I have just completed the Frendo in one hit, through the night and topped out in the morning. Nice route, tricky in place (in the dark), very long and strenuous. Why has this route only been graded as a D+, when the northface of Tour Ronde is rated D, and is only a 300m snow slope with a bit of ice. Either the Frendo is under rated, or Tour ronde is over rated.
In reply to kevinroet: Well done Kevin. The Frendo was my very first alpine route in about 1970 and to be frank, with our lack of experience, it was too hard for us even though we got up it. Back then most parties finished up the rognon which is condiderably harder than anything else on the route. I didn't find the Walker that much harder but by then I was better prepared. The cable car takes the seriousness away and if that was not there I would say it would warrant TD. The thing is with Tour Ronde however is that it's a more serious approach and descent and more condition dependent and this is taken into account when grading. Another anomaly is the Rebuffat on the South Face of the Midi. That also gets TD I believe but it felt less serious than a day on Cloggy when we did it even though technically it's about E1 5b.
I hope your are enjoying yourself, I'm flying out there on Friday.
In reply to kevinroet: most pure ice-routes are over-rated, as they are still graded for old ice-gear, while rock routes have largely retained their difficulty, ice-routes have de-facto become much more straightforward. The descent off the Tour Ronde remains a serious undertaking however, as there is little protection and all parties are funneled above one another. There was a very bad accident here a few years ago as a consequence.
If you think the Frendo is hard, try the Ryan-Lochmatter on the East ridge of the Plan - still conventionally graded the same as the Frendo, but in reality in an entirely different league.
In reply to kevinroet: The other thing worth mentioning is that when many of these routes were put up there wasn't such an ethical approach to style. Getting up and back in a timely fashion was the main objective, and still should be IMO, so there was liberal use of pegs for aid and this should also be taken into account as this goes some way to explaining someof the anomalies.
In reply to kevinroet: The essential is that the old Vallot grading system was indicative of technical difficulty at the time of being put up. It did not take into account length of route, remoteness, or seriousness. So big routes like the south side of Mount Blanc or the Verte got the same grading as some piddling route on the Peigne or the S face of the Midi or even the N face of the Tour Ronde. (the same thing seems to apply today to some trivial outing on the Aiguilles rouges). The descent had nothingn to do with it. Incidentally, I found the nearness of the cable car on the Frendo totally illusory. On the contrary it seemed to show how far you were away from help!
In reply to Al Randal: Interesting. I did the TR N face (FA 1886) in 1966 with KC Gordon, an afficionado of the Johnny Lees school. We had just done the Forbes without crampons but this time I went on strike. Re descents the TR is the ordinary route, no descent for Midi or Frendo. Rubberboots 100 best (1973) is instructive. TR=35; Frendo 62 mixed D rock with one bit V; Major 90, D en altitude followed by Nant Blanc. Then with modern techniques the abberation of the Swiss route at 94 (cf Triolet 88); Walker (one ahead of Croz) 97, ED 50 pegs, TD if more. Both the descent of Major and Nant Blanc are serious, but are still graded D in Vallot. It shows the necessity for having a guide book library in the loo for research. Have a good trip.
In reply to Bruce Hooker: Indeed, there is Alpine Climbing and climbing in the Alps - the two are very different indeed. For instance, the Rebuffat on the Midi and the rock routes in the Aigulles Rouges are definitely climbing in the Alps and something like the Gallet Ridge on Mont Dolent, Alpine Climbing. The fact that the same grading system is used for both is where confusion comes I guess, but then you can always look at the descent and length of the route too
In reply to Al Randall: Back in 1969 and I assume 1970 it was graded TD in the guide, and thus qualified as a 'grand tour' for ACG qualification. It may be conditions dependent but I can't really see it being less than TD- in any conditions.
In reply to kevinroet:
The Frendo is very long and committing in that the easiest way off is to finish it but it isn't that hard technically and obviously has a very easy descent, so for me it doesn't quite make the TD grade. Not that I've got much to compare it to - the only TD route I've done is the Chamonix Aiguilles traverse, which is much longer, more committing and from memory has three pitches that are technically harder than anything on the Frendo, so in my book that qualifies as a proper TD route. Another example is the Drus traverse which is D+, haven't done it but to my mind that's a much bigger and scarier undertaking than the Frendo. Tour Ronde is a bit generous at D. On the whole though I think Alpine routes can be so varied that you have to look at a lot more than the given grade.
In reply to Misha: So what everyone seems to be agreeing is that the Alpine grading system has been left behind by events, and is now pretty archaic and misleading.
It is all very well saying "if you ask around a bit you will get the gen and find out what the real difficulty is, but that is like old-style UK guidebooks (yes, Swanage, I am looking at you!), where everyone knew certain routes were drastically undergraded but if you asked a few of the wise, they would drop you dark hints.
It kind of takes away the point of a grading system and guidebook, which is supposed to provide information, not conceal it. Alpine grading really needs a new grading system, but I doubt if it will get a generally agreed one.
