Mara Babolin, Francesco Rota Nodari and Roberto Rovelli have made the probable second ascent of the South West Couloir of Punta Baretti, repeating the line first climbed, and then skied, by the well-known French extreme skier Pierre Tardivel.
Punta Baretti lies on the lower section of Mont Blanc’s Brouillard Ridge and whilst not technically the most difficult, is certainly the most remote and inaccessible of all the 4,000m peaks. Collectors will approach it over Mt Brouillard (4,069m), which stands a little south of Col Emile Rey (4,030m), the high notch marking the start of the rarely climbed but classic ascent of the Brouillard Ridge.
The three Italians approached from the Val Veni, camped on the Miage Glacier, and set off at 11pm, climbing directly through the smooth centre of the icefall forming the lower Mont Blanc Glacier. Above, they veered right to reach narrow snow slopes below the entrance to the couloir.
At 1,100m in height, this couloir is one of the longest in the Mont Blanc Massif, and although of modest difficulty, was so remote that it was not climbed until May Day 2006 by Tardivel with Jeremy Janody and Sebastien de Sainte Marie.
To around three-quarters height it is straightforward 40° snow and generally quite wide. Reaching the upper, steeper continuation involves a short section bypassing a 70° rock step (Tardivel made a 10m rappel here during the ski descent).
Above, the couloir is narrower (three to four metres wide) and around 45° before reaching snow slopes below the rocky summit of Baretti.
The Italians climbed more or less unroped to the narrows at three-quarters height and then pitched most of the remaining ground to the summit. The main danger of this route is stonefall, but as the couloir lies in shade until after midday, this can be minimized by climbing early on a cold day.
From the summit they traversed north along the rotten rock ridge and over Mont Brouillard, where they were surprised to meet a guide and client, who had approached from the Eccles Bivouac to the east. The Italians continued to Col Emile Rey, made a number of rappels down the west-facing couloir and crossing the upper Mont Blanc Glacier, reached the remote and unguarded Quintino Sella Hut (3,396m) where they spent the night.
Next day they continued west to the Gonella Hut, which is currently under re-construction, and after descending to the upper Miage Glacier, finally regained their tent.
Baretti was first climbed in 1880 by Martino Baretti and his guide Jean-Joseph Martinez. These two climbed from the Miage Glacier via snow slopes and broken rock on the South West Flank, some distance right of the couloir. Baretti claims to have climbed Mt Brouillard on the same outing but this was later questioned and it was left to Karl Blodig, Alexis Brocherel and Oscar Esckenstein to make the first undisputed ascent - in 1906.
Over in the Valais, Patrick Gabarrou and Simon Deniel climbed a new route on the North East Face of the Dent Blanche. Forty years ago, at the age of 18, Gabarrou climbed his first alpine 4,000er by completing the Normal Route on the Dent Blanche with the local guide Camille Pralong.
In the intervening years Gabarrou has pioneered several lines to the summit of the Dent Blanche, but details of the new c1,000m route, climbed during a cold spell in July, are currently unavailable.