First winter season in Northern Norway was quite productive one, even though we had several bad weather periods that lasted weeks. Below you can find topos from all the biggest new routes we managed to climb. There so much more to explore. Feels like I just scratched a surface. Feel free to ask more info about locations and lines as topos are not very detailed.
Kärkevagge valley, Sweden. New direct variation to Trollbaletten. Original line was climbed by Sofie Eriksson and Alexander Nordvall in January 2020. In November 2021 I added a direct start and ending to it, climbing it as a full ice line.
In November 2021 me and Joda Dolmans developed a new ice sector to Kärkevagge valley in Sweden, establishing three steep ice lines.
We continued our search of virgin ice and found a new line high on the platteus of Lappskardet, above the deep valley of Kirkesdalen in Norway.
Last addition to local ice scene was FlipFlop Krigere in Stordalen with Joda and Sofie. Climbed in November 2021.
In February conditions were good again. Sofie and me did a new mixed route in Skjomen, naming it to Guardians of the Galaxy. Four pitches of good climbing on the SW side of Lapviktinden.
Marcus Loewen, Sami Modenius and me did a last obvious unclimbed line on the SW face of Grytetippen in Senja in February 2022. A good mountaineering route with a shorth approach.
After Grytetippen I free soloed a new line to SW face of Barden. Chamonix style goulotte climbing all the way. This has a potential to become a classic. Approach from Mefjordbotn takes an hour.
Last new route in Senja was first ascent of the N face of Breidtind with Sami Modenius. Finnjävel climbs to the highest point of the island following obvoius features on the face. It was the first route that continues all the way to the true summit.
In early March 2022 I did a new line on the NW face of Blokktind with Eivind Jacobsen. It was a highlight of the season for sure.
I have been struggling to write trip reports lately but last Tuesday we had a day out which reminded, that climbing is more than just a sport, at least for me. I see some artistry in it, especially when climbing new terrain without any information. When you have no clue if something is climbable or are you skilled and strong enough.
In the beginning of January, when skiing Gangnesaksla couloir in Skjomen, we spotted a hanging ice drip on a steep rock wall. It looked like a glowing dot in the middle of a black, steep rock face in a morning twilight. Would it be possible to reach that?
Earlier in the season we developed some new ice climbs around Narvik but when standing under most of them, we were able to say that yeah, we can climb those but with this line it wasn’t sure at all. That was a feeling I have been missing. Trying to solve a puzzle, connecting dots, dealing with uncertainty.
I got back from Chamonix in early February, just in time to do some shift pooling at work to get a few days off before the next snowfall. After doing Søylefossen, a Spansdalen classic with Marcus Loewen on Monday it was time to attempt the line in Skjomen. Climbing conditions looked amazing!
I teamed up with Sofie Eriksson, Narvik based skilled all around climber. On Tuesday morning we drove to Sør-Skjomen playing a soundtrack from the Guardians of the Galaxy. Listening song after song from ´60s and ´70s – beating a sound of a gusting wind which lifted up waves in a fjord and dusted the road with last fluffy snow which had not been flown away earlier.
The line is located in a narrow gorge in which the left hand wall rises steeply above your head while the right hand side is more mellow and vegetated. We made quick progress hopping on boulders and cramponing up firm snow. Gorge felt quite hostile in a way and would definitely be an avalanche trap in snowy conditions, with cornices looming above.
Our intended line didn’t look any easier from below but we decided to have a look anyway. Immaculate granite sheets looked almost impassable, but maybe there was a weakness that would let us reach that hanging ice.
We simul soloed a short snow couloir to the base of an ice streak, quite far right from the upper ice we were aiming for. Armed with a jumar, single and half rope, pitons, almost double rack of cams and loads of ice screws. Idea was to climb that streak and then try to follow a ledge system for a moment before trying to find a way through a rock barrier.
Already the first pitch set up a theme for a day. Run out traverses that were as committing for the second as for the leader. Rope stretching 60m pitch with some insecure sections warmed us up.
Second pitch looked steeper and would probably be the key pitch of the route. It began to snow when I climbed a few meters of ice to reach a horizontal crack under a roof. It was pure joy to see that we would have some foot holds too, not just a blank slab for the feet. Long reaches, hooking from a flake to another while traversing more and more left at the same time. There seemed to be a weakness to follow!
A short but quite physical and steep step formed a crux of the pitch. Gear was okay but quite far apart. Laybacking a mossy flake on the roof and lifting my feet high up felt quite involved for a moment but managed to pull it off and reached a clean crack to stuff as many good cams in as wanted, to make a good belay.
