October 2014. Julien Désécures and Sébastien Bohin completed a mixed variant of the Couzy-Desmaison route, making use of the temporary ice sheets. A very different way of climbing that lets them revisit the great classics. And a rugged test for the Trilogy products.
It’s a mythical wall in the Mont Blanc Massif, and one of the three legendary walls in the Alps, alongside the Eiger and Matterhorn. With its six peaks, on first-name terms with the sky at 4,000m altitude, this imposing barrier has kindled the dreams of generations of mountaineers since the late 19th century. And especially its famous north face, the object of fierce international competition. But this fortress – 2,000 meters wide by 1,000 meters tall – played hard to get. For years it ignored its many pretenders, who battled in vain to conquer it! In 1935, Germans Maier and Peters finally vanquished this stonehearted adversary, reaching the Croz Spur.
Three years later, three Italians led by Riccardo Cassin, FA’d the Walker Spur. Then the shutters came down again until August 1958, when French duo Couzy and Desmaison breached its defenses again, scaling the Margarita Spur… A beautiful line, tough and committing, completed after two days of intense exertion. From then on, successful ascents became a more regular occurrence. The intimate nature of the routes attracted growing numbers of bold suitors, whose climbing style and equipment logically grew more technical over the years.
But the face continued to be a stiff proposition, and only the greatest talents succeeded. In the pioneers’ wake, each generation sought to make its mark in this awe-inspiring yet utterly magnificent playground, which towers over the Leschaux glacier. In the ‘80s, Eric Escoffier scaled the Croz and Walker Spurs in one day, with deltaplane transfer! Eyeing a fantastic feat, Escoffier and Christophe Profit completed the winter enchainment of three north faces – Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses – thus notching up the memorable Winter Trilogy with disarming audacity. Nowadays, young climbers are revisiting the old routes in their own way, with even more advanced techniques.
In September 2014, mountaineers Sébastien Bohin and Julien Désécures repeated the Couzy-Desmaison route, with ice/mixed climbing on sheets. Truly vertical tightrope-walkers, they progressed fluidly up the wall, anchored by their axes in under an inch of ephemeral ice. Like a painter beholding his canvas, they precision-tailored each gesture, checked their hold was solid, then hauled themselves rapidly upward, describing one of those lines that climbing knows the secret of. In a picture-postcard setting, in the space of 20 hours, they thus completed a tremendous first in the athletic, exacting and elegant style of climbing that is the new generation’s hallmark.
“We were lucky to have exceptionally good conditions, which is very unusual. The gullies, which rarely form, were well covered with snow and ice, making the routes slightly more accessible. In the chimney, the ice line was perfect,” recalls Sébastien Bohin, Millet technical advisor. “Julien and I have a few routes under our belts on this north face, but this repeat in our own style was a first… and a great collective achievement.”
Bearing testimony to this is the footage shot by Bertrand Delapierre, who was also clinging to the wall. The alpinist-filmmaker wielded his Canon Reflex with a great feel for the right picture. He captures the technical quality of each move up this slender ice line, which is wedged amid a shield of dizzying rock. When the mountaineer is thinking about axe placement, he lets the shot breathe. He plunges our gaze into an aerial void, and lingers on the majestic scenery all around, as the Aiguille Verte, Les Courtes and Les Droites look on! “Jorasses is a mythical mountain. Filming there was a privilege, and emerging into sunshine at the top of the Couzy-Desmaison route was a moment of pure happiness.” The result is Artists on Jorasses, an intense 10-minute film that deftly melds past and present, with stunning footage that takes us up… Right up...
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