Tag Archives: Andreas Fransson

Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair Talking Risk and Reward While Slaying Chamonix Classics

Glacier Rond, Chamonix

JP Auclair hit town in February so he and Swedish Adventurer of the Year Andreas Fransson decided to knock off a few of the classics (formerly known as test pieces) which Andreas now has trouble distinguishing from the pistes.

Man, I wish that guy would stop making this all look so easy.

To read more of Andreas’s thoughts on skiing and life, check out his insight-filled blog and stay tuned for JP and Andreas in Chamonix – The Sequel! Coming soon.

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Andreas Fransson Skis Mercedario or How Andreas and Bjarne Walked Across South America With Skis on Their Packs

south face Mercredario Argentina

You walked how many days for this?

Andreas: It’s not possible to ski here?

Local: No

Andreas: No?

Local: It’s finished. The season is finished.

Andreas Fransson and Bjarne Sahlén’s ‘ski’ trip through South America just keeps getting better and better. And no, I don’t mean the skiing…

How does a 40k,  2000 vertical meter walk-in sound to you? Yeah, I think I’ll give that one a miss as well.

In this episode, Andreas is gunning for the south face of 6720m Mercedario, the eighth highest mountain in the Andes. In the vid, Andreas calls it ‘The Dream Face’ but this ice sheet with a bit of sugar on top looks anything but dreamy to me.

Andreas Fransson

Mercredario, south face, 2000m, 40-45˚

But the greatest thing about this entire ordeal is how the attitudes of our two intrepid adventurers never falter and each new roadblock just seems to make them laugh and become that much more determined to make it happen.

Gotta love these guys, especially because they’re not afraid to nude up to liven up an episode.

Mercreadrio, South America

Expedition Update: Andreas Fransson Skis Sajama – Highest Peak in Bolivia

“The worst climb-to-ski ratio I have ever done in my whole life.” -Andreas Fransson

OK, watching this video makes me feel a little better about the lack of snow in Chamonix. I mean hey, at least we’ve got great climbing weather and no blowing sand.

But despite the sandstorm and ghetto snow conditions, we’ve got to throw horns out to Andreas for climbing and skiing “6500-whatever-meter” Sajama, Bolivia’s highest Peak.

Bjarne Sahlen

So much for the summit dance...

And as far as adventures go, this is exactly what it’s all about: discovering new places, interacting with different cultures, learning a language, traveling with the locals (70+ hour bus ride!), seeing and trying new things. With all this as part of the package you don’t need perfect snow to make it all worth it. Keep charging, boys!

Andreas Fransson vs South Face of Denali – First Descent With Skis

South Face Denali

South Face, Denali. Photo: Talkeetna Air Taxi

This story has been posted in cooperation with the good crew over at OuterLocal.com, which is a great website that you really ought to be checking out on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Text by OuterLocal.com. Images added by ChamonixInsider.com.

Readers of [OuterLocal.com] are by now familiar with Andreas Fransson. The Swedish skier has come onto the international radar screens with a number of notable ski descents over the last year in his adopted hometown of Chamonix, France. But in May, on his first trip to Denali (20,320’ / 6193m), Fransson set a different standard. His ascents and descents on North America’s highest mountain, made in quick succession amidst difficult conditions, have defined a new level of competence as it relates to ski mountaineering.

On May 9, Fransson and his partner, fellow Swede Magnus Kastengren, arrived in base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier, the traditional staging area for Denali aspirants. Kastengren was on the mountain with Fransson to climb, but Fransson planned to do the skiing on his own. His main objective? The 9,000-foot [2743 meter], unskied, south face of the peak—solo.

The pair took their time acclimating, spending four days to ascend to Advanced Base Camp (ABC). Along the way they went a “little ways up” the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to scope out the south face. “It looked really good,” said Fransson.

On the pair’s first day at ABC, Fransson attempted to climb and ski the Orient Express, a 5,000-foot [1524 meter], 45-degree couloir high on the mountain’s west face. “I got a bit blasted by the altitude, as you can imagine,” said Fransson from Talkeetna.

Denali Ski LinesAfter one day spent recovering in ABC, he tried it again. Climbing solo, he quickly ascended the route, clicked into his skis, then skied back to camp. The couloir is skied with some regularity, and Fransson used it for a simple purpose: “To get as high as possible as fast as possible.”

