ClassicClimbs | The Rochefort Arete and traverse of the Grande Jorasses
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The Rochefort Arete and traverse of the Grande Jorasses

This summer I have been focusing on rock climbing and haven’t spent that much time up in the high Alps.  Partly because it’s been so hot with two weeks of temperatures over 30degrees C in the valley and precious little refreeze of the glaciers.  With these conditions it’s important to be careful about your route selection, but long periods of mild weather also make some of the bigger and more committing routes possible.  The full traverse of the Grande Jorasses from the Canzio bivouac followed by a descent into Italy is one such route, and it’s been on my wish list for many years.  In fact about 10 years ago I had previously traversed the Rochforte Arete with an American friend Dan Shuterof.  The full Grande Jorasses traverse had been our goal but it was late May and we found too much snow and ice on Point Young for our level of commitment at the time and we escaped by the long and eye-widening rappels straight south from the Canzio bivouac.

The last few days I found myself swept up in the enthusiasm of Aspirant BMG Guide John Crook and committed to a rematch.  With the 0degree level above 4000m for the week we knew that we would find dry rock in the crucial places, but also that the Rochefort arete would be more delicate as sections are already down to ice.  So without much acclimatization but able to take lightweight summer alpine equipment and clothing because of the forecast temperatures we took the early morning lift to Helbronner and set out on my first big alpine adventure of the summer.

What an adventure!  I’d forgotten what an wonderful route the Rocheforst arete is.  Two 4000m peaks, the Aiguille du Rochefort and the Dome du Rochefort and a sinuous snow and ice crest interspersed with sections of rocky scrambling leads you elegantly to one of the most remote and committing bivouac huts in the Alps.  John and I were surprised to find ourselves alone at the hut.  Although temperatures were mild enough to find running water at almost 4000m, the winds had increased through the day and stayed strong and blustery all afternoon and evening.  With the new forecast suggesting the winds would increase again at altitude during the next day we both began to think that packing that extra duvet jacket might have been a good idea.  One just never knows in the high mountains…

We set out the next day wearing all of our clothes and made rapid progress along the ridge.  No doubt assisted by incredibly light rucksacks Nothing left in them! 🙂   The full Grand Jorasses Traverse has 5 separate 4000m peaks only one of which I had previously climbed. (Point Walker by the Colton-Macintyre a few years ago)  The first peak on the ridge, Point Young is 3996m and it is here where you find most of the climbing difficulties. Once you gain this summit the climbing line stays on the crest for a while before taking a flanking line to the south to gain Point Margherita.  In more mixed conditions this part too would be more time consuming and challenging.  This is some of the more complicated and interesting terrain of the Chamonix Mont Blanc range and it feels amazing to be up high for so long and in such a committing location.  From Point Margherita the line really stays on the crest and the downclimb from here is simply amazing!

The whole ridge is definitely one of the best rock traverses that I have done anywhere in the Alps… and this is the style of Alpine route I like the most.  The majority of the route is on really solid granite, and none of the more loose sections are too disturbing.  If you climb delicately and with attention then it’s no problem at all.  In fact the most distressing section of the whole traverse is the loose pile of rubble and jumbled blocks on the access slopes to the Dent du Geant at the start of the Rochefort arete.

We climbed in blustery but mild conditions over Point Young, Point Margherita, Point Helena, Point Croz and on to Point Whymper before deciding not to continue to Point Walker but to save the hour it would take and to get across the glaciers below before they got too soft.  An easy decision for me on a day with valley temperatures predicted to be mid-30 degrees!

Looking back on a great couple of days shared with John Crook, I find myself dusting off more dreams of big Alpine adventures which I have let linger at the back of my mind for too long.  Who knows what weather and conditions this summer has in store for us but I am happy to feel  renewed enthusiasm bursting into my imagination.  Thank you John Crook for a wonderful couple of days of shared alpinism up high and I look forward to climbing together again in future!

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