*Topo for Cassin route in Piz Badile, you can find here.
The NE face of Piz Badile is considered one of the six great north faces of the Alps. The clasic “Cassin route” was first climbed in July 1937 by Riccardo Cassin, V. Ratti and G.Esposito who joined forces with the Como team (M. Molteni and G. Valsecchi, who both died, first on the summit and the second just before reaching the hut).
We’ve climbed it on 23 July 2012 (Silvia Murgescu and Catalin Pobega – Romanian mixed team) and descended next day by rappeling via Norkdante. During the night, we slept in the small yellow refuge situated on top of Piz Badile.
A short film with our climb on Cassin (click on HD for a better quality):
We’ve plan to spend a “one-week” vacation in the Alps, this time not in the Chamonix area, but far more East, in the Bregaglia range. Our destination was Promontogno -close to San Moritz. The trip started: Romania-Milano (by airplane), then Milano-Lecco-Colico-Chiavenna (by train), and finally Ciavenna-Promontogno (by bus). From there, we hiked up with heavy backpacks for couples of hours.
The journey took us all day, but in the evening we could pitch our tent 40 min passed Sasc Fura Hut. We found a nice spot for bivouac with green grass and water. Towards South, we had a nice view upon the NE face of Piz Badile. Cassin route being our target for the next day.
23 July 2012, we woke up at 5 am and started to approach Cassin. It was quite late, as the other teams (that spent the night in the hut) were already in front of us.
The ledge where Cassin route starts was dry, only a block of ice that you could easily avoid. Our trail running shoes were perfect, no mountain boots needed.
At 7.15 am, Silvia starts leading the first pitch of Cassin, the Rebuffat Deidre. The 2nd pitch starts the left traverse and here is where we passed over Regis and his partner (French team). Along the route, the French team climbed with quite the same speed, so we could dialog and become friends.
It was my turn to lead now. I’ve belayed at some pitons with slings. It was an intermediate belay station, the only one without bolts in the entire route. (See the topo!)
From this point if you continue up and left in the traverse, you find yourself out of the route. And this is what 2 Italian teams in front of us did. After debating with the French team and Karlis (a guy from Latvia who was climbing rope solo) we decided to go back 6-10 m (right) and then straight up. An abandoned rope could be seen at that point. The direction was good and Silvia (that was leading) found the next belay station on bolts. The picture was done from the intermediate belay station (pitons) showing the good direction of the route.
Two simul-climbing pitches will get us into the “Cengia Mediana”, a wide ledge that cross the NE face of Piz Badile horizontally. Silvia (green spot) and Italians (yellow spots).
The upper yellow spot shows the Italians have climbed again to high and got out of the route. Don’t climb up into the roof, but start the right traverse when you are at 1/2 distance below the roof. See the topo!
Me and Silvia waiting for the other teams to move on (photo by Regis). Karlis (the guy with the eyeglasses) has also joined us at the belay station.
Me leading the 5c+ pitch (photo by Karlis). The climb follows the dihedral for 25 m, then traverse right (see my upper explanation). There are some pegs in place, but you also have to place your own protection (cams and nuts).
Silvia exiting the 5c+ pitch. You can feel the route exposure when you look back.
The second 5c+ pitch is mine. Another dhiedral to climb and then you need to turn left around a roof where you will find a sling to grab (just in case you cannot free it).
Climbing the chimney was Silvia’s delight. She did it in an excellent manner, not by squeezing inside the chimney, but by spreading legs she could climb it outside.
Silvia climbing with style. Photo by Regis (Thank you!)
3 more pitches and we finish climbing the Cassin route by exiting into the North Ridge.
Siliva was so happy to see the sun on North Ridge, as we got quite cold into the last pitches of N face. It was 6.30 pm.
From there we simul-climbed up to Piz Badile summit where we get at 7.45 pm.
We spent the night sleeping into the small yellow refuge (situated next to Piz Badile summit). It was me, Silvia and Karlis, who got into the refuge exactly at the dark.
The next morning, we left the refuge at 6.00 am and start descending via North Ridge. We got down to our tent after 6 hours with no incident. The equipment we used:
-two 50m half-ropes (rappeling down the Norkante we did 25 m rappels, but also downclimbed in some points), a set of cams + a set of nuts, 12 quickdraws
-a bivy sack each (250g). Fortunately, we didn’t have to use it!
-a down light jacket each (350g)
-a light rucksack each(Osprey Talon 33l) that included a 2.0 litre camelbak
-trail running shoes for the approach (We had the information from Sasc Fura Hut about the conditions. If you plan to descend via South, to Gianeti hut, you will need the mountain boots.
Important - The rappels via Nordkante takes at least 5-6 hours during daylight and it’s quite impossible to spot the rappel anchors during the night if you are there for the first time. So, plan your descend wise!
Between 8-9 Sept 2009, together with Silvia Murgescu we have climbed Matterhorn North-West ridge, aka “Zmutt”, starting from Schonbiel hut. For descend, we’ve rappelled down the Hornli ridge.
Our climb up to Matterhorn summit (4478m) via Zmutt took us 24 hours, as we encountered difficulties in finding the proper route in the lower part (between Zmutt glacier and the actual ridge). So, I strongly recommend to start climbing Zmutt from Hornli hut and not from Schonbiel hut! It requires a long traverse on ice to get into the ridge, but it saves a lot of time in terms of route finding.
