vendredi 21 mars 2008

Couloir de Tartereau

Couloir Tartereau

Paul about halfway up just after the first 'narrows'

With the gale force winds due to arrive at noon and the big snow storm (which will last until Monday) forecast for the late afternoon, today could have been a write-off. But Paul and I were determined to get out to do something, so we were up at 5.30 and by 7.00 were on the 2 hr approach walk to the Couloir Tartereau (AD-) on Pic Mauberme. Its a long (800m, 2500ft) couloir that gradually steepens from 30 to 60 degrees with a couple of ice falls at the top. By 9.00 we were roped up and in the couloir. It had a lot of avalanche debris in it but that was to be expected given the temperatures recently (most of it had entered from the numerous side gullies). The snow was soft at first but soon improved and was quite pleasant to climb. About halfway up we were doused by some squalls of spindrift. As the slopes steepened some of the avalanche debris (mostly consisting of grapefruit sized ice balls) was pretty unstable and we had to climb close to the edges of the gully to make safe progress. The first ice fall was completely buried beneath the snow in the couloir and we ascended it almost unaware. The second (which ends at the top of the couloir) was also covered except for the last 10m or so. I was leading and just approaching the lowest piece of ice and thinking of placing an ice screw. The snow was very deep and soft when I heard a 'crack' closely followed by a cry of 'Shit!' from Paul below me. The snow had fractured about 2m above me, debonding from the ice below it and the whole bed of the couloir with us on it was avalanching! It was strange how the snow suddenly changed from solid terra firma to become like a liquid. In a split second I was bounding to my right across the snow which was sliding down the slope with us and dived onto my axe in self arrest in the firmer snow at the edge of the couloir. All my weight was on the axe and I waited for the jerk when Pauls weight would come on to the rope - but it never came. I looked down and he had instinctively done exactly the same thing. He told me he was waiting for my weight to come on the rope thinking I would be swept down past him (he had also reassured himself in those few split seconds that as I only weigh 10 stone he could hold my fall). It didn't seem like I had slid very far, perhaps a few metres - it all happened very fast - but later we worked out that we had been climbing about 15-20m apart when the avalanche started and we ended up about 4m apart and Paul was aware that he had been sliding too, so I must have gone 20m or more! We could have had another go to reach the last 10m of (easy) ice but as we were at the top anyway and in view of the approaching storm we decided to reverse the route as this was the quickest way down, down climbing the 2500ft. It was reassuring that both our actions were fast and absolutely instinctive (and that we carry good ice tools not whippets Jon).

The gale force winds arrive in the afternoon following our climb and dump more spindrift into the couloir

Below Paul videos my account of the incident when we were safely at the bottom of the couloir.

6 commentaires :

Anonyme a dit…

Jayzus! I got queasy just reading the piece.

Anonyme a dit…

Je n'ai pas compris tout le texte en anglais. Cependant je me permets de réagir.
Ce couloir n'est pas du tout difficile mais il est capable de drainer une quantité de neige importante en cas d'avalanche de par sa longueur. Il peut devenir un piège à ras en cas d'avanlanche soudaine. Hereusement pour vous qu'il n'y ait eu que peu de neige fraîche...
Dans tous les cas je ne vous aurez pas suivi ce jour là dans ce couloir avec ces conditions.
A la prochaine.
D. Martinez (de Saint Girons)

Lee Sharp a dit…

Nous sommes ascendu le couloir avant la neige de les derniers jours. La niege dans le couloir etais en bonne conditions et cette avanlanche que nous avons declenche etais en fait des plaques de vent deposer sur la glace de la dernier cascade. Ils ont ete les seules plaques que nous avons trouve en tout le couloir. Les deux rives de la couloir ont eu purger le plus part de leur neige recent dans les trois jours avant.
Je reste vigilant dans les hautes montagnes et merci pour ton apercu.

Anonyme a dit…

i would like to that this time to point out that Whippets are for ski mountaineering and not for snow shoeing.

Lee Sharp a dit…

There wasn't a snowshoe in sight Jon

Anonyme a dit…

Hi Lee,
i have read your story too and while i don't know you, i am happy you're fine.

Thank you to enjoy the pyrenees and to make life in old area in Ariege as you do.