Simon Richardson and Duncan Tunstall added a major route to the Mont Blanc range in early September when they made the first ascent of the Southwest Spur of Punta Baretti.
Punta Baretti (4013m) is situated on the Italian side of Mont Blanc and is considered to be the most remote of all the 4000m peaks. The peak is rarely climbed and access to the huge 1200m-high Southwest Spur that drops directly from the summit, is guarded by the chaotic Mont Blanc glacier.
Global warming has caused significant retreat of many alpine glaciers in recent years creating increasingly difficult access to many alpine routes. The retreat of the Mont Blanc glacier however, has turned its lower icefall into a smooth glacier snout that has opened up access to this major but isolated alpine face. Inevitably the great extreme skier Pierre Tardivel was the first to notice, and with Jeremy Janody and Sebastian de Sainte Marie he climbed and then skied the TD+ central couloir on the SW face in May 2006. The couloir was repeated as a summer climb in July of this year by Mara Babolin, Francesco Rota Nodari and Roberto Rovelli - report here.
On 7th September 2009, Tunstall and Richardson climbed 400m up the lower glacier on easy but brittle ice to reach the foot of the spur. This gave 40 pitches of absorbing climbing over a series of difficult towers, a whaleback ridge and a final steep headwall that was turned by a knife edge ridge on the left. The pair reached the summit on the third day and descended to the Eccles Hut. Difficulties were sustained at V and V+ with a couple of pitches of VI and the route was compared in difficulty and character to the Northeast Rib of the Finsteraarhorn in the Bernese Oberland.
Duncan commented on the ascent,"we were surpised by the number and difficulty of the challenges in climbing the ridge. Although by modern standards never super hard, it was rarely easy and the quality of the rock low down added significant challenge. The highlights were avoiding the opening loose gully by a line to its right, then crossing the 3 main towers by a mixture of careful route finding and taking the odd difficulty direct. The shock was that it never seemed to end. On the third day we were both elated when one last tower opened a clear line to the easing of the ridge and the summit."
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