Zmutt was our desired climb for the summer of 2009. As we had a 2 weeks vacation, our plan was to start by climbing Eiger via Mitelegi ridge, then climb Mont Blanc via 3 Monts (to get acclimatized) and then… the most wanted Zmutt. And that’s what we did.
On 7 Sept 2009, we left our tent in Zermatt camping and started the approach to Schonbiel hut (2694m). This was a 4 hours easy trekking route. We took food and gas with us, as we were at the end of vacation and didn’t have too much money to spend in a Swiss hut.
We asked the lady warden from Schonbiel hut about the route condition and we found that 3 weeks ago it was climbed by another team starting from Schonbiel.
The rest of the day we kept hydrating and sleeping preparing for the next day climb: 1940m to the top of Matterhorn and then descend via Hornli ridge and come back to the hut to recover our big backpacks.
Topo for Zmutt ridge you can see below. The line in red is what you have to climb if you start from Schonbiel to get into the ridge. See also the descriptions:
In the morning of 8 Sept 2009 we left Schonbiel hut at 2 am, descended right on the clear path to Zmutt Glacier. Here we had some problems in finding our way up trough dozens of crevasses at the light of our torches. Topo says we had to follow the watercourse in the left and access the ridge from that point. But as we tried to find a better place where to pass the bergschrund, we found ourselves a little bit too high from the watercourse. Anyway, we’ve decided to climb the wall diagonally left to get into the watercourse. The climb was horrible, with all the rock disintegrating around us. We’ve switched to climbing shoes and climbed a chimney trying to put some protections for the moral. It was dangerous and it took us a lot of time.
We’ve got up into the ridge only at noon. 10 hours from the hut to this point… it was clear to us we will not make it in time to the top and down in the same day.
We followed the ridge by climbing around and upon a series of teeth with one rappel necessary. We found some pegs here and one rope that was abandoned.
The surrounding was excellent. We could admire Dent Blanche in the background and the Lion ridge on our right.
Here we are at the Carrel Gallery (by which Carrel traversed from the Italian ridge). From this point, the batteries from our little camera went off. As I left my DSLR at the Schonbiel hut, from here on, we don’t have any more pictures.
The loose rocks up in the Carrel Gallery made us switch again to climbing shoes. We’ve reached Matterhorn summit at 2.00 am, after 24 hours of effort. We’ve put all our close on and starting the descend via Hornli ridge. At some point we sow many torches coming up the Hornli and we thought maybe the rescue team think we need help and come for us. (The batteries from Silvia’s torch were exhausted and the torch was starting to give light clipping signals – we considered this was the reason that made them coming).
We felt guilty and didn’t know how to make them stop. At some point, we realized they are not rescue teams, but climbing parties up the Hornli ridge. They were all like running a marathon, climbing very fast. The first team didn’t have time even to respond to our <Hello!>. Why are they so desperate? Himmm…
When we got to Solvey refuge (8:30 am), we stopped to warm in the sun. A mountain guide gave me something to drink as my lips were dry. Silvia decided to descend faster and get quicker to Hornli hut for some drinking water. At 11 a clock we took a nap in the front of Hornli hut. At 16.00 we leave to Schonbiel hut, where we get in another 4 hours.
The warden from Schonbiel asked us about our health, as she watched us up on Zmutt trough the binocular in the previous day.
After climbing Ginat, we still had some time for a one-day route. So, on 31 March 2012 we’ve aimed for “Le Fil à Plomb” in Rognon du Plan, see the topo here. It’s a 700 m ice route, in the Aig du Midi N Face.
We took the first cabin from Chamonix (7.30 am) up to the intermediate station- Plan de l’Aiguille (2340 m), passed the bergschrund at 8.50 am, climbed the route and exit in the notch by Rognon du Plan (3601 m) at 11.50 am.
The main reason for climbing fast (3 hours) was: We were worried about loosing the last cabin descend to Chamonix, as the next day we had an airplane back to Romania.
It was Saturday, and the route was very busy: 8 or 10 teams maybe. It felt like running a marathon, simul climbing all the way up except the crux (40 m ice at 85°-90°). See the film below:
Fil à Plomb Topo, the line of the route is in red (this photo is not my property):
In front of us many teams approaching Fil a Plomb:
Silvia on the left. From this point we rope up.
Passing the bergschrund…
Passing over 2 teams.
From this point, we could see the crux in front of us. 2 teams are already there.
Me starting to climb the crux. Not to bad at all, the route is heavily frequented, you only have to hook with your ice axes.
Looking down the crux pitch: ropes all over the place.
Exiting the ice fall…
That’s our destination… Aig du Midi.
Reaching another 2 teams from behind… up there we can see the exit.
The final push up on easy ground.
2 italian teams in the notch.
There is Silvia coming.
Me getting some sun. Photo by Silvia.
Silvia enjoying the view…
Rognon du Plan in the background.
A lot of people at Aig du Midi.
Enough with the rush. Now we have time to make picture and admire the view.
Silvia in this wonderful land.
Skiers on their way to Vallee Blanche.
Last steps to Aig du Midi. Beautiful places left behind…we feel a little bit sad for leaving.
In the last week of March 2012, I was in the Alps with Silvia. Our main objective was Ginat in Les Droites. Topo for Ginat and more info about this superb route (approach, descent, slope inclination, difficulty, length) you can find here.
