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Brits have long been associated with the Grandes Jorasses, its main summits named after Walker and Whymper. But it was the legendary ace Italian, Ricardo Cassin, who in 1938 first climbed the huge central rocky spur to the highest point, most commonly called the Walker Spur. Now frequently climbed in summer it remains a classic route, one of the best of its type in the Alps. Many of the other routes on the north face are more mixed, many passing through or between variable rock with ephemeral ice. Arguably the next most striking line on the north face is up the central couloir to the right of the Walker Spur, similarly 1200m height gain from the bergschrund, straight to the summit.

[caption id="attachment_6370" align="aligncenter" width="450"]North Face of Jorasses in profile at sunrise North Face of Jorasses in profile at sunrise[/caption]

Almost unbelievably, in January 1973, Chris Bonnington and team spent 17 bivouacs attempting to make the first ascent of that central couloir, and when 2 young British alpinists actually succeeded in finishing the line 3 years later, many of the old fixed ropes from that earlier effort were still visible. Nick Colton and Alex Macintyre did the first ascent, in Alpine style, over an impressive 2 days. Sadly Alex died on Annapurna in 1982, but Nick has gone on to be deputy CEO of the BMC, climbing 8a and winning veteran climbing competitions.

[caption id="attachment_6369" align="aligncenter" width="182"]Nick Colton a few years ago Nick Colton a few years ago[/caption]

I met Nick ice climbing in Cogne 10 years ago and, despite knowing nothing of his past at that stage, was impressed by his tolerance of discomfort and hardship. He came back smiling after a days ice climbing, or at least trying to, as he had been properly smashed in the face by a huge ice block. "Do you think I need stitches, Jon?" It didn't need a medical degree to work that one out- he returned many hours and countless stitches later and carried on having it on the ice, totally undeterred.

[caption id="attachment_6368" align="aligncenter" width="450"]John Roberts congratulating Nick Colton John Roberts congratulating Nick Colton[/caption]

Back in 2003 I had the exciting, if exhausting job of guiding the traverse of the Grandes Jorasses. My client was operating at max most of the time, and he was pretty spent by the time we bivvied   on our second night out, on the summit of Pte Whymper. He was too exhausted to bag the final summit, the highest one- Pte Walker, so reluctantly we descended, not without problems, to the valley, 2700 metres below- unfinished business...

[caption id="attachment_6372" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Top 1/3 of the Grandes Jorasses Top 1/3 of the Grandes Jorasses[/caption]

Fast forward to Sept '14- befriending the Leschaux Refuge on Facebook proved intolerable at a distance. The gardiennes photos and those of friends I trusted confirmed that the rubbish summer had indeed plastered an often black face, at that time of year, with squeaky fat snow-ice. The Colton Macintyre was most definitely in great condition.

[caption id="attachment_6389" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Me and John excited at Montenvers! Me and John excited at Montenvers![/caption]

I teamed up with Adam Booth, John Roberts and Owain Jones and we planned to climb as 2 independent pairs, but operating together. Owain went through the guides scheme with me and was a Sharks Fin veteran, Adam and John both younger and very strong climbers. It proved to be a happy and sociable mix of characters.

[caption id="attachment_6376" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Me and Owain with the route behind, from the Leschaux Hut. The line goes up the big central couloir to the right of the highest point Me and Owain with the route behind, from the Leschaux Hut. The line goes up the big central couloir to the right of the highest point[/caption]

My usual 2 nights turbo-acclimatisation strategy in the Cosmiques Hut, and a stroll up Mt Blanc du Tacul on the intervening day, thickened the blood and increased anticipation levels. Then an afternoon stroll up the ever shrinking Mer de Glace found us in position in the Leschaux Hut. Several other parties were there, 2 very gnarly pairs of Slovenians and Italians, and a few other teams for different routes. 17 years since I'd last been on an ice/mixed route on the Jorasses. Back this time with more daylight, more beta, better conditions and better equipment. The face didn't seem to have got any smaller..

[caption id="attachment_6371" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Acclimatising at the Cosmiques Hut Acclimatising at the Cosmiques Hut[/caption]

I'm not really sure how much I slept before the alarm went off at 11:50pm, but I suspect very little. 3-4 hours later we'd negotiated the troublesome 'schrund- a couple of very steep sections put us into the lower ice section of the face. Others had assured us this had been the crux, negotiating the 'schrund- perhaps it was going to be totally straightforward from there on? Er, maybe not..

