Kendal Preview: The Ecrins XS Challenge with Jerry Gore

Back in early September, we reported on Jerry Gore, Gaz Parry and Giles Cornah repeating Unchi Maka on the South West Face of Sialouze, France. This was the fourth part of the Ecrins XS Challenge which Jerry will be talking about at this year's Kendal Mountain Festival. In this short article he describes his motivation for the challenge and the four routes it involved.

THE ECRINS MASSIF - EXTREME ALPINISM AND AGEING - Saturday 19 November 9:30 to 10:30 - buy tickets

The Ecrins XS Challenge

Kids, mortgage, no time to climb, fat belly – I always thought being 40 was hard work! But after hitting 50 I realised things were getting serious. It was time to do those long dreamed of routes or forget it and buy an X-Box 360! Living in the Ecrins Massif with no fewer than 670 multi pitch rock routes the choice was easy – in true Brit fashion I thought I'd have a pop at the 4 hardest ones – The Ecrins XS Challenge was born! The rules for my selection were easy. The routes had to be alpine in nature which meant a glacial approach, at least 3,000m in height and technically the toughest in the Massif.

So after hours spent rummaging through the Ecrins Bible – Oisans Nouveau, Oisans Sauvage – Livres Est and Ouest by the multi-pitch guru (Lord) Michel Cambon - I came up with four corkers and immediately set to work - serious negotiations with my wife Jackie.

I started the challenge in 2009, then did nothing in 2010 due to a herniated spinal disc and generally because I couldn't be bothered. But after 6 months on the couch I arose, a bit wobbly but determined. And in a 6 week bout of non-stop dad-dancing I'd cracked it!

PAVE DANS LA MARE (ED+, 7b, 400m) – S. FACE PAVE PEAK (3,824m)

In August 2009, after a failed effort with my local mate Giles Cornah, I ticked "The Mare" with my old friend Nick Dixon. What a route, what a face, and what a lovely guy Nick is to climb with. Despite 30 years of climbing I learnt so much from Nick about the motivation needed to climb E9 – gin traps and an afternoon of dare with Leo Houlding – another article another time!

Pave offers the highest pitches of 7th grade climbing anywhere in the Ecrins Massif. Forget the 7 hour (1700m of ascent) approach to the Refuge, the complex glacier crossing, continuously overhanging rock throughout, and the use of trad gear to ensure safety. The bottom line is this route is iconic and a full-on E5 experience; 22 hours hut to hut. Slow I know, even for dad-dancers, but we did totally muck up the descent and believe me Five tennies with strapped on crampons are not the best on steep glaciers!

Jerry Gore and Nick Dixon on the summit of Pave Peak, Ecrins, 188 kb
Jerry Gore and Nick Dixon on the summit of Pave Peak, Ecrins
© Jerry Gore,
Nick Dixon on Pave dans la Mare, South Face of Pave Peak. , 223 kb
Nick Dixon on Pave dans la Mare, South Face of Pave Peak.
© Jerry Gore,


In late September of 2009, together with Giles Cornah, I managed an all-free ascent of this humongous (1100m) rock climb that finishes right at the top of the North Peak of the twin summated Olan. Commonly known as "The Direct", we reckoned the difficulties to be around E4/5 in the middle section of the face with a superb rising traverse pitch at E3 that cuts through the headwall right at the top of the climb – "hanging out on hand jams you could look down the entire 1000m. route – totally willldddd!" I thought. Exposure – 100%!

Sadly darkness overtook us on the descent, forcing an open bivvy above 3,000m with only a space blanket for protection! Being a diabetic my first worry was not having enough food to sustain my blood sugars. But as it turned out voluntary man slaughter through hugging was the real danger!

