March 20th 2014

Petites Jorasses - NW Gully

This winter has been titty-deep, shred-gnar, high-5in’ for skiers, but not so much for any alpine climbing antics. Deep snow, strong winds, and poor conditions have left even the keenest climbers valley based, itching to get up high. Thankfully 10 days ago the first sign of good weather finally arrived on the horizon sending everyone deep underground to sharpen their tools, dust off their cams, and pack away outdated route food. Everyone had different ideas on what to do but none of them were really great options- having very little idea of what might actually be climbable (given that it is still winter here) myself Ally and Steve headed up the day after it stopped snowing for a recce up the Leschaux basin. We wanted to climb anything on the Petites Jorasses with the greater goal to getting a good look at the main event of the area: the Grandes Jorasses.

Ally tours in to the Leschaux Glacier, the Petites Jorasses in the background

Ally tours in to the Leschaux Glacier, the Petites Jorasses in the background

Amazingly two other teams had decided to head in to the basin that day as well. I think it’s great when I see teams giving a big middle finger to conventional wisdom and just trying their best to get something done- if they fail then so be it but at least they got in there and gave it a go. I have a lot of respect for that- it’s always easy following someone else’s tracks but a whole different game being the first to ‘open’ a route for the season. Any excuse is a good excuse in winter, especially this winter. As it turned out they were both heading in for the Grandes Jorasses itself and I was dying to know what they were up to.

Ally arrives at the Leschaux hut with the Grandes Jorasses in the background

Ally arrives at the Leschaux hut with the Grandes Jorasses in the background

We ended up in the Leschaux Hut as our objective was laughable by comparison so we could afford the luxury of sleeping well- but I kept a constant eye out for those mystery climbers and which part of the wall they were going for. With the Jorasses in one of the worst conditions I’ve seen it in I couldn’t help but think that they were heading for one of the hard 4 or 5 day suffer fests that snake their way up improbable parts of the wall. Now, after all, would be the time to get a winter tick of lines such as Manitua etc.

Safely nestled away in the hut, I’d grossly underestimated how much gas to bring for three of us so spent a good while melting snow under some left over tea candles late in to the night (FYI it works, but only just; gas is so the way to go). Nevertheless, nice and early we toured off in to the darkness and tracked our way up to the Petites Jorasses. We had expected some heavy trail breaking and we got it- but I could see the lights of the first climbing team high up on the central icefield of the Jorasses. They were moving fast up the Colton Macintyre and I was impressed with their tenacity trying it in such dry conditions.

Melting snow over some tea candles....not ideal

Melting snow over some tea candles….not ideal

Ally and the Grandes Jorasses

Ally and the Grandes Jorasses

Sunrise on the approach

Sunrise on the approach

The main event...

The main event…

The wall above us revealed itself in the light of the day and it was obvious which line to take- none of the others had any ice in them. As it turned out this was the NW Gully of the Petite Febrouze / Petites Jorasses. It’s a long way to come for such a route but I’ve never actually climbed anything on this wall before, and given my poor success rate this winter anything is good right now. A heart in mouth shrund crossing saw us at the base of some perfect Chamonix ice which weaved its way to the top- from close up this had looked like verglassed rock but we were lucky to find it just thick enough to make fast and easy progress. The route is never hard and it was great fun to run up an alpine route again; even better to see the Grandes Jorasses from the top and take in the Hirondelles ridge and East face from this angle. That mountain just keeps drawing me in…

Ally heads up the first pitches of stellar ice

Ally heads up the first pitches of stellar ice

Woohoo alpine ice!

Woohoo alpine ice!

Myself on the short steep narrowing before it all kicks back for a while, © Ally Swinton

Myself on the short steep narrowing before it all kicks back for a while, © Ally Swinton

Steve and Ally on the final pitch

Steve and Ally on the final pitch

An angle of the Jorasses I hadn't seen before

An angle of the Jorasses I hadn’t seen before



Happy Alpine smiles

Happy Alpine smiles

Hmmm...miles of untracked powder to get home

Hmmm…miles of untracked powder to get home

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book