I had this idea to post the best moments of each month this winter on my blog in one bitesize monthly summary, highlighting the best days and the most interesting adventures that had taken place. I got off to a great start, as Janvier delivered some amazing snow conditions and some super fun ski days with friends, as I hope you’ve seen in the blog post already.
I’ll get on to explaining what happened in Fevrier in a minute.. But on the second last day of Janvier, Adam and I went on a mini steep skiing adventure and it should really be included in the Janvier post, but I was too excited to share that post with you that I couldn’t wait until the month was over.
So anyway, here are a few photos from when Adam and I climbed and skied a nice little steep line on the Argentiere glacier, just next to the Col des Cristaux at the end of January. Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of my last days on skis this winter.
With the sheer amount of snowfall during December and January, there weren’t many opportunities to ski in the haute montagne. However, when it snows so much to the valley floor it’s best to just ski like a crazy powder hound on the lower slopes for as many days as possible because it’s not everyday that you can ski all the way back to Chamonix in deep powder.
This was our first outing to the high mountain environment in the Argentiere basin and it was a successful one. It was seen as a warm up mission with the idea of gauging the general conditions and atmosphere of the haute montagne. We were more than happy with what we had discovered, and got busy planning future trips. Here’s a short video of the day.
*a bergshrund is a crack or crevasse which is formed by the glacier pulling away from steeper slopes. They always vary in size and are quite often the main hurdle when looking to get on to steep faces from below. It’s usually possible to find a way to cross a bergshrund in crampons or on skis using ice axes and being roped up with your partner to protect against falling down into the shrund.
Fevrier, however, didn’t get off to the best start.
On the 2nd of Fevrier I headed up the Aiguille du Midi cable car with a bunch of friends to ski the vallee blanche. Everyone was excited on that day because it had snowed recently and there was lots of fresh snow waiting to be skied. The lift was full of stoked locals and there was a big group that headed straight over to ski the Grand Envers.
The Grand Envers looks like this.
Not bad, right?
Everyone seemed to head for Grand Envers so a few of us decided to ski Petit Envers which is a more mellow line just beside it’s big brother. We opened it up and it was fantastic.
Here’s my video from the Petit Envers.
We got down to the top of the final couloir which would lead us out onto the Mer de Glace and that would take us back to Chamonix.
I was ahead of the group with Martin close behind me, with Nico, Magnus and Adam a little further back. It looked like great snow so I headed down to the entrance of the couloir making some deep turns before noticing the snow change quite suddenly, becoming firmer and revealing an icy layer below the fresh snow.
I hit a rock as I made a turn to control my speed and it threw me off balance. I was quickly falling head first down the couloir and my body was spinning I felt like I was in a washing machine. Time seemed to slow down and I felt like I was able to try and control my fall by spinning my legs forward, trying to get my skis to dig into the snow to slow me down. A combination of that and my flailing arms brought me to a standstill about 60 metres down the slope.
I felt an excruciating pain in my right knee about half way down the fall and I knew I had caused damage. When I stopped falling I was facing head first down the slope and I noticed my left ski had popped off but I was still attached to my right ski. I slowly swung my right ski around so that it was facing horizontal across the slope below me and I was able to use it as a wedge to stop me from falling further down. This was extremely painful to do.
I couldn’t shake the pain coming from my right knee and I quickly shouted up to Martin that I was OK but that he should come down to me. He arrived with my other ski in hand and I said to him ‘It’s my knee, I’ve done something to my knee’. ‘Is it bad?’ he asked. ‘Yeah, f*ck. I think I’ve f*cked it’ I thought to myself or said out loud, I can’t remember which.
I clipped into my left ski and had the idea of trying to ski down the last 100m or so of the slope to the flat of the Mer de Glace. I thought I could make it down and then maybe we can assess my injury there. In the back of my mind I was also thinking that it would be easier for a helicopter rescue on the flat glacier rather than where we were in the couloir which was still a fairly steep angle. I put my weight on my poles and gently stood up on my skis. I tried to push off and as soon as I put weight on my right leg I felt my knee wobble all over the place and I knew something was very wrong. I sat back down and gave up.
Martin, Nico, Magnus and Adam were soon around me and Adam had taken his snowboard off and dug it into the snow to form a bench for me to sit on. It felt nice to take the weight off my right leg and sit fairly comfortably. I said I need a helicopter rescue and that I can’t move. Nico was soon on the phone to the PGHM (Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne). They would be with us in 15 minutes.
It was my turn to be on the receiving end of a rescue scenario, having helped Gareth with his rescue following his leg break last May on the Glacier des Nantillons.
The boys skied down to clear the area whilst Adam stayed with me. I was cold. I had put my spare down jacket on over my ski jacket but I was still shaking. Maybe it was just shock.
