GRANDES JORASSES

Posted on: June 1, 2003


Patrick Gabarrou and Benot Robert new routing on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. Their route, A Ley (V 5.10+ A3 WI5+ M5+, 850m), was completed without a stove, in full conditions; it was Gabarrous third new route on the face. [Photo] Philippe Batoux

Patrick "Gab" Gabarrou, Benoit Robert and I spent February 26-28, 2003, on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, opening a new route that achieves an unnamed point between the Croz Spur and the Pointe Helene—a point that we named Punta Magali.

The route began on February 26 with some easy chutes of polystyrene snow before steepening on good, but thin, ice (WI5+). Snow-covered slabs with no consistency brought us to within two pitches of the upper Croz Spur snow field. There, delicate mixed climbing on occasionally fragile rock made everything complicated. At around 10:30 p.m. Gab found a cornice that could be chopped to make a bivouac. After a good session of digging I took out my faithful stove. A flame appeared at the valve on the cartridge. I had three options: 1. take off running, which was impossible given the location; 2. toss the stove, but it would be a drag not to have a stove on the north face of the Jorasses; 3. unscrew the flaming cartridge. I settled on the third option. My gloves caught on fire. I managed to extinguish them by plunging them into the snow. The stove was dead; we had to eat snow. I was unable to get into my sleeping bag any deeper than my waist, and dreamed of a portaledge. Around 4 a.m. it started to snow.

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For once, we broke camp quickly. Since we had no stove, there was nothing to prepare, and since we were all very uncomfortable no one cared to sleep in. We climbed the snowfield, first on snow, then on ice, which made our calves scream. Falling snow and spindrift forced us to stop frequently. We arrived at the dihedral atop the snowfield and were finally protected from the spindrift. The rock was mediocre everywhere. Ben slipped on his climbing shoes for a couple of mandatory rock moves. After three and a half hours of struggle to climb thirty-five meters he set up his belay. It was dark. We sent up his plastic boots tied together by the laces on the tag line. The bundle got caught on some overhangs and we saw something go by. Benoit reeled in the package and asked us why we had sent up only one boot. The bivouac, on a half-meter by one-meter cornice, with a drop-off in front of me and to my right, was even worse than the previous night's. To my left, Gab was jammed into the bottom of the dihedral with Ben above him. Once again I couldn't close my sleeping bag.

The next morning, the rock above the belay was truly mediocre, and I didn't feel like falling down onto my partners. Using my hammer I managed to cut out some holes in the soft granite where I could place some small cams. When I pulled on the units, the cams mashed the rock like modeling clay. Two pitches later I reached the summit of Punta Magali and the top of our route, A Ley (V 5.10+ A3 WI5+ M5+, 850m). We asked the Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne if they could send us a boot. They preferred to bring us down. By privilege based on age (and by virtue of having given his boot to Ben), Gab was the one who would go down by helicopter. Three and a half hours later we arrived at Planincieux, the village at the foot of the south side of the Grandes Jorasses.

— Philippe Batoux, Annecy, France (translated by Eric Bye)

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