A Grandes Traverse

After what was an incredible summer of rock climbing in the UK I was nearly reluctant to leave the UK and head to the Alps for a couple of weeks but a good looking forecast for the Alps made it easy to go! Heading out with Dave we had a few plans for routes and link ups of routes. Phillipe Batoux’s new book, Mont Blanc – The Finest Routes provides plenty of inspiration for big and small routes all over the massif.

We headed up to the Monzino hut with a view to getting on the Ratti Vitalli route on the remote West face of the Aiguille Noire. Dropping off some kit at the Monzino hut we carried on up to Aiguille Croux, a great little summit that gave some great climbing on its South face via Que Cherches to Jean Marie and a good view of the approach to the West face of the Noire.

West Face of the Aiguille Noire

West Face of the Aiguille Noire

A long and slightly involved approach the following morning brought us to the base of the route where we set off up this amazing face. The crux of the route is a long overhanging corner, the top section of which goes at 5c or AO.  The exposure on this pitch is wild as you’re hanging out over the chaotic Freney Glacier! It also took a lot of energy being unaccclimatised and having got past this point we thought we had it in the bag but quite a few pitches of immaculate slab still lay in front us meaning that we topped out in the dark and got to spend a delightful shivver bivvy on the summit of the Noire!

Dave just below the crux corner.

Dave just below the crux corner.

A loooong descent (first time I’ve been so far out on a guidebook time!) the following day meant by the time we got back to the van we had been going for nearly 48 hours with only a litre of water each which was rather sub optimal! Thankfully the weather was not so great for the next day or two so after a bit of R&R and a lot of drinking we caught the Torino lift to climb the Bonatti/Tabou route on the Chandelle du Tacul, a great example of one of the shorter, accessible rock routes that is highlighted in the Batoux book. Amazing granite slabs, cracks and corners!

Bonatti Tabou, Chandelle du Tacul

Bonatti Tabou, Chandelle du Tacul

Each of these routes was great in its own right and for us served as a great way to get acclimatised for something higher up. The Tronchey Ridge lies on the south side of the Grandes Jorasses and as it happens is the only route on the Jorasses that doesn’t require you to step on a glacier on the way up. The entire ridge can be seen from the valley floor, from where you start and cover around 2500m of ascent to the top of the Grandes Jorasses. It’s a bit of a slog up to the Jacchia bivouac hut (if anyone needs a better description for this approach just ask) but its worth it. The Jacchia hut gets maybe 4 or 5 visits a year so you can pretty much be guaranteed solitude and as a bonus is situated at the base of the Ridge itself so no approach walk in the morning!

Jacchia Bivouac Hut

Jacchia Bivouac Hut

The Tronchey Ridge rises from the hut in a twisting narrow arete towards three towers which bar the way to the summit. I would like to say that the quality of the rock matched the great aesthetics of the ridgeline but for the majority of the initial section it didn’t! Steady progress brought us to the rock towers which the standard route takes you around (there is a direct integrale). Steady climbing on good rock, interspersed with some death block scrambling brought us past the first two towers. Here the rock improved and gave way to some good, interesting climbing leading up to the third tower. Being so rarely frequented there is a near total lack of insitu gear which all adds to the remoteness of the situation which, in the Mont Blanc region in August, is quite hard to come by.

The Tronchey Ridge stretching out below

The Tronchey Ridge stretching out below

The route brought us out on to the summit of Pointe Walker and hence the Grandes Jorasess. When John and I climbed the Croz Spur a couple of years ago we didn’t go to the summit so it was great to finally stand at the top of the Grandes Jorasses. A relatively comfortable bivvy (we slept through the alarm in the morning) brought us through to an amazing sunrise and the start of the Grandes Jorasses traverse. This has got to be one of the best traverses in the Alps taking you along the top of what is arguably the most prolific North Face in the Mont Blanc Massif.

Looking back towards Pointe Croz and Walker

Looking back towards Pointe Croz and Whymper.

The initial traverse from Pointe Walker to Pointe Croz is relatively straight forward along snowy/icy slopes and when you gain Pointe Helene the up and down climbing becomes more technical all the way to the far side of Pointe Young, although the rock for the most part is solid and actually enjoyable to move on. The traverse is more traditionally done from the the Torino Hut via the Rocheforte Arete so we passed a few teams heading in the opposite direction along the ridge. Doing it in reverse also meant information about the descent off Pointe Young to the Col des Grandes Jorasses is a bit harder to come by and so to be sure we took a second rope ( as suggested in a certain book) for the raps to the Col. Turns out the second rope wasn’t needed at all…at least we (or anyone else reading this) know for next time!

Quick breather just past Pointe Helene.

Quick breather just past Pointe Helene.

On the traverse of the Grandes Jorasses. Pointe Margerite ahead with the Rocheforte Arete beyond!

On the traverse of the Grandes Jorasses. Pointe Margerite ahead with the Rocheforte Arete beyond!

Rapping the immaculate granite of the West face of Pointe Young we arrived at the Canzio Bivouac to find we were only sharing it with a friendly French guide and his client who were traversing the opposite way to us. Their mutual back massaging (maybe it’s a French Guiding ‘service’) later that evening led to some awkward staring at the wall from Dave and myself.

The following morning saw us climbing immaculate granite on the East face of the Calotte de Rocheforte. Dave pulled out a great little lead to get us over the tricky 5c step on to the Calotte de Rocheforte. Great mountaineering along the ridge brought us to Dome de Rocheforte where some careful downclimbing on choss brings you to the snow leading to the Aigulle de Rocheforte and hence the deservedly famous Rocheforte Arete.

Arriving on to the start of the Rocheforte Arete.

Arriving on to the ridge leading to the Rocheforte Arete.

Having read about the Rocheforte Arete since I first went to the Alps it was great to finally traverse along it as it is a very aesthetic line with stunning exposure along its length. A quick sprint down the descent from the Dent de Geant and a final lung bursting walk up to the Torino hut brought us to the end of an amazing four days out in the hills.

This is the first time I’ve done a link up of routes in this way and I’m definitely keen for a few more. Having spent a reasonable amount of time now on the Italian side of Mont Blanc my eyes have been opened up to the possibilities of big and small days out in lesser visited places.

The icing on the cake for the trip was when the little Italian lady in the cafe at the base of the Torino lift brought us out the bonus basket of assorted crisps with our order. Having enviously watched other groups on prior visits receive this bonus basket it made us smile that we were now deemed regulars. Made up.

Looking back on an amazing journey!

Looking back on an amazing journey

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