First Ski Turns of the Season: Down the Grandes Jorasses’ North Face!

Le Linceul, a couloir next to the Walker Spur on the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses, is far from an easy climb. The couloir, whose name translates as The Shroud, requires ideal ice and snow conditions. Skiing it looks like anything but a good idea. Especially since the ice ends abruptly at a rocky outcrop, leaving a 300m freefall down to the glacier.

Guillaume Pierrel thought otherwise. He decided it would be a great choice for his first ski of this season, he told Alpinemag. Pierrel had already skied down Denali in June.

Approaching the face at dawn. Photo: Guillaume Pierrel

 

Perched like an eagle at La Flegere, a ski resort in the Chamonix Valley, Pierrel studied the face through binoculars for an entire month. He was looking for snow that was wet enough to stick to the hard ice, so his ski edges could hold. Luckily, some warm rain humidified the snow, and Pierrel decided to give it a try.

Once again, he teamed up with Boris Langenstein, with whom he skied down Gasherbrum II last year. Together they left early on November 11, joking together to minimize the outrageousness of what they were about to attempt.

climber on a smooth couloir of ice, with some thin patches of snow, a big rocky spur behind him.

Pierrel climbs Le Linceur, with the Walker Spur behind him.

 

The pair crossed the glacier and climbed the narrow gullies that lead to the hanging Linceul couloir. The snow conditions were excellent. They put their skis on one or two pitches below the Hirondelles ridge at 3 pm.

“It was the first time I stepped into my skis since Alaska, so the first turn was the most difficult,” Pierrel later wrote.

The upper part is also the steepest. Metres below, however, the skiers enjoyed “compact, cold, movie-like snow”. Meaning, very good. Then they rappelled the lower gullies down tho the bergschrund at the base of the face.

skier jumps on a turn in highly steep terrain.

First turns in highly steep ice-snow. Photo: Pierrel’s FB

 

From a skier’s point of view, the run is hardly worth it. It’s a day-long approach and return for less than two hours of skiing.  “But the atmosphere is mythical,” Pierrel said.

skier down a steep couloir, the glacier lower down.

Skiing down the steep glacier. Photo: Guillaume Pierrel

 

For a better idea, watch the video of the climb and descent:

Le Linceul, on the eastern edge of the Grandes Jorasses’ fabled North Face, was first climbed by Desmaisons and Flematti in 1968. The couloir itself is graded as TD+, IV/4, and involves a 750m climb to the Hirondelles ridge, or 1100m to the Walker Spur.

Climbers have chosen different approaches up the gullies at its base. There are also several variations on the upper part. Check the info on SummitPost.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.