Spindrifts started to fall down granite sheets while Sofie seconded the pitch. Most of the time I couldn’t see her as roofs blocked the view but heard music she was playing from her phone and singing along. When she got closer I realised that she was climbing only with one axe and crabbing icy flakes while wearing mittens. I wouldn’t even be able to climb ice with big gloves on and especially not tricky mixed.
Now we were half a pitch away from the main ice but the terrain looked mentally challenging. Snow plastered rock with some ice blobs here and there that required gentle hooking. Stubby screw in a icy crack as a only possible protection I went for it. I knew that I could climb it if I shut my brains off for a moment but still it took some time to weigh risk versus reward. Sofie didn’t say much but I felt she had enough trust that it would be okey to continue.
First secure tool placements on thick ice felt quite good. It went! But just. Probably a few weeks earlier it would have been impossible.
Exposure grew belly tingling as we climbed ice high above the gorge. In a way the ice we were on felt a bit harder than the terrain below or maybe it was just a mental exhaustion that was kicking in.
Late afternoon was getting darker as we neared the top. Sofie belayed me up the last pitch to a cave and said: `I just realised that I have climbed ice only once during last two months. Calves were burning a bit´. Quite a route to start spring climbing season!
Lights of Sør-Skjomen below and fainth glow from a half moon above illuminate our descent. We decided to rapp straight down, hoping to find enough ice or cracks to build anchors. Rappels were a bit scary as terrain was steep and rock so compact that in case of lack of ice, we would need to do some more tricks to reach the ground. Luckily it went well and in no time we were back at the car, now playing songs from teenage years.
Such a day couldn´t end in any other way than eating pizza, having a glass of wine I brought from France and finishing up with some gelato. That`t how all alpine climbing trips should end. Now we’re on our backyard mountains but the whole day felt like being further away. Maybe in another galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy (230m, WI5, M5+, R), FA Juho Knuuttila, Sofie Eriksson, 2022
After flying back to Europe from Pakistan in early August I headed straight to Lofoten for some relaxed rock climbing. In the end managed to do a first ascent of the West Face of Storskiva with Misha Mishin, in the far west of Lofoten islands. The whole story can be found here.
Late in 2020 we opened new mixed lines at Stora Sjöfallet. At first I wasn`t going to publish these at all but due to news about Southern European climbers claiming first ascents in the area and giving quite detailed topos about their climbs, I felt like we should do it too. So here we go:
From left to right:
Nirvana (M7, Wi5), Samuli Pekkanen, 2020. 2 pitches. The line has been climbed as an icefall too but it forms very rarely.
Trendsetter (M6), Juho Knuuttila, 2020. 60m.
Japanilainen puutarha (M5+), Samuli Pekkanen, 2020. 30m
Ice Hiking (M6, Wi5), Juho Knuuttila, 2020. 30m
Mörk Finska, (M6+), Juho Knuuttila, 2020. 30m
Sector is located 150m right from the start of Grevinnan.
Two of the biggest, hard summer alpine routes in the Mont Blanc massif that feed my dreams are Divine Providence on Pilier d´Angle and Manitua on the north face of Grandes Jorasses. Of course you have harder rock climbs, longer ridges and link-ups, but for me, those two are the main reasons coming back to the massif in summer. Probably I will return again and again for granite cracks, but dangerous game of summer alpinism could be put in hold after climbing those two.
After soloing Peuterey Integral in late July focus was more in low stress rock climbing rather than in big alpine, but as always, hunger grows and you start to be more restless. Divine Providence was out of the game in late August, but for Manitua conditions could be actually be quite good.
Several day weather window was approaching and it would begin with a quite cold and cloudy day. A perfect opportunity to climb exposed lower part of Manitua without getting too scared with rockfall. Luckily Sami Modenius was ready for a big climb! Also my Chamonix flatmate Samuli Pekkanen got super stoked about the route and asked if he could join us. With his big wall experience our team would be stronger as nature of the climb kinda forces you to haul and aid some pitches. Except if you are climbing 7c free, on big and scary alpine face and doing it quickly which most of the people won´t.
In summer 1991, a legendary Slovenian alpinist Slavko Sveticic managed to find a line of weakness through the blankest part of the N face of Grandes Jorasses. He climbed for three days in a shadow, establishing a route called Manitua, named after his friend, whom died on the same face a year earlier.
With Walker Spur, Manitua is the only route that gets ascents regularly in summer. There are few others rock routes like Le Nez, but they are off the radar. Jorasses is after all the arena for biggest mixed lines in the massif.
