A lot has happened since my last post. I was going to try and talk a bit about Chamonix after I got home, but unforeseen events changed my plans. Gabe Hayden and I left soon after the first of the year to go spend three months in the fun mecca that is Chamonix France. We found a sweet pad in Argentiere and set up shop. Our buddy Gabe Kelley had already arrived and was skiing and baking his brains out. The three of us more or less survived on banana bread and noodles with red sauce. Just like college!
It was just a weird year the world over. The climbing in the valley was less than desirable and the snow pack was questionable. GH and I tried to get after it early attempting lines in the Argentiere basin and skiing as much as possible. From a summit standpoint we were very unsuccessful throughout the entire trip, but we got a ton of climbing and skiing in. The high point being the Gabe's birthday. The two tall gangly Gabes were born on the same day in the same hospital. It was cool to celebrate with them on the Mont Blanc Massif.
Gabe Hayden and I started our day catching the second bin up the Aiguille du Midi and skied a fun variation on the Grandes Envers on fresh waist deep powder the entire way. If that was enough we also skied a fresh avalanche chute down into the valley 8500 total feet of fresh powder under the belt we caught the bus back to the tram. Our second lap was as good as the first, we caught another fresh chute down in the valley blanche and sped back to the tram for a third lap. Arriving at the summit of the Midi we ran into Gabe Kelley and decided that a trip down the Cosmique Couloir would be a great way to end the day. It was every thing we expected it to be and not nearly as scary as we were led to believe. At the bottom of the couloir we opted to ski an option that took us out onto the terminus of the Bossons Glacier where we found some super committing, high consequence fun. An involved ski back to town, that included being chased by a dog through trailer park, got us to the bar and a beer deep before the last bus of the evening took us back to Argentiere.
I've been unsure about how to write about what happened next at length. Gabe and I continued to climb and ski for a few weeks. Then, weather and conditions really started to come together. We packed our bags and headed up to the refuge on the Argentiere. We had grand, but very realistic plans for the weekend. Our first objective was to climb the Aiguille D'Argentiere and ski the Y-Couloir. We left early in the morning and were making great time until we neared the summit ridge. We'd had to rack our skis and put on crampons for the last little bit of the climb. For packing purposed I ended up wearing my helmet. As we neared the ridge we triggered a small slab avalanche.
I was knocked unconscious almost instantly so my knowledge of what happened is somewhat limited. I came to more than a thousand feet down the face and was choking to death. I had been unable to keep my airway clear and my trachea was packed with snow. Due to some badass coughing abilities on my part I was able to clear my airway and begin breathing, and find Gabe. He was several hundred feet up the face and seemed, from where I was, to be stable. I was coughing up blood still and the entire left side of my body felt like it had been crushed. It sucked because I couldn't talk and wasn't a hundred percent sure whether I was coming out of it or dying. Well I didn't die. After a few minutes I was able to yell to Gabe and get his condition.
"I broke my leg... and I think some other stuff!" Not the response you want to hear when you are broken, concust and unsure about your own condition. I swam up the slope towards him falling into crevasse along the way. My mom hates it when I use profanity in my posts, but I was fucked. Fortunately, two brothers that had been following our track came to our rescue. Fred began trying to stabilize Gabe while his brother Pierre skied off to call for a rescue. These guys were rockstars. Thanks to them we were rescued without much trouble. Even though it cost them their weekend in the mountains. I'm so grateful for the mountaineering community. Another party that had been in the refuge the night before heard about our accident and recovered our kits and brought them to the hospital. Gabe was in the hospital for quite awhile before he was stable enough to fly, but we are both doing much better.
I was hesitant to get back on my skis after I got home. I was still in a lot of pain, and I was worried about my mental state. PTSD is a real thing and I have had a to come to accept the fact there are things that are out of my control and that I will need to deal with probably for the rest of my life. Had I not been wearing my helmet I would not be alive. It is not even a question. My decision for wearing it had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with packing. Near death experiences come in all shapes and sizes; maybe a tool pops when you are soloing or a rack falls four feet from your head, but the worst thing that could have happened did and we survived. It has had a profound affect on how I live my life. I never thought I was a person that could be shaken but I have been, to my core.
My friends in Juneau were patient and supportive. I eventually put the skis back on went on an amazing spring tear skiing a bunch of lines I had not previously. A likely first descent in Salmon Creek Basin, The North face of Hawthorne Peak, Cairn Couloir, a ridge line off of Observation Peak and the iconic Davies Creek Couloir. It didn't feel like that big of a deal when we skied Davies, but looking back the style and descent was actually pretty goddamn neat.
Ed Shanley and started long before dawn and did the three hour approach to the couloir then climbed the 3700' gun barrel in another 3 hours and change. Ed had descended the line once before after an ice climb and had heli guided it twice before. The upper 1200' portion under the cornice is as steep and real as it gets here in Southeast AK. Instead of opening up on a big face below, however, it continues into another 2500' of tight couloir. We rested at the bottom of the line for awhile before skiing home. Davies in a day is something I will be proud of for a very long time. Not only because of the physical accomplishment, but because my love of the alpine out weighed my fear. It reminded me that these days in the mountains with good friends and grand plans are why I'm alive.
Gabe Hayden, Gabe Kelly and Sandy Miller apres ski at the pad
Gabe Hayden enjoying some cold smoke
The snow isn't that deep, I'm just really short
Gabe Hayden moving off the ice and into the fun on the Charlet-Ghilini
The infamous 3700' Davies Creek Couloir
The man himself, Ed Shanley post holing up the gun barrel (an inescapable 3700' couloir is an interesting objective to attempt immediately after surviving a near fatal avalanche)
Vertigo and cold shakes vanish instantly in the moment. Ed drops in.