The Petites Aiguilles de Pra Sec seen from the west. The continuation ridge to the left is the Pra Sec, leading eventually to the summit of the Grandes Jorasses. Marked is the first route to be climbed on the western faces of the Petites Aiguilles, Franci and Vale (5.8/5.9, 350m, 6 pitches), which Gillett, Penning and Taylor established this summer. Afterward they moved east to climb a committing virgin slab with Gavin Cytlau: Sexy Beast (5.10d/11a R, 5 pitches). [Photo] Luca Signorelli
Following his new routes on the Aiguilles de Pra Sec (3549m) and Pointe 3019m on the Aiguille de l’Eveque, both reported in the September 2 NewsWire, Tony Penning has added two more routes to the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Range.
Tipped off by Torino-based alpinist, Luca Signorelli, Penning, Nick Gillett and Ali Taylor headed up the track toward the Boccalatte Hut below the south flank of the Grandes Jorasses, but well before reaching it hung a right and made their way to the base of the west flank of the Petites Aiguilles de Pra Sec (ca. 2960m). These are three little-known, small-pointed rock spires at the foot of the long Pra Sec Ridge that were climbed in August 1931 via an approach from the east by Ettore Calcagno and Francesco Ravelli. Some or all of them may have been crossed again in July 1954 by accomplished British alpinists of the day, Tom Bourdillon (of 1953 Everest fame), Anthony Rawlinson and Dick Viney, during their integral ascent of the south ridge of the 3438-meter Aiguille Meridionale, the most southerly summit of the three Aiguilles de Pra Sec. In 1964 Ottavio Bastrenta and Corradino Rabbi repeated the British route during their integral traverse of the Pra Sec Ridge to the summit of the Grandes Jorasses, and there is a rumor that this might have been repeated in winter. However, other than these visits the Petites Aiguilles have been forgotten.
The Eveque Slabs on the east side of the Pra Sec valley below the southern flanks of the Grandes Jorasses. The first route on these slabs, Sexy Beast (5.10d/11a R, 5 pitches, Cytlau-Gillett-Penning-Taylor, 2007), is marked. The main rocky summit up to the right is the ca. 3250m Aiguille de l’Eveque. [Photo] Luca Signorelli
One of the most prominent features on the previously untouched west faces of the Petites Aiguilles is an elegant spur, which descends from the most northerly and highest of the three towers. Where the right flank of the spur meets the main face lies a steep right-angled corner, and the British party felt this the most interesting target. With Penning in the lead, they climbed the 350-meter route in six pitches at a serious 5.8/5.9. Some of the rock was loose, and the fifth pitch sported huge hollow flakes and wide crack/chimney climbing. The team discovered ancient material on the ridge and marveled at the traverse towards the Pra Sec Aiguilles, which appeared to be rather serious. A rappel descent was made and the route named Franci and Vale after Signorelli’s two children.
Together with Gavin Cytlau the three then moved back east to the Pra Sec basin and headed up to the western flanks of the Tronchey Ridge. The venue was a section of big slabs and corner systems that lie at the foot of a ridge running southwest from the Aiguille de l’Eveque. Penning had eyed these slabs ever since he first visited this corner of the range but had not got around to closer inspection. The slabs lie south of the approach to the Jachia Bivouac Hut, located on the crest of the Tronchey Ridge, and their dominant feature is a large, leftward-facing corner system splitting compact granite. This gave a five-pitch route, with three pitches in the region 5.10d/11a R, one of mid 5.10 and the first around 5.9. The route was climbed as a rope of four with Penning leading. The climbing was often bold: Pitch 3 featured a wet chimney, while on Pitch 4 Penning had to make an alarming hand traverse across a very steep wall to get back into the main corner system. Once there, he was confronted with six meters of almost-vertical grass tufts that proved just strong enough to climb up in order to regain clean rock and protection. From the top it was an easy walk off north, down the back (one rappel). The venue is now known as the Eveque Slabs and the route, Sexy Beast. While the shortest of the four new routes completed by the team during late summer, because of its unique character Penning felt this route offered the best experience.
Tony Penning exiting the wet chimney on Pitch 3 of Sexy Beast (5.10d/11a R, 5 pitches, Cytlau-Gillett-Penning-Taylor, 2007) and about to negotiate some seriously lush vegetation. [Photo] Jack Tackle