[caption id="attachment_6380" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The lower crux at 6am The lower crux at 6am[/caption] [caption id="attachment_6382" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Owain relishing the joys of early morning hot-aches Owain relishing the joys of early morning hot-aches[/caption]

A couple of hours later the face reared up to a long narrow 80 degree gully which we led in 2 long pitches- it felt harder than the 'schrund with ice screw protection requiring a lot of digging beneath the snow-ice. More mellow ground (50-65 degrees) for a few hours led us to what looked pretty intimidating- the actual crux.

[caption id="attachment_6383" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Encouragement from John and Adam Encouragement from John and Adam[/caption] [caption id="attachment_6384" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The actual crux, looking down at the others. Dubious rock protection and dubious semi-consolidated snow-ice.. The actual crux, looking down at the others. Dubious rock protection and dubious semi-consolidated snow-ice..[/caption]

3 possibilities- one was the Alexis variation to the right which had no obvious signs of recent ascent, no obvious easy gear and very steep- 95 degrees according to the guidebook. To the left was an 85 degree wall of ice that looked hacked to bits and dubiously attached to the rock wall behind. In between the two was an 85+ degree section that had seen a few people up it, looked hard but at least it didn't appear like it was about to fall down. I took the latter and Adam the well travelled route, in parallel. John Roberts spoke to Nick Colton recently- on the first ascent apparently this section was bare rock and he took a 60 foot fall onto a waist belay!

[caption id="attachment_6385" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Adam making swift progress on the easier icefield Adam making swift progress on the easier icefield[/caption]

Adam and I compared notes at the top of our respective pitches. Phrases such as "character-building", "I'd have gone miles, "rubbish gear" and "very exciting" we're exchanged and we continued on up the endless ice, hoping that really was the crux. The rat was already well nourished.

[caption id="attachment_6381" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Looking across the face to the Aiguille de l'Eboulement Looking across the face to the Aiguille de l'Eboulement[/caption]

A lot can change in 3 weeks after some hot weather in the mountains and a lot of ascents of an icy/mixed route. I do believe the 'schrund had been the crux- "spicy" was the word both the highly experienced guides had described it as, and so it was. But we'd since encountered "very spicy" and "spicy++" and we were all hoping for the korma rather than the vindaloo end of the spectrum from then on.

[caption id="attachment_6386" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The long final icefield to the mixed headwall The long final icefield to the mixed headwall[/caption]

Fortunately things did abate but so did our ability to move efficiently and quickly as we got closer to 4000 metres. Simple tasks became harder, and the final 250m of mixed ground onto the summit, via the Walker Spur, seemed disproportionately tricky. Somehow many hours of daylight vanished and we topped out to a chilly misty remote 4200m summit just after dark.

[caption id="attachment_6387" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Owain on a tricky mixed pitch Owain on a tricky mixed pitch[/caption]

Pointe Walker was my final summit of the Dent du Geant to Grandes Jorasses chain, but no elation with the prospect of another character building descent. 10 years ago I had held my client as he wobbled off a snow bridge on the nearby descent, suspended above the void of a cruel crevasse. Things got worse as he attempted to climb out, fell off and shock-loaded my buried axe- luckily it held..

[caption id="attachment_6373" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Our topo for the complicated descent in the dark.. Our topo for the complicated descent in the dark..[/caption]

I was pleased to be in the company of 3 competent friends on this occasion, but none of us were feeling particularly "on it" at this stage nor relishing the prospect of the intervening 3 rock/snow ridges and 3 tortuous glaciers that lay between us and the hut, far below. The crevasse danger was all too obvious and an already dangerous descent hadn't got any safer in the intervening decade of climate change. Particularly memorable was the XX rated boulder field of serac debris we had to traverse through- no cohesion between the blocks hence less than 24 hours since it appeared- tens of thousands of tons of it.

[caption id="attachment_6379" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Chaotic 'schrund Chaotic 'schrund[/caption]

Bad news to have had too many eager Alpinists on the crux, good news to have had them all creating a veritable trench flagging the route off. Owain was strong and steady, with an impressive memory of the descent from the Croz Spur previously. Adam and John  similar but slower, mentioning intermittent hallucinations from the sleep deprivation, I was feeling slightly "out of body" which wasn't entirely unpleasant.  We were all acutely aware of how potentially dangerous descending AD ground can be, at night in intermittent mist, after 24 hours on our feet. A voie normale I shan't be in a hurry to repeat.

