Les Grandes Jorasses

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BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jan 23, 2013 - 05:39pm PT
Yeah, that pic was 1984, and 1984 was considered a DRY year. It had been a snow free winter, so the ice routes were almost gone by July. The Eiger was really dry and I dunno if anyone did it that summer. That was the whole reason for going over there, the Eiger.

Although it had been a dry winter, it was a stormy summer, meaning the routes would get a shitload of snow dumped on them and you had to wait a sunny day before going up. It warmed up enough that one day would clean the snow off pretty well. So you needed a 3 day window to do anything long. On the short windows we would go do all of the classics on the Aiguilles.

I was looking at a website a couple of years ago, and some of the classics had lines of parties and were now sport bolted. We would go up there with micro racks and solo anything 5.9 and under. If there was a fixed pin we would clip it. That kind of thing.

If you got stuck in one of those long storms you could get whacked, though. So we were very fast. That was the best shape I was ever in.

Here is a pic of Duane and I just down from some route or other. I sold that Simond Chacal on my red pack to The Dripper, and I sold the state of the art purple plastic Koflach double boots to Dan McDivitt the next year. The dollar was so strong back then that we threw away all of our posessions and flew home with nothing but climbing gear. I remember flying back home in August wearing those double ice boots on the plane!

Duane on the left, me on the right. I was 23. I weighed in at 6 foot and 135 lbs. My resting heart rate was 10 or something. That is why I look dead.

Duane Raleigh &#40;L&#41; Dumbass &#40;R&#41; Home at last...
Duane Raleigh (L) Dumbass (R) Home at last...
Credit: BASE104
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jan 23, 2013 - 06:05pm PT
Sorry for going all off topic. Back to the Walker Spur, I kick my old fat ass for not doing it when I had the chance. The word that we got was that it was mainly a rock route with lots of fixed gear. The Croz was more of a traditional route, that while technically easier, had a fair amount of mixed climbing. We didn't go over there to do rock routes. Alas, we did do a lot of them anyway. Walt kind of got fixated on doing the Croz. It scared me.

OK. I'm going to go in the other room and tell my wife to kick me in the ass.

Speaking of ass kicking, there is a great Russ the Fish story. A climber died in the valley once and everyone was kind of mopey about it. Someone started saying how they would want their friends to get together and remember him all kindly and stuff.

Fish said he would walk up to his dead body, kick him in the head, and go, "Stupid."
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Jan 24, 2013 - 05:08am PT
The word that we got was that it was mainly a rock route with lots of fixed gear.

I climbed it in 1990 which was also a very dry year. We put rock boots on at the bottom and took them off on the summit. To my mind, that is optimum conditions for the route. If you guys were looking for a more mixed route then sure, you're right, the Croz was more appropriate (or simply go on the Walker when it's plastered!)

There were quite a few pitons on the route, but I've seen far more on other routes. I had a small rack with me but I'm not sure if I placed much, or indeed, anything...?

The thing that would make me think twice about doing it would be the number of people that might be on it. I lost count of how many we passed - maybe a dozen, maybe more? We passed at least two teams still in their sleeping bags at the base of the Grey Tower. Eventually a Spanish pair who'd been following close behind us passed us on the red slabs nearly at the top.

More interestingly our ascent coincided with Alain Ghersen's ascent during his solo enchainement of the Dru (American Direct), the Grandes Jorasses (the Walker) and Mont Blanc (Peuterey Integrale) - 66 hours Chamonix > Chamonix. http://www.alpinisme.com/FR/histoire-alpinisme/les-drus/index.php?fic=p29 He trailed a short rope behind him as that way it felt lighter and was instantly available should he need it. The problem was that it jammed from time to time. I think I un-jammed it maybe three times. He topped out at about 11:00 am, having left the hut with us at just after midnight. A helicopter landed on the summit at the same time as he arrived there and we obviously assumed that he'd taken it to descend. Later we found that of course it had dropped off a parapente and he used this to glide down to the base of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. We topped out at 2:00 pm, some 20 minutes after the Spanish, and arrived in the valley at 8:15 pm (by which time Ghersen was probably well up the Aiguille Noire?!) My big regret was that neither my wife nor I had thought of taking a camera!

The following day a friend of mine took the first Montenvers train in the morning, walked up to the Jorasses and soloed the Walker and descended to the Boccalate Refuge - now that's quite some day, eh?
Degaine

climber
Jan 24, 2013 - 05:26am PT
At this point climbing the north face is just not in the cards for me. Risk-reward no longer worth it, especially with the descent route being increasingly dangerous (town ordinance closed the route a year or two ago due to high risk of serac fall). I have a friend who went up and down the south face route (the regular route and descent) in 2008 and said the glacier was not looking so good.

Maybe if the stars align and I am in good alpine shape and the Walker Spur is dry I might consider it. Otherwise perhaps the Hirondelle ridge and then rappel back down that for the descent.

Base, as far as rock routes go, many of the routes on the front and back side of the Aiguilles de Chamonix were put up by Michel Piola (perhaps a few after you were there in the '80s). By California standards some might seem over bolted, but he is known for sparse bolting by local standards, and I've climbed a couple of his mixed (protection) granite routes in and around Chamonix, and the only bolts were on run out slab, and often one bolt for every 4-5 meters.

Of course now most minimally traveled routes have well-bolted belays. Given the alternative at certain belay stances, no issue from my end.
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Jan 24, 2013 - 05:39am PT
Risk-reward no longer worth it

I couldn't agree more! Why ever did we do things like this? The thought of doing it now makes me shiver!