Manitua had a period when it got just winter aid ascents but since summer 2015, when Korra Pesce and Tomas Muller did the first one day ascent, it has turned to be more popular in summer. Dry summers and bad mixed climbing conditions have forced keen Jorasses climbers mainly to Walker and Manitua, other routes being out of condition most of the time.
As a team of three we headed from the first Montenvers train of the day towards base of the Jorasses on Monday. Walk in was fastest I have done, as glacier was mostly free of snow. Big streams were running high up on the glacier showing the rude effects of climate change. We took the rope out for the last hour for the crevassed part before launching to the face around 13:30.
First 400m to the base of the shield were horrible loose show of choss. We had to climb carefully and ended up pitching almost the whole lower part. Simul climbing would have been too dangerous at times, but due to cold and cloudy day the whole face was death silent, which was perfect for us. No rockfall!
Climbing itself was very easy. Last pitch of the day was one move 5c which is a variation to avoid 6c death slab. Variation makes also much more sense and doesn´t feel forced like the original start.
I don´t know why topo doesn´t mention mega ledges top of the first pitch of the shield, but those might be the best place to spend a night on the whole face. We were able to fully lay down and relax while moving clouds gave some extra ambiance.
After midnight we were able to see line of headlamps on the glacier heading for Walker Spur. How much better it would be to start climbing straight from the bivy and avoid tiring approach at night? Much better!
Sami took the first lead block in the morning when sun hit the shield. We had an hour of sunlight before shadows of the N face were upon us again. Sami led three 6b pitches in a big corner with some verglass or shorth wet sections at times. Nothing too bad for a big alpine face though.
Leader climbed without a pack, he would haul most the gear with a tag line and seconds climbed with quite light packs. This system would continue top of the shield.
I took the second lead block for few overhanging 6c/+ pitches that in my opinion had the best free climbing on the route. Amazing big holds on a wildly steep terrain. I also did the ramp to the start of the last part of the shield where Samppa started his block.
Some 6b climbing led to a bold 7a pitch which was climbed with pulling pitons and cams. It was already quite cold and free climbing wasn’t the first priority. I had climbed everything free until that point but that 7a looked quite uninviting with micro crimps.
Again some easier stuff before we were under the crux of the route. It was also the last pitch of the shield. An overhanging wall guarding exit to easier terrain. Ground under out feet dropped 400 meters straight down and base jump would have been more than possible.
We had two options. To do original A3 exit pitch of Manitua or climb the last 7c pitch of Le Nez which is more often done nowdays. Samppa went for the latter and had a proper battle up it with mixture of free and aid climbing. Luckily we had some peckers and pitons with us. It should have been 6c/A1 but even moves to first in-situ pitons were tricky, risking a painful fall to a sharp edge.
An impressive lead which made first on-sight go of the pitch by Symon Welfringer few weeks earlier to look quite an achievement.
We still had daylight left but wind had picked up and we were risking a very windy night on the summit if we would continue. We wanted to go down from Pointe Walker to avoid loose rappels from Pointe Croz. That would mean climbing few hundred meters of a ridge in a dark in strong winds, so best option was just to find a bivy and take it as a training for bigger mountains.
We found a small cave left from a top anchor of Le Nez and dug it deeper and better for two people. Samppa was able to sleep on a ledge ten meters higher while I and Sami played cavemen. The bivy was quite good and protected from a wind, though changing position at night was hard.
On the next morning we started following the original line of Manitua through some loose mixed terrain until we joined the Croz Spur at the notch. I had done the last part in spring 2019 with Etienne during our ascent of the Croz Spur, so I knew the last three pitches quite well. That time pitches felt really annoying and slow with snow, but now they were climbed quite fast with big boots and bare hands. Temperature was close the same though as wind raged strong around us. Situation was wild, the N face dropping 1000m to the glacier under our feet, conditions were alpine say the least and climbing interesting. I was happy to pull the last moves to the ridge out of the shadows, to the warmth and calmness of Italy.
It´s a relieving moment to top out but at the same time intensity of the N face disappears. Of course you still have a long and chaotic descent to Planpincieux ahead, but once again you managed to escape the dark and lived some of the most powerful days of your life.
Jorasses knows we will be back. We will always return with hunger of something harder. In search of a journey back to the light.
We summited Pointe Walker and had a quite uneventful descent down to Val Ferret. It´s long and very alpine but you lose altitude so quickly, that in six hours you are back in the green forests of the valley.
Manitua was my fourth route on the face, Sami`s third and Samppa`s first. I certainly hope that some time in the future face turns white again and allows us to follow it`s thin ice smears. Until that time, the Jorasses fever has decreased, if it ever fully does. There´s no wall like it in the World!