To further facilitate that acclimatization process, the next day he climbed and skied the Orient again.

Wanting to continue their acclimatization, the pair ascended the West Buttress route to the standard camp at 17,200 feet [5242 meters] . “The weather was so bad, we camped there for two nights. On the first good day, we went up to the summit.”

West Buttress Denali Bradford Washington

West Buttress, Denali. Photo: Bradford Washington/NPS/Alpinist Mag

The storm that had pinned the Swedes at “17,” as the camp at 17,200 feet is commonly called, was violently windy. Low amounts of snowfall over the winter and high winds at the upper elevations had contributed to blue-ice conditions on sections of Denali that are normally filled in. These conditions have resulted in a number of fatalities; the 2011 season is already one of the deadliest on record.

When the storm abated, “We started from camp at around 10 a.m.,” recounted Fransson, “and got to the top around 2. A couple of other guys were up there, doing a traverse [of the mountain], and were now going to ski down the west buttress.”

Fransson planned to do something similar, but in the opposite direction.

Kastengren had helped Fransson by carrying his 60-meter rope to the summit. After half an hour on top, they said goodbye. Kastengren went back down the West Buttress, while Fransson dropped in on the south face alone.

The first 5,000 feet [1524 meters] of descent took Fransson half an hour. He described the conditions as “hard.” Snow that had looked “really good” on his reconnaissance had been stripped off the face by the storm.

“It was possible to get an edge the first two-thirds of the descent, but the further down I got, the harder it became,” said Fransson.

A mile [1609 meters] into his descent, Fransson was forced to traverse to the skier’s left, to an area that he thought would be skiable. Instead, he found “65- to 70-degree ice. So I put on crampons and tools and climbed for maybe half an hour on a fifty meter traverse.”

From there he regained a couloir and continued skiing, but “I could see the snowfields [below] were totally blue—totally ruined.”

Fransson was forced to do four rappels to get into a connecting couloir. He skied “perhaps 100 meters in the couloir where there was snow,” but as the temperatures continued to rise, “it started to rain rocks.” The massive wall above him had begun to disintegrate. “I got a bad feeling, so I stayed put.” It was 5 p.m.

Fransson spent the next six hours in the couloir, hunkered down, avoiding rockfall. He calls the decision to stay put “really technical.”

By 11 p.m., “I knew I had to get down. So I began downclimbing and rappelling.” He continued descending in this manner for 600 or 700 meters, skiing whenever conditions permitted, until he was about 200 meters above the bergschrund that separated the face from the glacier below it. At this point, he put his skis back on, and skied down to and over the bergrschrund.

When he reached the glacier, he skied out “as far as possible” to get out of the way of falling debris.

At this point, “It was really dark—it was really hard to know what were cracks [in the ice] and what was not.” Trapped by lack of visibility, he simply sat down for the rest of the night, melted snow to drink and looked at the views.

At 5 a.m., it became light enough to continue. It took Fransson an hour and a half to ski down from his resting place to the “autobahn” of the standard West Buttress route. Fransson called this solo negotiation of the heavily crevassed glacier “one of the cruxes of the route.”

When he reached the “autobahn,” he simply lay down on it and went to sleep. He remained there for six hours, sleeping as climbers walked past.

Fransson reached Base Camp later that day. After a day of rest, he climbed back up to ABC.

Cassin Ridge, Denali (Alaska Grade 5: 65°, 5.8 AI4, 2743m)

One day later, Fransson, together now with Kastengren, wrapped back around the mountain to climb the Cassin Ridge (Alaska Grade 5: 65°, 5.8 AI4, 2743m), a classic alpine objective immediately to the climber’s left of the face Fransson had just skied. The pair managed the route in a notable 33 hours round trip, which included a nine-hour bivy. “We were really fast on the climbing,” said Fransson. “It was a really good experience because we never got cold, never got tired. Until the end, of course.”

(At the first rock band, the pair were caught by their friends, the British alpinists Jonathan Griffith and Will Sim. While Fransson and Kastengren bivied, the Brits kept climbing, establishing a new speed record for the route of 14 hours 40 minutes.)

Fransson and Kastengren returned to ABC. One day later, Fransson climbed and skied the Messner Couloir, another 45°, 5,000-foot couloir high on Denali’s west face. Afterward, the pair descended to Base Camp. Though they had hoped to keep climbing, warming temperatures had adversely affected conditions, so they flew back to Talkeetna.

