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Petites Jorasses

The helicopter skimmed the rippled glacier, the impending darkness
making it difficult to distinguish the noisy little insect amongst the
savage and austere cirque of mountains that surrounded me and John
Bracey. We had been attempting the second ascent of Omega (WI6 6a
A3, 650m, Gabarrou-Latorre, 1994), but had failed when I fell three
pitches from the top and broke my ankle. A return was called for, but
with our near success, Omega’s mystique had been broken, and an
unofficial race was on.

I returned to the Petites Jorasses (3650m) in January 2005 with a new
partner, Stu McAleese, intending to free the entire route. We left the
hut at 5:30 a.m., January 4, and reached the base of the route at 8. The
weather was cold and clear and forecast to remain that way for the next
three days. The first two pitches featured thin ice: beautiful, plastic,
vertical, technical. These brought us to a snowfield, up which we moved
together, wallowing in deep snow for another sixty meters until we
reached a gully that we climbed for 180 meters at Scottish III. An
overhanging V-groove on Pitch 7 proved, with the addition of ice on the
right wall, to be easier than on the previous attempt. Poor protection,
back-and-footing and thin, precarious ice climbing yielded a quality
sixty-meter pitch of Scottish V1/7. Although it was still only 2:30
p.m., a great bivy site on the left, above the belay of Pitch 7 and in
the start of the second snow gully, proved too tempting to ignore, and
we chopped into the top of a rock rib to spend the night.

The next morning we started up the gully at 8 a.m., leaving our
rucksacks at the bivy site. Pitch 8 was the mirror image of Pitch 7’s
overhanging corner, but with no ice on the side wall, it turned into a
sixty-meter thrutch. After another quality, heavily iced mixed pitch, we
reached Pitch 10–the broken-ankle pitch. Mine again. I surmounted a
bulging chockstone split by a narrow, thinly iced cleft by using ice
below the chock to stand and place five pieces of protection into
crumbly, rotten rock and ice. Twenty meters of fierce and fiery climbing
that included hip jamming and cutting loose with my feet put the ghosts
to rest.

McAleese then led a sixty-meter, crumbling, poorly protected
seventy-degree corner and thinly iced eighty-degree slab, passing
another overhanging chockstone in the process. Pitch 12 was the A2/3
pitch. I started up via a pleasant, iced corner, but it was capped by
yet another large jutting flake that blocked an overhanging chimney.
Clipping a bolt on the eighty-degree wall to the right, I laybacked the
flake and mantled with caution. (Had the flake pulled it would have
killed Stu.) Moving right from the top of the flake onto the wall, I
clipped a second bolt before climbing a technical section of creaking
flakes by laybacking on torques and smearing with crampons. Ten meters
above the bolt, I hung from a moving fang of rock and placed two
knifeblade pegs, then surmounted an overlap by rocking over onto a poor
foot placement and laybacking from poor torques. This allowed access to
the thin ice in the top of the overhanging corner and the third bolt,
which I used for a belay. One final sixty-meter pitch brought us to the
col on the summit ridge. We rapped the route.

–Nick Bullock, Belfordshire, England

Editor’s Note: Patrick Gabarrou and Ferran Latorre made the first ascent
of Omega March 24-25, 1994, using three bolts for protection.
Benoit Peyronnard and Philippe Batoux made the second ascent of the
route (at WI5+R M6 A1+) on December 9 and 10, 2004, in twelve hours and
thirty minutes of climbing time, freeing all the route except for five
meters of the A3 pitch, which Batoux aided to avoid dropping a loose
flake on Peyronnard. In the event, he knocked the flake off, which broke
Peyronnard’s tool in two. Batoux and Peyronnard continued to the summit
of the Petites Jorasses; Bullock and McAleese finished at the col.