In the first part of August I teamed up with a Swedish climber Oscar Krumlinde for a few days. We had a few bigger ideas but as Oscar`s foot doesn´t really like rock climbing at the moment, so it would be wise to climb something with big boots. Not so easy if you want to go big in the Mont Blanc massif as most of the big summer routes I haven´t done yet require hard free climbing.
Weather was supposed to be stellar, so traverse of the Aiguilles de Chamonix came up as a best idea. Doing it the normal way (Midi-Blaitiere) would have been too easy and not interesting at all, so we decided to try it as reverse which makes actually more sense. Climbing is going up, not down right?
So, we would start from Aiguille de I´M, traverse Petit Charmoz, climb the NW ridge of Grand Charmoz, do Charmoz-Grepon traverse, climb up the rocks next to Spencer couloir and then continue via the classic Aiguilles traverse but in reverse to the Aiguille du Midi – traversing the whole skyline of the Aiguilles above the Chamonix valley. David Lama did it in 18 hours, so how hard can it be?
It snowed two days straight before our departure, but as often in summer, we thought that snow would melt fast during the first day. We took a lazy 8:00am start from Plan de Aiguille cause of that. Walked to the base of NNE spur of Aiguille de I´M and started climbing around 9:30.
As we were lazy, there were already two teams front of us on the NNE spur. We took it easy and just followed on the line on a quite polished route. At least crux (5b) pitches were really slippery with big boots.
I´M was followed by a quick traverse of Petit Charmoz which wasn`t that special. We skipped the summit and continued pass the Doig de Ettala for the first grade four sections of the NW ridge of Grand Charmoz.
Snow started to appear on the ridge. Soon we had 20cm of it on ledges and slabs. Once on the northern side of the Charmoz it really slowed us down.
NW ridge was first climbed in 1950 by Pierre Allain and co and I have to admit that I didn`t expect climbing to be tricky at all. I had just soloed the Peuterey Integral a week before, which begins with S ridge of Aiguille Noire de Peuterey and is full of grade five steps. I had climbed that with ease, never even hauling my back afterwards. But now, on Charmoz, even the first 5b put us back on the track. I would say every pitch was graded like in bouldering, so moves felt a lot harder. Still a 6a boulder shouldn´t be a problem, but add snow and icy cracks and big boots and soon it becomes a big effort to get up even pulling from cams.
I should also mention two pendulums. The first one is avoidable with a 5b slab but the second one is a super airy and little bit sketchy, 10m pendulum around a corner. Allain went for the full send for sure in 1950!!
Before the last two 6a slab pitches to the summit of Charmoz we found a perfect bivy ledge. It was just 19:00, which would mean two hours of light left, but we took the ledge. We would be able to dry our socks in a sunset, take it easy, and wait for snow to melt a bit more for the coming days. Plan was to make it to the Grepon on a first day, but it wouldn´t happen in two hours.
I fixed the rope for the first 6a slab before dinner. Then we had a stunning birthday evening above the clouds and Chamonix valley. The best bivy I have done!
The following morning we jugged up and climbed a 6a+ death slab which was protected with fixed rurp?? and some shaky pitons. How in Earth they did that in 1950?
Soon after we joined the classic Charmoz-Grepon traverse until we managed to rap accidently to the Charmoz-Grepon couloir. Too many raps meant 200m of mixed climbing getting back to the ridge. Very annoying and a major route finding error.
Anyway climbing was snowy, old school and rough. Scenery was spectacular while traversing exposed granite needles, but I wasn`t sure if the climbing itself was quality. Probably not. At least it was odd.
We summited the Grepon and started rappelling and down climbing the Col des Nantillons. We had found core shot middle of our single half rope a few hours earlier and it did get worse under the usage. That and the amount of snow still on the rocks guided us quite quickly the direction of Plan de Aiguille and Chamonix. It wouldn´t be fun and not even safe to continue with a broken rope, so going down was kind of a only option.
Nantillons glacier was in doable condition but with a lot of slushy snow. Coming down from the col didn´t take that much time and soon were in a lift back to Chamonix center.
A fun little adventure, but I´d recommend it in dry conditions for the maximum fun!
Last Autumn I traveled to the Himalayas for the first time. Quentin Roberts (Canada), Tim Banfield (Canada) and I spent six weeks in Khumbu area of Nepal acclimaziting and trying to unlock one of the last big unclimbed lines in Nepal – the North Pillar of Tengkangpoche. We got very close of success on this magical line, but after six days on the wall blank slab stopped us. We reached a new highpoint at 5930m, but still we were 550m short of the summit. I´m not sure if I ever will attempt something as proud and beautiful again.
