NEW UPS AND DOWNS IN THE MONT BLANC RANGE

Posted on: March 20, 2007


The Italian side of Mont Blanc seen in winter from the east southeast across the chaotic lower Brenva Glacier. (A) Dames Anglaises (3601m). (B) Breche Nord des Dames Anglaises (3491m). The northeast couloir snowboarded by Davide Capozzi falls to the right with the lower wider section clearly visible. (C) Punta Gugliermina (3893m). (D) The top of the Freney Pillars. (E) Mont Blanc du Courmayeur (4765m). (F) The Red Shield of the Grand Pilier d'Angle (climbed by routes such as Divine Providence). (G) The Brenva Face. [Photo] Lindsay Griffin

The Chamonix guide and instructor at the Ecole Nationale de Ski et Alpinisme, Jean-Sebastien Knoertzer, put up a succession of new routes in and around the Mont Blanc Massif this winter. On January 26, in the company of three aspirant guides, Jonathan Charlet, Arnaud Geldreich and Oliver Pujol, he climbed the interesting 20,000 vieux sous Memere on the Gros Rognon (3541m). The easily accessible Gros Rognon, situated in the Vallee Blanche, offers a number of short rock climbs and in recent years has seen a development of mixed routes, which serve as excellent preparation for more remote and committing climbs elsewhere in the range. These are generally on the south face, where the Batoux-Robert trilogy of Pas d'Agonie I (III/5+, 300m), II (III/5+ and A2 but climbed free in 2004 by Andy Parkin at WI 7) and III (80 degrees, M6, 200m), the easiest but most elegant, have gained some popularity. However, 20,000 vieux lies on the 350m north face and offers six pitches up to M5 and 85 degrees.

The following day Knoertzer was across on the opposite side of the Chamonix valley, inspecting an ephemeral line on the west face of the Aiguille du Belvedere above the Combe de la Balme in the Aiguilles Rouges. It went, and has now become the 320m Emmamousses with a grade of TD.

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On February 3 he joined Patrick Gabarrou for another new route on the subsidiary summits of the Petites Jorasses. The long northeast ridge of the Petites Jorasses, which forms the French-Italian border, crosses a number of points before reaching the Col des Petites Jorasses in front of the Aiguille du Leschaux. Just before the col is Pointe 3576m, the northwest face of which is taken by the 450-meter couloir climbed by Eric Lambert, Godefroy Perroux and Bernard Sanchez in May 1981 at TD (II/4). To the right of this is the Goulotte Duverney-Gabarrou (TD, II/4, 450m, Yves Duverney-Patrick Gabarrou, 1981. The right fork of this later became another Gabarrou route, In Memoriam, at III/5). Between the two is a narrow corner system. This is now Goulotte Lilou (ED, M6/M7, 450m, Gabarrou-Knoertzer, 2007). This is Gabarrou's tenth route on the Petites Jorasses and by all accounts a superb climb.

Unfortunately just three days later Gabarrou took a fall while climbing the spectacular icefall of Repentance Super in Cogne and spent almost a month in hospital.

More recently three young climbers and skiers from Courmayeur have made the first snowboard descent of the northeast couloir of the Breche Nord des Dames Anglaises (3491m). This is the dramatic notch on the Peuterey Ridge, close to which is situated the Piero Craveri Bivouac Hut. The northeast couloir rises from the chaotic Brenva Glacier and has rarely been climbed (AD+/D-, ca. 350m, Gugliermina-Lampugnani-Ravelli-Zanutti, 1913). Reaching this couloir would traditionally have involved negotiating the seracs and icefalls of the lower Brenva glacier but Stefano Bigio, Davide Capozzi and Francesco Civra chose a clever approach. From the Vallee Blanche they first climbed the Tour Ronde (3798m) and then descended the south couloir, a very rarely crossed passage and probably first climbed in 1914. From the base they went down and across to the Brenva glacier, passing in the vicinity of the ancient Brenva Bivouac. The couloir to the Breche des Dames Anglaises, which they reached at 2 p.m., proved steeper than expected. However, it was in good snow and the three reached the Breche a little before 4.30. Capozzi stepped into his snowboard, while the others donned conventional skis for the descent, which was 55 degrees in the upper section. By 6.30 p.m. they had descended the Brenva glacier and reached the main Val Veny. This may have been only the second descent of the couloir, the first by the well-known extreme skier, Dominque Neuenschwander, taking place in 1989.



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