[caption id="attachment_6377" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Another scary 'schrund Another scary 'schrund[/caption]

Waking at 10am the next morning in the delapidated and squalid Bocallette Hut we were nonetheless relieved and delighted by its relative luxury, compared to shivering under a group shelter, that had always been a distinct possibility. The hut was tricky to find but as we looked out in the morning to the sheeting rain we realised just how lucky we'd all been.

[caption id="attachment_6388" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Almost Scottish in style in places Almost Scottish in style in places[/caption]

You need numerous things to come together simultaneously to get lucky on a big route- you need to be fit, acclimatised, available, have partners who are similar; you need to be in the right place, with the right weather, but also crucially have the right conditions. Modern comms and equipment have made many of these things so much easier. Hats off to Nick and Alex back in '76- hard to comprehend their skill and audacity nearly 40 years ago. I was 9 at the time and cheating in egg and spoon races in the long hot summer, to win Curly Wurlys; John and Adam hadn't been born.

[caption id="attachment_6374" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happy memories Happy memories[/caption]

PS: There is a fantastic write up of the first ascent on Alpine Exposures:

 

Jon MorganBrits have long been associated with the Grandes Jorasses, its main summits named after Walker and Whymper. But it was the legendary ace Italian, Ricardo Cassin, who in 1938 first climbed the huge central rocky spur to the highest point, most commonly called the Walker Spur. Now frequently climbed in summer it remains a classic route, one of the best of its type in the Alps. Many of the other routes on the north face are more mixed, many passing through or between variable rock with ephemeral ice. Arguably the next most striking line on the north face is up the central couloir to the right of the Walker Spur, similarly 1200m height gain from the bergschrund, straight to the summit.

[caption id="attachment_6370" align="aligncenter" width="450"]North Face of Jorasses in profile at sunrise North Face of Jorasses in profile at sunrise[/caption]

Almost unbelievably, in January 1973, Chris Bonnington and team spent 17 bivouacs attempting to make the first ascent of that central couloir, and when 2 young British alpinists actually succeeded in finishing the line 3 years later, many of the old fixed ropes from that earlier effort were still visible. Nick Colton and Alex Macintyre did the first ascent, in Alpine style, over an impressive 2 days. Sadly Alex died on Annapurna in 1982, but Nick has gone on to be deputy CEO of the BMC, climbing 8a and winning veteran climbing competitions.

[caption id="attachment_6369" align="aligncenter" width="182"]Nick Colton a few years ago Nick Colton a few years ago[/caption]

I met Nick ice climbing in Cogne 10 years ago and, despite knowing nothing of his past at that stage, was impressed by his tolerance of discomfort and hardship. He came back smiling after a days ice climbing, or at least trying to, as he had been properly smashed in the face by a huge ice block. "Do you think I need stitches, Jon?" It didn't need a medical degree to work that one out- he returned many hours and countless stitches later and carried on having it on the ice, totally undeterred.

[caption id="attachment_6368" align="aligncenter" width="450"]John Roberts congratulating Nick Colton John Roberts congratulating Nick Colton[/caption]

Back in 2003 I had the exciting, if exhausting job of guiding the traverse of the Grandes Jorasses. My client was operating at max most of the time, and he was pretty spent by the time we bivvied   on our second night out, on the summit of Pte Whymper. He was too exhausted to bag the final summit, the highest one- Pte Walker, so reluctantly we descended, not without problems, to the valley, 2700 metres below- unfinished business...

[caption id="attachment_6372" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Top 1/3 of the Grandes Jorasses Top 1/3 of the Grandes Jorasses[/caption]

Fast forward to Sept '14- befriending the Leschaux Refuge on Facebook proved intolerable at a distance. The gardiennes photos and those of friends I trusted confirmed that the rubbish summer had indeed plastered an often black face, at that time of year, with squeaky fat snow-ice. The Colton Macintyre was most definitely in great condition.

[caption id="attachment_6389" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Me and John excited at Montenvers! Me and John excited at Montenvers![/caption]

I teamed up with Adam Booth, John Roberts and Owain Jones and we planned to climb as 2 independent pairs, but operating together. Owain went through the guides scheme with me and was a Sharks Fin veteran, Adam and John both younger and very strong climbers. It proved to be a happy and sociable mix of characters.

[caption id="attachment_6376" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Me and Owain with the route behind, from the Leschaux Hut. The line goes up the big central couloir to the right of the highest point Me and Owain with the route behind, from the Leschaux Hut. The line goes up the big central couloir to the right of the highest point[/caption]

My usual 2 nights turbo-acclimatisation strategy in the Cosmiques Hut, and a stroll up Mt Blanc du Tacul on the intervening day, thickened the blood and increased anticipation levels. Then an afternoon stroll up the ever shrinking Mer de Glace found us in position in the Leschaux Hut. Several other parties were there, 2 very gnarly pairs of Slovenians and Italians, and a few other teams for different routes. 17 years since I'd last been on an ice/mixed route on the Jorasses. Back this time with more daylight, more beta, better conditions and better equipment. The face didn't seem to have got any smaller..

[caption id="attachment_6371" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Acclimatising at the Cosmiques Hut Acclimatising at the Cosmiques Hut[/caption]

I'm not really sure how much I slept before the alarm went off at 11:50pm, but I suspect very little. 3-4 hours later we'd negotiated the troublesome 'schrund- a couple of very steep sections put us into the lower ice section of the face. Others had assured us this had been the crux, negotiating the 'schrund- perhaps it was going to be totally straightforward from there on? Er, maybe not..

[caption id="attachment_6380" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The lower crux at 6am The lower crux at 6am[/caption] [caption id="attachment_6382" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Owain relishing the joys of early morning hot-aches Owain relishing the joys of early morning hot-aches[/caption]

A couple of hours later the face reared up to a long narrow 80 degree gully which we led in 2 long pitches- it felt harder than the 'schrund with ice screw protection requiring a lot of digging beneath the snow-ice. More mellow ground (50-65 degrees) for a few hours led us to what looked pretty intimidating- the actual crux.

[caption id="attachment_6383" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Encouragement from John and Adam Encouragement from John and Adam[/caption] [caption id="attachment_6384" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The actual crux, looking down at the others. Dubious rock protection and dubious semi-consolidated snow-ice.. The actual crux, looking down at the others. Dubious rock protection and dubious semi-consolidated snow-ice..[/caption]

3 possibilities- one was the Alexis variation to the right which had no obvious signs of recent ascent, no obvious easy gear and very steep- 95 degrees according to the guidebook. To the left was an 85 degree wall of ice that looked hacked to bits and dubiously attached to the rock wall behind. In between the two was an 85+ degree section that had seen a few people up it, looked hard but at least it didn't appear like it was about to fall down. I took the latter and Adam the well travelled route, in parallel. John Roberts spoke to Nick Colton recently- on the first ascent apparently this section was bare rock and he took a 60 foot fall onto a waist belay!

[caption id="attachment_6385" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Adam making swift progress on the easier icefield Adam making swift progress on the easier icefield[/caption]

Adam and I compared notes at the top of our respective pitches. Phrases such as "character-building", "I'd have gone miles, "rubbish gear" and "very exciting" we're exchanged and we continued on up the endless ice, hoping that really was the crux. The rat was already well nourished.

[caption id="attachment_6381" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Looking across the face to the Aiguille de l'Eboulement Looking across the face to the Aiguille de l'Eboulement[/caption]

A lot can change in 3 weeks after some hot weather in the mountains and a lot of ascents of an icy/mixed route. I do believe the 'schrund had been the crux- "spicy" was the word both the highly experienced guides had described it as, and so it was. But we'd since encountered "very spicy" and "spicy++" and we were all hoping for the korma rather than the vindaloo end of the spectrum from then on.

[caption id="attachment_6386" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The long final icefield to the mixed headwall The long final icefield to the mixed headwall[/caption]

Fortunately things did abate but so did our ability to move efficiently and quickly as we got closer to 4000 metres. Simple tasks became harder, and the final 250m of mixed ground onto the summit, via the Walker Spur, seemed disproportionately tricky. Somehow many hours of daylight vanished and we topped out to a chilly misty remote 4200m summit just after dark.

[caption id="attachment_6387" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Owain on a tricky mixed pitch Owain on a tricky mixed pitch[/caption]

Pointe Walker was my final summit of the Dent du Geant to Grandes Jorasses chain, but no elation with the prospect of another character building descent. 10 years ago I had held my client as he wobbled off a snow bridge on the nearby descent, suspended above the void of a cruel crevasse. Things got worse as he attempted to climb out, fell off and shock-loaded my buried axe- luckily it held..

[caption id="attachment_6373" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Our topo for the complicated descent in the dark.. Our topo for the complicated descent in the dark..[/caption]

I was pleased to be in the company of 3 competent friends on this occasion, but none of us were feeling particularly "on it" at this stage nor relishing the prospect of the intervening 3 rock/snow ridges and 3 tortuous glaciers that lay between us and the hut, far below. The crevasse danger was all too obvious and an already dangerous descent hadn't got any safer in the intervening decade of climate change. Particularly memorable was the XX rated boulder field of serac debris we had to traverse through- no cohesion between the blocks hence less than 24 hours since it appeared- tens of thousands of tons of it.

[caption id="attachment_6379" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Chaotic 'schrund Chaotic 'schrund[/caption]

Bad news to have had too many eager Alpinists on the crux, good news to have had them all creating a veritable trench flagging the route off. Owain was strong and steady, with an impressive memory of the descent from the Croz Spur previously. Adam and John  similar but slower, mentioning intermittent hallucinations from the sleep deprivation, I was feeling slightly "out of body" which wasn't entirely unpleasant.  We were all acutely aware of how potentially dangerous descending AD ground can be, at night in intermittent mist, after 24 hours on our feet. A voie normale I shan't be in a hurry to repeat.

[caption id="attachment_6377" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Another scary 'schrund Another scary 'schrund[/caption]

Waking at 10am the next morning in the delapidated and squalid Bocallette Hut we were nonetheless relieved and delighted by its relative luxury, compared to shivering under a group shelter, that had always been a distinct possibility. The hut was tricky to find but as we looked out in the morning to the sheeting rain we realised just how lucky we'd all been.

[caption id="attachment_6388" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Almost Scottish in style in places Almost Scottish in style in places[/caption]

You need numerous things to come together simultaneously to get lucky on a big route- you need to be fit, acclimatised, available, have partners who are similar; you need to be in the right place, with the right weather, but also crucially have the right conditions. Modern comms and equipment have made many of these things so much easier. Hats off to Nick and Alex back in '76- hard to comprehend their skill and audacity nearly 40 years ago. I was 9 at the time and cheating in egg and spoon races in the long hot summer, to win Curly Wurlys; John and Adam hadn't been born.

[caption id="attachment_6374" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happy memories Happy memories[/caption]

PS: There is a fantastic write up of the first ascent on Alpine Exposures:

 

Jon MorganBrits have long been associated with the Grandes Jorasses, its main summits named after Walker and Whymper. But it was the legendary ace Italian, Ricardo Cassin, who in 1938 first climbed the huge central rocky spur to the highest point, most commonly called the Walker Spur. Now frequently climbed in summer it remains a classic route, one of the best of its type in the Alps. Many of the other routes on the north face are more mixed, many passing through or between variable rock with ephemeral ice. Arguably the next most striking line on the north face is up the central couloir to the right of the Walker Spur, similarly 1200m height gain from the bergschrund, straight to the summit.

[caption id="attachment_6370" align="aligncenter" width="450"]North Face of Jorasses in profile at sunrise North Face of Jorasses in profile at sunrise[/caption]

Almost unbelievably, in January 1973, Chris Bonnington and team spent 17 bivouacs attempting to make the first ascent of that central couloir, and when 2 young British alpinists actually succeeded in finishing the line 3 years later, many of the old fixed ropes from that earlier effort were still visible. Nick Colton and Alex Macintyre did the first ascent, in Alpine style, over an impressive 2 days. Sadly Alex died on Annapurna in 1982, but Nick has gone on to be deputy CEO of the BMC, climbing 8a and winning veteran climbing competitions.

[caption id="attachment_6369" align="aligncenter" width="182"]Nick Colton a few years ago Nick Colton a few years ago[/caption]

I met Nick ice climbing in Cogne 10 years ago and, despite knowing nothing of his past at that stage, was impressed by his tolerance of discomfort and hardship. He came back smiling after a days ice climbing, or at least trying to, as he had been properly smashed in the face by a huge ice block. "Do you think I need stitches, Jon?" It didn't need a medical degree to work that one out- he returned many hours and countless stitches later and carried on having it on the ice, totally undeterred.

[caption id="attachment_6368" align="aligncenter" width="450"]John Roberts congratulating Nick Colton John Roberts congratulating Nick Colton[/caption]

Back in 2003 I had the exciting, if exhausting job of guiding the traverse of the Grandes Jorasses. My client was operating at max most of the time, and he was pretty spent by the time we bivvied   on our second night out, on the summit of Pte Whymper. He was too exhausted to bag the final summit, the highest one- Pte Walker, so reluctantly we descended, not without problems, to the valley, 2700 metres below- unfinished business...

[caption id="attachment_6372" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Top 1/3 of the Grandes Jorasses Top 1/3 of the Grandes Jorasses[/caption]

Fast forward to Sept '14- befriending the Leschaux Refuge on Facebook proved intolerable at a distance. The gardiennes photos and those of friends I trusted confirmed that the rubbish summer had indeed plastered an often black face, at that time of year, with squeaky fat snow-ice. The Colton Macintyre was most definitely in great condition.

[caption id="attachment_6389" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Me and John excited at Montenvers! Me and John excited at Montenvers![/caption]

I teamed up with Adam Booth, John Roberts and Owain Jones and we planned to climb as 2 independent pairs, but operating together. Owain went through the guides scheme with me and was a Sharks Fin veteran, Adam and John both younger and very strong climbers. It proved to be a happy and sociable mix of characters.

[caption id="attachment_6376" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Me and Owain with the route behind, from the Leschaux Hut. The line goes up the big central couloir to the right of the highest point Me and Owain with the route behind, from the Leschaux Hut. The line goes up the big central couloir to the right of the highest point[/caption]

My usual 2 nights turbo-acclimatisation strategy in the Cosmiques Hut, and a stroll up Mt Blanc du Tacul on the intervening day, thickened the blood and increased anticipation levels. Then an afternoon stroll up the ever shrinking Mer de Glace found us in position in the Leschaux Hut. Several other parties were there, 2 very gnarly pairs of Slovenians and Italians, and a few other teams for different routes. 17 years since I'd last been on an ice/mixed route on the Jorasses. Back this time with more daylight, more beta, better conditions and better equipment. The face didn't seem to have got any smaller..

[caption id="attachment_6371" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Acclimatising at the Cosmiques Hut Acclimatising at the Cosmiques Hut[/caption]

I'm not really sure how much I slept before the alarm went off at 11:50pm, but I suspect very little. 3-4 hours later we'd negotiated the troublesome 'schrund- a couple of very steep sections put us into the lower ice section of the face. Others had assured us this had been the crux, negotiating the 'schrund- perhaps it was going to be totally straightforward from there on? Er, maybe not..

[caption id="attachment_6380" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The lower crux at 6am The lower crux at 6am[/caption] [caption id="attachment_6382" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Owain relishing the joys of early morning hot-aches Owain relishing the joys of early morning hot-aches[/caption]

A couple of hours later the face reared up to a long narrow 80 degree gully which we led in 2 long pitches- it felt harder than the 'schrund with ice screw protection requiring a lot of digging beneath the snow-ice. More mellow ground (50-65 degrees) for a few hours led us to what looked pretty intimidating- the actual crux.

[caption id="attachment_6383" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Encouragement from John and Adam Encouragement from John and Adam[/caption] [caption id="attachment_6384" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The actual crux, looking down at the others. Dubious rock protection and dubious semi-consolidated snow-ice.. The actual crux, looking down at the others. Dubious rock protection and dubious semi-consolidated snow-ice..[/caption]

3 possibilities- one was the Alexis variation to the right which had no obvious signs of recent ascent, no obvious easy gear and very steep- 95 degrees according to the guidebook. To the left was an 85 degree wall of ice that looked hacked to bits and dubiously attached to the rock wall behind. In between the two was an 85+ degree section that had seen a few people up it, looked hard but at least it didn't appear like it was about to fall down. I took the latter and Adam the well travelled route, in parallel. John Roberts spoke to Nick Colton recently- on the first ascent apparently this section was bare rock and he took a 60 foot fall onto a waist belay!