Enjoy the film we did during our climb on Ginat (click on HD and watch it on Vimeo for better resolution):
Our climb story: This route was on my mind since last year. I received precious information from Mihai Sima and Sorin Nichiforiuc (romanian team) after they climbed it back in March 2011. Thank you!
I’ve also found valuable information about the route conditions by reading the “Route Notebook” at www.ohm-chamonix.com and www.camptocamp.org
We arrived in Chamonix Saturday night (24 March 2012) and phoned to make a reservation at ref Argentiere (the start for Ginat). But everything was booked till Tuesday. Reason? Piolet d’Or Festival and ski season. So, we decided to see how are the conditions in “Linceul” in Grandes Jorasses N face (link). We slept one night at Leschaux refuge, but as the altitude is only 2431 m there, we didn’t make our acclimatization for Ginat (4000 m).
Tuesday (27 March) we stepped for the first time on Grands Montet summit (3233 m) surrounded by many skiers. First time for us in this area, and we enjoyed the view.
Going down from here, you cross Rognon glacier to Argentière glacier and on the right you can see Les Droites. Here is the spot where we’ve tried to observe and read our route, especially the start of it, as we had to climb it next day in the dark.
Silvia is studying the line from Argeniere refuge. Ginat route drawn in red color.
We found we are 4 teams targeting Ginat next day. One team was from UK, Wilki and Finn. Another team was from Switzerland, the guide’s name was Dani Arnold (holds the new record for speed climbing Eiger N face, as Finn told us.) He is a nice guy and very humble. He gave us more details about the route and answer to all my questions. He also told us how important is to take light skis with you in winter climbing if you want to be fast for approach and descend in the Alps. (Although we don’t go very often in the Alps, it seems we have a special luck in finding these Top guys. See here how we met Dean Potter on Eiger. At that time we didn’t know who was that guy base jumping.)
Next day, we woke up at 2 am and left the refuge at around 2:30 am. Dani Arnold with his partner were on their skis in front going very fast and we tried to keep up with the UK team. They were on rackets. We were by foot, so we had to make effort to keep up with them. At around 4:00 we got on the base of the route and Silvia was very keen to start climbing it.
After the first pitch, one team decided to retreat (it was a french guide with a girl I assume). The swiss team was way in the front. Next to us we had Wilki and Finn from UK. They have climbed with the same speed and belayed at the same spots where we belayed. It was nice to dialogue and share the same enthusiasm with them. When it was my turn I had a small mixed pitch (easy) followed by tough ice (15-20 m) which I didn’t like. After that, we made a left traverse and found good ice all the way up trough the big ice slope situated in the middle of the wall. On this section we simul-climbed.
Below is a picture with us in the route (green spots). Sorin Nichiforiuc did this photo from refuge Argentiere, where he was at that moment. Thanks!
As we climbed higher and we were not acclimatized, soon we began to feel the effort. The route is long (1000m) and we felt our calves burning. Not difficult, but long.
Finn and Wilki did some great photos. Below is an examples that shows Silvia climbing and the exposure of the route.
Once the big ice field was climbed, I’ve faced a mixed pitch (80°) traversing right.
Wilki and Finn climbing the mixed pitch.
It was getting late, but we were very excited about the view we had towards Argentiere Glacier. At some point (about sunset), it was breathtaking.
Another maybe 2 pitches and the slope got steep again.
As the light goes down, we shot the last pictures.
Silvia exiting in the notch (Breche) of Les Droites. It was midnight already.
Finn and Wilki decided to have a brew stop and to take a nap on the ledge there (they had their bivy bags). They planned to start to rappel on the Southern side in the morning. We also had a brew stop, I love my Jetboil! Hot tea and some warm tomato soup. It was cold and our Emergency blanket didn’t work as it was also windy. So, we started rappeling on the Southern side (towards Couvercle hut) at 3:30 am and by the time we got down on the glacier it was morning already and we could see the path very clearly.
A feeling of “Déjà Vu” came to me when I saw Grandes Jorasses N face early in the morning.
Up there in the notch is where we’ve been last night.
Though we were tired, we didn’t stop at Couvercle refuge. We’ve spend some time to warm in the sun and than went down to Mer du Glace glacier. I love this picture that Silvia did.
The train from Montenvers took us directly in Chamonix where Silvia had a big ice cream, as she realy deserved it. Yes, “ice” again.
Things to know about the route:
Although it’s refer as an entirely ice route in the guide book, in the last years this is not real anymore. There are 2 mixed pitches in the route, not dificult (made our climb more interesting and fun). The first one is right after passing the bergschrund followed by a 15 m of horrible black ice. You will be climbing this in the dark! The last mixed pitch (30 m maybe) is after the big ice slope, when making the traverse to the right (in our film, minute 5:48). We found a peg (piton) there. We used some nuts for protection also.
Our equipment: 2 half ropes Beal Iceline, 50 m (this length is ok for the descend by rappelling on the Southern side too), 8 ice screws, 10 quickdraws, a set of nuts (we use medium and big size mostly), 4 cams (used maybe 2, small size), 2 long slings for belay. We had our Jetboil (stove) with us and 1.5 l water for each during the climb. Bear in mind the face is 1000 m high.
