Full Love on the North Face of the Peigne

Two weeks ago we reported that some surprising good conditions had arrived in the Alps with British alpinists Matt Helliker and Andy Perkins making the season's first ascent of Beyond Good and Evil on the North Face of the Pélerins above Chamonix. It seems like the good conditions have continued since I got an email today from Jon Griffith with the quote:

We did a totally amazing new route the other day in Chamonix that is maybe the best route of its kind that I've ever done out here.

The route in question is on the North Face of the Peigne - Full Love (V, 5+, M6 R, 550m) - and follows the line of an old aid route The British Direct, from 1967 by James Fullelove and Brian Robertson. Jon was climbing with French climbers Korra Pesce, Jeff Mercier and Julien Desecures.

Full love - NF Peigne topo, 175 kb

Jon takes up the story....

Back from Pakistan and I felt weaker than I'd ever felt in the last few years. Months of cardio training leading up to the trip and then 7 weeks spent in the Himalayas did nothing for my arms. I'd gone from 7b+ to 6b in 5 months. But it did a lot to boost my interest and psyche in less technical but much bigger ascents; single push link-ups; huge faces; finding my endurance limit. I had surprised myself on the Peuterey Integral and I wanted more; I wanted to see how far I could push myself when my mind really wanted something bad enough.

Arriving in Chamonix and I was keen to put that thought into practice. I was fit and ready but unfortunately the mountains werent playing the game and 2 weeks of bad weather saw me dry-tooling and strength training again. It also saw me catch up with alot of great folk I hadn't seen for a long time including Jeff and Korra. The last time I had seen them had been at my 'leaving' BBQ over two months ago and back then I'd left them in a drunken haze, in the middle of a bunch of Brits, as they heartily attacked what was left of my drinks shelf at 2 in the morning. So it felt only natural to pick up where we left off.

Julien Desecures had found a new winter line on the Peigne; well he thought he had found a new line but wasn't sure it was possible. The British Route is an old aid route up the north side of the Peigne. It promises a healthy amount of A2 and A3 pitches and some unhealthy grade VI slabs. As the boys discussed with excitement this new project I took a step back - it sounded hard, really hard, and I was barely in physical shape for dry-tooling let alone in a mental state for this kind of stuff. I was content to settle back in to 'normal life' and get ready to do a big face as soon as the weather cleared. But Korra has a boudless energy when it comes to climbing that is hard to ignore and it didn't take him long to convince me to join them and get some kick ass shots. We would be going as two rope teams allowing me a perfect photo opportunity, something I'd never really done before.

Julien Desecures digs deep on the final M6 R pitch., 237 kb
Julien Desecures digs deep on the final M6 R pitch.
© Jon Griffith
Jeff Mercier leading pitch 8: super thin ice requiring some delicacy at times!  , 204 kb
Jeff Mercier leading pitch 8: super thin ice requiring some delicacy at times!
© Jon Griffith

The weather cleared, the mountains were plastered, and the team was bouncing off the walls. We walked in the previous day and fixed lines up the first two pitches for a speedier get away the following morning. Heading up first, the climbing looked more Alaskan than anything else with some interesting snow mushrooms at the top of the entry gully. Being on the sharp end again was an odd feeling and it quickly became apparent that on such an intense new line I was going to slow us down whilst I got my lead-head back in to play again. So with some healthy piss taking from Jeff and Korra, I relegated myself to just seconding the following day and concentrating on getting some cool photos. It didn't feel right not putting my fair share in and I wasn't totally sure if they hadn't invited me along to show me how detrimental 5 months of non-techincal climbing had done to me...damn French!

Korra Pesce heads up for yet another 5 star icy corner with some spicy mixed moves at the top
© Jon Griffith

A night at the Refuge du Plan and an early start saw us jumaring up the first two pitches. The Foehn wind was blowing hard and, battling up through plenty of spindrift, it was a wet and cold 4 climbers that finally arrived out of the chimney system and into the meat of the climb. Above lay some of the most amazing climbing I have ever done in the range. Hundreds of meters of steep grey granite towered above; at the centre a key thin placage of ice that we were hoping would lead us somewhere...but we weren't sure where. The original line had a very poor description and as we weren't following splitter cracks we didn't even know if the line would go in winter. But every pitch would lead to another 5 star hidden pitch. Getting progressively harder and harder the line took us through wild thin ice and steep corners offering just enough protection and ice to inch ever closer to the top. No pitch the same but each surpassing the last in style and quality and general wow factor until the final sting in the tail reared its ugly head in the form of a runout and tenuous crux pitch to the summit proper.

The final sting in the tail of pitch 13: an amazing lead by Korra Pesce
© Jon Griffith

The descent was long and arduous but we finally made it back to the hut just after 11pm. What an adventure and what a day! I was merely a hitch-hiker on this climb but it has given me back a taste of technical climbing and I'm buzzing for the next one. Thanks to Korra, Jeff and Julien. It was a real pleasure to see some of the local 'elites' out in action and a humbling experience to see Korra onsight the whole climb. Legends!

The end is in sight! Jon Griffith and Julien Desecures at the belay.
© Jeff Mercier

You can see more photos on Jon's blog account here.

Jon Griffith is a professional mountain photographer - see his work on Alpine Exposures

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