate the remainder of my sandwich Lyonnaise at the snowy col. A quick traverse to the summit and a look in the skiers right entrance of the Barbey called the ‘voie Gabarrou’ and we saw two skiers enjoying what looked like all time conditions. We hurried back to grab our skis and dropped in.

This was my first time skiing a 5.3 E3 grade

3900 m ; 50 m 55°, 500m 45°-50° ; East ; TD ; 5,3/ E3

voie gabarrou aiguille d'argentiere ski
Photo credit: Luca Pandolfi

The true variant continues through the rock bands beneath the main face I think, which didn’t seem possible for us so we cut skiers left to join the classic route two thirds of the way down.

The couloir began with a fairly steep side-slip entrance underneath some medium sized cornices. This was followed by a steep short narrow section, before the slope widened at a slightly lower angle and the snow softened. The cliffs below the wide slope played on my mind a little bit, as usually a fall here would result in severe consequences, but today the snow was deep and stable which made the skiing a) incredibly enjoyable and b) safe. (the deep snow would most probably stop a fall fairly quickly)

couloir barbey left branch

olly alkema couloir barbey

barbey couloir

couloir barbey

couloir barbey aiguille argentiere

barbey couloir olly alkema

couloir barbey skiing

couloir barbey line

ski touring argentiere

col du chardonnet swiss side

We’d run out of water and food at this point and we were feeling fairly exhausted. The 1200m climb in the baking sun followed by a steep descent had us close to the ropes. However we kept up the pace towards col du Chardonnet, our final 500m climb of the day. We reached the top of the col just after 17:00. All that was left was a mellow descent back to glacier d’Argentiere and then a ski down the pistes of Grands Montets to the car park.

col du chardonnet

col du Chardonnet

Skiing a line like this for the first time, in perfect conditions and with a great partner like Magnus really made this one of the best days I’ve ever spent in the mountains. Thanks dude.

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