New Routes on Aiguille des Pélerins and Tour Ronde by Bracey, Helliker & Whittaker

© Pete Whittaker

Matt Helliker, Jon Bracey and Pete Whittaker recently teamed up to make two first ascents in the Mont Blanc Massif: Beyond Reason ED V 5+/5c (M6+/R) 550m on the Aiguille des Pélerins as a three and another on the NW shoulder of the Tour Ronde established by Matt and Pete, Zone 5 (M6/7a) 250m.

Matt following the first pitch of steeper terrain on Beyond Reason.  © Pete Whittaker
Matt following the first pitch of steeper terrain on Beyond Reason.
© Pete Whittaker

Pete has limited experience of mixed and alpine climbing, but since he's planning a big trip with Matt Helliker and Jon Bracey later in the year, the trio took the opportunity to climb together and help Pete gain some mixed mileage. Pete admits to being a relative newbie in the realm of alpine climbing. In his F(log), he wrote: 'I have to say I know little of the Chamonix area, I've more just been looking at the peaks in terms of scale and steepness and judging things by that. Jon wanted to try a new direct line on The Pélerins, and I'll be honest, I didn't have a clue what that was. Maybe that sounds a bit ignorant, but that's how it is. It's all new to me.'

Beyond Reason on the Aiguille des Pélerins starts up the Rebuffat/Terray for 150m then continues direct where the Rebuffat/Terray steps slightly right. Jon told UKC: 'After ~200m of beautiful ice climbing, Beyond Reason then breaches the steep and intimidating rocky headwall by a series of hidden ice runnel, cracks, and exposed mixed climbing.'

Simul-climbing the easy intro to Beyond Reason.  © Jon Bracey
Simul-climbing the easy intro to Beyond Reason.
© Jon Bracey

The team quickly simul-climbed the easy first third as a three, until the terrain became too technical and steep. Pete continued in his F(log):

'I haven't quite understood yet why Matt and Jon want to climb with me, when my experience in this type of climbing genre is limited. However, my calling became apparent when we reached a jamming pitch. It looked straightforward, so I changed from crampons to rock shoes and got cracking. After the steeper difficulties I got to a snow field, hmmmm. I was wearing rock shoes that were designed for alpine climbing, so thought I should at least try and delicately smear my way up it. It seemed slippy. I think the rubber needs some work for the névé smear.'

Jon led the next few pitches, including the crux. Pete was baffled by a section of sugar snow. He commented: 'I was impressed with Jon's sugar snow skills as he seemed to somehow levitate across a patch of snow, which disintegrated around me when I stood on it following. I wondered how the heck he made it look so easy. Do you have genetically light bones Jon? I came to the conclusion, he's just really good.'

Jon taking the lead up the first bit of steeper ground on Beyond Reason.  © Pete Whittaker
Jon taking the lead up the first bit of steeper ground on Beyond Reason.
© Pete Whittaker

In the early hours of the morning, Matt took the final block of snow to the summit, then made his way across the ridge. The team abseiled an existing line on Aiguille des Pélerins back to their skis and returned to the car at 3 a.m.

Jon had been eyeing this line for the last twenty years. He told UKC:

'Al Powell, one gnarly and incredibly understated British alpinist of the '90s and '00s, was dragging me up a winter ascent of the Rebuffat/Terray and I looked across leftwards to this line. Three pitches from the top and already dark, my headlamp stopped working. I wrongly assumed that we would start rappelling down for safety reasons. Al quickly explained to me that if I wanted to get up any decent alpine routes, then I had better quickly learn to suck it and suffer. It's basically taken all these years for me to gain sufficient experience, skills and confidence to attempt a line like this. Coupled with the need for incredible patience to wait for the line to come into condition, along with time off from guiding, a good weather window, and a psyched partner/s.'

On climbing with Alpine newbie Pete, Jon commented:

'It's been great fun getting to know Pete before our planned trip to the Himalayas. His chilled, no-nonsense attitude makes for a perfect partner for a trip. I think being new to all this Alpine climbing stuff for Pete can be a big advantage, as through ignorance he has no idea what he's getting into, and doesn't seem to get scared very easily!'

Pete was equally happy with the team dynamics. 'It seemed like a solid first outing. I was happy we worked well as a team, had a good laugh, played to each others strengths, pushed it to succeed, but made safe and good decisions along the way,' he wrote on Facebook.

Two days later, next on the list was a bin-to-bin challenge for Pete and Matt, which was new to Pete: 'I learnt that this means cable car to cable car, i.e. first lift up, last lift down, and get a new route in the bag. I'll coin that term 'bin-bag-bin' (i.e. bin up, bag a route, bin down). It's very important to make sure you don't miss the last lift as then you'll be in a bin-bag situation. And no one wants to end up in a bin bag.'

Their objective was on the North-West shoulder of the Tour Ronde, crossing Rotatornater, a first ascent of Matt's from 2016.

The pair left at 9.30 a.m. and had until 4.30 p.m: 7 hours to ski down, skin up, climb up, ab down, ski down, skin up. 'We arrived at a beautiful looking pitch: a crack through the headwall, which is what attracted me to the line through my binoculars in the first place,' Matt wrote on Instagram.

Matt on Zone 5.
© Pete Whittaker

Matt led the first mixed block with axes and crampons, while Pete took on the second block of cracks and chimneys in rock shoes. 'Pitch 5 was an absolute treat. splitter fingers, a little smeary on the feet in places and gradually widening to offwidth, all with a cheeky sprinkling of snow in the back, lovely. I went for a gloves-on, gloves-off approach.'

Pete on Zone 5.
© Matt Helliker

Matt and Pete topped out, abbed off and had re-kitted to ski back with just 40 minutes until the final lift. It was going to be close, especially as Pete forgot to put his ski boots into 'ski' mode and fell on his first turn.

'On the final stretch I was proper red-lining, my heart rate had gone through the roof and I felt like I was going to throw up my own lungs. Luckily I didn't and we fell into the lift, with everyone waiting, lights in the lift station being turned off and the lift doors shutting. The only way it could have been closer is if we hadn't actually caught it,' Pete wrote on Facebook.

Zone 5 topo, NW shoulder of the Tour Ronde.   © Matt Helliker
Zone 5 topo, NW shoulder of the Tour Ronde.
© Matt Helliker

'It's called 'Zone 5' and I'd highly recommend trying to do it bin-to-bin,' Pete concluded.

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24 Feb, 2020

More of this please. Great read thanks!

24 Feb, 2020

This is brilliant Pete bagging a first ascent on the Pelerins as an alpine noob, he is funny, this reminded me of a trip up the Bonatti pillar on the Dru with an Alpine virgin, literally his first ever alpine route, although as in this case he was really handy on rock, his face as he chain smoked tabs half rapped in a foil blanket near the top was priceless.

26 Feb, 2020

Would anyone care to expand on what an f(log) is?

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