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SCOTS CLIMB NEW ICE IN MONT BLANC MASSIF
Posted on: February 1, 2007
The north face of part of the Argentiere glacier headwall, Mont Blanc Range, France. The summit on the left is the Pointe du Domino (3648m), while the higher summit disappearing into cloud on the right is the Aiguille du Triolet (3870m). The four lines marked from left to right are: Petit Viking (III/4, 500m, Profit-Radigue-Tavernier, 1984); Breche du Domino (III/4 5.10, 450m, Charlet-Ducroz, 1979); Shining Wall (IV/5, 600m, Benson-Robertson, 2006); Breche du Triolet (III/2, 550m, Desmaison-Pollet Villard, 1960). [Photo] Guy Robertson
An unclimbed face in the Mont Blanc massif is a rarity these days, so in mid-November 2006, when well-known Scottish activists Pete Benson and Guy Robertson climbed Shining Wall (French IV/5, Scottish 6, ca. 600m) on the north face of Pointe 3650m, it was a particularly noteworthy coup.
Pointe 3650m is situated in one of the most popular ice climbing areas of the entire range. This unnamed summit lies on the frontier ridge connecting the Pointe du Domino (3648m) and the Aiguille du Triolet (3870m), at the head of the highly-frequented Argentiere glacier basin. Flanking it to the right are the North Couloir of the Breche du Triolet (3611m) and the various routes on the north face of the Triolet itself, and to the left the north face of the Breche du Domino and the popular modern classic Petit Viking.
Although various Alpinists had eyed the potential of the ice-streaked north face below the rocky summit of Pointe 3650m, it appears no one made serious headway on a line until early last year, when Valeri Babanov and Fabien Mayer climbed 450 meters up the face, completing nine pitches on February 5, 2006, at III/5+ M, before retreating several pitches below the summit ridge (the lack of a summit notwithstanding, the named the "route" Orion). Ice conditions were not optimal and the short daylight hours were cold and very windy. Babanov hoped to return to finish the job this winter.
In November 2006, Benson and Robertson followed a similar line to the Babanov-Mayer attempt, finding really nice climbing that was technically reasonable though often run out on fairly ephemeral Styrofoam ice. There was tricky mixed ground near the top and the last pitch was very sketchy and loose. The pair stopped on the summit ridge, as the last section of crest to the high point was very loose and covered in unconsolidated snow. At this point they had joined the 1905 Fontaine-Ravanel-Tournier route, which traverses from the Breche du Domino to the summit of the Triolet. According to Robertson, it was a real gift to find such a beautiful natural line, at an amenable grade, up a virgin face above Chamonix.