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Passage du Fourneau
Posted: 15 February 2008 02:50 PM  
Total Posts:  2234
Joined  2003-10-24

I’d walked the Passage du Fourneau in the summer and despite some rugged and steep scrambles it appeared to be feasible for a winter ski. The route was a bit complicated and the entrance is virtually impossible to find, even in the summer.

The route

After good snow on Tuesday conditions were looking pretty shabby by the weekend. The result of warm temperatures and an obstinate high pressure. I drove to les Pres but the snow only started at 1050 meters on the shallow and north facing forest trail. The conditions were worse than last year!

Direct Couloir

I climbed the trail to the first hairpin which takes you up to the Croix de l’Alpe and the Draille des Charmilles which I had skied back in November. Continuing into the Bellevaux forest I picked up the path that lead up to the base of the Fourneau. You can tell you are at the right spot by the rock du Caiman - a stone crocodile that looks out from a rock outcrop above the couloir.

The suspended bowl

You climb up a couloir to a pinch point then traverse to the right into a suspended bowl. Things get steeper here as you traverse to a small couloir to the left of cliffs. You are then on a “sangle” a kind of plateau that loops between cliff bands. From here traverse left to scramble up some rock steps to the Passage du Fourneau.

Passage du Fourneau

I had wanted to ski the west side but did not have enough time to explore further, another season I guess. The snow was still powder on the sheltered north-west slopes. The ski back down is steep and a bit exposed, especially in the suspended bowl where a fall would take you over 20-30 meters of cliffs.

Poseidon’s Head

I’d used my crampons and ice axe to climb but the descent had just the edges of my skis.

Looking down the lower couloir

As I was alone I stuck to a series of jump turns. The lower couloir and bowl both had “goulottes” on the right banks. Not a problem in the couloir as the best snow was on the left hand side but this is exactly where I wanted to ski in the bowl and the hard snow didn’t give a great feeling of security.

The woods are quite skiable

At the bottom of the lower couloir I followed the slope down another 100 meters for some wide spring skiing before traversing into the woods to pick up a north-east facing valley. The woods are surprisingly skiable, open with good snow down to 1050 meters and maybe a bit lower. In theory it would be possible to ski to the road at 700 meters.... but not this year.

Route finding in the couloir is tricky. From the top you turn left to reach the suspended bowl, ski 100 m down this before traversing right to pick up the lower couloir. The direct couloir looks pretty much unskiable and there are a couple of dead ends which finish in cliffs.

The route is very skiable for the east side of the Chartreuse. I’ve not heard of anyone attempting it before. It is not that well known, even in summer.

Posted: 17 February 2008 11:54 PM   [ # 1 ]  
Total Posts:  23
Joined  2006-04-16

Superb .... !

Is this a ‘First’ descent .... ?

Posted: 18 February 2008 02:06 PM   [ # 2 ]  
Total Posts:  2234
Joined  2003-10-24

It is possible that no one has skied it, but if so it is more out of omission as it is not one of those routes that are known but no-one has dared to ski due to the steepness and exposure. However the line is clearly visible and obvious as you drive up and down the Grenoble-Chambery autoroute. It is less steep than the Pas de la Rousse (rated 5.1) just next door. The fact that it ends on a north-east facing valley is pretty good as this holds the snow much longer and the fact that the woodland is actually skiable (rather than some kind of tree combat zone) is a real bonus in the chartreuse.

Practically all the other routes of the east side of the Chartreuse have been skied, with a couple of exceptions including one very direct but not particularly difficult line.

However most… 99% of Grenoble skiers, are content doing the routes they’ve seen entered on the Web sites the previous week. You can understand that, with only maybe one day per week to ski people don’t want to waste there time going places where the snow isn’t great or where the route is uncertain.