Thursday, 27 November 2014


Autumn is probably my favorite season in the year. Especially in Chamonix, as you can go rock climbing at the crags for the whole day and not get cooked. Am Scottish, I can't handle the heat. However my main reason is that this is the time of year when things start to get really good for climbing on the big North faces. Like I said on my last post about the Sans Nom, the conditions on the faces were pretty good, so after climbing that I knew there was only one place to head to...


Jon Griffith and I have climbed a variety of different things together over the past few years, but sadly we had this tragic curse upon us! We couldn't climb anything on the North face of the Grandes Jorasses. We tried many times, but for one reason or another we were always shut down. The pair of us even went to see a few different witch doctors about it, and see if they could help us. We didn't really. Nevertheless, if there was a time to break this horrific curse it was this season.

Myself making my way through the crevasses to the base.
Photo; Jon Griffith

We had heard that an uber French wad team had climbed the Gabaurou-Silvy route on the Sans Nom face in a day, then carried on to climb the Bonatti-Vaucher on the Jorasses the next day. Pretty spectacular achievement.
Only a few days after climbing on the Sans Nom face with Ben, I was walking into the Jorasses with Jon. Knowing that the Bonatti route had just been climbed and having been told it was in good condition, we decided to head for this. We would be aiming to climb it in a day. So rather than join the crowds in the Leschaux hut we decided to bivvy at the base of the wall and save the 2.5hr walk-in in the morning. We knew there was another team heading for the route as well, so we thought we'd let them go in front and start an hour after them.

mmmmmmmmm delicious!
Photo; Jon Griffith

Cosy bivvy

After a comfy sleep we woke at 3am. The other team who turned out to be Spanish had just reached the bergshrund. The reason we weren't super stressed about other team on the route was that the line of the route kind of goes diagonally across the face, so it would be unlikely that anything they knocked down would hit us. Also Jon knew the start of the route really well having done No-siesta, which starts in the same area then branches off. So we had our breakfast and packed the sleeping bags away - probably the worst part of alpine climbing. It just seems so wrong to leave a warm cosy bag in the middle of the night in the arse end of nowhere. But we had to get up and go. It's worth that extra walk -in the day before when it means that the following day all you have to do is pack the bags, and walk 5 mins to the start of your route. Like I said, Jon knew the start pretty well, so he took the first block of leads and we simul-climbed up to where Bonatti-vaucher & No-siesta split. During this simul-climb period we passed the Spanish team, but we wouldn't stay ahead of them for long once we started pitching the harder pitches.

Jon climbing as the sun was rising.

Myself following Jon low down on the route.
Photo; Jon Griffith.

Half way up the wall. You can see climbers in the Colton-Mac, left hand side.

I took over for a few pitches, but things quickly slowed down due to technical climbing and finding protection in the iced-up cracks. The Spaniards were right up our asses, which can be a horrible feeling. It makes you feel rushed and it's not nice having someone breathe down your neck. They tried to overtake us a few times but we just kept getting tangled up. Then on a scary loose pitch that Jon led, we had to just go one at a time. So things were moving quite slowly after a rapid start.

Photo; Jon Griffith.

Myself in a bit of a squeeze.
Photo; Jon Griffith.

Tangled up!

The whole day on the harder pitches, my head just wasn't in it. It does that sometimes. When I feel good and confident I climb pretty well. But sometimes for some reason my head just won't click into action. I slow right down and convince myself that everything is going to snap and break. the ice won't hold. My gear will rip, and the ropes will snap. Once this happens I'm stuck in it for the day. What's really annoying about it though is that Jon finds it funny and takes the piss out of me whilst in this state.

Jon on an awkward loose pitch.
Photo; Silvestre Barrientos

Seconding the loose and awkward pitch.
Photo; Jon Griffith

Photo; Jon Griffith.

Photo; Jon Griffith.

