Cecchinel-Nominè/Boivin-Vallençant- Grand Pilier D’Angle (TD+/ED1)

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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.

Peuterey Integral

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Topo for Peuterey Integral you may find here.

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Easy but long climb all the way up to Aig Blanche de Peuterey (4112 m).

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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…

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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.

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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.