There has been so many blogs and articles about the climb that I just link them here and won´t write more.
I´m feel happy and privileged about the whole experience, even though the line was much different from our first and second objectives, which crashed down due to politics and other climbers climbing planned faces before us. Luckily Quentin is a boss climbing that kind of a terrain that fast! I hope I can reach the same level, though I might prefer a terrain where you can move slightly faster. 😉 Best of luck for his next attempt!
Mixtakiipeily Rautjärven Haukkavuoren pääseinällä on sallittu vain topon osoittamalla sektorilla. Metsäsektorillakin on hyvä tarkistaa 27 Cragsistä kalliokiipeilyreittien sijainnit. Pääseinän linjat ovat monesti kunnossa vain tammi-helmikuussa.
Pääseinälle on helpoin lähestyä järven jäätä pitkin talvella. Jääputouksille nopein reitti on laavun kautta, mutta monesti metsätietä ei ole aurattu, jolloin jäälähis on nopein.
Harrin halkeama, M5+, FWA 2018. Ikivanhassa Haukkavuoren teknotopossa tämä linja kulkee nimellä Harrin halkeama. Se on myös ensimmäinen linja minkä yritin kiivetä pääseinältä loppuvuodesta 2014. Lopulta kiipesin sen viimeisenä viiden reitin koplasta. Lähinnä siksi, koska reitin toppaukseen vaaditaan roikkuva puikko, mikä muodostuu aniharvoin. Linja jakaa osittain sporttireitti Belladonnan skrämbläysosuuden ja halutessaan kiipeilijä voi klipata kesäreitin kolme keskimmäistä pulttia. Harrin halkeaman yläosa on taas huomattavasti henkisempää mixtaa ilmavalla toppauksella.
Simola, M6, FWA 2018. Jani Lunnaksen 7b tasoinen sporttireitti on valuttaa käytännössä aina. Olikin ilo saada Janilta lupa kiivetä reitti hakuilla, sillä se on huomattavasti parempi talvi- kuin kesäreittinä. Tosin hakunpaikat eivät edes ole samat kuin kesäotteet, joten reitti on edelleen kalliokiipeiltevissä. Paras taktiikka on kiivetä puolivälin ständille varmistelemaan, sillä muuten hänkille mixtaosuudelle on köyttä ulkona melko paljon. Hänkillä on pari pulttia, jotka johtavat roikkuvalle puikolle. Toppaus joko Valojuovan tai Harrin halkeaman kautta.
Valojuova, M?, FA 2017Seinän ensimmäinen talvireitti ja ehkä yksi Suomen parhaista ohuen jään reiteistä. Puhtaasti luonnollisilla varmistettava linja! Viimeiset metrit tarjoilevat vaikeimman kiipeilyn. Greidiä on mahdotonta antaa suht loivalle, mutta ohuelle jäälle.
Generation 2.0, M6, WI5, FA 2017. Neljäkymmentä metriä korkea kuningaslinja. Ensimmäiset 15 metriä ovat noin WI5 tasoista jääkiipeilyä hyvänä vuonna, mutta osittain Kuningasvesi sporttireitin pultteihin varmistettuna. Keskiosa on helppoa jäätä, joka johdattaa jyrkälle ja suht vaikealle stepille. Varmistuksia saa, mutta niitä pitää osata laittaa ja löytää. Tarkka ja henkinen pyllerys. Loppuun helpompaa mixtaa.
Generation 2.0 variaatio, M6, FA 2018. Ainut seinän linjoista, jonka ensinousin puhtaasti ground-up tyylillä, tarkistamatta onko reitille mahdollista saada edes varmistuksia. Alkuun ohutta jäätä katon alle, josta poikkari vasempaan hyllylle. Hyllyn jälkeen Generation 2.0:aa ylös.
+ Pääseinän vasemaan laitaan on noustu seikkailureitti, joka seurailee loivia jääportaita.
Haukkavuoren jääputoukset + metsäsektorin mixtat:
Tämä sinertävä putous löytyy pääseinästä muutama sata metriä oikealle. Jyrkkä osuus noin 8-10 metriä ja loppusläbi siihen päälle.
Toinen pikkuputouksista. Puolivälissä lähestymistä laavulta.
Heti putouksen vasemmalla puolella on mixtareitti nimeltä Kolibri, M6, FA 2016. Kuvassa linja on pulskimmillaan ikinä. Ensinousu tehtiin muutaman millimetrin paksuista jäätä pitkin.
