MONT BLANC VIRGIN SUMMITS GO TRAD

Posted on: September 20, 2006


Tony Penning, on one of the four first ascents he accomplished in the Mont Blanc Range in August, starting the signature crack during the first ascent of King Fissure (IV 5.11 R, 305m, Cytlau-Gillett-Mullin–Penning–Taylor, 2006) on the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey (3772m), Mont Blanc Range, Italy. The second half of this "crack" features a very serious and scary face climb. Also in the month Penning and his team of Britons made the first ascents of two previously unclimbed features in the range, the south buttress (IV 5.10d, 450m) of "Punta Giancarlo Grassi" (aka Punta 2862m), the Red Tower on the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey (3772m) via a three-pitch 5.11 R and two new routes on the rock walls south of the Aiguille de la Brenva. [Photo] Gavin Cytlau

Virgin summits in the Alps are few and far between, particularly in the Mont Blanc Massif, but this summer a British party managed to pick off two. Tony Penning has developed a long love affair with the Italian side of the range, particularly its more remote corners. He returned in August and with Gavin Cytlau, Nick Gillett, Nic Mullin and Ali Taylor weathered unsettled conditions to make the first ascent of Punta 2862m. This granite tower lies above the snout of the Pra Sec Glacier, overlooked by the immense Tronchey Wall of the Grandes Jorasses, the highest rock face in the Mont Blanc Massif. The team climbed the south buttress on August 15 in nine pitches (450m) of fine climbing up to 5.10d in magnificent surroundings. Difficulties, which were not continuous, included some unprotected slab pitches of 5.7 and 5.8.

The authoritative Mont Blanc enthusiast and former Courmayeur resident, Luca Signorelli, who instigated the climb, suggested the peak be named Punta Giancarlo Grassi, after arguably the best and most productive exploratory alpinist to come out of Italy. The peak lies below one of Grassi's great legacies, the unrepeated and ephemeral Phantom Direct (ED2/3: VI/5, ca. 1100m but 1600m of actual climbing, Grassi-Luzi-Rossi, 1985) on the Tronchey Wall. Signorelli remarked, " Grassi, who sadly died in 1991, really loved this area and I think would have been very pleased with the climb itself."

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Three days later the same five British climbers made the first ascent of the Red Tower, which lies below the crest of the long East Ridge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey (3772m). Penning, as well as one or two local guides, had eyed this tower over the last fifteen years but "never got 'round to it." After a longish approach the climb yielded three difficult pitches up to 5.11 R. Also on the Noire the team made the first ascent of the seven-pitch King Fissure, the meat of which is an awesome offwidth needing the very biggest cams. The route, which finishes on easy ground some distance below the East Ridge, went at mid 5.11 R with a very scary wall pitch. The climbers also put up two new routes on the rock walls south of the Aiguille de la Brenva to complete a fine two-week holiday.

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