The north face of the Grande Jorasses is a magnet for modern Alpinists. Tucked high up the Leschaux glacier, the mountain has maintained some of its inaccessibility, an adventurous place, quiet and still, away from the ski lifts and noise of neighbouring Chamonix.
Stacked across the kilometre long face are many adventurous routes, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the mighty Walker Spur; a giant buttress of rock, first climbed by legendary Alpinist, Ricardo Cassin. However with the advent of better equipment, and perhaps the onset of global warming, winter routes are more and more becoming the norm.
Snow and ice routes, such as The Shroud and even the harder Colton-MacIntyre are now relatively popular excursions for competent Alpinists, offering world class climbing it an amazing mountain setting, but when it was first climbed, the Colton-MacIntyre had a fierce reputation and one that should not be underestimated even now:
“In the Alps the north face of the Grandes Jorasses was a forcing point for advances in alpine mixed climbing. In 1976 Nick Colton and Alex MacIntyre climbed a line of icy runnels and chimneys on the right flank of the Walker Spur. While the Colton/MacIntyre also comprises difficult ice and rock climbing, the main difficulties are mixed. When it was first climbed,the route was undoubtedly one of the hardest of its kind in the world.”
Degrees of Freedom by Raphael Slawinski (American Alpine Journal 2002)
“Alex MacIntyre and Nick Colton finished a line on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses that had been attempted by Dougal Haston, Chris Bonington, Mick Burke, and Bev Clark during a 17-day siege in January, 1972. The Colton-MacIntyre is still considered a relevant climb, having swatted down a fair number of talented suitors. Colton and MacIntyre applied modern ice technique on a remote and austere face, taking the discipline to its logical conclusion.”
The Alps, A glance at modern alpine style by Claude Gardien. (American Alpine Journal 2001)
Recently, mountain athlete (surely he can be described in no other way?) Ueli Steck onsight soloed the Colton-MacIntyre route in an astonishing two hours and twenty minutes, opting to take a harder variation crux (Alexis) that featured vertical and overhanging ice.
British Alpinists Nick Bullock, Kenton Cool and Matt Helliker recently climbed the Colton-MacIntyre route, and they have put together a short video of their experience.
There has been discussion by them on the UKC Forums, detailing their ascent. A stand-out comment was made by fellow Alpine Guide and super-fit ski athlete Jon Bracey:
“Ueli Steck - 2 hrs 20. Bullock, Cool & Helliker - 15 hrs 30. Too many cakes lads!”
This comment was clearly a joke with his friends, but shows just what level Steck is operating at. Bullock, Helliker and Cool are among our best Alpinists, are super-fit and move extremely quickly in the mountains. Their time on the route was extremely fast. Steck is operating in a league of his own.
Recently UKClimbing.com held a film competition. The runner up was Alison Stockwell's film featuring Nick Colton. You can watch it here and meet Nick, who made the first ascent of the Colton-MacIntyre.