|The G.P.A. on the left and the arête de Peutrey on the right that leads towards MB de Courmayeur.|
My calves were screaming for some flat ground, we had been climbing on a 40° snow arête for about 3 hours on our third day climbing one of the best climbs I’ve ever done. When I looked up I saw Tim just pulling over the lip of the mountain. It was Mont Blanc de Courmayeur. Tim was on top and screamed loud, I still had to climb 20 meters before I also topped out. Those 20 meters were amazing; the view, the sun, the feeling, the satisfaction, the relief,… Most of all knowing we had just free climbed ‘Divine providence’ (ABO 7c, 900m) on sight and where going to top out on the Mont Blanc for our first time. What a magical moment.
One of our objectives for this trip was to try and reach the top of the Mont Blanc climbing one of the most difficult and complete lines. We were told of ‘Divine providence’, a route that climbs the 900-meter wall of the Grand Pilier d’Angle on the Northeast side of the Mont Blanc. The two most important reasons we wanted to attempt this classic but difficult climb was to climb the nine amazing crack pitches in the middle free and reach the top of the Mont Blanc for our first time.
François Marsigny and Patrick Gabbarou have opened the route in 1984 at a grade of ABO A2/A3. Lately it has been free climbed more often and the route became more popular.
|Me from belgium, me not trust 'serac'|
Although the Grand Pilier d’Angle is on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc, we started our trip at Aguille du Midi. Most of the time people attempt the route starting from the hut ‘La Fourche’, which is pretty close to the base of the Grand Pilier d’Angle (G.P.A.). From Aguille du Midi we had to hike three hours more before reaching the base of the wall. Sunday morning at 7 o’clock we took the first cabin up, nervous and full of excitement we hiked passed the Combe Maudit, were we camped a week ago, towards our objective. Passing two col’s (the col of the hut La Fourche and col More) we arrived at the glacier underneath the G.P.A. Crossing the glacier was the part of the whole climb we stressed about the most. Above this glacier a lot of ‘seracs’ (=huge overhanging package of snow and ice) are ticking as a time bomb before falling down.
|The Grand Pilier d'Angle where you clearly can see the good rock!|
Once we rappelled down of col More, the Mario game started. We had to run across this glacier as quickly as possible. With tons of adrenaline and focus we ran over towards the base of the wall. To reach the wall we had to cross the ‘rimais’ (crack between the snow and the base of the wall). I was going ahead, I chose to cross towards the safe rock passing a snow bridge over the rimais. While I was crossing the bridge I talked to myself: ‘This is not going to break when I cross, this is safe, it will go, this is safe’. But than, before I knew the snow under my crampons disappeared and so did I. I didn’t fell to far, the good reflection to smash my ice axe into the snow stopped me from falling farther. Climbing out of the rimais I told Tim that everything was fine. Reaching the rock I made an anchor and belayed Tim who at his turn also fell into the rimais.
Mid-day; we reached the wall, crossed the glacier underneath the ceracs safely and were ready to climb this piece of rock. The first 400 meters of the wall where easy climbing, 5th grade with some 6th grade sections. We climbed the terribly lose rock, both with a backpack on just until we reached the first bivy ledge at 10 pm. Although the rock was loose the climbing was interesting. Instead of pulling on your arms and hanging on rock it’s important to stem between the rocks and try not to put to pull too much on the holds. Scary … I feel the last few weeks gave me a lot of confidence climbing on granite. I feel comfortable and can stay calm in awkward situations.
|Just melted some water for the day!|
Our first night on the wall was amazing. We found a good bivy ledge, cooked a little dinner and drank some hot water with bouillon (soup). Also we were lucky to find a little snow near the ledge that we melted and used for cooking. The next day we started late, at around 8 am we started climbing the nine pitches in good and solid rock. The scrambling from last day was over and we were ready for some perfect classic cracks. A big solid, steep granite wall was waiting for us.
|Great sunrise in our exhausted faces!|
With porridge on our stomach we started the day with an amazing chimney with a tunnel move behind a huge block. Not to bad for a warm-up. The next pitch was some more serious business. We got woken up completely with a short 7a+ of 15 meters. The climbing is technical and precise on this kind of granite. We also didn’t climbed with the heavy backpacks anymore. This time the rock was steep enough we could haul our sleeping gear, cooking stuff and food up the wall. For some harder free climbing we needed to be free of heavy bag packs.