On his blog, Fransson called his descent of the south face a “try”—an attempt. “When you downclimb that much…,” he said, then let the remainder of his sentence linger.

“Half of what I downclimbed at the end would have been possible to ski during the day, in better conditions, but I wasn’t really thinking of that,” he continued. Upon further reflection, he said, “It’s going to be hard for anyone to do it much better—you could probably ski 300 or 400 meters more than I did. Plus, there’s a lot of rockfall….”

But was it really an “attempt?”

“Out of 4000 meters, I skied 3000 or so,” he replied. “So it’s still OK.”

Andreas Fransson

Andreas Fransson

Xavier de Le Rue, Andreas Fransson vs Aiguille du Plan, Face Nord

North Face, Aiguille du Plan, Xavier de Le Rue, Andreas Fransson

Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

“When I came off that last rappel, I didn’t kiss the ground, but I felt like it.” –Xavier de Le Rue, when asked about the best part of the route.

It’s one of those unusually perfect days when Mother Nature decides to loosen up the ol’ apron strings and treat the kids to warm temps, fresh snow, light wind and clear blue sky. Yep, stunner of a day and if you happened to be on the Vallée Blanche on the afternoon of 5 May it was impossible to look around and not see big lines being fired: The Ordinary Skiers on the Face Nord of the Tour Ronde and the Finnish Mafia in the Couloir du Diable, to name a couple.

North Face Aiguille du Plan Xavier de Le Rue Andreas FranssonOver on the north side of the Mont Blanc range, the sun worshippers in the Chamonix valley didn’t even need to take off their flip flops to bear witness to cutting edge freeriding. From the comfort of a well-positioned lawnchair one could kick back with a celebratory Cinco de Mayo margarita and see two big-mountain chargers making their way methodically through the junk show of hanging glacier and steep granite that comprise the north face of the Aiguille du Plan.

Face Nord, Aiguille du Plan. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

11:45 Xavier and Andreas complete the Midi-Plan Traverse and settle in to wait for the chopper carrying photo/video pros Tero Repo and Guido Perrini. [Bjahne Salén will also have amazing footage from his angle on high ground]. Despite the blazing sun, here at 3600m the temperature is -10˚C. Shivering in the cold makes it difficult to relax as they study the 2600m face below them. Andreas writes in his blog

“The north face of Aiguille du Plan is not really a ski, it’s more of a mind game where problem solving and keeping one’s cool is much more important than the actual skiing. I had already skied the face two years ago with Tobias Granath and that was probably the first descent in 15 years. This year it’s already had two successful descents. Last time I told myself I was not going to do the face again…”

Xavier de Le Rue. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

12:40 The heli arrives and Xavier drops in to the 40-45˚ snowfield. Within seconds he has a solid understanding of the snow beneath his board and rips five fast powder turns straight down the falline. Andreas traverses skier’s left and follows suit. The snow looks amazing, perfect. It’s an outstanding start – 200 meters down, 300 to go.

12:51 The boys have taken shelter in the shadow of a small serac where they can get a better look at the face below and evaluate their next move. The falline drops straight over several massive seracs before cliffing out to 300m of cold, clear air to granite. A snow ramp angles rider’s right to a corner that’s threatened from above by a 20m serac. From our viewpoint it looks like there may be a thin line of snow on the wall skier’s right and then a rappel to the next snowfield. Between the riders and the corner is a big fracture line. With three crowns.

“I was a bit nervous when the heli showed up because it was like, game on, but I had a really good feeling. There was no wind, perfect sunny day, the snow looked healthy and we just charged these magical turns, just this incredible stuff at the top. It’s funny because it didn’t really feel like we were hanging over the middle of nothing. But then, as soon as we got into exposure, there with this big crown in front of us that had just broken. It showed there was a lot of fresh snow ready to slide.” -Xavier de Le Rue

13:05 Andreas drops in, skis to the corner, then hangs left and disappears into a crack in the wall of the 60m overhanging serac. His head appears over the edge of the ice. He stops moving and we assume he’s drilling a V-thread in the serac to put Xavier on belay.

13:20 Xavier follows, joins Andreas at the belay. The crack in the wall continues for another 10 meters before emerging onto blue water ice.

Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport

13:40 Andreas rappels and rigs an anchor in solid blue ice. From here it’s difficult to see impossible to see how Xavier is going to follow without a top rope. Then again, that’s why Xavier is up there and the rest of us are watching from the golf course.

13:50 With his ice axe out, Xavier slips in and joins Andreas at the belay. Seeing how they make it past the ice will be another highlight in the TimeLine and Standard Films videos when they come out in September. Or ChamonixInsider.com if I can find a way to break into the vault where Guido stashes his hard drives…

Xavier: middle of the screen, in the shadow just near the sun where the granite wall meets the snowfield. Andreas: further right, directly beneath the 60m overhanging serac.

Xavier: middle of the screen, in the shadow just near the sun where the granite wall meets the snowfield. Andreas: further right, directly beneath the 60m overhanging serac. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

13:55 At an angle of 50˚+ the riders are now at one of the steepest parts of the route. Xavier traverses skier’s right towards the edge of the glacier where it meets the wall. Due to the massive serac threatening the route between their belay and the wall, moving quickly through this section is a clear priority. Xavier inches out slowly and to everyone watching, the worst case scenario becomes painfully clear: the snow here is total junk. Andreas later explained, “I couldn’t find the base with my ski pole, it was completely hollow. There was no base.”

14:00 Xavier makes it to the wall and sets a belay. Andreas, skiing delicately, joins him. The snowfield traverses left and down across a snowy shoulder, dips (if you were ski basing, this is where you’d want to point it), then crosses a snow spine, dipping further left to a rocky ridge that separates them from a rock cliff with an east aspect leading down to a snowy football field. Some of this section is protected by towers in the wall above.

14:15 A rider leads out and glides smoothly, confidently, over to the steep spine and links solid, controlled turns down the crest of the spine. The next rider does the same, skis out right to the rocky shoulder and out of sight to set a belay. Fully committed, fully controlled. I’m blown away by what I’m seeing.

Andreas crests the rocky ridge towards the east aspect as Xavier traverses. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDP Freesports.

14:26 Due to the east aspect we are unable to get a clear view of how they make it down the cliff to the snowy football field below. Andreas’s blog mentions a ‘hidden couloir … with great snow.’ They traverse right to an apparent belay high and skier’s right to steep turns down to the football field. The boys are far from being finished but they’re past the difficult skiing and the crew gathered in the Flégère parking lot breathe a huge sigh of relief. The only thing between the riders and a veggie burger is 150 meters of rappels down blank, compact slabs.

Xavier and Andreas opt to descend via the slabs on the right bank of the glacier. they traverse over and find Andreas’s anchor from two years before.He replaces the webbing and the rappelling starts. Protection is extremely difficult to find in the compact granite. On the second rappel, Andreas raps to within five feet of the end of their 60-meter ropes before finding a crack that would take two #7 stoppers.

“Yes, they were in the same crack, but that’s all there was and I backed it up with a half-good knifeblade. Still, there’s two big boys with ski equipment hanging from this belay and well … it was pretty intense.” -Andreas Fransson

16:30 The guys are kicking back with a coke and a smile at the buvette at the mid-station. In four hours of steep skiing on a variety of snow and heavily-exposed terrain the team had made a balls-out descent of the north face of the Plan de l’Aiguille in fine style.

Andreas Fransson, Xavier de Le Rue, face nord, Aiguille du Plan (3673m).

Andreas Fransson, Xavier de Le Rue, face nord, Aiguille du Plan (3673m), 5 May 2011. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

In Mont Blanc et Aiguilles Rouges à ski, Anselme Baud rates the route TD+ / 45-55˚/500m (passages of 55˚). Laurent Giacometti and Jean-Marc Boivin were the first to ski it in 1977. Some may think that yet another descent hardly makes this ‘cutting edge.’ In fact, by calling it that, the thing to which I’d like to draw your attention is the outstanding style with which the two rode a heavy, heavy line. If there’s any criticism that can be leveled at the two it’s that they hung it pretty far out there. Yes, they did. They charged this beast with both barrels blazing and they stuck it. Full respect.

Kai Palkeinin, Chamonix Freeride Center, Andreas Fransson

Chamonix Freeride Center's Kai Palkeinen and a much more relaxed Andreas Fransson following the post-Plan, pre-AK repair.