I climbed the ice field up to the head wall, and brought Jon up. He then told me that he had talked to the Spaniards and decided we should team up as a team of 4. As the next few pitches were pretty hard there was no point in one person leading it, then the other team waiting for ages, then another person taken ages to lead the same pitch again. What we did was one guy lead up on two half ropes, which is what they had, then two guys seconded on an end each. Whilst seconding, one of them was dragging up a single rope, which is what Jon and I were using. Then the last guy could second their way up as well. And only one guy would have to lead climb. It also meant that whilst the leader climbed the next pitch, the very last guy could be climbing the previous pitch.

Carlos on the first head wall pitch, before the really loose one. 

Once we decided to team up the Spaniards, Silver & Carlos, they took over the leading. Thank funk for that! the main pitch on the head wall was this big corner system. There wasn't too much ice on the left wall to use, and all the rock in the corner where you're placing gear and hooking the axes is extremely loose. Silver went first and was doing great until he dislodged a big chunk of rock that went flying down and hit Jon in the thigh as he was belaying. Jon gave a big scream out. Not girly at all, a very manly scream.... But also Silver took a big slam back into the wall as he fell with the loose rock, hurting his calf and taking out some of his protection. So both Jon and Silver were pretty banged up. Jon lowered Silver down and Carlos took over. Jon carried on belaying as there was no point in someone else getting hit by a rock on belay duty. He could take it. Also we knew he could keep belaying whilst being hit, as he'd just shown!

Carlos working his way up the crux death pitch.
Photo; Jon Griffith

Super scared and stressed. Naaaaat, just chilling like a boss!
Photo; Jon Griffth

Time for headtorches.
Photo; Jon Griffith.

Carlos climbed up to Silver's high point and replaced some of the gear that ripped out, He then started to try aid his way up, but the problem with this was that you are directly loading the loose rock. He got up a few more feet before suddenly his gear ripped and he was sent flying down, again bringing more loose rocks towards Jon. Carlos banged his elbow pretty bad. Jon was now moaning slightly, but still not crying like a girl.... All I was thinking was 'shit, I'm up next!' Then suddenly like a pheonix rising from the ashes (bit cheesy) Carlos started pulling back up the ropes and getting back to his high point. 'Yes! Yes! Carlos you absolute legend. Keep going!' I thought. Thinking that I might not have to try lead this horror show warmed me up inside. He managed to get out of the aid section and use a very thin smear of ice on the left wall. Some rocks were still falling down as Carlos had to scrape in the cracks to find protection. Jon was still getting hit, but we thought we could give him some protection by wrapping his sleeping bag around him. You might ask where I was whilst all this was happening. Well, I was bravely hiding behind Jon, providing strong and encouraging chat. Carlos had now made his way up the rest of the corner and it was our turn to follow. Jon and Silver seconded together and I came up at the end on the single. Holy Jesus I found it scary just seconding this pitch. I now had even more respect for Carlos managing to climb the thing. What a dude! There was still a few tricky pitches to go. One of which burst the sleeve on my down jacket so now I had feathers floating everywhere. Could this day get any worse! The final moves of the last pitch were phenomenal. It was a small column of pure water ice. What an awesome touch to the end of a mega route. We topped out around midnight, and bivved on point Whymper, where the route tops out.

Climbing into the night.

It was quite a pleasant experience bivvying on the summit. Usually you just make your way down in the dark like a zombie, but why bother when we had our therma-rest and sleeping bags anyways. It was a bit chilly, but not too bad. The worst part was finding down feathers everywhere! They even managed to make their way into Jon's water bottle. Waking up everything was cold and icy. We didn't say a word, but we were all thinking the same thing and didn't move at all until that sun came around and warmed everything up.

Cold and frosty morning. Not moving a muscle until that sun comes out.
Photo; Silvestre Barrientos

Cocooned in my frosty nest.
Photo; Jon Griffith

Jon, not quite woken up yet.

Now all that was left to do was head down to Italy for pizza and beer!

Some big holes on the way down.
Photo; Silvestre Barrientos

Jon and myself  heading down.
Photo; Silvestre Barrientos


  1. Good story and excellent pics.

  2. Love this Ally! Brilliant and interesting account of the day. Don't think I'll be attempting this route just yet :) Thanks fo sharing and great pics from Jon

    1. Cheers Sophie. Hope you have a good winter in Cham.