Grandes Jorasses – North Face – Colton Macintyre

Taken from the Leschaux hut, looking up at the Grandes Jorasses.

A classic route up the North face of the Grandes Jorasses. I have wanted to climb this for a long time and I heard it was in good condition with several teams heading up it recently. The weather was good, I had time off and had found a climbing partner. All things were in place to get committed on the huge face with Twid Turner.

The route has quite a reputation with the likes of Chris Bonnington and Dougal Haston spending 17 bivvies on the face before having to turn around. It’s a long route ascending from the Leschaux hut up to 4200m to the summit.  Our chosen style was to go up and down in a day hopefully not having to bivvy on route. 

Morgan climbing over the Bergschrund
We started at 12.30am from a busy hut where several other teams were setting off to go up the same route. The route finding to the base is quite hard at night and there was no moon around to light the way. A faint track helped and lead through a series of crevasses and seracs until we got to a shear ice wall around 10m high. It was the only obvious way onto the ice ramp so we had to climb over it. Leading vertical ice at 4am with just the light of your head torch was an exciting experience and got rid of any tiredness we were feeling walking up to the base of the route.

 

We then climbed a long snowy ramp moving together to get to the start of the steep ice. The sun rose and a patch of snow covered in blood became apparent. It was quite intimidating before setting off on the crux ice section thinking about what might have happened before. We found out later the blood was from the nose of a team above after a lump of ice struck one of them on the nose. Twid set off on lead and made short work of the steep snow ice, good placements for axes an crampons but poor screws so it was effectively soloing – a strong lead. We overtook the team in front who were moving slowly and we moved quickly up onto the steep mixed section above.

 

 

What is normally mixed climbing up a steep gully was in fact ice all the way. We moved quickly up and then saw a ramp leading to the Walker spur where would exit the the face. A few more pitches of steady climbing took us to the summit of the Jorasses both greatful to be in the sun and at the top of this beautiful mountain. 

We had been on the go for 16 hours from leaving the hut, we had pitched around 25 rope lengths and moved together the rest. I had lost count how many times I had hot aches in my fingers. Pretty much every belay stance was hanging in uncomfortable positions. We had felt the pressure of time the whole way with a thought that if we are too slow we would be having a cold night under the stars, this meant the camera didn’t come out until the very top which looking back is a shame as there are such great positions on the route and would have been great photos. The climbing on the route is sensational and the line it takes up the faces is superb and logical. An incredible bold and courageous first ascent by Nick Colton and Alex Macintyre.
Amazing views across the Massif.

Just the long descent down to the Boccaletti hut through some quite scary terrain with deep crevasses,  big seracs and knife edge ridges. We later found out the team behind fell while walking down the arete, fortunately one guy jumped the opposite side of the ridge to save him but nearly cut thier rope in half. A lucky escape! It was hard to find the hut but with the help of a gps and following the description we found it eventually and got our heads down for a while.
We woke tired but pleased to have climbed such a classic route. We just had to descend down into Italy and then hitch back to Chamonix. Easier said than done and in the end we had to get the bus from Courmayeur in the afternoon which took most of the day.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Morgan Baduel for the photos, Twid for being a great climbing partner and my wife and daughter for their support, understanding and patience.

 

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