Spot Check: The Gervasutti Couloir

By: admin January 20, 2016

The first time I saw the Gervasutti, I had to stand still for a moment in awe, in order to begin to understand what I was seeing. A chute of ice, filled with snow: 800 meters high, the entrance at around 4000 meters elevation, and chillingly beautiful. A masterpiece of God.

Throughout my whole winter in Chamonix, the Gervasutti Couloir wouldn’t let me go. Several serious missions in similar terrain were important steps towards preparing myself mentally for this undertaking. Just like with avalanches, there’s a catalog of skills and equipment that are necessary to remain in control in steep-skiing situations like this.

From this angle you can see the “stairway” to Mt. Blanc: the big white dome is Mt. Blanc, the peak directly underneath is Mont Mautit (4465m). Lower to the left is the peak of Mt. Blanc du Tacul (4284m) with its abrupt northeast flank. On the right side you can see the famous funnel of the Gervasutti.

The crazy thing about the Gervasutti is the relatively simple access: instead of climbing for 6 hours up the couloir itself, you can reach the entrance in a comfortable 2 hours from the Aiguille du Midi. But it’s by no means a safe access, as the route leads through deep crevasses. The seracs hanging above also regularly bury climbers on their way to Mt. Blanc.

The massive serac at the couloir entrance has already cost notable alpinists their lives, and a fall at 50-55° pitch doesn’t really allow itself to be stopped. But I was ready, and Flo, who I hadn’t throught would be up for a mission like this, was ready too.

The couloir entrance

At the entrance we had to break off a bit of cornice, but underneath was firm, grippy snow. In other words, good conditions. The moment had come! A well-planned descent is a rational affair: I would call it absolute concentration, every fiber of being and every brain cell is attuned to the task at hand. An unforgettable experience, and definitely addictive.