Alps Tour-de-force for Unger, Griffith and Sim

Geoff Unger, Jon Griffith and Will Sim on the summit of the Grandes Jorasses, 158 kb
Geoff Unger, Jon Griffith and Will Sim on the summit of the Grandes Jorasses
© Jon Griffith / Alpine Exposures
American mountain guide Geoff Unger teamed up with British alpinists Jon Griffith and Will Sim to climb the north face of the Grandes Jorasses via the intimidating Manitua route, one of the hardest of its type in the Mont Blanc range.

Will Sim described the route:

"I'm an alpine climber and my experience of big walling is pretty much zero, but a route on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses which could almost be classed as a "big wall" has been on my mind for several years. "Manitua" splits through the centre of the extremely compact and steep monolith which forms the left flank of the Croz Spur. Starting up the Croz couloir then traversing towards No Siesta, before launching through the wall and moderate mixed ground above the Croz icefield and the Croz its self, Manitua could be described as a "mini-big wall" sandwiched by an alpine winter north face.

First climbed by the legendary Slavko Svetecic in 1991 in summer, the wall section was given 6c and A3, with a single bolt placed on the blank crux aid pitch, which was ripped out by a falling Remy Escoffier, making this pitch a real spicy one. As it stands in 2012 the route has seen a handful of summer repeats, and a smaller handful of winter ascents, which in this vogue, makes Manitua a very cold, slow and heavy ordeal."

Very dry conditions on the face meant that only a select few routes were possible, and the team finished the very final section of Manitua via the more classical route of the Croz Spur, also finding dangerously dry and loose conditions and taking a slight variation line to top out.

Will Sim jumaring one of the hard aid pitches on Manitua, 226 kb
Will Sim jumaring one of the hard aid pitches on Manitua
© Jon Griffith / Alpine Exposures

Geoff Unger leading the crux pitch of Manitua, Grandes Jorasses, 112 kb
Geoff Unger leading the crux pitch of Manitua, Grandes Jorasses
© Jon Griffith / Alpine Exposures
In Griffith's blog report he makes it clear that the high level of aid climbing required on the route, and he and Sim's lack of experience in that department, meant that Geoff Unger undertook all of the leading on the aid sections of the route.

Griffith recounted:

"Geoff headed off and it quickly became clear that there was a huge amount of technique that I just didn't know, and hadn't been able to pick up in our Aid Crash Course two days previously. Watching him head up the rock I realised that there just wasn't any point in me trying to aid anything- I just wasn't going to be fast enough, and this is winter alpine terrain where speed counts for everything. So Geoff cruised on up and we arrived with daylight to spare at the next bivouac..."

And further up the route:

"The terrain now got pretty serious. It steepened up a huge amount, the exposure was nuts, and the pitches often traversed around. Thankfully all the aiding landed on Geoff who ploughed on through headstrong and solid- never complaining about having to lead or saying his was tired even though you could see by the end that he was shattered. Seconding with a pack was an interesting experience though and scary at times- jumaring on a single rope when you're on traverses is pretty scary stuff and I found myself gripped out of my mind at times to try and minimise any swings. I would arrive at the belays pretty shattered and scared so I can only imagine what it was all like on the lead..."

  • Will Sim's blog is due to be published at any time too - check it out: Will Sim Blog

Geoff Unger topping out on the Grandes Jorasses after multiple sunless days on the face
© Jon Griffith / Alpine Exposures

The line of Manitua on the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses, with bivy spots marked
© Jon Griffith / Alpine Exposures

Geoff Unger is sponsored by Screamer and has his own website: Geoff Unger

Will Sim is sponsored by Grivel, Outdoor Research, Scarpa

Jon Griffith is a professional photographer at Alpine Exposures

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