On 11 March 2012, we’ve climbed Lespezi-Caltun North Wall, situated in Fagaras Mountains. Silvia was leading for all the 6 or 7 pitches of mixed ground until the top (Lespezi peak-2517 m). Not too difficult, but not very easy either. We were hopping to find some ice in the route, but we found none, as it was a very dry season. See the video below (click on Vimeo for HD quality):
Sunday, 12 Feb 2012, together with Silvia Murgescu we headed towards Valea lui Stan for ice climbing. Valea lui Stan is situated in Fagaras Mountain, as you drive from Curtea de Arges to Lake Vidraru. From the road (Transfagarasan) where you leave your car, is only 20 minutes hike to “Airplane” Ice fall. Here is where we spend our day, together with another team of climbers: George (Bivuacu) and Maria.
Here is a short film I did with George climbing the Airplane Ice fall:
5 ice screws are enough, the ice-fall has around 20-25 m in height. At the top of the ice fall, there is a tree from which you can rappel down.
As the ice fall is not so wide in the upper part, and pieces of ice may fall down, 2 teams climbing in the same time is quite dangerous.
When it was my turn, I’ve climbed a little bit more on the left. Photos by Maria (thank you!):
Together with Silvia, we spent New Year’s Eve with the tent at the foot of Coltul Balaceni (2196m) in Fagaras Mountains. During 31 Dec-02 Jan 2012 we enjoyed a small vacation and did some winter climbing in this remote and special place from Romania. Below is a Topo with the routes:
On the 1st January 2012, we’ve started climbing route no 3. We’ve climbed 4 pitches (out of eight-we used a 40 m rope) and then decided to rappel down as the time was late and our progress slow. This is the hardest route in Coltul Balaceni (5B, Romanian grade). See our video:
On the next day, 2nd January, we’ve climbed route no 1 (3A, Romanian grade). The conditions we found during our climb were not the greatest, but we had fun, see in the video:
The rock you will find in Coltul Balaceni is granite and schist, mostly solid and very nice to climb. I heard the last 2 pitches from route no 2 are not as solid…
There are pegs on the routes, but is good to have 3-4 pegs with you for route no 3 (the hardest). We also had a set of nuts and 3 cams with us (small size). We used a 40 m rope. If you use a 60 m rope, you will get to the top in 5 pitches.
The climb starts at an altitude of 2000 m. From the top you can follow the path to the South till you get into the Fagaras Main ridge (marked) and then go West to Fereastra Mare a Sambetei where you can descend back to the North.
You should consider a full day for approach if you start from Sambata de Sus Monastery, or 2 h from Valea Sambetei Chalet.
Some picture from route no 3 (climbed on 1st January):
Pictures from route no 1 (climbed on 2nd January):
For a more detailed story of our climb, please see Silvia’s articles here and here.
Not much choice for the 10-11 Dec weekend… who would expect + 14 ° C in full winter? Together with some friends, I went for sport climbing in Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo. In the photo below, Catalin Serban focuses on his next move:
On 19 Nov 2011 we’ve been out in Fagaras Mountains again. This time, for playing with our ice-axes and crampons. There is a ice-fall next to Balea Lake. Not huge, but enough for us to taste again the ice.
I really like this photo that Silvia did, with me climbing in the right side:
Few photos below from our weekend (29-30 Oct 2011) in Fagaras Mountains. We started from Valea Topologului -izvorul Scarii and slept in the New Scara refuge. Next morning we’ve walked towards Vf Serbota – Custura Saratii – Caldarea Berbecilor -izvorul Negoiului and then back in Valea Topolog.
This weekend (17-18 Sept 2011) I went to the seaside and took my DSLR with me. I must say I didn’t use this big camera lately, taking only my small compact Canon S95 with me in the mountains. But at the seaside, it’s different.
See below some photos:
Note: Photos made with Canon 350D + 18-55mm lens.
I also used a tripod, remote control and ND filter.
This was my Winning photo at an International photo contest. I received Emails from people questioning about the story behind the photo and I decided to write it down.
It happened back in the early spring of 2006. A lot of snow in Fagaras Mountains. Together with Corina, we made plans to climb Arpasel-Vartopel ridge.
(Arpasel-Vartopel ridge is the most technical part of the main ridge of Fagaras Mountains. It is situated between Portita Arpaselului and Fereastra Zmeilor, not far from Balea Lake chalet and Paltinu Chalet. The highest point on this ridge is Turnul Vartopel (2385 m). The snow conditions are crucial not only for climbing the ridge safely, but also for the approach and descend, as the avalanche risk is high in the area.)
So, back on 2 April 2006… At 5.30 am we started our approach, leaving Balea and Paltinu Chalet behind.
It was me, Corina and… a small black dog full of energy. He was fascinated by our trekking poles and did his best to bite them each time he could. We tried to make him go back, but he was very stubborn and made a lot of noise. All our effort was in vain. We hopped he will soon get bored and leave us alone. But he didn’t…
Later we found out the dog’s name was Tina, a 5 months cocker girl that belonged to the Paltinu Chalet Keeper. The beautiful sunrise in front of us let us speechless.
Tina seems to enjoy the view also. Better than the usual view she has at Balea Lake
From this point (Revolver) we descended a slope of 45° full of snow, very careful not to start an avalanche. As we were heavy, our feet soaked deeply into the snow. But for Tina it was very easy as she was so light. She kept running like a racket in front of us.
Then we had to ascend again, as quickly as we could. The sun is up in the sky, melting the snow.
Again, we tried our best to make Tina go back home. But this dog had strong personality. From one point, we realized there was no return possible for Tina, as the ridge got steeper. So, we decided to make Tina our climbing partner.
