British ascent of previously unclimbed rock summit in Mont Blanc Range.

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 06/08/2012
Tony Penning in the big corner system of Strictly Ballroom. Mike Mitchell
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Mike Mitchell and Tony Penning recently climbed several new routes on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Range, including a small but previously virgin summit.

Penning, who may have put up more lines on the south side of the range than almost any other non-Italian, has been a regular visitor to the Vals Veni and Ferret for around 25 years.

In the summer of 2006 Penning, with Gavin Cytlau, Nick Gillett, Nic Mullin and Ali Taylor, made the first ascent of Punta 2,862m, a granite tower in the Pra Sec basin below the south side of the Grandes Jorasses.

The team climbed the 450m South Buttress in nine pitches at E2 5b/c, having been put up to the job by authoritative Mont Blanc enthusiast, Luca Signorelli.

The summit was later named Punta Giancarlo Grassi after the sorely missed but arguably most productive exploratory Alpinist ever to come out of Italy.

This summer Mitchell and Penning bivouacked about 10m up the flanks of Punta Giancarlo Grassi and the next day contoured the east side at around Severe, not far above the glacier, to reach a gully and chimney leading up left to the saddle that separates Punta Grassi from an unnamed rock summit to the north.

Loose ground led to the saddle, but the south ridge above featured several nice granite steps, each about HVS.

They reached the virgin summit after 750m of climbing from the bivouac and descended via abseil and down-climbing, naming the route Absent Friends.

While at the bivouac the pair were attracted by a fine groove system right of a huge overhang on the upper wall of Punta Grassi, a line which Penning had not noticed on his previous visit.

They returned after four days, climbed to the overhang and then out right on slabs, before moving left to below the groove.

They were unable to enter the main corner system directly, so crossed right to two lean grooves, which they climbed until a thin and technical traverse back left led to the main corner. Apart from one incident, this groove proved less exciting than the ground below.

A giant flake lay on the first stance in the groove and had to be trundled. Unfortunately, it scored a direct hit on the bivouac site, where the pair had left their rucksacks, badly damaging Penning's.

The eight-pitch (ca 290m) route, which Penning feels is one of the best he's done in the area, was E4 6a and named The Climb that Time Forgot.

Mitchell and Penning also climbed two lines in the Fauteuil des Allemands below the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey.

On the east face of the Tête des Chasseurs (2,802m) they added Mousetrap.

The Tête was the scene of Penning's first route in the area, when in 1987, with Pete Cresswell and Dave Hope, he put up the 160m Grand Design. The ascent prompted a visit two years later from Michel Piola, who with Pascal Strappazzon added The Last Belay and Rocking Chair on the walls to the left.

Mitchell and Penning climbed the rounded buttress that forms the right edge of the face, overlooking the couloir leading to the Col des Chasseurs. However, the rock turned out to be loose in a big way, and at E3 5a, although the two  enjoyed the experience, they wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

On the 3,215m Punta Bifida, the first tower on the South Ridge of the Noire, the pair attempted a new route on the southeast face, home to the 1992 Bodin-Faye-Ratheaux (400m, IV+).

The line started up a wonderful big diedre that looked highly imposing from below, with numerous overhangs. It gave three long pitches at around E3 5c with protection (dug out with a nut key), or 5a/b without, to an area of loose rock with no obvious way of bypassing it. The pair retreated but have called the line - to their high point - Strictly Ballroom.



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