The routes up the north face of the Grandes Jorasses evoke such descriptive words as "hard" and "committing". Looking for a new challenge, Slovenian climbers Luka Lindič and Luka Krajnc took advantage of a recent window of stable weather to make the first free ascent of a now former aid route. Three cold days on the daunting 1000 meter high face is all it took.
Trip report by Luka Lindič.
Staying off the beaten path
After an entire winter of unstable weather I checked the forecast once again, just in case. Wow, the forecast looked great! I called Luka Krajnc, my partner from Slovenia and we were soon on our way to Chamonix. Our first plan was to climb the Gousseault-Desmaison route on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. The day before we left we received information that two other parties were planning to climb the same route just before us. Since we are not particularly fond of the "herd effect," where several parties follow each other up the same route, we decided to change our objective and attempt Rolling Stones, an even harder route up the same face that had still yet to be free-climbed.
Committing, harder than planned, scary, what else!
On the first day we made the approach on skis carrying huge packs. We pitched a small tent just below the route and enjoyed evening views of the entire face. Our plan was clear. We would attempt to free climb the whole route. We had no idea if it was possible, but we tend to like the uncertainty of this kind of adventures. The next morning we started climbing what we thought would be only three-day climb. The second pitch already proved extremely steep and we were moving slower than planned. After a full day of climbing we chiseled out a ledge in a small section of ice and prepared for an uncomfortable night.
The next morning we were not very optimistic, tired, and the steepest part was still to come. After a tricky traverse pitch onto really steep terrain, we completely committed to the route. Through the end of the day we climbed one hard pitch after another, and luckily found a nice ledge to bivy. The rays of morning sunlight helped prepare us to battle the crux part of the route just ahead.
After two steep pitches to warm up, we arrived at the belay below the route's hardest pitch, rated A3. Since it did not look too daunting, I managed to calm down and just go for it. The first part was straightforward with good protection. After an old rusty bolt the pitch steepened. To add to the challenge there were three huge loose blocks, a scary proposition since we were climbing with a single rope. Somewhat scared, I gingerly climbed up and around these blocks, choosing not to place any protection for a few meters. I could hear the blocks making strange noises as they shifted. After another few very careful minutes of climbing I was at the belay. Yes! I did it! The next two pitches were less committing and difficult, but far from easy. Although we only climbed seven pitches that day, we set up at our third bivy on the face with wide smiles across our faces. We had free climbed the crux of the route. The evening was pleasant, and since the rest of the route ascended much “easier” terrain, we could already taste victory.
We woke up the next morning to high winds. A wall of clouds was barreling down upon us from the north. In less than an hour we were already shivering in the strong northerly wind and fog. Very quickly both we and the rock were plastered in frost. To our disbelief we were suddenly in a very serious situation. We knew that if something went wrong and we needed to stop we would in big trouble. Just before nightfall we reached the summit and descended one hundred or so meters down south face where the wind tapered off.
In the fog we were unable to locate the descent route so we set up another bivy. On the last morning we woke up to clear blue skies and made the descent to Courmayeur. The trip took six days from car to car.
Once again we were able to climb a superb route in our preferred style – simple with minimal gear. We made a first free ascent and managed to on-sight every pitch. We estimate that the hardest pitch is M8, with a scary section climbing over big loose blocks. At least three other pitches are in the M7 range, and several others around M6. However, and as always, numbers do not tell the whole story.
Route and topo
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