French alpinist Jeff Mercier has established a 4-pitch variation to Andy Parkin and Mark Twight's renowned ice and mixed route Beyond Good and Evil (video) on the north face of the Aig. des Pelerins (3318m) in the Mont Blanc Massif. Les Flammes de l'enfer (85 °, M7) climbs the initial two pitches of Beyond Good and Evil before taking a more direct line for four pitches of new climbing, rejoining Beyond at the top.
Jeff told UKC:
'This route was one of my old projects. After having done the first winter ascent of the Dard/Repellin, a 70s route to the right of Beyond Good and Evil a few years ago, I saw the potential for a new route between the two. A huge rockfall happened in the shortly after, so I left it for three years until the sector stabilised.'
Jeff went back in the autumn of 2015, but the complexity of the climbing forced him to retreat from the line. Returning in December alongside Lucien Boucansaud, Xavier Cailhol and Bastien Lardat, he took a different approach:
'I decided to go back and take it slower, cleaning the line pitch by pitch. Returning home safely each evening, the difficulty I came up against gave me reason to go for it. It's not an extreme route, but very technical. After 4 days, we tried to top out the line. Unfortunately, we encountered a very poor 30m section of rock. Not wanting to place bolts to secure the pitch, we decided to abseil back down 90m to find another way. Unfortunately, I knew that the alternative would join up with Beyond.'
The new pitches feature mixed climbing up to M7 in difficulty. Jeff emphasised the quality of the route, despite the unexpected variation on the loose section:
'We have opened an extremely technical but repeatable line for a big day out. However, please note that you have to rejoin Beyond to be able to descend by abseil!'
Continuing with Andy and Mark's theme of Good and Evil, Jeff's choice of route name translates as 'The Flames of Hell'. The 45 year-old Frenchman is a full time Mountain Rescue Officer in Chamonix and has competed at the highest level in dry tooling competitions worldwide, taking the top spot in the Ouray Ice Festival in the USA. Jeff's climbing CV includes repeats of many of the hardest dry tooling sport routes in the world, in addition to breaking new ground closer to home in Chamonix.
Watch a video of the route below: