NICK BULLOCK: SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM

Posted on: February 2, 2007


The southeast face of Pointe 4361m (aka the Southwest Shoulder), Mont Maudit (4465m), Mont Blanc Massif (French-Italian border), Alps. This remote mixed face sits to the right of the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc. Marked in red is the original line of the Overcouloir (TD+, IV/5, 700m, Grassi-Margaira-Siri, 1986). The blue line marks the January 2006 Bullock-Houseman variant, climbed by Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman. The 2006 variant was one of a number of fine repeats that Bullock has accomplished in the Alps this winter. One of the more recent was the possible first complete ascent of Slave to the Rhythm (IV/6+, Parkin-Taylor, 1997) on the east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m). [Photo] Andy Houseman

After his ascent of the new route Tentation (III/6 or Scottish VII, 7, 260m) with Jon Bracey on the northeast face of Pointe Lachenal (3613m) above the Vallee Blanche in the Mont Blanc Range in late December, Nick Bullock has continued with a spree of interesting repeats. These include what may be only the second complete ascent of Slave to the Rhythm (IV/6+, Parkin-Taylor, 1997) on the far right side of the east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m). Although this route left of the Piliers du Serac appears to have received a number of "ascents", parties have bailed from below the last pitch—an overhanging chockstone.

Bullock completed the route with Kenton Cool, the pair finding very good climbing that was more difficult than nearby Pinnochio (originally IV/6+, 450m, Haston-Gouault, 1994) but less so than Scotch on the Rocks (originally IV/7, 450m, Haston-Gouault, 1995), although nearly as sustained as the latter. The two British climbers thought the crux to be the entry pitch: steep, thin ice leading to a spooky booming flake and an offwidth to finish. However, three other pitches were almost as difficult. High up, the angle eases and two rope lengths of snow bashing lead to the final pitch. Pulling past the overhanging chock on the final pitch involved good torques but crampons smeared on the right wall. It was also loose. A large rock fell into Bullock's lap as he led the pitch, but fortunately missed Cool, belaying directly below, during its subsequent flight to the glacier. The pair had to equip the whole of the upper section of the route for a rappel descent and were then faced with a night-time ski back to the Midi telepherique station in gale force winds. Having to use both axes for placements while crawling up the final section of the path was probably the hardest part of the day.

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Bullock likened one of Slave's thin ice pitches to Omega on the west face of the Petites Jorasses, a route that he made the third overall and first free ascent at the start of 2005. This year conditions on the Petites Jorasses (3650m) were so good that Omega (WI 6 5.10 A3, 700m, Gabarrou-Latorre, 1994: all free at Scottish VIII, 8, Bullock-McAleese, 2005) had formed a solid ice runnel from top to bottom and seen dozens of ascents: the Italian Matteo Faganello felt that in its present state it was nowhere near as difficult nor as "vertical" as the Hypercouloir on the south face of the Grandes Jorasses (recently considered to be ED2 V/6 R and X, ca. 700m, Comino-Grassi, 1979). Bullock himself climbed the very ephemeral L'Oeil au Beurre Noir (IV/5+, 600m, Bernard-Cayrol, 1993) on the far right side of the Petites Jorasses west face in January, finding it in a nice fat state and with a grade of approximately III/5.

Later, and in a rather more remote and serious situation, Bullock teamed with Andy Houseman to make a rare winter ascent of Gian Carlo Grassi's Overcouloir (TD+, IV/5, 700m, Grassi-Margaira-Siri, 1986) on the southeast face of Mont Maudit (4465m: though the face tops out at Pointe 4361m—the Southwest Shoulder). The steep ice fall through the lower rock band wasn't properly formed, so the pair created a three-pitch variation to the right, which was described as "quite peruvianesque."

Gian Carlo Grassi was arguably the best alpinist in terms of exploratory climbing ever to come out of Italy. Toward the end of his career he was climbing more than 250 days a year, often on new ground. He was tragically killed in 1991, descending from a climb in the Apennines of middle Italy. [Photo] Vicenzo Pasquali

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