I haven’t written for a while. I think I used up a lot of writing juices with my last blog about our trip to Morocco. I may have used up some of my climbing juices as well; even though I’ve done a lot of climbing this summer, none of it has been particularly hard.
Over the last few years I’ve climbed quite a lot of things that I thought were quite hard for me and achieved goals that I’d had in mind for a while, such as climbing hard single pitch trad routes in the UK, and freeing El Cap. But I haven’t really worked my weaknesses so much, and neither have I put in motion any long term projects. I have recently booked some flights to Patagonia for January 2014 and with this in mind I have been trying to improve my alpine skills. Using crampons and ice axes, climbing and walking long distances in my mountain boots and climbing with a rucksack – all things I sort of hate but all things I need to be better at if I want to climb the routes I want to in the mountains.
Perhaps my biggest alpine adventure this summer was climbing the Gervasuti route on the East face of the Grandes Jorasses with my boyfriend Peter. Peter isn’t the best rock climber to come out of Cumbria, but he’s very experienced in the mountains and he’s like a mule (can carry heavy bags and keep going without complaint) so he was a very good partner to have. The Gervasuti route is a rock route but the approach and descent are long and complicated. It has also yet to see a free ascent even though the crux pitch is ‘only’ thought to go at 7c+. This drew me to the route but I also knew that with the amount of ground we’d have to cover we may not have the time, energy or inclination to work a pitch.
Those things all turned out to be true, especially when the approach that we thought would be 3 hours was closer to 9 and we were racing to get to a bivy spot before it got too late. We were also denied the chance of even really trying to free the route because a lot of pitches including the crux pitch were soaking wet.
This route is such an undertaking because there are no lifts that can get you up to a higher altitude (unlike a lot of the routes off the Valley Blanche) so you have to gain a lot of ascent from the valley floor. To make matters more interesting, the access to base of the wall includes complicated and potentially dangerous glacier navigation via the Coll de Hirondelles. Not really liking the sound of this, we decided to go along the Tronchey ridge instead. On the map this looked like a good idea, but in reality it was a never ending choss-ridge of doom that took us 9 hours from the Jacchia hut to the base of the wall. And this was after 6 hours of walking to the Jacchia hut the day before! Getting to the base of the wall at 2.30pm was not the start we wanted and it was quite stressful committing to the route.
We had a team talk before we started and discussed our options. Unlike most routes where if you get in to trouble you can just ab down and you’re back to safety, reversing the ridge and the abseils we’d done to get to the base would have been equally involved as climbing the 15 pitches to the top and descending the 2600m back down to the valley floor. So off we went. We got to a bivvy spot near the top close to midnight. I found the route to be quite a challenge even though most of the pitches were graded quite easy – some of them were wet and the pitches closer to the top had a lot of snow to navigate around. 6a slab feels pretty hard when smearing on snow and you have a rucksack on!
Since Peter is bigger and stronger he carried more of the bivvy gear than me (food, a jetboil and a bothy bag) and in return I lead more of the meltwater 6as – teamwork! We had a very short/fitfull shiver bivvy, but we were repaid with a beautiful sunrise. Although we didn’t have the convenience of a nice lift on this side of the range the lack of people, views and feeling of adventure certainly made up for it. We climbed the last few pitches along to the summit and were greeted with the most spectacular view of Mont Blanc and the French side of the range. We descended the normal route up the Grandes Jorrasses and got back in time to have a pizza in Courmayeur.
What else this summer… a short trip to the Ecrin range, which was fun. I finished off a route on the Petit Clocher called Ave Ceasar with Welsh star Calum Musket. An amazing route with RAD splitters all the way up it. I fell off it quite a lot 2 summers ago, so I was pleased to free it all with no falls this summer.
I also managed to try a route I’ve always wanted to do – The Voie Petit. I beautiful line with an absolute mega 8b corner/roof pitch on the Grand Capucin. I didn’t manage to send it, but I’ve got all my beta written down for another try next summer! I’m psyched to have a long term project in the mountains to work towards.
We finished the trip off with a few days in Salvan – a really cool sport crag in Switzerland. The climbing is nice and there is a cute little hut under the crag, but the grading is a little strange. Apparently I climbed an 8b+ there – but it felt more like 8a! Peter also climbed his first 7c and Ben his first 7c+, but these routes felt more accurately graded.
I’ve also spent a lot of the summer filming my adventures and playing around with documentation. Hopefully with this footage and Matt Pycroft’s genius editing skills we can make a fun video series (called Hazel Days!) for epic tv. If you haven’t looked at this website yet – you probably should: epictv.com