Tom Livingstone and Pete Graham recently made a winter ascent of the Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. Finishing on the last calendar day of alpine winter, the pair took three days to complete their ascent and found sustained difficulties and tough conditions on the 1000m route.
Tom and Pete took three bivis on the route and were relieved to reach the summit of Pointe Walker after a short storm forced them to sleep just one pitch below the top. Tom told UKC:
"Each bivi was slightly worse than before, with the first night a Mick Fowler 4 (sitting comfortably on a large snow ledge) and the last night a Mick Fowler 2 (barely sitting on a sloping lump of snow)!"
The route featured consistent and sustained mixed climbing up to Scottish 7 or 8/M5 or M6 and 6a. Tom described the condition of the route:
"With very little ice and lots of snowy mixed climbing, the highlights were the route's famous crack systems. The Rebuffet Corner, 75 metre diedre, Grey Tower and Red Chimney were all noticeable features."
Although Pete had climbed the Walker Spur in summer seven years ago, and Tom had attempted the route last July, the pair commented that the route felt considerably different to their previous experiences.
They skinned into the base of the Walker Spur on Thursday afternoon. The following day the pair made good progress, passing the route's alleged technical crux (the Rebuffat corner) and reaching the Cassin bivi just after the 10m pendulum about half way up the face. Pete jumared a few pitches for the last time, and rock shoes stayed in their pack during the entire climb. They finished at 2am and woke at 6am.
"The second day featured plenty of technical rock climbing and we passed the notorious Black Slabs around midday and finished on the second Cassin bivi at 2am again. The 6am alarm was not welcome on the third day, but we made good progress and reached the final pitch around 8pm."
The weather quickly deteriorated and began to snow, with wind swirling around the final buttress, riming up the rock and making conditions very Scottish. Opting out of a long, stormy descent in the dark, they bivied on a small sloping ledge of snow, just one pitch below the summit of Pointe Walker and finished the route the following day.
Tom also had a successful previous week, making a winter ascent of the Allain/Leninger (aka Classic Route) on the North Face of Les Dru with Kim Ladiges.
UKC Chief Editor Jack Geldard recently interviewed the pair for a series of Alpine Podcasts, due to be released on UKC in the late Spring. Jack said "It's great to see some young British Alpinists making the most of what are very dry conditions in the Alps this season. Choosing a dry, rocky objective like this was a great idea. Nice one guys!"
Visit Tom's website.
Visit Pete's blog.
Watch a video of their ascent below: