Jessy Pivier climbs Epéna North Face Jessy Pivier climbs Epéna North Face

First ascent of “The Fridge” 900M / 5c / M5 / WI5

 
 

It all started exactly 27 years ago, when – during his first adventures in this North face – Manu Pellissier began to dream of a mixed line through this huge limestone face. Luc Mongellaz had also visited this face already, attempting the first winter ascent of the North West pillar in 2017, which was stopped just below the summit after a fall of his partner. I am delighted to join this fine team for my first adventure in this face.

A couple of days before the ascent we set out to scout the current conditions at the wall and to do a first ascent below the Western summit of the Epéna, spotted by Manu a few years before. During the ascent, we could see the dominant ice plates in the middle of the North face, wondering if we should change plans. We decided to stay with our initial plan which also allowed us to equip a rappel line on the Champagny side. The result of this adventure was “Adieu les cons”, 500M / M5 / 5, a nice first taste of this face.

After two rest days, we are back at the parking at 4 a.m. We get on our electric bikes for a little warm-up, then continue by foot and reach the point where things start to get serious at around 7am. Pretty motivated to do the slab in crampons, I start the first pitch, and to my surprise the rock is better than expected. Then we continue, alternating pitches in snow, rock, and ice plates that are just as they should be. The pace is good and we can fully absorb the atmosphere of the face. The protection is not always obvious, we make use of pitons, friends, nuts, bird peaks, ice screws…all toys we have with us are used!

Manu takes over, the conditions are great, ice and squeaky snow ... we have a blast! After having set a few anchors in this mixture of ice that is too fine for ice screws and a slab that is too compact for nuts, here we are now at the foot of “the pitch”, the ephemeral pitch of ice that has been on our minds for so many years.

The atmosphere is captivating, hanging on our ice screws in the middle of this large 500 metres slide. Luc will have the honour to battle this one. The ice is quite hard, the wall vertical…no doubt the calves will be tired afterwards!

We have now reached the top ramps, they are less easy than expected. The snow is inconsistent and sometimes insufficient. A first attempt on the right we are stopped by the underlying slabs. We then try to go left, the ramps seem less steep, but doubt sets in. Starting with a tight rope, we end up doing pitches, the snow sliding over these hard-to-protect slabs is challenging. Finally we make it through this section and reach the pass around 4:30p.m. – happy and deeply touched by this beautiful line as well as the sunset we are rewarded with.

Gabbro

This highly abrasive igneous rock is best known for making up the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye, but in the Lake District it provides some excellent bouldering at Carrock Fell in the northern Lakes. The rock is a real skin shredder and cold conditions make all the difference. It takes a bit of time to get used to the style of climbing on Gabbro, and often there is a really specific sequence of moves that you need to figure out, so don’t worry if the grades feel stiff at first! As the area becomes more popular, the small tracks are becoming easier to find between the boulders, however it can still be tricky to move around as the boulders are dispersed across the hillside.

However, the day is not over yet. We have to reach the Western summit via a ridge less comfortable than expected, especially at night. Even if the moon is watching, we spend 3 hours on this aerial ridge, crawling a good share of the time. At the Western summit, we find our equipped rappels, and 3 hours later we are on our bikes back to the car, 20 hours after having left it. Very tired but happy we have a beer before falling asleep quite easily!

Words by | Jessy Pivier

 

Jessy Pivier is a French mountain guide based in Chamonix and part of the Rab athlete team. You can follow his adventures at @jessypivier.