Kolibrista vielä hiukan vasemmalle löytyy Bingo, Gringo!, M5+, FA 2016. Monasti släbin alla on kevät-talvesta lunta sen verran, että alkusläbin uskaltaa kiivetä. Katonylitykseen saakin sitten kivasti varmistuksia. Kolibrin ja Bingo, Gringon! väliin tehtiin 2019 kesällä kolme hienoa halkeamareittiä, joita ei hakuilla saa kiivetä. 27 Cragistä löytyy betat niihin.
Korkein puhdas jääputous on se ensimmäinen laavulta tultaessa. 22 metrinen WI4 tarjoilee tekemistä hetkeksi. Putouksen oikeaan laitaan muodostuu toisinaan verho, jolle pääsee pikkupilaria pitkin. Linjan nimi on Mixtamestaritdirect, WI5, FA 2017.Itse Mixtamestarit, M6, FA 2016on taas enemmän alkukauden reitti. Se seurailee halkeamaa putouksen oikeasta laidasta vasemmalle, mutta jää nopeasti putouksen alle.
Jääputouksen oikeasta laidasta löytyy hänkki kattohalkema, joka on vielä projekti. Halkeamasta oikealle on El Toro, M6, WI5. Hienoimpia ensinousujani Suomessa. Harmi, että reitti on vain muodostunut kerran kevät-talvella, auringon sulattaessa lunta. El Toron vierestä numerolla yksi löytyy Patriarkka, M5+.
Vähän Haukkavuoren pohjoispuolelta löytyy Hyypiinvuori.
Hyypiinvuoren jääputous löydettiin ja ensinoustiin 2016.
Toinen Hyypiinvuoren linjoista on Hospital effect, M5+, FA 2016, joka löytyy heti jääputouksen oikealta puolelta. Nimi tulee siitä, kun reitin ensinousun jälkeen ajoimme Kallen kanssa läheiselle kalliolle yrittämään erään mixtalinjan ensinousua ground-uppina. Jään korkatessa lensin linjan takana olleen kelokoivun päälle muutamaa metriä ylempää. Isku oli sen verran kova, että sairaalareissu siitä tuli. Ei vammoja, mutta lihakset olivat niin jumissa tällistä, että en päässyt seuraavaan viikkoon sängystä ylös.
Juvan Kaarnavuori on kuuluisa teknokatostaan, mutta sieltä löytyy myös erinomainen mixtalinja Khimaira, M6, FA 2017. Reitti alkaa katon alapuolisilta jäiltä ja traversaa niitä linkittäen oikeaan hyllylle, mihin saa tehtyä ständin. Toinen 20 metrinen kp seuraa sisäkulman jäitä suoraan ylös ja toppaa villin ja ilmavan katon kautta vasemmalle.
During the crazy Autumn of 2014 we were below the north face of the Grandes Jorasses second time in a week. I and Juha Sillanpää had climbed the Colton-McIntyre, the north face of Dent Blanche and attempted the Supercouloir. It was my first bigger objective trip to the Alps if one can say so.
We suffered a chilly and wet night under the bergschrund, our upper bodies inside a snowhole and legs outside, collecting snow.
It was windy when we started the Slovenian start of the Croz Spur. We made good progress but big amount of spindrift forced us down from the 2nd icefield. Conditions were good and drift of snow would only reduce higher, but very serious experience in the Supercouloir few weeks earlier affected us a lot. There we were trapped by a massive spindrift avalanche for several hours. Juha was only mid-way up the second pitch but just after hours we were able to rappel off. Powerfull and scary, but we learned our lesson.
Back to spring 2019 then. Before I flew to the Alps in March I had two big routes in my mind which should be doable in dry conditions and short’ish weather windows; the Lesueur route and Croz Spur.
After the Dru we found out that a team from New Zealand had already climbed the Croz Spur, but with the Slovenian start and reported quite good conditions. As there were no big windows for multiday routes in April, Croz Spur seemed like a best bet.
I talked a lot about tactics with Etienne and in the end we took one single rope, bivouac equipment were left to the valley except our stove and snowshoes came along.
We walked to the Leschaux refuge on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. Already snowshoes came handy in a deep slush.
The evening went by eating a lot and watching sunset colours lit the Jorasses on fire. This refuge must be one of the best what comes to views. Though Couvercle might be a winner in that competition.
We woke up at 02:15 and left the hut at 03:00 bellies full of muesli and tea. Glacier was frozen but carried our weight only with snowshoes. Snow got deeper closer the face and we were really happy with these strange gadgets on our legs. Only one visible crevasse we had to cross which made going rather quick.
Bergschrund was passed at 06:00 quite easily. We climbed two pitches to get to the face proper and simul climbing terrain. Second pitch was a bit thin and required a belay for sure.
