British solo of previously virgin rock tower in Mont Blanc Range.

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 12/11/2013
The previously virgin rock tower soloed by Tony Penning. Upper Tronchey Glacier to the right. The Tronchey Ridge, with its upper towers visible, forms the skyline. Tony Penning
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Returning to his "spiritual home" on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif, Tony Penning has climbed another small new summit below the great south-southeast face of the Grandes Jorasses.

In the summer of 2006, having been given the tip by the authoritative Mont Blanc enthusiast and historian, local Italian Luca Signorelli, Penning made the first ascent of Punta 2,862m on the east side of the remote, lower Pra Sec basin.

With  Gavin Cytlau, Nick Gillett, Nic Mullin and Ali Taylor, he climbed the south buttress in nine pitches to give a 450m climb of E2 5b/c (F6b).

On the recommendation of Signorelli the granite tower was named Punta Giancarlo Grassi, after the legendary Italian pioneer and guide.

Giancarlo Grassi was arguably the best and most productive exploratory climber to come from Italy. His 1978 ascent of the Hypercouloir on the Grandes Jorasses was perhaps the first significant south-facing ice couloir climbed in the Alps, and possibly the hardest ice route in the Mont Blanc Range at the time.

Grassi put up new routes all over the southern side of the Mont Blanc Range, and in most of Italy's alpine areas.

Together with Gianni Comino he raised the standards of ice climbing in Italy to previously unheard of levels and towards the end of his, sadly short, life was climbing more than 250 days a year.

Official naming of summits is not a prerogative of the Courmayeur municipality but more for the Aosta valley cartography office, so the designation Punta Grassi still remains "a work in progress".

Penning returned in August 2012 with Mike Mitchell and made the long approach to a bivouac below the south ridge of Punta Grassi.

The pair then climbed around its east flank, a little above the glacier, until it was possible to enter a gully and chimney system that led back left to the col between Punta Grassi and another, higher, unnamed tower to the north.

Whilst the rock below the col was loose in parts, on the ridge above a succession of pleasant granite steps up to HVS gave enjoyable climbing.

The two reached the top after 750m of climbing from their bivouac and named their ascent Absent Friends.

However, it did not escape Penning's attention that there was another unclimbed granite tower further north again.

This August Penning, who has now been visiting the south side of the range on a regular basis since his first new route there in 1987, was on a family holiday, camping in the Val Veni.

In the back of his mind was a little project, so taking time out he made two carries to the bivouac below Punta Grassi and then repeated his route Absent Friends, solo.

From the top he traversed around a pinnacle on the ridge leading north and then followed a bergschrund to a rocky bridge that led to the base of the virgin 100m rock tower beyond.

On route he glanced down a gully to the right and spotted something metallic, but was unable to descend to it at the time.

Penning soloed the south face tower at HVS via an obvious chimney/groove system and then out right to gain the upper ridge, arriving on the summit at 12:30 pm.

While descending, which involved 350m of down climbing and jammed abseil ropes, he fell off a section of ridge while on rappel. After an eight-metre pendulum he was stopped by a large immovable granite wall, fortunately not much the worse for wear.

Also during the descent he managed to abseil into the gully in which he'd noticed the metallic object, and take a photograph (photo 4).

This piece of machinery must have fallen from above, and/or been carried by the glacier, and while anemometers or surveying equipment spring to mind, we would be interested to hear from anyone who can identify it.

Unfortunately, he didn't bring it down: locals said it would have sat nicely in the Courmayeur museum.

It took Penning well into the evening to reach the valley, and he was forced to come back up later to carry down the rest of his gear, making a total of four days spent on the project.



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