All 3 of us tied in one rope. Me and 2 gorgeous girls. What a team !
The ridge became like a knife blade on some parts, but the dog was brave.
The weather was perfect. As soon as the difficulties lowered, we made some stops to eat and drink something from our backpacks. Tina was invited too.
After marking the ridge all-over with her footprints, Tina got a little bit tired. There is still a long way back to the Chalet.
The dark came. One 40 m rappel with Tina in my jacket and we are safe on the easy ground again. One more piece of chocolate and in one hour we arrive back on the Paltinu Chalet.
We found the keeper of the Chalet worry about Tina. When she saw Tina in one piece and after we told her that Tina was our climbing partner for that day on Arpasel ridge, she was so proud! And as a reward we took care of Tina, we didn’t have to pay for that night spend in the Chalet.
Tina is still fresh in my memory even now. Such a brave dog! She made our climb to remember.
Together with Silvia Murgescu, we climbed Grand Capucin on Swiss Direct route on 11 July 2011. A short film with our climb below:
After our climb on Grand Pilier D’Angle , the weather got bad. So, for a couple of days we did different activities in Chamonix area such as Mountain Biking, going to the swimming-pool, and some rock climb in Aiguille L’Index.
Finally on 10 July the weather got fine again. In that evening Silvia and I set our tent on the foot of Grand Capucin together with our friends from Romania Mihai Sima and Raimond. The plan of climbing Grand Capucin was made before leaving Romania both for us and them, and we kept sms each other about the weather conditions as we tried to find the perfect day for climbing it together. So, here we are all four of us, enjoying the sun-set view:
Before going to sleep, we reviewed again the Topo for Swiss Direct route . At 5.30 in the morning we got up, and left our tents by 6.30 am. There were other teams already in front of us crossing the bergschrund, but we hopped they will climb other routes in Grand Capucin. Unfortunately, 7 teams (including us) entered that day on the same route (“Swiss Direct”) while other two teams started on ”O sole mio” and other team started on “Bonatti”. It was such a crowdy day because all of us waited so long for a good weather window which finally came.
We left our equipment (ice-axe, mountain boots, crampons) on a ledge at the base of the route and took with us only our rock gear as the descend was made by rappeling down the same route.
We made new friends on the route as we shared the same narrow belay places all the time. Some funny guys from Northern Ireland. As soon as the second climber arrives at the belay, the team leader starts the next pitch even the route is not clear. First we were a little confused, but than realized it’s the only way if we want to finish the climb in time and also to make room for others at the belay point. The route was not as dry as expected and our rock shoes got wet soon. But we didn’t mind too much, as the climb was very pleasant. We had to place a lot of nuts and cams and these require all our attention.
The seven pitch puts us to some aid climbing. One or two Irish teams decided to retreat from this point as they consider the time is too late for them. But we continued, together with Mihai and Raimond. We have climbed together all the way.
Next, there is a right traverse and a roof. One more short hard pitch and then two more easy pitches to the top of Grand Capucin. At 18:49 we make the picture on the summit. Such a nice view we have from here!
To get down, from the top of Grand Capucin, we made 5 long rappels (on the same route we climbed) using both ours and Mihai ropes. Right after the first long diagonal rappel (60-65 m), the rope jammed. Our problem was solved by the young Irish team above us. Thank you guys !
When the dark came, all four of us were safe at our tents having a hot drink and relaxing after an excellent granite climb on Grand Capucin.
By the way, did you know that Alex Huber climbed and downclimbed ropeless (via the same route taken to asscend) the “Swiss route” on Grand Capucin in 2008 ? Amazing ! You can read the article about his adventure here, and also here.
Topo for Grand Capucin Swiss route you can find here.
For a more detailed story of our climb written in Romanian, please check Silvia’s article.
Together with Silvia Murgescu, I climbed Checchinel-Nomine/Boivin-Vallencant (TD+/ED1, 5c, A1) between 02-04 July 2011. Watch below a short film we did with our climb:
This is a 900 m mixed route situated in the NE face of GPA (Grand Pilier d’Angle- 4308 m), that starts from the Brenva Glacier up to the top of GPA. From the summit of GPA you still have to climb 500 m to the top of Mont Blanc(4810m), which makes this route a major undertaking.
The idea of climbing GPA came to us one year ago while climbing Peuterey Integral . Then, on the top of GPA we met a French young team that climbed it’s NE face. At that moment climbing GPA NE face sounded like SF to us, but it became a dream for 2011.
What route to choose ? As all the routes in GPA are hard (at least TD+), we found inspiration in Jonathan Griffith’s blog. To combine Checchinel-Nomine/Boivin-Vallencant variant as they did, was our target. The below photo that belongs to Jonathan Griffith shows the line of our route:
When ? In our 2 weeks’ vacation on July 2011, we planned to climb only ice/mixed routes and GPA NE face was one of it. Everyone knows maybe that the ice/mixed routes are not in good condition in summer anymore. Everyone, except us… So, it was a big disappointment when Jonathan Griffith wrote me an Email saying we should switch plans for rock routes. Anyway, we decided to take all the gear with us (mixed and rock). 2 days before our leaving to Chamonix, Jonathan dropped me an Email saying the GPA was in good condition for the moment. YES, GREEN LIGHT, let’s go for it !
