September 18th 2014

Grandes Jorasses - Desmaison-Couzy

The Grandes Jorasses North Face and a stream of head torches already high up on the face

The Grandes Jorasses North Face and a stream of head torches already high up on the face

It’s not often you get paid to climb the Grandes Jorasses- I tend to take my work up on to actual climbs, so whenever I’m on a photoshoot I’m on ‘real’ terrain, but the Grandes Jorasses is quite ‘up there’ locations wise. The reason being is that on a photoshoot you just can’t get it wrong- contrary to popular opinion, outdoor companies aren’t flooded with cash right now, and when I decide on a route to do I make sure that we actually get it done; that involves choosing the right team, the right climb and the right time. Promising something to a client and then not delivering it is obviously a cardinal sin. Climbing a route on the Grandes Jorasses therefore is quite a tall order for a photoshoot, as you can’t just get part way up, have an epic, or top out way after dark (can’t shoot in the dark!). You have to move fast, efficiently, and get all the shots you need in quite a serious environment. Thankfully the responsibility didn’t lie on my shoulders as it was the client who requested the Grandes Jorasses, and it does take a rather special client to do that; a client doesn’t want to choose something that is likely to end in failure, cost them a big chunk of their annual budget, and result in no photos or video. So the Grandes Jorasses (or any major North Face) is a natural thing to avoid. However I’ve been immensely lucky to have been working with Millet recently, and I am immensely lucky because their vision of photoshoot locations couldn’t match mine any better even if it wanted to. They are committed to shooting hard classic routes of the massif and all ‘for real’, and that’s to be applauded I think. Last year that vision took us up on Beyond Good and Evil with spectacular results, this year they wanted something bigger- the Grandes Jorasses. To work with a company that willingly wants to take the risk of shooting on such terrain is pretty much a dream come true, now we just had to make it work.

Julien and Seb walk in to the Leschaux

Julien and Seb walk in to the Leschaux

Seb checks out the route

Seb checks out the route

The first stage to a successful shoot is the team. There is nothing more important to pulling something like this off than a fully competent team who can move fast, efficiently, and easily on big mountain terrain. With Korra Pesce, Betrand Delapierre (video man), Julien Desecures, and Seb Bohin it was set to be a great time- you’ll struggle to find anyone faster and tougher than Korra to tie in with, Bertrand is a legend of the mountain filming world, Julien literally wrote the Grandes Jorasses guide book, and Seb is a dark horse of the French Mountain Military.

The objective would be an ephemeral ice route to the right hand side of the face. Excellent conditions had led Julien to believe we could try this new variation winter line on the Desmaison Couzy- whilst not a ‘new line’ it was also quite a gamble to pick a line with pitches that had never been climbed before.

The good thing about working with a strong team you know is that you can accurately guess how long each part of a climb is going to take you. I wanted to shoot the steep exit chimney pitches in the late afternoon which is when the sun would just be touching the top of the face, adding a bit of colour to an otherwise very shady photoshoot. So at 3am we got up and had a leisurely breakfast at the Leschaux Hut as we watched headtorches swarm up the Colton Macintyre in the far distance; I was glad we would be getting on something I knew no one would be attempting.

Mountain film wad Bertrand at dinner time

Mountain film wad Bertrand at dinner time

The route flew past with great névé and some thin placage climbing. As usual when you’re tied in with Korra you don’t tend to stop- even with our late departure in the morning we were going to have to slow down a bit to get that late afternoon light I wanted higher up. Turns out the Desmaison Couzy is actually a really nice route- never too hard but nevertheless it packs in a few interesting pitches that are tenuous and thin. The final goulotte up to the summit was the icing on the cake though, and Bertrand and I topped out knowing that the shoot had been a huge success- thanks to Millet for allowing us such an opportunity, and to all the team.

Over the shrund at daybreak

Over the shrund at daybreak

Korra in his element on thin ice

Korra in his element on thin ice

Julien part way up the route

Julien part way up the route

Korra on one of the cruxes

Korra on one of the cruxes

Where's the gear?

Where’s the gear?

Seb pulls out from one of the thin cruxes

Seb pulls out from one of the thin cruxes

Seb pulls out from one of the thin cruxes

Seb pulls out from one of the thin cruxes

Seb on the final exit pitches

Seb on the final exit pitches

Julien on the final exit pitch

Julien on the final exit pitch

Hazards of the job!

Hazards of the job!

Korra on the summit with Mont Blanc in the background

Korra on the summit with Mont Blanc in the background

In the Canzio Hut

In the Canzio Hut

Dream team, Bertrand, Korra, myself, Julien, Seb

Dream team, Bertrand, Korra, myself, Julien, Seb

Leaving the Canzio the next morning

Leaving the Canzio the next morning

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book