Fais-Y bien

The crow Benjamin Ribeyre, an established guide in la Grave, at the end of the season, skied the Y ‘couloir’ from the upper entry point in the Pan de Rideau sector. A radical gully with commitment which merits the plunging view of the Meije on the Romanche valley. He told us of this adventure which he shared with his partner after a long foggy wait in the torment of the lower worlds.

The story which follows describes one of the most beautiful days skiing last year, the descent of the Y ‘couloir’ from its upper entry without using a rope. The season had however started very badly with a cruel lack of snow, then with very avalanche prone conditions. We were at the end of March and the Meije derby was approaching in leaps and bounds. This year I would not be be participating. With my job as a high mountain guide I hadn’t had the time for any training. But anyway I would go and party !
My buddy Nasta called me :
“Hey Benj ! Do you remember my American friend Erin ? She’s arriving in La Grave this evening and is staying for two weeks. Call by the house for a drink and afterwards we’ll go down to the village for the pre-derby party !”
With Nasta and Erin I carried on partying at the celebrations and at other drinkeries for a few days. In any case it was impossible to ski: the weather was rubbish… I was raining at 2 400 m…
6 April, yet another evening… But that time Erin and I slipped away before we changed the world ! It had been snowing all day and the next day was forecast to be sunny and we really couldn’t miss it. We abandoned Nasta who was dancing furiously.
7 April, the forecast hadn’t lied ! Great blue skies. We tried to call Nesta so that she could come with us, but no answer. Erin and I drove to La Grave and took the cable car at around 10 a.m.. Arriving at P1 we were surprised to discover that Nesta had already done her first descent. As hyped up as ever, she hadn’t slept that night and went down to get the first bin. “It was excellent, these conditions are a killer!” Ah ah ah Nasta is a machine.
We continued to go up. Without taking the first bin, as amazing as it might seem there were still no tracks in the Pan du Rideau. I suggested to the girls that we go there. Nesta wanted stay on classics. She didn’t want to tackle steep slopes without having slept. Peacefully we got got ourselves ready at 3 200. Twenty minutes of skinning later we arrived at the Brèche du Pan de Rideau. Still no tracks ! I suggested, to Erin, that I track the traverse which is prone to wind slab. That must have been my twentieth Pan that year and I was beginning to know it. When one traverses one passes just above the top entry to the Y. Nobody in the last ten years had skied this entry without using a rope. I tilted my head towards the direct entry point. It was stuffed with snow. I had never seen that. I explained to Erin that she should follow me at a distance. She didn’t want to launch on to this slope like that.
We had decided to ski the Pan du Rideau and that was what we were going to do. The conditions were excellent. It was the first time that I had skied on the Corvus and after three turns I could already let myself go. Those skis suit me perfectly. The carve of the turn is so natural that I arrived at the exit of the Pan a little too fast. There had been an avalanche of seracs a few days earlier and there were lumps of ice hidden under the snow. I made myself as light as possible and clenched my buttocks. I felt that I touched a few lumps of ice. They didn’t catch and it worked !
We went back up in the bin to P1. On the second section I let my eye wander to the Y. Merde ! There was someone in it… Wait he had gone by the lower entry (the entry which gives you 2/3 of the gully) ! I explained to Erin that I thought that the higher entry should ski well but that I had never skied that line either from the top or bottom. Another short skin later and we were back above the entry to the Y. honestly it was frightening. I had never faced such a steep slope with skis on my feet. The fall line is impressive, falling is forbidden. The axis of the entry extends down the gully, but a number of rock outcrops and would have slice me up if I had been to collide with them. I left a rope on the traverse, for Erin who found at her side beside an old spit which moved. It must be at least 30 years old… Just in case she could throw me the rope.
I pushed off and mastered a couple of turns in the direction of the gully. Above it I tried to disperse the sluff in the hopes of seeing if the snow underneath was stable. My action didn’t come up to expectation. I didn’t know if the gully was wide enough for me to pass through it side-slipping. I was afraid that like that I would find myself blocked across the slope, I decided to ski straight and brake with several turns. Skiing straight on a 55° slope and braking on 50°, I had already done that but never with so much exposure. I caught my breath. I felt like I feel before a bungy jump. I had trouble getting started. One, two, three, straight away I felt the speed take hold. I passed the gully and made the first turn linking the second and finally came to a stop. I turned, my tracks had uncovered the rocks. There was not as much snow as I had thought…. Erin followed me but side-slipping because there was not enough snow for her.
The rest of the descent seemed to be calmer. Each of us taking a different line, we approached the bergschrund. Erin passed to the right, where there was the most snow. I held the axis and found myself above a small gully linking to a larger gully where there was no space to make a turn. That time, I was so excited that I didn’t question myself and skied straight for about fifty metres, jumped the bergschrund with a mid-air turn at the speed of sound. I raised my arms to the sky. We had done it !
Without saying a word but with broad smiles on our faces we went back to P1 from where we took the cable-car back down to La Grave.
The beer flowed like water that evening!

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