Sean Villanueva & Christophe Dumarest on the GRANIT'TOUR
Christophe Dumarest told to us that, "I have been dreaming about doing this for years; making a bee-line traverse across the Mont Blanc Range by climbing the legendary granite routes of the area's classic summits." For this rock 'n' roll tour, he needed to find just the right partner. It goes without saying that Sean Villanueva was game for this type of "riff" and joined the "Hard as a Rock" Granit'Tour alongside Vivian Bruchez and Aymeric Clouet. Below are choice moments in photos from this adventure, with commentary by Christophe Dumarest…
July 31 2017
The Granit'Tour rope guns
Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll & Christophe Dumarest
Trip kickoff: Portalet climbing
Left: the Clocher du Portalet marks the beginning of the trip and our first genuine introduction. This climb allows Sean and me to get to know each other. We quickly dispense with the formalities since rain, thunder, and lightning plan to join the party around noon.
Right: on the crux pitch of "Etat de Choc," Sean climbs as if he is strolling up flight of stairs. This does not keep him from enjoying one of the purest crack lines in the Mont Blanc Range. The Clocher du Portalet is a must-visit for trad climbing in the area.
At the base of "Face au Large" on Aiguille de la Varappe
Gale force winds of over 80km/hr pound us. Sean is all smiles as he desperately attempts to warm up his hands. To our dismay, the sun only makes an appearance on the descent.
The French-Swiss border
Joy overcomes us as we reach and cross over the Col du Chardonnet. After spending the entire day battling Patagonian winds and the threat of violent thunderstorms, we know that the "hardest" part is behind us. From this point on, we will cover much more familiar terrain in the Argentière Glacier.
"Ciao Vince" on the Vierge
The first section of serious jamming on "Ciao Vince," a splitter 7b crack on the Vierge, one of the most spectacular formations we climbed during the trip. This is also the first route where we were able to enjoy the sun; what a fun day!
Where are the brakes?
Going crazy on the roof of the Argentière Hut; due to the intoxicating speed, Sean seems all too unaware of just how old our bike is. Where are the brakes? Unfortunately, due to the extremely dry summer this year in the mountains, the Tournier Spur on the north face of the Droites is not in condition. No worries, we take a detour via Les Grands Montets, stopping along the way at the Flammes de Pierre.
"Sale Athée" on Aiguille du Moine
In frigid temps, we race up the always-incredible route "Sale Athée" on Aiguille du Moine. All it takes is a knee-bar to feel the groove and let go of all inhibitions. Too bad for the one or two bolts right next to a perfectly protectable crack. The last pitch, rated 8a, was the only one we did not send on the 10 routes climbed.
An improvised "Blues Brothers" performance"
Strong coffee sparked things off in the kitchen of the Envers des Aiguilles Hut. This improvised "Blues Brothers" performance in front of giggling hut managers Evelyne and Agathe spilled out into the rest of the hut just a few minutes later…
"Ailes du Désir" on Aiguille du Fou
Sean climbs one of the last few pitches of the stellar route "Ailes du Désir" on Aiguille du Fou. After sending the two crux pitches without clipping any of the bolts along the crack, it's time to relax.
South face and bivy atop Fou Spire
Surrouned by team AC//DC (A.Clouet & Dumarest. C), Seans wakes up a bit wasted halfway through the "Hard as a Rock" Granit'Tour Invitational! The bivy on top of Aiguille du Fou serves as the "RV parking lot" following the memorable performance on the south face. None of the four-star hotels in Chamonix can compete with what we consider to be the most amazing room with a view in the valley.
Chamonix's amazing spires
Traversing the skyline spires or "Aiguilles" high above Chamonix contributes to the variety of our adventure, which, in addition to each ascent, proves the icing on the cake for our project. With fatigue starting to really accumulate from the past days' efforts, our packs feel much heavier than they should. The hot dry summer has rendered much of the area's terrain unstable and uninviting. Just a few meters from us, a guide gets hit by rock fall and Chamonix's PGHM mountain rescue team evacuates him by helicopter.
"Intouchables" on the Trident du Tacul
Another unforgettable moment of crack climbing in the Mont Blanc Range: the summit pitch on the route "Intouchables" on the Trident du Tacul. A controversial line whose bolts were chopped by the talented Didier Berthod, it has become one of the range's standard-setting cracks. Sean's amazing onsight of "Super Purple," 8a, without clipping the bolts, provides us with a master class on jamming technique.
"Directe des Capucines" on the Grand Capucin
Nothing but wet rock and winter conditions for our last ascent on the Grand Capucin via "Directe des Capucines," one of the most obvious lines up the face. Beyond the ratings, conditions dictate the difficulty of each ascent and of our overall traverse. This final ascent marks the grand finale of 14 days of vertical wanderings through the Mont Blanc Range, a mini expedition right in my backyard sprinkled with so many unforgettable moments.
Team rock 'n' roll
Thank you to Sean for accepting my invitation to join this rock 'n' roll tour and thanks to everyone backstage who helped us to complete our trip, including Marc Daviet, Vivian Bruchez, and Aurélien Colin present in this photo. Thank you as well to the hut managers and to Michel Matera, Bruno Di Palma, and Aymeric Clouet for tagging along.
Wandering for two weeks through the Mont Blanc Range allowed us to experience truly incredible moments. Immersed in the grandeur of such breathtaking mountains and thrown head first into the stout nature of crack climbing, this trip will stay with us for years to come. Through such beautiful landscapes, intense effort, and simple encounters, I hope that you will be able to enjoy the same type of experience whether climbing on the other side world or right in your own backyard.