Unusually good conditions in the high mountains of the Mont Blanc Range this autumn have resulted in rare repeats of hard mixed climbs. Nowhere has this been more notable than the Grandes Jorasses.
The most significant is arguably the third ascent of the Shroud Direct by Julien Desecures and Bruno Sourzac.
The French pair had looked at the line in late September but while the top half of the Jorasses North Face seemed in excellent condition, the lower section was dry, due to July's high temperatures.
Instead, they moved further right, where they discovered Belle Hélène, a route put up on the North Face of Pointe Hélène in 1999 by Chamonix resident Andy Parkin, was in great shape.
They climbed the 800m line and then descended to Planpincieux in the Val Ferret in a mere 12 hours.
In the upper section of this route, Parkin, climbing alone, had found a succession of thin, fragile ice pitches through poor rock and graded his ascent V/5+ M 85°. The two French rated their ascent TD+, with 80° ice and M5 in the upper section.
On the 13th October, Desecures and Sourzac returned, and in a remarkably rapid 10 hours dispatched the 1,100m Shroud Direct, a route first climbed over two days in mid January 1983 by Hervé Sachetet and Jean Séguier.
This takes the obvious direct finish to the Shroud (Desmaison/Flematti, 1968) through the depression above the top right corner of the central icefield. It climbs steep and thinly iced ramps left of those followed on the Gousseault Route, to exit left of Pointe Walker onto the final section of the Hirondelles Ridge.
The first ascensionists found difficult and dangerous climbing on rotten rock, an experience not disputed by Christophe Profit and Dominique Radigue, who just a month later linked the left-hand (and steeper) start to the Shroud climbed in 1980 by Rick Graham and Andy Hyslop (V/5+), with a similar line to the Sachetet/Séguier finish, completing the unrepeated Magic Line.
Desecures and Sourzac found the upper ramp steeper than expected, traversed highly-delicate, thinly-iced slabs and climbed 30m sections of straight dry-tooling. A short overhang needed aid, and the pair rated the climb VI/5 M6+ A2.
On the other side of the mountain, the Hypercouloir has been repeated at least once, with Frenchmen Philippe Batoux and Lionel Daudet climbing the route in late September.
This 500m line of ephemeral south-facing goulottes right of the South Pillar was climbed in August 1978 by the legendary Italian ice climbers, Gianni Comino and Gian Carlo Grassi. It was the first significant ephemeral south-facing ice couloir to be climbed in the Alps, and arguably the hardest ice climb in the Mt Blanc Massif at the time. Recent repeats have rated this V/6.
Batoux and Daudet found several sections of 5+ ice and some mixed climbing, all very much in the modern idiom, and suggest that no one today would dream of climbing some of the pitches with the gear that was available in 1978.
The photograph shows the Grandes Jorasses. From the highest summit - Pointe Walker - on the left, the Walker Spur falls towards the glacier on the right. Rising to the summit from the snow col on the left is the Hirondelles Ridge. The large slanting icefield between the two is the Shroud.
Thanks to Luca Signorelli for help with this report