Two recent routes on the north faces of Pèlerins and Peigne have hinted at the future potential for extremely difficult mixed climbing at middle altitudes in the Mont Blanc Range.
Following a little snowfall in late September, and a slight lowering of temperature, Chamonix based alpinists Jeff Mercier and Korra Pesce took high standard mixing climbing and dry tooling onto the north face of the Aiguille des Pèlerins.
Their goal was the very steep Dard-Repellin route, put up by French Leon Dard and (Fontainbleau) climber Jacques Repellin over two days in late August 1967.
With an austere ambience and sustained climbing at VI and A2, it was considered at the time to be one the more demanding rock routes in the Aiguilles. There appears to be only one known repeat; in 1972 by the then predominately Ecrins activists Jean-Marc Boivin and Jean-Michel Cambon.
The initial chimney pitches were used by Andy Parkin and Mark Twight to force their now classic Beyond Good and Evil. Where this heads up left, the Dard-Repellin slants right to reach a huge diedre cutting through the north face.
Mercier and Pesce climbed the initial three pitches and descended to a bivouac at the base, leaving their ropes in place to ensure faster access to the main difficulties the following morning.
Leaving at 5:30am, they climbed all 16 pitches to the summit, arriving at 6:30pm. The four main pitches in the great diedre were extremely sustained M6+, M7 and 85/90°, comparable with anything on No Siesta and Dru Couloir Direct.
However, the upper slabby section, which could have proved very taxing, was thankfully covered in good névé. The pair descended the far side of the mountain.
With a play on words the pair have named their free, mixed version of this line Die Hard, Rep-a-line (600m, V/5+, M7, 90°).
A couple of weeks later Mercier and Pesce were back, this time in the company of Julien Desecures and Jon Griffith.
Desecures had been looking at an equally futuristic possibility, the North-Northeast Face Direct of the Aiguille du Peigne.
A week prior to his ascent on the Pèlerins, Repellin, this time with René Porta, had climbed the right side of this face, but had been beaten to the plum line just two days previously by a British pair.
Jim Fullalove, better known as Dan Boon and a forceful alpinist of the era (third British ascent of the north face of the Eiger), and Brian Robertson (first ascent of the Righthand Pillar of Brouillard) spent two days climbing the centre of the sombre wall, finding difficult aid in the upper section. The 550m route was sustained a VI and A3, and is likely to have rarely, if ever, been repeated.
The face is cut in two by a diagonal ramp (the lower section first climbed in 1942), leading to the north ridge. The British route reaches this ramp via difficult rock climbing on a broad buttress.
The Anglo-French team used the lower section of the ramp to reach the second half of the British Route, completing the climb to the summit in a long day, having fixed the first two pitches the afternoon before.
There were sections of hard mixed and thin smears, particularly high on the route, and the difficulties rated V/5+ M6 85°R.
The team made a difficult night-time descent of the Normal Route in high winds, and as a tribute to one of the first ascensionists named their free mixed version of the upper face, Full Love.
Around the same time that Mercier and Pesce were climbing on the Pèlerins, Matt Helliker and Andy Perkins made an ascent of the modern classic, Beyond Good and Evil.
The original route hits the classic Carrington-Rouse after 10 pitches and many parties opt to finish up this. However, Twight always felt the last and independent section of his route was runnout and formed the crux.
Despite not entirely perfect conditions, Helliker and Perkins followed the original line, completing the route free, arriving at the top at 6:30pm and rappelling the Carrington-Rouse.