From January 13 to 18, Charles Dubouloz completed what is likely the first solo winter ascent of Rolling Stones (5.10 A3, or M8, 1100m) a rarely repeated route on the fabled north face of the Grandes Jorasses above Chamonix, France.
He spent six days with five bivies on the wall, pressing on through strong winds and low temperatures of -30?C (-22?F), sustaining some frostbite to a big toe. On January 19, he posted on Instagram (translated from the original French by Katie Ives):
Just arrived this night in Courmayeur [Italy]. I still can’t believe it. I’ve dreamed of this ascent for a long time. These six days and five bivouacs in the shadow of a face battered by the wind are, for me, the culmination of relentless outdoor training since my youth.
About ten days ago, the high-pressure system sets in. Everything sweeps me along: I launch myself, I dare, I doubt, I’m scared, I quiver, I’m cold…but I have this intense drive to set foot on the summit.
I’m encouraged and supported by:
My guardian angel [photographer Seb Montaz]
The sandman VincentG who sprinkles my dreams
My family who understands my choices and supports me no matter what.
Tonight, my hands are shredded, my feet frozen, but there are tears in my eyes. I have realized MY dream…..
Dubouloz also thanked French climbing journalist Claude Guardien, who provided Alpinist with some additional context about the ascent in an email:
Charles’ ascent got a lot of interest in France….
Rolling Stones is not very well known. In 1979, there was not a lot of interest about [the first ascent by Czech climbers Thomas Prochaska, Jroslav Rutil, Ludek Schlechta and Jiri Svejda]. Just a few words about a new route on the north face. The route was repeated in 1984, in winter, by Benoit Grison and Eric Grammond, then both members of GMHM [Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne] (13-17 February). There have not been a lot of repeats: Stephane Benoist and with Jerome Thinieres; Christophe Moulin together with a team of young climbers from the French Alpine Club; [the first free ascent at M8 by Slovenian climbers Luka Lindic and Luka Krajnc in 2014]; Max Bonniot, Leo Billon (GMHM again) and Pierre Labbre in 2017; and maybe a few more that I don’t remember. So there is not a lot of info about the it…this route is still a little bit mysterious. Solo climbing in winter on the north face will always be a deep experience.
Charles had hard conditions: very cold weather (we are not very accustomed to that now), and NE wind that was blowing directly on the route, which is on the NE flank of the Walker Spur.
It is worth noting that Charles did a winter solo ascent of the Petit Dru’s north face in 2021, then a great new route on Chamlang [7321m] last autumn with Benjamin Vedrines, [A l’Ombre du Mensonge (“In the Shadow of Lies,” ED: WI5+ M5+, 90?) which they climbed in alpine style over four days].
The following interview with Charles Dubouloz has been edited for clarity:
It’s been about a week since you got down from the wall–how are you feeling and how is the frostbite healing?
This week was incredible for me, because of the media [responses]. It is great that everybody wanted to talk to me about mountains and alpinism. But with this media storm it was hard to break away and to think about what I did. I love to write and think about a route after I return from a mountain adventure, but this time I didn’t have time!
My toe is OK. I need to rest because it is the second time I got frostbite on this foot in a short time (the last time was in October during our Chamlang north face ascent).
What attracted you to climb this particular route as a solo, and in winter?
I come from a generation of climbers who like to be fast and light. I love it, try to be as efficient as possible with a friend in the mountains. But I also love this part of alpinism. Even if it is not fashionable it is an important part of alpinism for me. To be versatile, it is important to try everything. When you are alone everything is harder. You have to think for two, you have to climb with fluency and be very organized with rope systems, and you also have to do all of the route finding! I did it in winter because it presents the hardest conditions: cold with short days.
How much information were you able to gather about the route beforehand?
Yes, there isn’t much information on the route because few climbers have done it. The only topo that I followed is the one by Glairon Rappaz and Cedric Perillat-Merceroz, who did it in 2011. Their map is not very precise, but it was enough. It was important for me to go on this kind of route, because I wanted to live a big adventure with some unknowns!
What was your strategy? How much gear and food did you take?
Before starting, it was hard for me to plan how long it would take. So I planned for one week, plus or minus two days. I had quite a bit of food, but it was impossible for me to eat much of it during the ascent. I ate only two freeze-dried meals during the six days!
How much of the route were you able to free climb?
I free climbed most of the route. I only aided the two crux pitches. I was thankful to be able to do so much free climbing because it’s so much faster than aid climbing.
What was your greatest challenge during those days on the wall?
During those six days on the wall there were many challenges. The first day was hard, mentally, because of the bad conditions–it was dry and there wasn’t much ice to consolidate the loose rock. There were some uncomfortable bivies…. And maybe the crux day. It was really hard to climb it alone because there was so much loose rock and traverses, which are harder to do when rope soloing.
Any close calls or notably scary moments?
Yes the scary moments were maybe the first day. It was very dry and loose. Mentally it was hard to get into the ascent! The first bivy in the hammock was pretty terrifying…
How would you like to apply this experience to future objectives; what are your next big goals?
This kind of adventure is an asset for the future, because I’ve learned a lot during these six days. I know myself better and I know what I am able to do, or not!
I have many goals in my head, but right now I just want to appreciate this moment. My next big goal will probably be with a friend, not solo! In the Alps or Himalaya, I don’t really know at this time. And it is hard for me to announce what I want do. I prefer not to say anything and talk after 😉