The wash-out summer throughout the central European alps put paid to many rock objectives this year, but with each rain cloud has come a silver lining. The coming of autumn has brought stellar ice conditions on one of Europe's biggest and baddest mountain faces; the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses.
Climbers have been flocking to the face to make the most of recent good weather and the amazing conditions. Routes such as the classic Colton-MacIntyre and the Croz Spur have been ascended my multiple parties, but most impressive of the recent ascents is undoubtedly a two route link up from French alpinists Fred Degoulet and Benjamin Guigonnet, plus a stunning solo ascent from Italian Korra Pesce.
Firstly the link-up:
Fred and Ben linked two hard routes back-to-back with an ascent of the Gabarrou Silvy on the Sans Nom and then the Bonatti Vaucher route on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses.
The Gabarrou Silvy takes quite special conditions, as low down on the route there is some tough (old school 6b style) rock climbing, followed by some ice runnels high up. Getting both in good condition is rare, and the French pair combined ice axes with rock shoes on their ascent. Usually this route is done over two days, but Fred and Ben climbed the route in a single day, reaching the summit of the Verte at around 8pm. The duo then descended to the Couvercle refuge for the night.
They then hiked straight from there to the Leschaux refuge, and the following day went straight on to the Bonatti Vaucher route on the Grandes Jorrasses. Their ascent of the Bonatti Vaucher was the first of the season, which is always a tough call, as there is no info available.
Jon Griffith, who climbed the Bonatti Vaucher just after Fred and Ben, commented:
"It's pretty hard. Most teams spent two days on it. It was pretty cool of them to do it in a day. After they had been up, we knew it was climbable, which is a lot easier. I think it has been soloed a long time ago when it came in to epic conditions, but these days its often very loose. It's a hard route, and to link these two, especially as no one knew the conditions, is a really, really good effort. Whilst everyone else was wondering what would be in condition, these two guys just rocked up and ticked two of the best hard routes in the range, back to back - awesome!"
- You can read more about this link-up on Fred's Blog (in French)
Then the solo:
Just after Fred and Ben's link-up, Chamonix resident Corrado 'Korra' Pesce set off solo up the huge Polish route also on the north face on the Grandes Jorasses. The route, which he estimated to be in WI5+ condition (he is a notoriously stiff grader) took him 4.5 hours from the Leschaux refuge to the summit.
Korra explained his ascent to UKC:
"The Polish Route is a combo of two routes opened in summer by Poles in 1970 and 1975. The route was over looked for years until Stephane Benoist and Patrice Glairon Rappaz repeated it in 2005 as a mixed climb and it became an instant classic.
The ice line is striking and offers steep ice ending in some tricky mixed. I packed a 8mm 50m rope and some Camalots, a couple of pitons and three ice screws and started from the Leschaux Hut at 03:50am. Boosting some hard music for the tedious approach, it took me a couple of hours to reach the base.
I quickly dispatched the bergshrund and passed a first party of American climbers who apparently were thinking of starting up the Slovenian route and asked for directions. After another half an hour I passed the only other party on the route - yes it is quite busy up there right now! They were adamant to take some pictures of me - they told me the evening before at the hut - but they were also slightly off route and by the time they corrected their mistake I was already above the steep bulge that gives access to the upper part.
The most difficult sections were in the upper part - involving short vertical ice sections and some mixed. Chloe the hut keeper and my girlfriend were both at the hut and checked my progress up the face, but they didn't realise it was going to be a quick affair and by the time they had breakfast I was on top at 08:07am and sent a text to those who knew about this project."
Fred Degoulet is sponsored by: Grimpisme, Montura and Petzl
Korra Pesce is sponsored by: Black Diamond