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Petites Jorasses

Posted on: June 1, 2005


The helicopter skimmed the rippled glacier, the impending darkness making it difficult to distinguish the noisy little insect amongst the savage and austere cirque of mountains that surrounded me and John Bracey. We had been attempting the second ascent of Omega (WI6 6a A3, 650m, Gabarrou-Latorre, 1994), but had failed when I fell three pitches from the top and broke my ankle. A return was called for, but with our near success, Omega's mystique had been broken, and an unofficial race was on.

I returned to the Petites Jorasses (3650m) in January 2005 with a new partner, Stu McAleese, intending to free the entire route. We left the hut at 5:30 a.m., January 4, and reached the base of the route at 8. The weather was cold and clear and forecast to remain that way for the next three days. The first two pitches featured thin ice: beautiful, plastic, vertical, technical. These brought us to a snowfield, up which we moved together, wallowing in deep snow for another sixty meters until we reached a gully that we climbed for 180 meters at Scottish III. An overhanging V-groove on Pitch 7 proved, with the addition of ice on the right wall, to be easier than on the previous attempt. Poor protection, back-and-footing and thin, precarious ice climbing yielded a quality sixty-meter pitch of Scottish V1/7. Although it was still only 2:30 p.m., a great bivy site on the left, above the belay of Pitch 7 and in the start of the second snow gully, proved too tempting to ignore, and we chopped into the top of a rock rib to spend the night.

The next morning we started up the gully at 8 a.m., leaving our rucksacks at the bivy site. Pitch 8 was the mirror image of Pitch 7's overhanging corner, but with no ice on the side wall, it turned into a sixty-meter thrutch. After another quality, heavily iced mixed pitch, we reached Pitch 10—the broken-ankle pitch. Mine again. I surmounted a bulging chockstone split by a narrow, thinly iced cleft by using ice below the chock to stand and place five pieces of protection into crumbly, rotten rock and ice. Twenty meters of fierce and fiery climbing that included hip jamming and cutting loose with my feet put the ghosts to rest.

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McAleese then led a sixty-meter, crumbling, poorly protected seventy-degree corner and thinly iced eighty-degree slab, passing another overhanging chockstone in the process. Pitch 12 was the A2/3 pitch. I started up via a pleasant, iced corner, but it was capped by yet another large jutting flake that blocked an overhanging chimney. Clipping a bolt on the eighty-degree wall to the right, I laybacked the flake and mantled with caution. (Had the flake pulled it would have killed Stu.) Moving right from the top of the flake onto the wall, I clipped a second bolt before climbing a technical section of creaking flakes by laybacking on torques and smearing with crampons. Ten meters above the bolt, I hung from a moving fang of rock and placed two knifeblade pegs, then surmounted an overlap by rocking over onto a poor foot placement and laybacking from poor torques. This allowed access to the thin ice in the top of the overhanging corner and the third bolt, which I used for a belay. One final sixty-meter pitch brought us to the col on the summit ridge. We rapped the route.

—Nick Bullock, Belfordshire, England

Editor's Note: Patrick Gabarrou and Ferran Latorre made the first ascent of Omega March 24-25, 1994, using three bolts for protection. Benoit Peyronnard and Philippe Batoux made the second ascent of the route (at WI5+R M6 A1+) on December 9 and 10, 2004, in twelve hours and thirty minutes of climbing time, freeing all the route except for five meters of the A3 pitch, which Batoux aided to avoid dropping a loose flake on Peyronnard. In the event, he knocked the flake off, which broke Peyronnard's tool in two. Batoux and Peyronnard continued to the summit of the Petites Jorasses; Bullock and McAleese finished at the col.

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