We did two long simul blocks to the base of the steeper section above the 2nd icefield. With microtraxion and superb ice conditions this was safe. Again a bit thin but one timers all the way.
Time was 09:00 when I started the first mixed pitch. Way to the M5 corner was more difficult than corner itself due to lack of ice. With thin protection I commited to the smallest of loose ice drips in a long time. With calves shaking I reached the snowy ledge below the second mixed pitch which is usually iced up.
Etienne tried from the middle but refused to commit for the ice without pro. He then traversed to the dihedral on the right and sent it as a M6 with quite good pitons and cams. Still more enjoyable for the second.
I took the lead for the next big simul block all the way to the col on the spur proper. Really fun to be able to do the easier terrain in huge blocks! Clock was now 13:20 because mixed pitches in the middle took so long.
We knew that next part would be the crux as there was still a lot of snow covering slabs. Etienne did one good pitch which was followed by one of the most horrible pitches of my life. Low angled slab with fresh snow. You never could know if you hit the rock or ice below. I cleaned a lot and slowly forced myself upwards on frozen mud-like rock. Took ages but we reached a platform below the last two or three pitches.
New Zealanders climbed the left-hand M5 finish which Etienne went to try but came back as there was too much snow to climb a rocky slab safely. Right-hand finish had some visible ice high up but maybe not enough for a safe climb. We had only one option left. The original 6a rock climbing show on loose but quite dry looking blocks.
Etienne led first two pitches. First had incredibly loose rock but second one was almost a good pitch with growing exposure. Belay was bolted?! which gave me some courage to enter to the final 6a pitch below the summit ridge. First meters to a piton were easy but then a chimney begun and good holds and protection ended. I was hanging from a hand jam (behind a moving flake) 1000 meters above the glacier and Colton-McIntyre icefields. Exposure was totally crazy and dizzying. Never been in a so exposed place on a alpine climb.
Chimney looked horrible and dangerous but I should make a plan quickly. I saw some juggy holds on the right but terrain was overhanging there. I committed. Meter by meter I found more holds and some pro until it all seemed to end again. I put a 0.75 cam behind a hollow spire and went back and forth, refused to commit to a traverse back to the chimney.
In the end I did, only to find myself under some snowmushrooms. It took ages to clean them including the cornice on the ridge. I pulled from the cams whenever I could. Drag was heinous but I made it to the ridge. When Etienne arrived it was past 19:00. I really don’t know where we used all those hours after quick start.
We underestimated the final wall for sure and lost a lot of time because our minds were already in ‘soon to be over’ mode. Again a lesson learned. It affects your climbing pace and skills!
On the Italian side cloud cover seemed to be at the level of the Reposoir. We did few rappels and some down climbing to get to the glacier which had a crust on the top and deep slush underneath.
Whiteout was annoying and we managed to go too right. When the darkness fell I was sure we were not on the Reposoir but where in earth we were? GPS showed the place but still it didn’t match. When the clouds moved for a second and everything turned yellow due to moonlight we saw the Reposoir on our left-hand side. Damn!
Luckily we didn’t have to climb too much up again to reach the spur. From there on we down climbed and found the rappels easily but next task would be hard. With worryingly low visibility our only chance to avoid cold bivy was to follow Etienne’s phone’s GPS map app. Checking our location in every 100 meters while zigzagging around crevasses Etienne made awsome job leading us through the mist. Seeing the lights of Planpincieux never felt so good.
Last few hundred meters to the Boccalatte were fast with improved visibility and snow conditions. We reached the hut just before midnight, two or three hours later than our planned latest time but in good spirits anyway.
Jorasses tested us for real despite easy looking route on paper. New Zealanders had less snow which made the final wall a bit quicker for them I quess. I was pleased that we made to the hut despite the fact that top part of the route didn’t went excactly as planned or the descent as smoothly. I think uncertainties and difficult situations are good learning experiences for us whom climb a lot inside the safety net of the Alps. If we want to climb safely in the greater ranges and deal with the unknown. If I think our Mt. Hunter climb for example. We had a rough plan but had to climb through the night, bivy in a unplanned snowcave and deal with the harrowing descent. Actual plan shaped up during the climb. Don’t understand me wrong as better planned the better preformed but there is always unknown factors you have to deal with if you want to come back safe and succesfully summit on the way.
Etienne thought that maybe our ascent on Croz is not a success as we really had to battle a bit more than we had wanted and didn’t manage to plan or see the outcome beforehand. Good thoughts because we were forced to climb harder terrain in the end than planned. What if out rack was too small for it or direct exit also proved to be full of snow?