For what it is worth, I think D+ is about right for the Frendo, but the TR North face is D- at most, while the Ryan Lochmatter on the Plan is easily TD-.
In reply to Simon4: Perhaps. But there is deep history in all this and understanding the evolution of routes is simply part if the game. Everyone seems today to want a simple answer without taking the trouble of researching. Which is why they all go for the pop routes and few go for the hidden gems.
It would be difficult to do without creating something even heavier, there are so many variables. There may be a few that need regrading a touch but any guide book description will just add a line such as "D but serious for the grade" or mention of descent difficulties, variable conditions etc. Apart from anything else any new system could never take into account whether the climb is in condition or not, and even explaining what this means require a chunk of text.
There are many TD or TD+ rock routes which can be done by many after a 2 or 3 years rock climbing whereas some TD true alpine routes can be well out of the reach of even experienced alpinists at the top of their ability. It just can't be conveyed accurately in a few figures and letters.
In reply to kevinroet:
I thought the grade was about right, despite being benighted due to a snowstorm. It just felt 'long' due to lack of acclimatisation on the two week annual holiday.
Getting back to the campsite so quickly, after topping out, is a rare novelty!
In reply to Simon4:
No doubt why Damilano departed from the traditional grades in Snow, Ice and Mixed above AD+ (or is it D). A double grade of seriousness and technical difficulty is useful. But even if there's only a single grade, the route description will often mention the technical difficulty for crux passages. If it doesn't, we can only assume an average level of difficulty for the grade. Anyway, the difficulty of the crux often isn't the most important thing. Whereas the length and commitment involved should be obvious from the route description and the topo. Clearly in choosing an Alpine route people should look at a lot more than just the grade, it's not like Stanage! Grades are still useful though as a TD will generally be harder than a D, particularly for similar types of routes. Besides, where would grade debates like this one be without grades? I don't suppose I'm saying anything you don't already know, just trying to bring it all together.
Alpine grading really needs a new grading system, but I doubt if it will get a generally agreed one.
I agree current grades are not always that illuminating but I doubt that for the "classic" alpinism grades of say F-D+ any new system would be much better. All that could really ever be said is that in vaguely average conditions for vaguely typical climbers the sum of all the various relevant factors mean this route will be more or less challenging than that route. The current system pretty much does this.
In reply to kevinroet: I've done the route twice. First time as a novice in my early 20's and accordingly quite fit. We soloed across the glacier at the bottom where I fell several hundred feet and nearly went down a crevasse, impaling myself with my ice axe in the knee in the process. We carried far too much gear, bivid at the bottom then got caught out and had to bivi near the top of the snow arete. I got frostbite in my toe and my mouth swelled up like a balloon because I had licked off all my lip protection. At the time I was climbing Extreme in the UK but the experience put me off alpine climbing for a couple of years and I thought the route was desperate.
Fast forward 30 odd years and I find myself on the route again at the age of 57 and not so fit. We stayed in the Plan hut, ascended in the day and caught the last tele cabin down. This time I found the route relatively straightforward and much more enjoyable.
In reply to kevinroet: I climbed the route on Saturday, after having it on my ticklish for several years but never getting round to it.
I actually found it a little underwhelming, the climbing is easy and route did not actually feel that long.
Due to the warm temperatures we bivied at the Plan station, leaving at around 4:15am. We moved together, climbing in boots up the first half of the rock section including the Rateau de Chevre crux, before swapping into rock shoes at the short col before the more sustained climbing. Once at the top of this it was back into boots and crampons and we moved together all the way to the top, arriving at 11:15am. 7 Hours in total.
I think D is a fair grade. None of the climbing is technically difficult save for the two short cruxes and I thought the route finding was fairly obvious. It is extremely accessible, and fairly escapable with short approaches and descents and little objective danger.
With regard to the comparisons to the North Face of the Tour Ronde. Yes the route is much shorter, but as many have pointed out you have the descent to take into account as well. I would suggest AD+/D-.
In reply to MJF: I am willing to bet that you skirted the upper Rognon. Nothing wrong with that, it makes for a much more homgeneous route, but the climbing is much harder on there than anything below. How many of the pitches did you "pitch"? The first time I did it the guy I was with insisted that we belay all the way and that is NOT the way to do it.
In reply to Al Randall: like you I climbed this many years ago when the usual route was via the rognon at the top which seemed like UK HVS & much harder than any of the lower rock buttress(although by then we were tired & my partner was feeling the altitude so I ended up leading the whole section). Should the overall grade be the same for the old route as the newer version (staying on snow/ice at the top) ?
In reply to Al Randall: We only made two short pitches over the two rock cruxes. Other than that we moved together the entire way, including the snow and ice at the top.
With regard to the Rognon, I have actually been thinking that to finish direct would be much more aesthetic. I'd be quite keen to try it the next time I do the route, what standard would you say the climbing is?
In reply to MJF: Well it's a hell of a long time ago now and at that time I was at the end of my tether but I seem to recall a couple of pitches that were at least HVS and possibly even E1. A slightly rising traverse line seems to stick in my mind with a little niche at the end of it. We climbed it all in big boots so it would probably feel easier in rock boots.
