Rare British repeat on Grandes Jorasses-UPDATED

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 23/10/2010
Ally Swinton on Gervasutti Route. Oscar Lopez-Bueno

Last month 21-year-old Ally Swinton from Scotland made only the third known British ascent of the legendary Gervasutti-Gargliardone Route on the East Face of the Grandes Jorasses.

This 750m ED2 route, originally graded VI and A2 but more recently re-assessed as 5c/6a with two sustained pitches of 6b and a pitch of A1, was Gervasutti's greatest climb. It was the hardest in the Western Alps at the time, and arguably not equalled in the Mont Blanc Range until the 1960s.

Leading up to the Second World War, Guisto Gervasutti had no real competition for this ascent and was able to make four attempts spread over five years before finally succeeding over two days in 1942 with Giuseppe Gargliardone.

Swinton climbed the route with the Spaniard Oscar Lopez-Bueno, the two leaving the Gervasutti Bivouac Hut on the Frébouze Glacier at 1am, and following the usual 'winter' start to the left of the rotten Y-couloir to reach the beginning of the main difficulties by 7am.

The climb went relatively smoothly, the pair overcoming the crux 6b free pitches before arriving below the aid pitch. At this point, there appeared to be several options and they chose the one to the right, which was not the original line.

Above, the way ahead was covered in ice, so the only option was to traverse horizontally right for several pitches, more or less reaching the exit of Groucho Marx.

Swinton set off in the lead and at one point had to aid across a section above an overhang. While Lopez-Bueno was following he ripped a piece of gear, falling into space.

Things now began to get exciting, as Lopez-Bueno was left hanging on a single 8mm rope under tension. His prussick loops proved too thick to grip on this thin line, so Swinton eventually had to untie the other rope and lower his thinner cord and a tibloc.

Once above this section the two continued over excellent mixed terrain, reaching the summit at midnight. Two years previously, Lopez-Bueno had soloed the Tronchey Ridge, followed this by a traverse of West Ridge of the Jorasses to the Canzio Hut, and then continued along the Rochefort to the Torino.

This time he took the standard descent and the two continued through the night to the Boccalatte Hut, where they took a little nap before continuing down to the Val Ferret.

With highly compact rock and little in-situ gear to show the way, route finding on the Gervasutti has always proved difficult, and subsequent ascensionists established several variants, the original line remaining unrepeated in its entirety until 1982.

On the third ascent, over three days in August 1974, Dick Renshaw and Joe Tasker found the route very hard to follow, on several occasions having to retreat when their line came to a dead end.

Carrying big rucksacks and using large leather mountain boots (though in an avant-garde style Tasker donned rock boots for several pitches) the pair climbed difficult free and scary aid, with Tasker taking a bruising fall, before they won through.

Nick Kekus and Simon Richardson, climbing for the first time together, made the second British ascent in July 1982.

Just after starting up the main difficulties, they were hit by a vicious storm and had to bivouac. But by next morning the weather had cleared and the two were rewarded with an immaculate series of steep cracks and grooves, which they climbed in rock shoes.

The A1 pitch proved reasonably straightforward with wires, but the slab above was the crux lead and involved balancing across wet streaks with minimal protection. They bivouacked again, during which they were hit by ground current from a lightning strike, before reaching the summit. This was most likely the seventh overall ascent.
 



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