|I'm hidden in the chimney behind one of the blocks!|
|Me in the technical 7b pitch of the overhanging dihedral!|
One more amazing 6b leaded us towards the highlight of the wall. A big overhanging dihedral was looming at us. The dihedral was split up in two long pitches, a technical 7b and an endurance 7c in the last and steeper part of the dihedral. After one long day of hiking and climbing we finally reached the crux pitches. The goal was to try and climb those two pitches free and on sight. I took the lead and went for the on sight attempt. The first dihedral pitch demanded a slow but controlled climbing style with a little crux at the end. Successfully I made the anchor and Tim followed smoothly. The second and hardest dihedral pitch was more overhanging then we thought. Quickly and efficient I climbed past the hardest moves in the start of the pitch and speeded up the long dihedral that leaded into a perfect crack at the end. Pumped but satisfied we realised we both climbed the hardest pitches free!
|Tim in the last part of the crux pitch.|
Now only four more pitches followed. The last harder pitch was a short 7a with a little roof. The sun was gone and the cold temperatures of the mountains started to hit our bodies. With cold hands and feet, Tim climbed the last hard pitch and even linked it accidently with the last 6b. Frozen I followed him up to his belay. Now the real crack climbing was over, 250 meters of easier ground followed. From now on the hauling was done and the big backpacks had to go on again. We took of our climbing shoes and switched them for the mountain boots to be lighter and have warmer feet. This next part is what seemed as an endless part of the climb. Easy but loose scrambling with sometimes some snow we climbed simultaneously up towards the top of the wall.
|Me on the belay of the crux pitch.|
Reaching the top of the wall didn’t mean we were done climbing. Still there was the ‘Arête de Peutrey’ that leads up towards the Mont Blanc de Courmayeur (the summit just before the Mont Blanc summit). The first part of the arête was rocky and loose. Slow, really slow and tired we scrambled at a height of 4000m altitude over the exposed and loose arête. This is the part that scared me the most. We had climbed and hiked two long days, were tired and did not know exactly how far we still had to go towards the top of the Mont Blanc. A couple of hours further we arrived on the big snowy arête of the mountain. I went ahead with Tim about 20 meters behind. Climbing with one ice axe on the steep snow I realised we were not going fast. Every step I made I sank away in the snowy arête. Walking in this powder snow is not only really tiring but is also scary on this exposed arête. It was 10 pm and it was getting dark when Tim screamed: ‘Siebe, is it smart to go on in this kind of shit snow? This arête has been in the sun the whole day, it’s going to take ages before we reach the top!’ After we discussed our physical situation we decided to return from the snow and go back towards the rocky arête to find a place to spend the night.
|Our 'body tensioned' second bivy!|
A bivy ledge like the one we had the night before we were not going to find again. We took the best spot we could find between tons of loose blocks and installed a little anchor. After some pasta an epic night could begin! In some kind of sit/lay down position we tried to sleep close to each other using some body tension to stay in position. The frustrating part was that once we would fall a sleep, we would literally fall off because we lost body tension. An epic night I would say.
At 5 am we made another porridge and prepared our backs to attack the snow arête. We both were wracked and felt like shit sleeping in this awkward ‘body tensioned’ position whole night. I have to say we had a hard time finding motivation to continue on the steep arête. But once started, things were different. The snow was hard and frozen because of the night and hiking up this thing was ten times easier then the night before. Climbing on the 40° snow arête was hard with some parts mixed rock and ice but this time we climbed fast and efficient. Besides suffering we also took our time to enjoy the scenery at this elevation. Climbing a mountain is something strange, so many times you ask yourself the question: ‘Why am I doing this? I’m so tired and exhausted, it hurts and I have no longs or calves anymore!’ But other moments you realise it is the thing you want the most. You go for something you’re not even sure you’re capable of doing it. But still, you do it. Pushing yourself and testing what your possibilities are makes me satisfied, whatever the results are.
|The last 20 meters!|
Then, we’re back where I started my blog post: 20 meters before the top of the Mont Blanc de Courmayeur. I found new energy and ran up the last few meters towards Tim! A big high five and some victory shout expressed our proud feeling on climbing the hardest and most complete climbs we both have done! We still had to top out on the Mont Blanc and go down taking the ‘route de Trois Monts’ towards the Aguille du Midi but the relief and satisfaction was huge.
|Tim, excited en reliefed on the top of MB de Courmayeur.|
Twenty minutes after topping out on Mont Blanc de Courmayeur we arrived on the summit of the Mont Blanc. We melted some snow, drank and ate our last bar and started the ‘endlessly’ descent of the Mont Blanc. Suffering but proud we moved slow. The cool thing about this kind of goals is that your mind is focussed on one thing: climbing to the top. Besides that the way of doing it counts: climbing it free and clean. During this trip those where the only things in mind. It’s just you, your partner and the climb!
|We got it! Courmayeur! Still 20 minutes to the MB!|
|The glacier and amazing view underneath G.P.A!|
|Tim in the pitch after the crux pitch.|
|One of the breathtaking views from the top of MB de Courmayeur.|
|On the top of the Mont Blanc homies!!!!|