MONT BLANC

Posted on: June 1, 2003


The Brouillard and Frêney Faces of the south (Italian) side of Mont Blanc. Route numbers correspond to the order in which Patrick Bérhault and Philippe Magnin completed their enchainment of eight ice couloirs (indicated by arrows) and eight rock routes (approximate lines drawn). All routes were climbed to the crest of the Brouillard Ridge, which forms the left skyline in the photograph. The Eccles Bivouac is out of sight at bottom center. Routes climbed are as follows: 1. Brouillard Givrant (V WI6, 400m, Bellin-Boivin, 1985) 2. Cascade du Notre Dame (V WI6, 700m, Gabarrou-Marsigny, 1984) 3. Hypercouloir du Brouillard (V WI6, 700m, Gabarrou-Steiner, 1982) 4. Hypergoulotte (V 5.10a A1 WI6+ R, 400m, Grison-Mailly, 1984) 5. Abominette (IV 5.8 WI3, 700m, Gabarrou-Profit-Tavernier, 1984) 6. Fantomastic (V WI6, 700m, Gabarrou-Marsigny, 1985) 7. Freneysie Pascale (VI WI6 R, 700m, Gabarrou-Marsigny, 1984) 8. Grand Couloir du Frêney (III D+, 850m, Abert-Affanassief-Blanchard-Challéat, 1974) to the Cascade du Frêney (IV WI5+, Bernardi-Grassi-Luzi, 1980) 9. Dérobé Pillar of Frêney (ED, 300m, Frost-Harlin, 1963) 10. Central Pillar of Frêney (TD+, 500m, Bonington, Clough-Djuglosz-Whillans,1961) 11. South Pillar of Frêney (5.8, 700m) 12. Central Pillar of Brouillard, Jones Route (TD 5.8 A1, 350m, Jones, 1971) 13. Right-Hand Pillar of Brouillard, Bonington Route (TD+ 5.10- A1, 350m, Baillie-Bonington-Harlin-Robertson, 1965) 14. Red Pillar of Brouillard (TD+ 5.10-, 400m, Bonatti-Oggioni, 1959) 15. Left Pillar of Brouillard (TD 5.9, 400m, Kowalewski-Marzka-Wroz, 1971) 16. North Pillar of Frêney (TD+, 700m, Bollini-Gervasutti, 1940) [Photo] Guillaume Vallot

I had been dreaming of the rock pillars of the Brouillard and Freney faces for nearly twenty years. In the beginning, the project of repeating the historic pillars was conceived by Jean-Marc Boivin. The aspect that attracted me was enchaining, over the course of a few days, the eight mythical rock routes that cover forty years of alpine history. As ice technique developed, eight ice routes were added to the project. It became necessary to locate a solid climbing partner hardened in all types of alpine practices. Philippe Magnin, who teamed up with me on the winter trilogy (Grandes Jorasses-Matterhorn-Eiger, fall/winter 2000-01), agreed to join the project. The determination was there; it was the right moment. We went to the Eccles Bivouac for twenty-two days of winter enchainment (February 11 to March 5) involving sixteen ice and rock routes on the Italian (south) side of Mont Blanc. These three weeks spent between 3250 and 4807 meters were rich and intense. The mountain never quit reminding us of our commitment: sun, wind, fantastic light, cloudbanks, snow, lots of snow, sheets of powder, cold... In conditions that at other times would have been enough to turn us back, we persevered until we had climbed the routes that form the history that had motivated us. Once you have achieved part of a goal you don't give up, you stick to the goal, and that's when you can make some interesting discoveries. For example, climbing this sequence, under such conditions, is something I never would have done, and something that many alpinists would have shied away from, had we not already climbed the initial routes. At the mouth of the Hypercouloir, for example, sheets of powder coming down from the summit blinded us, taking our breath away. At the same time, a rising wind rushed up from the bottom of the chute, pushing us up. We felt like we were caught in a wind vise. We wondered if it would ever end, but it was an astonishing sensation, and it lent a special dimension to this accomplishment.

The hardest parts of the enchainment were the last days, after the major snowfalls at the beginning of March. There was so much snow that we could no longer get purchase. To reach the base of the routes, we proceeded on our knees on top of our packs which we placed on the snow like snowshoes. On an average ascent those conditions would not be tolerated, but within a broader project, it becomes possible. And what you take from it at the end has nothing to do with the difficulty you've surmounted; there is a reward in the creativity, the pleasure you have made and, in this case, the enchainment of the routes of history. The mountain gave us the whole spectrum of everything you could possibly experience in its bosom: mixed climbing, ice, rock, friendship, isolation, bivouac...

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— Patrick Bérhault with Sylvie Perrier, France (translated by Eric Bye)

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