With a new route on the Italian side of Monte Rosa, Hervé Barmasse has completed the third and final leg in his 2011 project, Exploring the Alps.
For this climb, on the remote South East Face of 4,454m Signalkuppe (known to Italians as Punta Gnifetti after one of the first ascensionists) Barmasse teamed with his father, Marco.
Now in his 60s, Marco Barmasse is the third generation of Barmasse guides from Cervinia and in the 1970s and '80s climbed several new routes on the Matterhorn. Last year with his son he made the first ascent of the Couloir dell Enjambée, a coveted climb that reaches the Lion or Italian Ridge.
The South East Face of Signalkuppe, rarely visited, is bordered on the right by the classic Cresta Signal (900m: D), accessed via a strenuous seven-hour walk from the valley base of Alagna to reach the Resegotti Bivouac Hut perched on the crest.
The 800m largely rocky face to the left rises from a glacier plateau named Pianotto Ellermann (after John R Ellermann, who in 1882 pioneered a new route on the neighbouring Parrotspitze). Two routes have been established on the South East Face above.
In 1906 Guglielmo Guglielminetti, Alessandro Orio and Fabio de Zinis climbed the prominent leftward diagonal, more or less direct to the summit (D, snow/ice and mixed).
It is severely exposed to stonefall and has been repeated several times. The third ascent was made in 1980 by the Alagna guide and climber of all 14 8,000m peaks, Silvio Mondinelli, with Roldano Sperandio. These two returned the following February for the first winter ascent.
Mondinelli spied a vague rib to the left and returned in 1987 with Fabio Loss and Paolo della Valentina to put up Africa Nostra (TD+: UIAA VI) on largely brittle rock. It's most likely this route has never had a second ascent.
The Barmasses' new route climbs the wall to the left of Africa Nostra and provided a great mountaineering challenge, again on well less than perfect rock. The 800m line hits the South West Ridge just 15m below the summit, on which stands the Margherita Hut, the highest building in Europe.
There were pitches of 'around VI' and the route awarded an overall grade of ED.
In line with his 'exploration' theme, Barmasse used a novel approach to access the face.
The few previous parties have followed the standard route from Alagna to the Resegotti Bivouac, and after spending the night there, moved left to the Pianotto.
The Barmasses chose to follow the Monte Rosa Standard Italian Route (F) up the South South West Flank (Lys Glacier), overnighting in the Balmenhorn Bivouac (4,167m) and next day reaching the Colle Sesia between the Punta Parrot and Signalkuppe. From there they descended the East Couloir (500m: AD+/D) to the Pianotto, not far from the start of their proposed line.
Hervé Barmasse's project was to climb new routes on three symbolic mountains of the Alps, Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, partly to prove that we should never take for granted everything in the Alps has been climbed.
In April he spent four days climbing a new route, solo, up the South Face of the Matterhorn to Picco Muzio, while the second leg of his trilogy took place in August, when with Eneko and Iker Pou he reached the summit of Mont Blanc via a new line, La Classica Moderna, on the Left Pillar of Brouillard.
The South East Face of Signalkuppe is taken from the current Alpine Club guide Valais Alps East (ISBN 0-900523-62-X: www.alpine-club.org.uk)