1st Free Ascent of Birthright for Helliker and Bracey

Bracey and Helliker having made the 1st free ascent of Birthright  © Matt Helliker
Bracey and Helliker having made the 1st free ascent of Birthright
© Matt Helliker

On the 7th June, Alpinists Matt Helliker and Jon Bracey made a rare repeat of Birthright, V 6, 4c, A2, 450m on the Grand Charmoz, Chamonix. It is thought to possibly be the 2nd ascent of the line but the 1st Free ascent.

Birthright was first climbed 20 years ago by Mark Twight and Scott Backes over the 19th-20th October 1993, the line loosely following the Desmaison-Mazeaud rock route climbed in 1959 up the large corner system to the left of the Cordier Pillar. Andy Parkin and Thierry Renault climbed the first 6 pitches back in 1982 before a front moved in and forced them to retreat, since the first ascent Parkin again returned to attempt to solo the line reaching his 6 pitch high point before encountering "thin" ice.

Birthright rarely forms and needs exceptional conditions that occur once every five or ten years. 

"If you have a full time job or climb in Chamonix as a tourist you need not apply!" - Mark Twight

Matt and Jon took the lift to the Plan du Aiguille on the morning of the 7th and approached the route on ski, conditions underfoot where poor but the pair made good time to the base of the climb. Leaving their skis at 11am they moved together up steep but good ice for the first 3 pitches before switching leads and carrying on together for a further 3 pitches up fantastic icey runnels and ramp lines, protection was spaced but the ice was good, conditions "thinned" out for 2 more pitches above before Twight's and Backes' bivi ledge was reached, gloves off rock climbing on beautiful rock then lead the pair to the halfway ledges where Birthright finishes, 3 hours 45mins after leaving the ski stash.

Jon Bracey climbing icey runnels on 1st free ascent of Birthright
© Matt Helliker

The pair then abseiled the line encountering a fair amount of ice fall into the line of descent from the warming temperatures and then returned to the Plan du Aiguille to catch the lift back down to Chamonix.

Mark Twight had this to say about the route in his book 'Kiss or Kill': "The following morning we drew the topo and named the route Birthright ( ED+, 90 degrees,5.9,A2). A classic in the modern idiom, You can't touch this. Plein Feu, French slang meaning its in the limelight and everyone can see it from town everyday. Every climber can talk about how cool looking it is and about repeating it "

Matt Helliker rock climbing on Birthright, Grand Charmoz
© Jon Bracey

Matt Helliker and Jon Bracey both work as IFMGA guides with their company: www.vertigoguides.com

Matt Helliker and Jon Bracey are sponsored by: Patagonia, Black Diamond, Osprey, Scarpa, Adidas Eyewear and Maximuscle

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Jon Bracey

Jon Bracey is one of Britain’s foremost alpinists having climbed many hard mixed routes in the Alps and established several new routes in Alaska, Greenland and the Himalayas. Along with his passion for expedition...

Jon's Athlete Page 17 posts

14 Jun, 2013
How can a route described as being A2 be described as 'Free'? or have I misread/missed something?
14 Jun, 2013
It was originally graded with an A2 pitch or pitches. However Helliker and Bracey have free climbed the whole route, not having to use any aid. Awesome effort.
14 Jun, 2013
Awesome to see a repeat of an old school Backes-Twight route. And I love the photo with a chalk bag on an alpine climb!
14 Jun, 2013
Sounds like a great route, some really nice looking pitches.
14 Jun, 2013
Congrats guys. Fast as usual...
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