Last year myself and Will headed off for a line called No Siesta on the Grandes Jorasses north face. It’s a route like no other that we had attempted before as we would have to carry up provisions for three days on the face and a big enough rack for some serious aiding, so we were excited to see how we would fare. The Chamonix style of do everything in a day doesnt really teach you much about this type of climbing so having never done any aid climbing past ‘frigging’ or bivying on a route before it was going to be an eye opener.
As it turned out the lower seciton of the route was in horrible nick so we had to bail but the main objective for this autumn remained the same. It turns out that alot of other teams have their eye on this line as well so we were keen to get on it as early as possible- as daft as it sounds it still holds a bit of a mystique and unknown to it, something that very few lines in Chamonix can boast and that was a major appeal.
Packed and ready to go, Will fell ill with a nasty cold….shortly followed by me a few days after that. This combined with some last minute work meant that we started the climb a week later than planned and allowed Korra Pesce and Jeff Mercier to nip in a day before us. This turned out to be a good move though as we got some awesome beta for the top section. This year we thought we’d avoid the lower slabs and head in from the Croz spur which turned out to be a huge nightmare of black ice and a lot of time wasted but at lest it meant we knew we would get established on the route. Moving together with the heavy second’s bag on was pretty sketchy at times..as well as calf exploding.
Arriving at the bivy site and we quickly got to work with excavating what we could do get comfortable for the night. Not the world’s best bivy but not as bad as the next one either! We were treated to an awesome sunset though whilst brewing up which is always nice.
The next day was another perfect day and we set off just after sunrise. The ‘breakfast pitch’ looked really nice and fun but actually turned out to be pretty sustained and steep with an overhanging ice plug towards the top, another good lead from Will. It felt all a little brutal first thing in the morning. Another monster 65m pitch then takes you right into the headwall.
Once at the headwall I had a spastic moment trying to route find that cost us alot of time. A foothold collapsing, landing me on my arms, gave me a bit of fear for pushing on through the loose terrain but it turned out that that was the way to go.
The next pitch is another windy one so rope drag is horrific by the end. But you start off on quite an airy and steep dry tool that leads into a nice goulotte and exits via a series of loose flakes.
One final short but rotten rock pitch brings you to a very steep area of the route. From here you normally head off and right over slabs and rock terrain. Korra had called earlier to say that they had just headed straight up an obvious corner system which makes more sense given that it is a winter climb and the first ascent was done with rock shoes at this point. It does however avoid the M8 rock slab but given that it’s a more direct line we opted for that as well.
This ‘direct’ version (NB: direct does not necessarily mean harder!) takes you up an awesome pitch with the first 15m being very thin placage but a good crack for gear on the right followed by a section of steep dry tooling with tiny, but very positive, mono placements. This then leads into a bit of a rotten rook crack system where the feet suddenly run out.
A horribly scary and loose short traverse then brings you up to a second bivy site. It took me ages to man up to make the moves on this section as yet again another big foothold disintegrated on me.
The next morning and we were starting to feel a little tired. What looked like another easy short pitch ended up being a little harder than expected for a few meters…and the breakfast pitch landed on Will again. However 10 meters later and you end up on the final ice runnels- some steep ice sections and a loose rock pitch brings you to the top and the first rays of sun in three days….nice!