The story in short: on 2nd July we arrived in Chamonix, took our climbing gear and headed with the last cabin for Midi. As it was quite late, we found La Fourche bivouac packed (full). So, we continued to Col Moore and bivouacked on a ledge there. All night avalanches came down from the serac above Brenva Glacier. Not a nice place to spend the night…it gives you enough time to think if you really want to go for GPA. But we stood there. In the below photo, the red X marks the spot where we had bivouacked:
At 3 am on 3th July we’ve crossed diagonally right from Col Moore (we decided for this variant as it’s faster than making the 3 rappels down the face, though it’s more risky due to the stone fall) and then traverse the Brenva Glacier as fast as we could. We were lucky, as the Brenva was in silence. At 5 am we began climbing Checchinel-Nomine.
One hour later, a big avalanche dropped down below us on Brenva Glacier. Thanks God, we were safe on our route.
The crux pitch (5c, A1) was quite hard as it was all dry, no ice. At the top of hard section, I had to hammer one peg in order to make a traverse again right, on the ice gully. It took us more time than we expected…
As we were not acclimatized at all, after the crux I felt like I needed to rest for a while, so we found a ledge and began making tea with our Jetboil. We took a nap too. It was warm and relaxing. The idea of staying there for the night came to me, but Silvia refused it and encouraged me to pack and go. We decided to continue climbing, after a 3 hours stop.
The pitch for traversing right in the Boivin-Vallencant variant was dry also, but it was very easy.
On the upper part of Boivin-Vallencant we found black ice on the steeper section. It was the first time we had to deal with such ice, but we managed it quite well. It took us a lot of time, but felt like we learned a lot on the field just doing it.
At 8 pm we were exiting the route, unroping and heading to the summit of GPA to bivouac. It was a miserable night, as there was no platform but steep terrain and we had to stay roped in our harness. Not too much sleep…
Next morning (4th July) we left GPA at 6 am and found the snow in good conditions all the way up to the summit of Mont Blanc.
From the top of Mont Blanc, we descended via 3 Monts route. It began snowing and raining all at the time. I had no anti-snow on my Dart crampons, all the time I had to use the ice-axe to get rid of the snow. As it took me a lot of time to descend to Aig du Midi ,we didn’t make it in time for the last cabin. So we had to bivouac at the station, but this time it was warm and we had a good sleep.
Topo for Grand Pilier d’Angle North-East face you can find here.
The equipment we used on the route: 5 ice screws, 2 rock pegs, 10 quickdraws, a set of nuts, 4 cams, 2 Beal ice-lines of 50 m, Osprey talon 33 l backpacks, Jetboil, bivouac kit and of course 2 ice-axes with slings and ice-crampons.
For a full detailed story in Romanian with more pictures from our climb, please read Silvia’s article.
Location: Fagaras Mountains, Romania
Team: Silvia Murgescu & Catalin Pobega
Date: 14 May 2011
Arpasel-Vartopel is the most technical part of the main ridge of Fagaras Mountains. You can either climb it from West to East (as we did it, and it’s the most demanding) or from E-W. It is situated between Portita Arpaselului and Fereastra Zmeilor, not far from Balea Lake chalet. The highest point on this ridge is Turnul Vartopel (2385 m).The snow conditions are very important not only for climbing the ridge safely, but also for the approach and descend, as the avalanche risk is high in the area during the winter time.
It’s not such a difficult climb (4c steps maximum, in situ pegs), depending on the snow it can be time consuming. So, one full day should be considered for the entire climb, approach and retreat included.
See below some pictures from our climb (spring conditions):
Peuterey Integral was our big project for the summer of 2010. Jon Griffith inspired us with his film on Peuterey. He was the first one I’ve contacted to ask about the route condition, the minimal equipment to use, the rope length, bivouac places, etc. Thanks Jon!
For this dream to come true, we have prepared in detail for one year both physically and mentally. Our previous experience in Alps was not huge at all: in 2009 we’ve climbed Matterhorn via Zmutt ridge, Eiger via Mittelegi ridge and Mont Blanc via 3 Monts. So, Peuterey Integral came as a real challenge to us, a real adventure. To be honest, I was more afraid about the rappels section from the top of Aig Noire than anything else. The facts now:
Together with my girlfriend Silvia Murgescu, we climbed Peuterey Integral (TD+ / 3 / 5c / VI ) between 05-08 July 2010. Enjoy the film we did:
For this long rute (more than 4500 m ascent on different types of terrain), we’ve tried to be careful and choose the lightest equipment we could afford to buy: light alloy ice-axe and crampons, light bivy kit.
Climbing Aig Noire South Ridge (the first section of Peuterey Integral ) where you have some steps of 5c with a big backpack it’s quite demanding. So, we managed to keep our backpacks under 10 kg and it was the right way to do it.
We left Borelli hut at 4 am and started our climb at 5 am at the foot of Pointe Gamba. We had to put on our climbing shoes. The climb was nice, but we had to stay focus all the time, not to get out of the route. Shortening the rope, we could simul climb the easy part of the route. As a guide book we used Damilano’s 2nd volume of “Snow, ice and mixed”.
Getting over the first step of 5c in Pointe Brendel gave us more confidence that we would do just fine on this long route.
One rappel and than more 5c steps on Pointe Ottoz – wich is the hardest-, but we found the right solution: I decide to take 2 kg from Silvia’s backpack and now she could lead in an excellent shape.