In reply to Doug: If you put the Walker and the Frendo side by side and include the Rognon on the Frendo I'm not sure that I would rate the Walker as that much harder. Climbing the Frendo the way I did it the second time however, avoiding the rognon, makes the Frendo significantly easier. As I said earlier and despite what some have stated, IMO the Walker gets and warrants the higher grade because of it's position and altitude.
In reply to Al Randall: There you are, the product of experience. In 1971 we soloed the bottom rock by torchlight, nothing very difficult about the end of the rock, particularly in boots. Snow became icy where the angle changes and then the rognon. Ah! There were so many false lines and finding the right one was a problem. Sure, the Walker these days is much less of a problem and owes its reputation as a hangover from The Three Last Problems. But unfortunately I never got it. That is why I find Rebuffat list interesting. I have done 66 or, so of the first 90 but never the top 10 ( I wasn't trying to do it as a tick list). Allowing for changes in ice technique and rock protection and what seem some bizarre choices today at the start, it still remains an interesting guide to relative difficulties.
> (In reply to Doug) If you put the Walker and the Frendo side by side and include the Rognon on the Frendo I'm not sure that I would rate the Walker as that much harder.
I've soloed the Frendo (with the rognon finish), and I've climbed the Walker. The Walker is a much harder proposition all around; in length, sustained difficulties; and in overall seriousness. Which is exactly what the grades indicate.
I would tend to argue that the cruxes on the Frendo were understated, or certainly by those who I spoke to before climbing it. I'm not sure whether the grade warrants adjusting, although I do think the Alpine grade system requires further depth, perhaps the addition of a tech grade.
In reply to Rob Parsons: I didn't mean to give the impression that the Frendo is as hard as the Walker. Is it really any longer? Not a great deal I wouldn't have thought. All my books are out on loan so I can't check. I also agree that the easier pitches are more sustained but still possible by climbing together. Put the Frendo right next to the Walker and I suspect it would get at least TD+ maybe even ED1 so it's not a million miles away grade wise.
In reply to kevinroet: Just wanted to put a big public thanks to Mr Kevinroet who after a post on here sent me a very helpful email full of beta (which was what I asked about). It is much appreciated and very helpful.
In reply to MJF: I climbed the Rognon via the standard grade V cracks to the large ledge where the original line traverses left. I then climbed a crack which curved up and rightwards before finishing direct to the top of the Rognon. I would think in UK terms it would be HVS/E1 5B. Lovely bit of climbing, the best bit of the whole route IMO.
In reply to kevinroet: Has anyone seen the new 100 finest routes book by Batoux? In lieu of my first trip to the Alps in September I bought it for some inspiration and ideas and (obviously not speaking from experience) the grade system employed there seems informative: He uses firstly an "alpine commitment grade" which takes into account the approach, descent, objective hazards, length, altitude etc, followed by a series of techincal grades for the hardest sections of each climbing style such as mixed, ice, rock, aid etc. To a budding alpinist this seems like a pretty sensible way to "grade" a route?
In reply to MrRiley: Yeah, I had a good thumb through that book while in Chamonix and it seemed really good. The whole order of the book made a lot of sense too, as number one was something that basically anyone could manage, by 50 it was fairly serious mountaineering, and by 100 it was cutting edge. The crude numbers gave a very quick way to get an idea of overall difficulty. When I get some cash I might buy a copy.
> As I claim above: for me, and plenty of others over many years, the existing grading system (along with the detailed route descriptions found in the guides) has worked very well.
> For anybody with a different opinion: please give details of traditional routes you've done in which a more complex system would have given a better overall picture.
But if you've read the guide book you would know this. You can't expect a grading system to do all your work for you in complex mountain situations... It's not like grading a gritstone edge, and that's what makes it so much more interesting.
Isn't that the descent that Desmaison or someone similar mentions in his biography? It's true that descents are rarely fully described - the descent from the Petit Dru being an exception... part of the fun
> Had diligently read the guidebook before experiencing the descent, but its pure awfulness & looseness still took my breath away, itís of a level difficult to anticipate before encountering first hand!
I haven't done that route (either up or down), but the existing guidebook grade and description (*) gives an idea of what it might be like.
My question was/is: are you suggesting a *better* way to grade it? If so, what? Thanks.
(* AC 1990 guide: 'PD+ ... It is a long scramble of little technical difficulty over broken ground, but the complexities of route-finding are not be underestimated.'
More recent guides/info add that the route has deteriorated due to rockfall.
For me, that all gives a picture of what I might find.)
> (In reply to MrRiley) Yeah, I had a good thumb through that book while in Chamonix and it seemed really good. The whole order of the book made a lot of sense too, as number one was something that basically anyone could manage, by 50 it was fairly serious mountaineering, and by 100 it was cutting edge.
I think you might have cracked the Alpine grading conundrum.
Grade routes 1 to 100 in relation to where they would fit in the book.