Gies Cornah starting out on the headwall of the North Face of the Olan., 195 kb
Gies Cornah starting out on the headwall of the North Face of the Olan.
© Jerry Gore,
Giles Cornah and Jerry Gore on the summit of the North Face of Olan., 208 kb
Giles Cornah and Jerry Gore on the summit of the North Face of Olan.
© Jerry Gore,


The start of this summer's rock action was Wakantanka, supposedly a warm-up for greater things. But as it turned out it was nails – with pitches graded 6b that felt more like exposed 7a you know it aint going to be easy. Plus the quality of rock on this side of the Sialouze is much more granular and gritty - challenging on 7c ground which the legendary 5th pitch definitely is! The route was finally finished in 1990 after the best in the World at the time including Patrick Edlinger failed to free it. It was left to local Ecrins legend Jacques Perrier, alias "Pschitt", to finally do the business. The result is an outstandingly sustained and exposed climb - in a word – bloody desperate!

Giles Cornah at the bivvy with Wakantanka behind., 221 kb
Giles Cornah at the bivvy with Wakantanka behind.
© Jerry Gore,
Regisse, the mysterious third man on Wakantanka., 233 kb
Regisse, the mysterious third man on Wakantanka.
© Jerry Gore,

UNCHI MAKA (ABO, 8a, 450m) – SW FACE OF SIALOUZE (3,576m)

The final tick was Unchi Maka with Gaz Parry and Giles on 24th August, scooping the first GB ascent in the process. This new grand voie is now arguably the hardest alpine wall in the Southern French Alps. Graded ABO (abominable!), with a crux pitch of 8a, it has a further 6 pitches between 7a and 7c+. Never impossible but always engaging with pitches that required both bolts and trad gear the action was intense. Having spent all winter laid up with a buggered back dreaming of this line my final reward was Pitch 11 – an horrendous overhanging off-width crack. I thought Gaz's 8a roof was a trifle in comparison!

The SW face of Sialouze. Unchi Maka goes straight up the centre., 152 kb
The SW face of Sialouze. Unchi Maka goes straight up the centre.
© Jerry Gore,
Gaz Parry on the penultimate pitch of Unchi Maka., 208 kb
Gaz Parry on the penultimate pitch of Unchi Maka.
© Jerry Gore,

Jerry Gore in the Ecrins, 138 kb

Jerry Gore runs Alpbase situated in the Ecrins Massif-Hautes Alpes, in the heart of the Southern French Alps. Jerry will be talking about the Ecrins XS Challenge at this year's Kendal Film Festival.

See Jerry Gore at the Kendal Mountain Festival 2011

THE ECRINS MASSIF - EXTREME ALPINISM AND AGEING - Saturday 19 November 9:30 to 10:30 - buy tickets
Mountaineer, businessman, father, ex-Royal Marine - Jerry Gore's life has been eventful to say the least. His enduring passion is for big wall climbing with first ascents from Borneo to the Bugaboos. Jerry talks about these experiences and how being diagnosed in 2001 as a diabetic hasn't slowed him down in the slightest. Less well known than the Mont Blanc Massif, the Ecrins is nevertheless a truly great range with lots of potential for exploration and some epic routes. Jerry has not only made these stunningly beautiful mountains his home, but has set about his own personal odyssey to both overcome the debilitating effects of diabetes while undertaking cutting edge, exploratory climbs of great quality on three extreme walls.

The Kendal Mountain Festival 2011

Kendal Mountain Festival - Ticket Information, Lectures, market research, commercial notices Premier Post, 8 weeks @ GBP 25pw, 11 kb


The dates are 17 to 20 November and tickets are available now. Book online - - or by phone 01539 725133 - news as it happens at


Easily accessible from the M6 and by train and there are plenty of accommodation options in and around the town but you need to be on your toes as they fill up very quickly over the Mountain Festival weekend.

For all your questions, accommodation and travel needs go to here you will find all the information you should need for your visit to Cumbria, alternatively call the accommodation booking line on 0845 450 1199.

More news about Kendal Mountain Festival

kendal Mountain festival Sponsors 2011, 39 kb
Kendal Mountain Festival Sponsors 2011
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Jerry Gore,

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