First bivouac: It was dark when we rappeled down from Pointe Bitch and found a small ledge somewhere between Pointe Bitch and Aig Noire summit. It was quite warm during the night, we were at 3725m and the temperature was maybe around +2 C.
In the morning of our second day on Peuterey Integral, we were enjoying the view we had towards Mt Blanc de Courmayeur with all the Freney basin in the left. As the sun is warming us in it’s orange light, we get up and make the summit picture on Aig Noire at 6.30 am.
From the top of Aig Noire we started the 400 m rappels on the NW ridge down to South Breshe of Dames Anglaises. As I remember, all the raps we did were 25 m except one long 50 m rap over an overhanging wall. We had to be very careful with the rock fall in the lower part section.
Once in the South Breshe, we found water melting from the snow. Just in time, as we were thirsty. Traversing to the North Breshe we found rock all decomposing around us. Not a safe place to be. We got to Craveri bivouac (3490 m) at 10 pm. Nobody there. We were lucky to find snow close to the small bivouac, so we could boil water and eat a hot meal. We took a good sleep. We got up only at 5 am and left from Craveri around 6 am. (Quite late I could say now… because of this, we didn’t make it that day on Mt Blanc and we had to make another bivy (the 3rd) just below Mt Blanc de Courmayeur fighting with the deep and soft snow up on Peuterey ridge (on the segment between Grand Pilier D’Angle and Mt Blanc de Courmayeur).
Easy but long climb all the way up to Aig Blanche de Peuterey (4112 m).
Traversing on the narrow ridge between the summits of Aig Blanche de Peuterey (SE, Centrale, NW) you feel like being part of something special. Such a lonely and fantastic place to be ! 4 raps of 30 m (we could do it in 4 x 25 m and a little easy down climb between them), jumping over the first bergschrund and we are at the Col de Peuterey. Crossing the second bergschrund and we are at the base of South Ridge of Grand Pilier D’Angle trying to identify the easiest point where to start our climb. It looks difficult at this point, but soon we find some pegs on a traverse to the right and we feel confident being on the right route. Easy climb again, but we are very tired. From the top of GPA (4308 m) we still have a long way to go up to MB de Courmayeur (4748m) and then MB (4810 m). We meet another party that climbed GPA north face and we are happy to see them. As we can hardly move up in the soft deep snow on the high Peuterey ridge, we realize we have to make our 3rd bivouac. We fight with the horrible snow till 12 pm and we bivy 200 m just bellow the MB Courmayeur summit on a rocky spot. It was a cold night at 4550 m. Brrrr…
In the morning we met again with the french party that climbed GPA. They were clever than us, as they stopped for the night on top of GPA and in the morning taking advantage of the cold, they climbed very fast the ridge that we found yesterday in horrible soft condition. Superb morning light reveal us all the Peuterey Integral ridge that we climbed till that point. Aig Noire, Aig Blanche, GPA arising from the clouds.
Finally we climbed over the cornice of MB de Courmayeur and in front of our eyes we could see the crowded summit of Mt Blanc. Suddenly we realized that we finished the long Peuterey Integral and we felt great joy in our hearts. We made some pictures on the top of Mt Blanc and then we started to descent on 3 Monts Traverse down to Aig du Midi- a route familiar to us, as we climbed up this easy route to summit Mt Blanc in the previous year.
Equipment we used for Peuterey Integral:
- a 50 m halph rope (8.6mm) for climbing and for most of the raps+ a 55 m cordelette (we used it together with the halph rope to make one full 50m rap on the N face of Noire). See the technique here.
- 4 cams (small and medium size) + 1 set of nuts, 8 quickdraws, 4 slings
- one ice-axe each (Petzl Snowracer) + one pair of aluminium crampons each (Grivel Airtech Light New Matic)
- a bivy bag (250g) each + a summer sleeping bag (600g) each + Z- lite Thermarest pad cutted in 2 pices (one for each). Also a stove and some freez dried food.
-All the photos in this article are copyright Catalin Pobega & Silvia Murgescu.
-For a full detail story in Romanian of this climb, please visit Silvia’s blog.
Furcile (4A, 6-, 5+ A0) is the first ”vertical” climbing route opened in Romania, Bucegi Mountains in the N face of Galbenele Wall (250 m height). It was first climbed in October 1935 by 3 pioneers of our alpinism: Niculae Baticu, Ion Trandafir and Dan Popescu with only 7 pegs ! See the topo here . -credits Radu Diaconescu
Together with Silvia Murgescu, we have really enjoyed climbing this epic route on 19 March 2011. On the last 2 pitches we encountered really winter conditions.
It’s interesting to observe how some of the most astonish climbs came up from people who at some point in time faced some disappointments in life. With all their furry, they turned toward the walls in isolation and did great climbs. Walter Bonatti was such a case.
His climbing career began when he was 18 years old and stopped when he was 35. After this age, he traveled the world as photojournalist (between 1965 and 1979 he travelled the world reporting for the magazines Epoca and Bild der Zeit). Below are Bonatti’s climbs, and we can see there is a precipitation of hard/extreme climbs right after the year 1954. You can find here a graphic telling the same story.
1949-the fourth ascent of the formidable North Face of the Grandes Jorasses
1951-the first ascent of the Grand Capucin east face
1953-the north faces of Tre Cime di Lavaredo in winter
1954-a climbing controversy regarding the first ascent of K2 (Bonatti was 24)
1955 – a solo climb of a new route on the south-west pillar of the Aiguille du Dru (The Bonatti pillar)
1957- Grand Pilier d’Angle (with Tito Gobbi)
1958- Gasherbrum IV
1959-The Red Pillar of Brouillard
1961-Rondoy North - Patagonia
1963-The north face of the Grandes Jorasses in winter
1965 -the first solo winter ascent of the Matterhorn north face (Bonatti was 35).