“Taking my boots off in the parking lot I discovered something that explained the bad feeling I had at the top. Just before I took off I double-checked my boots and bindings like always, but this time there was a small gap under the left heel allowing me to lift the boot up and down 1 cm in the binding. I thought the binding was just getting old or something but taking the boots off I realised the boot was broken and the metal piece on the heel was gone. Skiing was fine without it as long as I stayed on the middle of my foot…” -Andreas Fransson, from his blog report.

“I drilled out the old screw, used a secondary Low Tech piece, put a bigger screw in, bit of Araldite. It’s 110% now.” -Kai Palkeinen, Chamonix Freeride Center, post-Plan, pre-AK.

“I think this is the first time it has taken me four hours to get down a mountain – normally it takes me 20 seconds. It was one helluva run. Done. Probably never again.” -Xavier de Le Rue.

5 May 2011 - The light shines on Andreas Fransson and Xavier de Le Rue

“The best part of the route was getting back to the lift station. This is not a run you do for fun because there is so much objective danger. It’s not like you go there to enjoy yourself.” – Andreas Fransson

Xavier de Le Rue, Nissan Juke, Chamonix

Everybody go out now and buy a slick new Nissan Juke just like Xavier's so they will continue their generous support of these kinds of shenanigans.

Check out these high-res images and loads more over at http://www.JDPfreesports.com. Photo mashup: ChamonixInsider vs Alex di Suvero.

First Descent of Grand Gendarme d’Envers du Plan – East Couloir

What a difference a year makes, right? Here we are in early April scraping for leftovers while this time last year Andreas Fransson was throwing down the first descent of the east couloir of the Grand Gendarme d’Envers du Plan. In a valley where first ascents are hard to come by you gotta respect a guy who rolls in from Sweden and snaps up one of the rare gems.

The east couloir is between the Grand Gendarme d'Envers du Plan and the Pain de Sucre

François Damilano’s Neige, Glace et Mixte, tome 2, gives a climbing grade of IV, 5, M (700m) and not much more. Andreas reckons “it was probably 40-50˚ the whole way.” Bear in mind that Andreas is Swedish, so for Americans it’s a solid 60-70˚ fer sure.

And here’s the POV shot by Andreas with interview and editing by Bjarne Sahlén

Me, I’m thinking I woulda skipped the rappels and opted instead for a straightline to my patented starfish helicopter (always a crowd pleaser), but that’s just me.

Andreas made the first ski descent on 8 April 2010. Happy first descent day. Respect. For more of his big mountain shenanigans, check out his blog at http://andreasfransson.blogspot.com/.

And if you want to ski like him, you’ll need to get yourself some Haglöfs clothing, Nordica skis, Oakley eyewear, Dynafit boots/binders and POC protection.

High Mountain Hijinks: Andreas Fransson, Morgan Sahlén, Couloir Jager

Andreas Fransson, Morgan Sahlén, Couloir Jager (TD+ 45˚-55˚/700m)

Videographer Bjarne Sahlén sent me this little video exactly a week ago today so I thought I’d celebrate this joyous anniversary by posting it. What the heck, that’s just the kind of guy I am.

Bjarne stalks Andreas Fransson and Morgan Sahlén as they descend the Jager on the coldest day of the year when it was -28˚C at the top of the Midi. Brrr… Keep your eyes peeled to see if you can spot the cameo appearance by Jon Bracey on his way up to climb the Carli-Chassagne (III 4. 1000m) on the north side of the Midi. Probably took him a good 20 minutes or so. Slacker.

Rare video footage of the Jäger yeti who some mistakenly believe is thus called due to local legend that he lives in a snow cave near the Couloir Jager when in fact the Jäger yeti carries this distinction due to the overwhelming number of sightings that occur after a big night out.

For those who exist outside the bubble, the Couloir Jager is located on the east face of the Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m) looker’s right of the Couloir Gervasutti. It was first skied on 7 March 1977 by Jacky Bessat. Anselme Baud describes it as 700m at 45˚-55˚. Right then, just another stroll in the park.

This is where I would have straight-lined it. Just sayin.

Morgan Sahlén taking the manly way down. Rockin’ the teles. Respect.

 

Fully dedicated. Bjarne Sahlén freezing his buns off to get the shot.