[caption id="attachment_6385" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Adam making swift progress on the easier icefield Adam making swift progress on the easier icefield[/caption]

Adam and I compared notes at the top of our respective pitches. Phrases such as "character-building", "I'd have gone miles, "rubbish gear" and "very exciting" we're exchanged and we continued on up the endless ice, hoping that really was the crux. The rat was already well nourished.

[caption id="attachment_6381" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Looking across the face to the Aiguille de l'Eboulement Looking across the face to the Aiguille de l'Eboulement[/caption]

A lot can change in 3 weeks after some hot weather in the mountains and a lot of ascents of an icy/mixed route. I do believe the 'schrund had been the crux- "spicy" was the word both the highly experienced guides had described it as, and so it was. But we'd since encountered "very spicy" and "spicy++" and we were all hoping for the korma rather than the vindaloo end of the spectrum from then on.

[caption id="attachment_6386" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The long final icefield to the mixed headwall The long final icefield to the mixed headwall[/caption]

Fortunately things did abate but so did our ability to move efficiently and quickly as we got closer to 4000 metres. Simple tasks became harder, and the final 250m of mixed ground onto the summit, via the Walker Spur, seemed disproportionately tricky. Somehow many hours of daylight vanished and we topped out to a chilly misty remote 4200m summit just after dark.

[caption id="attachment_6387" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Owain on a tricky mixed pitch Owain on a tricky mixed pitch[/caption]

Pointe Walker was my final summit of the Dent du Geant to Grandes Jorasses chain, but no elation with the prospect of another character building descent. 10 years ago I had held my client as he wobbled off a snow bridge on the nearby descent, suspended above the void of a cruel crevasse. Things got worse as he attempted to climb out, fell off and shock-loaded my buried axe- luckily it held..

[caption id="attachment_6373" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Our topo for the complicated descent in the dark.. Our topo for the complicated descent in the dark..[/caption]

I was pleased to be in the company of 3 competent friends on this occasion, but none of us were feeling particularly "on it" at this stage nor relishing the prospect of the intervening 3 rock/snow ridges and 3 tortuous glaciers that lay between us and the hut, far below. The crevasse danger was all too obvious and an already dangerous descent hadn't got any safer in the intervening decade of climate change. Particularly memorable was the XX rated boulder field of serac debris we had to traverse through- no cohesion between the blocks hence less than 24 hours since it appeared- tens of thousands of tons of it.

[caption id="attachment_6379" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Chaotic 'schrund Chaotic 'schrund[/caption]

Bad news to have had too many eager Alpinists on the crux, good news to have had them all creating a veritable trench flagging the route off. Owain was strong and steady, with an impressive memory of the descent from the Croz Spur previously. Adam and John  similar but slower, mentioning intermittent hallucinations from the sleep deprivation, I was feeling slightly "out of body" which wasn't entirely unpleasant.  We were all acutely aware of how potentially dangerous descending AD ground can be, at night in intermittent mist, after 24 hours on our feet. A voie normale I shan't be in a hurry to repeat.

[caption id="attachment_6377" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Another scary 'schrund Another scary 'schrund[/caption]

Waking at 10am the next morning in the delapidated and squalid Bocallette Hut we were nonetheless relieved and delighted by its relative luxury, compared to shivering under a group shelter, that had always been a distinct possibility. The hut was tricky to find but as we looked out in the morning to the sheeting rain we realised just how lucky we'd all been.

[caption id="attachment_6388" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Almost Scottish in style in places Almost Scottish in style in places[/caption]

You need numerous things to come together simultaneously to get lucky on a big route- you need to be fit, acclimatised, available, have partners who are similar; you need to be in the right place, with the right weather, but also crucially have the right conditions. Modern comms and equipment have made many of these things so much easier. Hats off to Nick and Alex back in '76- hard to comprehend their skill and audacity nearly 40 years ago. I was 9 at the time and cheating in egg and spoon races in the long hot summer, to win Curly Wurlys; John and Adam hadn't been born.

[caption id="attachment_6374" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Happy memories Happy memories[/caption]

PS: There is a fantastic write up of the first ascent on Alpine Exposures:

 

Jon Morgan