So, what happend in the year 1954 ? By 1954 he had become an unavoidable selection for the Italian assault on K2, the one that would cause him all that trouble. “At 24 years old, I was the baby of the team, but my achievements in the Alps had made it impossible for me to be left behind.”
The expedition was riven with tensions from the off as Bonatti had proved himself to be easily the most capable of surviving high altitudes, and yet the more experienced Lacedelli and Compagnoni were chosen as the climbers to reach the summit. Bonatti’s job was to ferry oxygen to them. It was on the climb with Mahdi, their Pakistani mountain guide, to the final camp before the summit that the difficulty started.
“Lacedelli had placed their camp out of sight more than 250 metres away from where we had agreed,” says Bonatti, “so Mahdi and I were forced to bivouac out in the open at 8,100 metres. Throughout the night we had to keep digging out our snow hole and by morning Mahdi had severe frostbite.”
Why had the summit pair moved camp? “To kill us,” Bonatti says bluntly. “It may sound farfetched, but they were terrified we were in such good shape that we would be able to accompany them to the summit without using oxygen.” Which would have detracted, of course, from their own oxygen-assisted summit.
In fact, Bonatti did deliver the oxygen, but Compagnoni and Lacedelli accused him of trying to compromise their summit bid by using the oxygen that was intended for them. “And that’s the version of events that survived for many years,” says Bonatti, “until photographs were found proving that both climbers had used oxygen at the summit. But old habits die hard . . . the Italian Alpine Club still insist the K2 ascent was done without oxygen.” It was a very Italian feud, with Bonatti’s reputation sacrificed for the greater good of restoring national morale in the aftermath of the second world war – and it would be more than 30 years before the truth came out.
Understandably, Bonatti came back from the Himalayas feeling somewhat bruised. He tried to organise a solo ascent of K2 without oxygen the following year to put the record straight but couldn’t get the backing.
After K2, Bonatti chose his friends and climbing partners ever more carefully and acquired the tag of the chippiest, most difficult character on the ice block. Bonatti says: “It was often just me and the wilderness for days on end; complete solitude with no one knowing quite where I was or what I was doing until I returned.
In his classic book The Mountains of My Life , we can read that one of his reasons to climb was to avoid humanity. As he writes, “My disappointments came from people, not the mountains.”
Let’s follow Robert Marshal in an superb exercise of imagination: Imagine an alternative scenario…what about Bonatti? If he had not been tempered by K2, would he have become the questing spirit who, driven by his private demon, conquered the “Bonatti Pillar”, survived the disaster on the Central Pillar of Freney, and climbed the direttissima solo on the north wall of the Matterhorn in winter? He might have developed a very different personality had he not felt the need to “prove he was not finished”.
Here is what Bonnatti thinks about the benefit of skiing: “My attempt on the Walker Spur in winter was a secret project (year 1963). Together with Cosimo Zappelli we intended to do the climb by the straight-forward method of reaching the mountain, climbing it, and descending to the valley in one single thrust, relying only on our legs, without help from helicopters or communication equipment. If, as we hoped, we succeeded in our aim, the winter ascent of the N face of the Jorasses would not only be a personal affirmation of our principles, but it would also pay homage to the established traditions of mountaineering in the true spirit of the generations that had preceded us.
I reached perfect physical fitness not by climbing difficult rocks but by downhill skiing. Those who knew me were astonished to see me suddenly become an assiduous habitué of the ski slopes. But the truth was, for each trip up in the ski lift there was an uninterrupted series of short-swing turns down the fall line, on the most secluded and uneven slopes, in deep snow in poor condition.”
text from: “The Mountains of my life”, by Walter Bonatti
Then came demobilization (Bonatti was called up for compulsory national military service), and also winter, at first very snowy and then extremely cold. Except for Sundays, which I always spent in the mountains in good weather or bad, every day was for me empty and insignificant, made up of nothing but the same old things at the same times, the same routine in the same surroundings. How sad and useless it is to live like that! And to think the greater part of humanity is restricted nowadays in this way. But what is worse, those who choose to be different are often victimized. For my part I had already decided I would spend my life differently. Meanwhile, partly through longing and partly through rebellion, my thoughts continually turned to the north faces of the Lavaredo.
My training in preparation for this exploit was carried out in a quite unusual way. Every Saturday evening, without fail, I went with a friend to the foot of some difficult face in the Grigna to climb it next day at dawn after an icy overnight bivouac.
In my opinion there could be no better way to measure oneself against cold and the difficulties posed by the mountains, and to check one’s own limits while still staying within the bounds of safety. To put ourselves to the test, during each succeeding bivouac we reduced our equipment little by little and chose places that were more and more uncomfortable and exposed to bad weather. Naturally, with thermometer at hand, we checked the temperature carefully and recorded all our reactions to cold. In the end, without exposing ourselves to excessive danger, we gathered invaluable experience.
…but the experience we gained from it was invaluable. For example, we learned we could lighten our climbing rucksack considerably by carrying less food and clothing. And a simple eiderdown jacket would suffice instead of a complete down suit.