On the 20th of November British Alpinists Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker added a major new line to the north east face of Mont Grouvetta, Mont Blanc range, Italy.
Eyes Wide Shut tackles the NE face of Mont Rouge de Grouvetta and weighs in at 900m, ED1, M6, AO, UIAA IV+.
On their return ten days later, a recent storm had brought significant snow down to the valley bottom, especially on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif. The ever-keen Italian cross-country skiers had profited and managed to piste the Val ferret tracks, which meant that the road was closed and an extra 8km of walking for the boys. Undeterred the motivated team were not to be put off. Early in the crisp frosty morning upon arriving at the barriers clearly indicating the closed road, the opportunistic Helliker glanced around to see not a soul about. A swift manoeuvre saw Matt testing his 4x4 driving skills to save the teams energy for the adventures ahead.
"It's fine, I've got my off-road driving ticket!" commented Matt.
Following chamois tracks they snow-shoed up towards the head of the tranquil Val Ferret, before veering north-westerly with the graceful twin summits of the Mont Rouge du Triolet dominating the views. After finding a good bivi spot amongst the old lateral glacial moraines the team deposited their packs here before heading on to put in a track up to the base of the face. Things didn't go to plan though, as the obvious approach was too avalanche prone. Plan B was conjured up, but would involve a pitch of difficult mixed climbing to access the snow cone.
Any doubts about conditions were soon silenced as their ice axes bit into the pristine neve runnels, which led up the fault line above. More steepness on perfect granite provided top notch mixed climbing on thin hooks. However, at midday the team had worryingly only got to about a third height on the face. A gambling man would surely have placed a large bet on them shivering away a cold night without bivi kit at this point.
Then from nowhere a hidden runnel of ice appeared where the team had expected more difficult mixed climbing which enabled the easier half to be gained via a chimney system. More steep thin ice without protection and some good intuitive route finding from the team saw them in sight of the summit ridge just as the sun went down. Now progress slowed into a methodical approach up the two pitches of rock climbing, bypassing a gendarme on the way, to the elusive summit.
The team then abseiled back down the line, via more than 20 rappels, which took them a long 7 hours.
Matt and Jon are both IFMGA mountain guides and are based out of Chamonix, France where they run a private guiding company. Check out their blog over at vertigoguides.com
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