Adam is well versed in medical practices thanks to his time in the Swedish military. He checked me for concussion and seemed happy with the state I was in. I suddenly became very warm, to the point of sweating and feeling sick. I leant over to vomit. Nothing came. I opened my jacket to feel some breeze. Then I became incredibly cold again. We were in the shade and it was very cold. We had just skied down into the shade having spent the whole run above in the warm sun. My shitty gloves didn’t help much. I should have put on my spare warm gloves in my backpack but I wasn’t thinking about them.
We got ready for the heli rescue. I checked my harness was accessible under my layers. Adam gave me some water. Soon we heard the noise of the helicopter and we zipped up our jackets and prepared for the windblown snow from the rotors as the helicopter slowly approached.
The rotors spun the fresh snow up in the air and into our faces. It was noisy, windy as hell and my fingers had gone numb. They dropped off one guy on a winch and then flew away. It was quiet, no wind and I was asked, ‘on a scale of 1-10 how much pain are you in?’.
‘9 and a half’.
He radioed to the heli and soon a doctor was dropped off to assess me. I told her my knee hurt. A lot.
A third person was dropped off and after they strapped my right leg in a foam cast I was being hoisted up in the air attached to the first rescuer. We were being pulled up together straddling each other. It was quite intimate and we made eye contact. He gave me a reassuring nod. We reached the heli and they clipped us to the inside of the heli and pulled us inside. They slid me to the back of the chopper lying on my back and I could lie down comfortably. They picked up the other two and soon we were flying out over the Mer de Glace towards Chamonix. I still couldn’t feel my fingers and one of the rescuers handed me his iPhone and asked me to write my name, date of birth and place of birth. I tried but could hardly hold the phone in my hand. He noticed and took off my gloves, rubbing my hands until I could feel my fingers again slowly. I wrote down my details including my birthplace, St. Albans. It felt a little strange to be writing ‘St. Albans’ whilst flying in a helicopter over the Mer de Glace.
They flew me straight to Chamonix hospital where I was greeted by two smiling faces and a wheelchair on the landing pad. They wheeled me inside as the helicopter flew away, straight to reception where a lady handed me a form to fill in. I started to fill in my details but I was shaking. I started to cry. Not loudly but I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. I’ve f*cked it, I thought.
The lady gave me an understanding smile and I was shown to a treatment room. I sorted myself out and a doctor came in to look at me. She didn’t say much and prepared me for an x-ray. By this time I had collected my thoughts and was able to talk and interact with the staff in broken French. The x-ray showed a chipped Tibia. The Doctor said she wasn’t too concerned about my knee except maybe an issue with my LCL (lateral collateral ligament). She said no activities for 3 weeks and then I should be able to get back into training for skiing. I was relieved but also a bit hesitant to believe her. How could that much pain and discomfort only result in a minor injury? Am I just a big wuss?
My beautiful girlfriend Camille had arrived at the hospital almost instantly and was waiting for me in reception. She was allowed to come and see me and soon after I was allowed to go home. I spent the rest of the day in bed with an ice pack on my knee, watching the swelling and playing over the incident a thousand times in my mind. I watched the GoPro footage of my crash over and over and it made me uncomfortable but I wanted to see if I had made an obvious error. I decided it was just very unlucky.
Fast forward a week and I was walking without crutches in my knee brace. Spirits were fairly high and I was getting on with daily tasks. I had my first physio appointment at the Clinique du Sport with Malin. She quickly brought me back down to earth with a diagnosis of meniscus and probably ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) damage.
Often with knee injuries it’s difficult to define the exact injury straight away as the leg goes into shock and the surrounding muscles tighten to protect the knee and prevent much movement. Add swelling to that mix and it makes it difficult for a Doc to test the knee and find accurate results straight away.
It was soon discovered that it was very likely I had torn my ACL and also my medial meniscus in my knee. I pretended not to believe Malin at first but soon came to grips with her diagnosis and all that was left to confirm this was my MRI scan. Sure enough the MRI scan revealed I had about 10% of my ACL ligament still attached, the rest was torn and destroyed. Medial meniscus tear as well and some bone damage to complete a well and truly damaged knee.
Well that’s where I’m at now. I can walk around, cycle on a stationary bike and do exercises like lunges, squats and leg press. I have an appointment with a surgeon on the 26th March who is highly recommended. I’m excited to see what he says and to get this done as soon as possible so I can start my rehabilitation. I can’t thank Camille and my friends and family enough for supporting me and keeping my spirits up. I’m feeling positive and ready for the challenge ahead.
I just want to ski, and I’ll do everything I can to come back stronger.
More in a month!