In the end I think it’s only good for the future but good to go through the climb and actions step by step after the climb to learn.
Jorasses still kicked our butts on Friday and offered one last whiteout experience. This time our joked ‘mountaineering instinct’ kicked back and we made it to the Planpincieux bus station under two hours despite bad visibility. Even catched the first bus of the day to Chamonix! That went better than planned. ?
Weather was looking good again last weekend and we were bouncing options what to climb in one and half days we had. West face of the Aiguille du Plan was in the leading category but should we repeat quite often climbed W face direct which looks super fun or should we get ready for hard dry tooling on the rarely done Bonnington’s line? With only two known ascents we took the latter.
Bonnington/Tejada-Flores got it’s FA in 1963. Huge and obvious corner high on the west face waited probably 51 years for it’s second ascent when local dry tooling experts, Jeff Mercier and Korra Pesce freed the line as a M7 in 2014. They approached the corner via Goulotte Valentine because original route follows a rocky spur and has been under some rock fall action in recent years. And I think Goulotte Valentine makes the line more logical, fun and suitable modern outing.
We took a 07:40 lift up to Plan de Aiguille on Sunday morning and hiked up to base of the goulotte where we roped up.
We found three really entertaining pitches full of fresh waterfall ice right off the ground. Short sections of proper climbing but they climbed well. First pitch was M4, second 90° ice and third again M4. Ice was a bit deattached at places but made going more fun. Rest of the gully was speedy, simul terrain to the base of the Bonnington corner. I think Goulotte Valentine would be a nice route to do on it’s own in these generally dry conditions. There seems to be 20m steep dry tooling or rock climbing part to exit the couloir but after that speedy terrain to the summit of Aiguille du Plan. Go do it!
Our corner should include six pitches of climbing at M4, M5, M5, M6, M7 and M4. Etienne did the first M4 which was approach like and then continued with two harder ones. I was supposed to do middle pitches but our stand places forced Etienne to climb both of the M5’s. Climbing was blocky but there was some loose blocks to avoid also. Due to fact that route is so rarely done I guess.
I jumped for the fourth pitch and was a bit scared as I watched Jeff’s video from the route night before. Wide cracks, so be it! Luckily once I got to “the scary part” I was eagerly looking for better protection and found out that there are some holds and cracks outside of the wide monster. So I pulled myself out of the dark hole to the sunny face. Few airy moves brought me to a suitable place to make a belay. How nice!
Etienne followed and got ready for the crux pitch. Cracks above looked more like a rock climbing terrain but now we had to deal with winter climbing gear. Super nice finger crack and long reach back to the corner looked fun but then Etienne’s pace slowed. An offwidth part looked hard enough and required several back and worth moves to commit to it. Followed by a roof and good rest though. Then it went wild. A chimney. I mean full on chimney with no protection or holds for a few meters. Lonely chockstone too far away to be used yet. Somehow he reached two thin, hanging seems on the right side of the chimney. Unfortunately his ice axe ripped due to breaking rock and sent him flying. An old piton held. No wasting time Etienne finished the pitch without another fall and hauled our pack up.
It was my turn to second the pitch but after the finger crack I had nothing to give. Wide parts were just too bizzarre. It definately was the hardest pitch I’ve seen on the mountains. I couldn’t believe how Etienne managed to climb it up with only one fall. It also made me respect Bonnington’s team effort and dry tooling skills of Jeff and Korra. Maybe with rock climbing shoes there would have been a change for me too but hard to say.
Etienne said it felt harder or at least as hard as some M8’s in Rive Gauche but who knows.
I finished the corner with another M4 which felt hard after getting spanked by the fact I couldn’t climb the crux pitch free even as a second.
It took us so long to fight up the crux that sun was already setting. Location and the moment made me feel the magic of alpinism again which was lost for a little time. Maybe due to so much cragging past year when all the focus is in a one 20m route you want send so badly. You lost being part of the nature easily.
We decided to skip visiting the true summit of Aiguille du Plan and hurried for the Midi-Plan traverse in a escaping light. Maybe it takes away our possible third ascent of the line but this time I don’t care that much. Main idea was to climb the headwall corner. Anyway I’ll back for the W face direct and remaining few meters to the true summit one day.
Midi-Plan or actually Plan-Midi traverse took several hours despite having a track ready from top of the Rognon to the top station of Midi. We crashed to the toilets just before a midnight. Carrying a sleeping pad each and one sleeping bag came handy finally.
Nice route. I didn’t like the crux pitch at all but otherwise climbing was enjoyable and good. Better than following Mallory-Porter train for sure. Big thumbs up for Etienne too! What a fight!