Piola routes - yes, you're right. To some people his name simply means BOLTS, whereas that's just not the case. Certainly he's recently produced quite a few commercially motivated consumer routes, but equally some very bold (almost) trad routes too. You mentioned the Perrons not too long ago... presumably you've climbed up there. Piola's latest route there, le Premier Matin du Monde is such a route with 7a+ climbing and 6c+ oblig - originally he'd said 7a oblig, but knocked that down a bit.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 24, 2013 - 07:37am PT
I've posted this before, but it's interesting in this context to see the difference in snow cover between end of August 1971 when this was taken and later photos. There had not been any recent storms when this was taken either, this was normal snow cover on the Mer de Glace and Grandes Jorasses.


Credit: Jan
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Jan 24, 2013 - 08:06am PT
As you say Jan, very interesting but I'd say that for the end of August - even in 1971 - that can't really be described as normal. The Leschaux glacier even then would have been dry by late August. Leads me to think that either the slight over exposure of the Leschaux is deceiving me and in fact it's grey(?), or there must have been relatively recent snowfall, despite your recollections. I spent summer of 1971 mostly in Zermatt sitting in a waterlogged tent. We maybe saw the Matterhorn once in two weeks and when we did it was a brilliant white pyramid! We then came over to Chamonix and only managed to climb the M/Pointe Albert in between storms.

I hope Peter Neame won't mind me linking these photos here. Maybe he'll post up the photos later...? (In which case I'll edit this post).

July 1973: http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=160899
June 1998: http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=177935

I remember alpine summers in the 70s being characterised by really wet snowy weather (this prompted me to abandon the alps for the sun of the western US during 78 and 79). The 90s on the other hand were the opposite with long periods of good weather. The early 2000s were very warm and dry - was it 2003 or 4 when there were record high temperatures? Those high temperatures just melted away years and years worth of snow cover from which I don't think the glaciers will recover (or not for a long time at least). Now it seems the cycle is/has returned to rather worse/wet summer weather.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 24, 2013 - 08:15am PT
Interesting question. I always thought that part of normal in the Alps was lots of days of bad weather even in the summer. In fact, we had better luck climbing in the fall than in summer as it was colder but the weather more reliable in September and October. Now I'm wondering if the years 1970, 71, 72 were abberrations?
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Jan 24, 2013 - 08:19am PT
Sorry, I just edited my post as you were replying!
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 24, 2013 - 09:27am PT
And I was going to add that my photo was indeed over exposed. They have gotten so dark over time, that I end up over correcting trying to lighten them up. I no doubt should take a course in photoshop.
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Jan 24, 2013 - 10:15am PT
In which case perhaps the Leschaux is dry/grey? Do you still have the original?
steve shea

climber
Jan 24, 2013 - 11:18am PT
In my time there mid to late 70's mid July was about the time good alpine conditions came in and lasted til late Sept. The summers were always snowy and storm ridden however. Sept typically had the best 2 or 3 week window for clear weather. Every year was the same. I do not know what the weather records say but climbing wise the conditions were perfect for mixed and ice. Storm, day or two to clear off, then go for it. I know all the waterfall bred, US expat alpinists living there thought it was fantastic. I for one rarely did rock routes,most of us were there for the ice/mixed. Every summer, usually late Aug., we had our pilgrimage to Grindelwald to have a look at the Eiger NF. Every year it was plastered and looked outrageous. On my forth trip we finally got it, Nov. 79, we waited for winter cold. Summers were just too stormy. Looking at some of jaaan's photos I can see how bad the descents are. Not just the SF Jorasses but the Droites, Grand Charmoz, getting to the Brenva Face, Eckpfeiler etc. It looks bad. Are the Tacul routes still in for summer? Supercouloir, Gabarrou/Albinoni, Gervasutti etc? I do still want to do the Walker. But maybe will change my mind when I see the descent in person. I have not been there sice 1991. Planning to go soon though.
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Jan 24, 2013 - 12:01pm PT
Here's a shot to give you an idea of general (sort of) current conditions, Steve, taken from the Aiguilles Rouges 26 August 2010:

Credit: jaaan

The Mer de Glace looks sad, doesn't it?
pneame

Trad climber
Tampa, FL
Jan 24, 2013 - 12:32pm PT
Good grief.
Base - that picture of Duane and Dumbass is at Snell's field, right? 1973?
That looks remarkably like Eric and my tents in the background, mine on the left and Eric's on the right (and Eric and me, for that matter).
steve shea

climber
Jan 24, 2013 - 12:59pm PT
jaaan, thanks. Yes it looks grim, just a big rubble heap. Sad. We used to be able to glissade/ski off the Droites almost all the way to the Couvercle, no more. Wow, there is nothing left on the NF Charmoz!!
pneame

Trad climber
Tampa, FL
Jan 24, 2013 - 01:00pm PT
Poor, vestigial thing jaaan!
round the corner of the Mer de Glace - 1973/75?
round the corner of the Mer de Glace - 1973/75?
Credit: pneame
pneame

Trad climber
Tampa, FL
Jan 24, 2013 - 01:01pm PT
Glacier de Bois - the glacier BELOW the Mer de Glace!
Glacier de Bois - the glacier BELOW the Mer de Glace!
Credit: pneame
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Jan 24, 2013 - 01:06pm PT
That was a lot of Jan / jaaan going on there. Keep it coming.
steveA

Trad climber
bedford,massachusetts
Jan 24, 2013 - 01:07pm PT
Jan,

That photo you took, back in 1971 is really nice!

I did the Walker in 1975, and the conditions were very similar to the photo image. We barely took our crampons off on the entire route. A real adventure!
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Jan 24, 2013 - 01:25pm PT
Wow, there is nothing left on the NF Charmoz!!

No, almost nothing. However, a few weeks of rain and it's transformed. Here it is on the 14 June 2012:

Credit: jaaan
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