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Trip ReportFirst Ascent of the Pilier Rouge, Aiguille de Blaitiere 1976/1977
I went to Chamonix last winter and was able to trace the line of a first ascent that we did back in 1976/77. Since that time, Chamonix has become a destination for crag climbing (as opposed to ice and mixed routes), and the route we did has become a popular outing. This is a late trip report on the first ascent of the “Red Pillar” of the Aiguille de Blaitiere. Mike Graham and I climbed the first several pitches of it in the summer of 1976, and Rob Muir and I completed the route in the summer of 1977.
In this link, the route is the deeply shadowed, left facing corner on the right side of the picture.
Mike and I visited Chamonix in 1976. We prepared by studying the two volumes of Vallot guide, in the English translation published by the British Alpine Club. We also photocopied and brought with us selected pages from Rebuffat’s “100 best routes in the Mont Blanc Range”, a classic that had just become available in the US.
We were in the Valley in the spring and before we left for Chamonix, Bridwell took us aside and gave us a warning, “Be careful over there, lots of people die in the Alps and I don’t want it to happen to you.” I recall it well because most Camp 4 conversation was mainly macho bluster and bravado and the Bird’s words were heartfelt. It was like getting advice from a big brother.
After sampling the some of the established rock routes, like the Rebuffat on the Midi and the American Direct on the Dru, we found that we could comfortably free climb these classic routes.
Viewed from the main square of Chamonix, the most prominent rock face is the Aiguille de Blaitiere. It is a complex mountain with vast swaths of dry rock on its west face.
One evening we were in town having a vin rouge, when the light struck a buttress, low on the West face, that contained a prominent, left facing corner that would have looked at home in Yosemite.The guidebooks said nothing about the entire area left of the famous “Fissure Brown” route which goes up the middle of the West Face toward the summit.
The next day we went up the Midi ‘frique, but got off halfway up. The approach was somewhat over an hour, but pretty straightforward. As was our practice in Chamonix, we approached in Superguides to deal with possible snow or ice and carried EB’s for the rock pitches. When we switched to EBs, we carried the mountain boots in our packs.
The big corner began a couple of hundred feet off the ground, so we oriented ourselves directly below it and started up. Mike led an approach pitch, in a slabby area with few and discontinuous cracks. He had a banana before starting up (no energy bar industry in those days), and posed for this shot, although he was not then and has never been, a poseur.
This is me on the crux pitch, seeking to connect to the main dihedral above. It turned out to be climbing between discontinuous cracks with less than comfortable protection, with the crux around mid 5.10.
This got us to the big dihedral which turned out to be a moderate hand crack (5.8?) in a corner that widened into an easy chimney. For Mike, it was the work of a moment to lead that pitch, but the weather was closing in.
The climbing was straightforward and we used all hexes and stoppers. We had climbed perhaps three quarters of the way up the big corner, when it started spitting rain. We rappelled off after it turned into a steady rain and we didn’t get a chance to try it again that season.
The next year, Rob Muir and I finished off the climb all the way to the ridgeline. These photos are from 1977 when Rob and I completed the route, a beautiful day on fine rock.
Decades later I got Michel Piola’s guide to Chamonix after the new wave of French free climbing occurred, starting in the mid 80’s. Piola called the feature we climbed the Red Pillar of the Blaitiere. The Piola guide book describes our route as follows:
“Les Diamants du President, TD. 180 m. Fissures
1e asc:Thierry Rus/Pascal Strappazzon le 19 Setembre 1985
Tres belle voie ouverte uniquement a l’aide de coinceurs. Soleil rare.”
(Beautiful route using only nuts. Rarely in the sun.)
Piola’s topo has the route beginning to the left of where we started, traversing into the big corner on easy ground, and does not mention the direct start that we found. The crux for us was this direct start, which we figured was about mid 5.10.
If you are in Chamonix, it’s a worthwhile route protected easily with nuts, and it takes full advantage of the cable car approach. With the rappel bolts installed for descents from the Red Pillar, as shown in the Piola guide, access couldn’t be easier, since you can leave the approach shoes at the base.
We called the route, “Old Wave,” since we preceded the free climbing trend in Chamonix by almost a decade.
Old Wave, Aiguille de Blaitiere, Chamonix
First Ascent July 1976/1977; Rick Accomazzo, Mike Graham, Rob Muir, TD 5.10.
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