I set a quest for myself to hike and ski the Aiguille du Fruit which is the highest and one of the steepest faces in Courchevel. I'd done this a few years ago but never got quite to the top, but was determined this time I would. I had a pair of the Sentinel skis in a 184 and the new Quest 12 boots which are made for doing stuff like this. They have the hiking adjustment on the back which makes it much easier.
You should never do things like this alone so I asked around to see if any of my old buddies would be interested in doing it too, but not much luck. In the end it was a guy called Tom who had worked in Courchevel for a season before and was staying in the same chalet as us that decided to give it a go which was great. He brought along one of his friends Tim who works as a ski leader for Ski Olympic and we headed off to the bottom of the Aiguille du Fruit.
When we traversed to the bottom of the face I really had no idea how long it was going to take us to get to the top. There was only one way to find out. I set off in front and followed some old tracks up which made it easier at first, but as I got further up the tracks started to fade. That's when I had to start digging my boots in to get a grip, which took up more energy and made me even more tired.
After about an hour hiking I was just passed half way and could start to see the summit. I was a fair way in front of Tom and Tim at this point and they shouted over to say they were calling it a day and skiing down from where they were. I was really impressed with the guys as they did get a good way up and skied some nice fresh snow down to the bottom. They said they'd wait at the bottom and make sure I was okay and if there was any problems. If there were they could tell the ski patrol, which is super important.
I carried on up by myself feeling pretty good and not too tired, but when I was only 10 minutes away from the summit I thought my glasses had steamed up. I took them off to find out that it wasn't my glasses at all, it was my vision! The flat light along with the exhaustion and the height of the mountain had started to spin me out. This was a super dangerous time to be feeling like this. I told myself not to panic and just get my skis on and ski down straight away. My skis were attached to my back pack so I took it off and stuck them in the snow. I have no idea how steep the face was at that point but it was super steep for sure! I lost my balance slightly and grabbed my skis to stop myself falling - only to slice 2 of my fingers open which were deep cuts. Not good! I have to admit, I was pretty scared as I was feeling more dizzy by the second. I managed to strap up my hand with my hat, get my skis on and start to make my way down very slow. My legs were gone as I would normally have chilled out at the top for at least 30 minutes before heading down. My heart was beating fast but all I could think was I need to get down this face before I fell down! I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had visions all week of how I was going to ski this face but it didn't matter now, I just needed to get down and get my fingers seen to as I was losing a lot of blood. It didn't take me long to get down, maybe a couple of minutes or so but it felt a lot longer. Once I got down to the bottom and met up with the lads I thought I was going to pass out and had gone very white. They were great and gave me some chocolate, then got ski patrol to strap up my fingers.
So all in all, it was a awesome adventure but it didn't turn out how I thought it would. I'm stoked I did it and learnt a lot from the experience but for sure I'll be more prepared next time I do it.
So did I conquer my Quest? Sort of I guess, but not the way I thought I would. I did carry on skiing that afternoon and had a awesome day. I felt fine after a couple of hours of rest and yesterday I even took my Fiance Vanessa back to the Aiguille du Fruit area where we skied fresh powder all day with no one around.
By Pat Sharples