Frenchmen Fabien Dugit and Cédric Lachat have succeeded in making the first free ascent of the rarely climbed hard aid route Balade au Clair de Lune on the South Face of the Fou (3,501m) in the Chamonix Aiguilles.
On the 18th of August 1983 three of the top alpinists of that time, Eric Bellin, Jean-Marc Boivin and Martial Moioli started up the compact granite face right of the initial corner system of the American Route, and emerged at the summit the following night under a full moon.
Their route, Balade au Clair de Lune, is mixed free and aid, and has seen few repeats. There are several fine but often poorly-protected pitches of free climbing up to 6c, but at least one demanding aid pitch of A3/A4 (hooks and copperheads) above the point where the line crosses the famous Diagonal Crack of the American Route.
It was on this aid pitch that 10 years later, Christophe Moulin, attempting the second ascent, solo with a back rope, took a 15m fall, which damaged ribs and trashed his rope. He returned a few weeks later, again alone, to complete the second ascent over two days.
The line has gained a reputation for very committing climbing, with few protection bolts and almost none used on belays.
Even in the 1970s and '80s accessing the base of the wall was considered objectively dangerous, and in later years proved more or less unjustifiable during the summer.
This has led to a sharp decline in climbing on one of the most famous rock walls in the range. Those who now opt for a summer attempt generally access the face by traversing the Aiguilles from the Midi and rappelling to its base.
More commonly attempts are made in the spring, when the temperatures are lower and the approach couloir has good snow covering.
Before this June, the last ascent was probably that of Mael Baguet, Mathieu Maynadier and Damien Tomasi, who completed the route in three days during spring 2014 with a portaledge, after which Baguet made the first wingsuit base jump from the top of the wall.
The idea of climbing it free came from Dugit, who is a member of Chamonix's PGHM rescue team.
The pair first approached the route on ski from the Midi in April, stashing gear at the base.
They returned a second time in May with a portaledge and static rope, planning to fix the first six pitches (the hardest section)
They spent two days aid climbing, working the route, identifying protection placements etc and finally decided it would go, though they planned first to replace the four ancient bolts that they suspected would no longer hold a fall.
They left the portaledge at the top of pitch one and returned in early June.
Starting from the Requin Hut at 3:30am, Dugit and Lachat, with photographer Thomas Viallettet, decided to try the route in one day, without replacing the bolts.
Climbing fast, they negotiated the second pitch (7b+ with poor peg protection), the third (6b+ but very, very runnout) and the crux fifth pitch (8b), and then found the upper wall more straightforward, with the A2 pitches well protected by Friends.
The last section was a fine, but widening crack, which required Friends 4 and 5 and was felt to be around 7c+.
They reached the top at 8:30pm (coincidentally in full moonlight) and by 10pm had rappelled to their portaledge near the base of the wall.