On the 7th February Aymeric Clouet, Jérome Para, and Pierre Labbre set off on a 5 day climb of the Super Integral making this the 3rd complete winter ascent. To top it off they added a new route on the Freney face of Mont Blanc before summiting Western Europe's highest peak and walking back down into France.
UKC had a brief report on this a few days ago (UKC News) but now have full details from Jon Griffith:
The 'standard' Peuterey Integral takes a line up Europe's biggest route with a total of 4500m of climbing - none of it very hard but it is committing and long. It is maybe one of only a handful of routes in the Alps that will feel expedition in its scale. The Super Integral was the brain child of Renato Casarotto who did its first ascent, solo, over 15 days in February 1983. The Super Integral heads up the same impressive ridge line of the Integral that most climbers have gazed at from the tunnel entrance on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, but climbs a set of harder routes on the west side of the ridge.
The start of both climbs is the imposing Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. The Super Integral starts on its West face up the Ratti-Vitali, then onto the Boccalatte-Gervasutti on the Gugliermina (a lower summit on the Aiguille blanche de Peuterey). From here you continue up easy slopes to the summit of the Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey and rap down a few hundred metres to the Col de Peuterey which brings you right in front of the Freney Face of the Mont Blanc. The Super Integral takes the infamous Freney Pillar to the summit of Mont Blanc. The trio however finished via a new winter line between then Freney and Dérobé Pillars, thus not only completing the Super Integral in winter but also adding a new line on one of the Alps's most impressive faces.
"In town, we cross the road, walk into the closest bar, order three beers, three steaks, chips and salad..."
On the morning of the 7th, the trio hitched a lift with the ski mobiles that service the restaurants higher up the Val Veny Valley and were dropped off at the start of the walk up to the Monzino hut. Once off the piste they started breaking a deep trail hampered by two 23kg bags and one 16kg one on their backs. They swapped positions every 45 mins.
"About 5 hours later we passed underneath the Monzino hut. Luckily that morning we spoke to a Courmayeur guide who advised us to pass over the Col de L'Innominata instead of the left bank of the Freney glacier to join the foot of the Noire. Another five hours and an abseil to get to the Innominata Col and we arrived at 7pm at the base of the Noire. It's steep!" Commented Jerome Para.
"Our first meal and we noticed that our freeze dried food sachets had zip locks on them to keep the warmth in whilst the contents cooked. So we decided to put them in our sleeping bags to keep them as warm as possible. We hadn't thought that you still have to be gentle with them though and not make any quick movements...when a characteristic noise of falling ice not far off forced us to throw ourselves onto the floor to protect ourselves. The food sachets exploded and spread all over the inside of the sleeping bags. Check mate."
The following morning saw the trio head off early for the Ratti-Vitali with day packs as they planned on rapping back down the route. Clouet started on the lead climbing in blocks of 5 leads before swapping over. Labbre took over the lead block with the A1 pitch on and was the first to don rock shoes.
He said: "At 5pm we were on the summit around the statue of the Virgin, who by the way was over the moon to see us...but we are not easy boys to handle! Abseil descent in the day at first, easy, then nighttime, a bit more involved. Return at the bivy at 8pm. The temperatures plummet as soon as the sun sets."
Day 3 and they headed off for the Boccalatte-Gervasutti on the Gugliermina. Two hours of easy climbing up the Schneider ledges brought them to the base of the route proper.
"The climbing seemed less steep and reminded me of L'Oisans where I started to climb. Not easy to protect and after three pitches we decided to haul the leaders bag, just when I passed over the lead block! At around 4pm we got to a nice ledge and in two hours it would be dark. Labbre, not even thinking the possibility of stopping before night, continued straight up into the steep wall above us. He was right though; we arrive just as it gets dark on a nice terrace 30m below the summit. That night the wind picked up and buffeted us in our sleeping bags til the alarm went off." commented Jerome.
Arriving at the summit of the Aiguille Blanche at around mid day the next day, the trio had to decide what to do next:
"Aymeric wanted to descend the Grand Pillier D'Angle and do the Bonatti-Zapelli the following morning, in order to make the enchainment a bit more original. Peter and I weren't so sure...and then we'd been carrying all our mixed gear from the start for nothing so far. We decide finally to descend to the col and leave for the Freeny side the next morning. Our plan was to do two routes: the Frost-Harlin on the Dérobé Pillar (to the left of the Freney Pillar), come back down and sleep a the base, then climb Fantomasitc the next day. Whilst we're here, we may as well make use of it." explained Jerome.
Up at 3am the next morning and they arrived at sunrise at the foot of the Pillar. Above them lay the couloir that splits the Central Pillar and the Dérobé Pillar and they realised that it was not on the topo - a new unclimbed winter line. Without hesitation they change plans and Para took the first block:
"It was magnificent, sustained but never really hard. Old ice chocked the back of a system of corners and cracks. I was climbing in the sun at 4400m on a dream route. I made a belay at the foot of the pitch that had worried us since the start and Aymeric took the lead. We don't have a big cam with us, which was dearly missed on such a wide crack. I watched Aymeric's calves shake up and down like a sowing machine." he said.
Another nine easier pitches brought them to the summit of the Pillars when it got dark. Still hours away from the summit of Mont Blanc they were now starting to feel tired.
"9pm: Summit! The emotion of finally having done something exceptional was overwhelming. A glacial wind picked up, -23 degrees. We descended down to the Vallot hut. The last night, the frozen sleeping bags looked like they were full of petanque balls, our feet were ruined, and the granite (aided by the cold) had ripped the skin from our fingers. The next day we descended the Gouter route. It's the first time I've been here without a client! And finally the railway line that bring us to the Bellevue ski area. Three odd smelling alpinists passing through the deck chairs of the sunbathing women, without saying a word we get in the lift. In town, we cross the road, walk into the closest bar, order three beers, three steaks, chips and salad."