Live the crossing of Les Aravis Massif with Stéphane Brosse
Les Aravis are a massif in the pre-Alps, ideal for ski touring with plenty of routes at all difficulty levels. Crossing this range is a superb journey featuring arêtes, small couloirs and great descents.
On Tuesday 8 May 2012, Kilian Jornet Burgada, Mathéo Jacquemoud and Stéphane Brosse crossed the entire massif from south to north (from Mont Charvin to Pointe Percée), along a technically demanding route that covered most of the peaks and couloirs. The three mountain sportsmen covered 35km with 6,500m of total elevation (16 successive ascents and descents) in 10hrs30. They left Restaurant des Fontanettes (municipality of Bouchet Mont Charvin) at 5.15am and reached Les Troncs (municipality of Le Grand Bornand – Vallée du Bouchet) at 3.45pm.
The team did the crossing without assistance, with a hiker’s mentality and no record-setting ambitions. It was primarily an occasion for two generations of skier/alpinists with a passion for the mountains to share an excursion. Stéphane Brosse, who travels this massif every winter, felt that this route was certainly the most logical and attractive, featuring arêtes (Etale), couloirs (Charvin, Combaz), great descents (Charvet) and an Alpine summit to finish (Pointe Percée). It can easily be managed by hikers, split into two or three stages to make it accessible to all.
Stéphane Brosse recounts the trip:
"Kilian, Mathéo and I wanted to get to know each other better, and enjoy some mountain time together. As our plans for the Mont Blanc Massif fell through due to highly capricious weather, I suggested switching to a mid-mountain itinerary across the Aravis, from Mont Charvin to Pointe Percée, via the most stunning couloirs, the prettiest descents and the main summits. Despite the unsettled weather, I thought we could complete the crossing, which was a long-standing dream of mine – last year I tried it solo, but in vain!
On Monday afternoon, Kilian and Mathéo came to my home at Col de Plan Bois in the Aravis. We quickly prepared our very limited kit (skis, poles, boots, skins, arva, shovel, probe, jacket, bladder and a few cereal bars). In late afternoon, we had a fun slacklining session, then chatted over dinner. We woke at 4am, breakfasted in silence, then headed off for Bouchet Mont Charvin. We started with a gentle five-minute walk, before snapping into our skis. The snow was hard, after a good refreeze overnight. We climbed Mont Charvin along its western arête, reaching the top just as the sun was rising – a superb moment, with the nascent light and adventure.
Far away, at the other end of the massif, we could see our target, Pointe Percée. It looked a long way off, but not impossible! We tackled the day’s first technical challenge: descending the north face of Mont Charvin on snow that was hard but had good grip. No worries: my two companions are very good skiers. Then, a brief upward section to the peak of La Goenne, followed by a nice descent down the small north couloir. We walked up to Tête de l’Aulp along its grassy arête, and descended its north face, between the snow slabs that had fallen off in previous days. Back up to La Mandallaz for another small north-face couloir. At last we arrived at the long Etale arête – pure pleasure, with a ray of sunshine that hit us during this magical, aerial section. I realised that Kilian and Mathéo were not just high-calibre sportsmen: they’re primarily true mountain men who are very comfortable technically and have an instinctive feel for the mountains. On this arête, which is very sharp in places, they could walk and run. After the peak of Etale, a technical descent followed by the hard snow of the Combaz couloir. The middle section required a technical, exposed manoeuvre: in turn, we each negotiated it with great care. Once again, I realised that my two companions were at ease even in more exposed situations. A short upward section to the top of the coomb at Marion, then we glided down to Col des Aravis. Then a long upward stretch to Porte des Aravis, amid hordes of chamois. We stopped for a moment to watch them rushing downhill at tremendous speed.
The sky was covering over, but that wasn’t so bad: it protected us from the heat, and most importantly, the snow stayed good.
We arrived at the Creuse coomb then Balme coomb, where we met plenty of hikers. The coombs of Les Aravis linked easily until the peak of Mont Ambrevettaz, then its south couloir, blocked by a fairly big ledge: we didn’t try to jump it, the snow was hard and it was non time to break any equipment! A brief downward climb, then we continued downhill into La Grande Forclaz coomb, before ascending the southwest couloir of La Mamulle. The descent of the north couloir was excellent, and we now had to head back up to the peak of Mont Charvet; I was starting to feel the strain. From Mont Charvet, we could finally see our last ascent and our target: Pointe Percée. A superb descent of the west face of Mont Charvet (as is often the case), before a long upward stretch to Pointe Percée. A few snowflakes were starting to fall and the fog was gathering, so we decided not to tackle the chimneys of Salanches, and instead do the return trip along the usual route. I started to feel really drained for the final upward push on skis to the refuge, then on the lower part of the pediment of Pointe Percée, but my two companions, just ahead, encouraged me. Lastly, we took off our skis to climb the last part on foot; Kilian made a good trace, which helped me recover slightly. The summit with visible, and very close – and we reached it. It was cold and snowing and windy – but we were happy. The weather didn’t let us savour the moment for long: we put on our skis for a final descent: technical to start, then dashing, down to Le Bouchet Valley. It took us about 10 hours 30 minutes for this superb crossing, but our objective was not to break a record but simply share some quality time with friends in the mountains.
It was a fluid, easy day when everything went smoothly and we all had the same objective: succeeding together. I also understood why I hadn’t managed the crossing before: it’s definitely because this kind of project is only worthwhile if shared."