Walker Spur, Grandes Jorasses N Face (ED-, 6a, VI, 90°, 1200m)

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Date of climb: 2-3 Sept 2016
Climbing partners: Cristina Pogacean & Cosmin Andron
Topo for Walker Spur: here 

Back in 2010, I had a project to climb the Walker Spur in the N Face of GJ with Silvia Murgescu. As it was mid September and the snow was already in the wall, we changed our plans and climbed Kuffner ridge instead…
Vizez de ceva vreme Pilierul Walker din Grandes Jorasses (GJ) N Face. Mai precis, imi doream mult sa il catar cu Silvia Murgescu in anul 2010. A fost proiectul nostru de suflet, in care am investit timp si resurse. Din pacate, cand am ajuns noi in Alpi (la mijlocul lui Septembrie) deja ninsese in perete, si ruta nu mai era in conditii. Ne-am orientat atunci spre alceva, respectiv creasta Kuffner…

Meanwhile, I’ve climbed Matterhorn N Face in 2014 with Sorin Nichiforiuc and Eiger N Face in 2015 with Alex Holt. For 2016 I wanted so much to climb the N Face of GJ! And it happened !… in a team of 3 Romanians, with Cristina Pogacean and Cosmin Andron.
Intre timp au urcat Matterhorn N Face in anul 2014 cu Sorin Nichiforiuc, iar in 2015 cu Alex Holt am urcat Eiger N Face. Imi doream mult pentru anul 2016 sa fie Grandes Jorasses N Face. Si … a fost! Mult mai frumos decat imi puteam imagina, in echipa de 3 romani , cu Cristina Pogacean si Cosmin Andron.

The Walker Spur is not always in proper condition for climbing. When is too warm there is the danger of rock falling from the upper part and when it’s too cold and wet there is verglas (a thin coat of ice) on the rock.
Pilierul Walker intra destul de greu in conditii propice pentru a fi catarat. Atunci cand e prea cald, cad pietre din partea superioara a peretelui. Cand e prea umed si frig, se formeaza o pojghita de gheata pe stanca.

Early in this spring I spoke with Cosmin about climbing the Walker Spur if it will be in condition in late August and we even set up a fix date for the climb. The Leschaux refuge has a FB page where they write about the condition in the Gj N face. So lovely, thank you!
Am vorbit inca din primavara cu Cosmin Andron sa cataram Walker-ul in echipa de 3 daca va fi in conditii in ultima saptamana din luna August. Am urmarit cu sufletul la gura conditiile din peretele GJ. Exista pe Facebook o pagina a refugiului Leschaux, unde gardianul posteaza poze si ofera informatii despre starea peretelui Nordic din GJ. Cat de minunat!

And yes, the conditions are good for climbing. But as I need to do some extra work in August at my job, we have to push the date of climbing for the 1-3 September. I pray and hope that there will be no rain meanwhile. I call the refuge and book one night (1st Sept) for 3 people.
Si da, iata ca in luna August exista activitate in Pilierul Walker. Tremur de emotie si nerabdare, ma rog sa nu ninga pe sus, mai ales ca din motive de job va trebui sa impingem escapada pentru perioada 1-3 Septembrie. Intre timp se raceste si vin ceva precipitatii, dar ca printr-o minune cand sun la refugiu mi se spune ca un vant cald a protejat peretele Nordic si ruta e inca in conditii. Rezervam imediat pentru 01 Septembrie o noapte la refugiul Leschaux.

As we finish packing and head towards Montenvers train station, we meet o team of French guides. They have really lightweight backpacks comparing to ours as they go for one day climb in the Walker Spur. <<– Shell we try to climb it in one day, without bivouac?>> Cosmin and Cristina agree. So, we leave the sleeping bags at the car. I decide to take only my bivy sac (250g) just in case. And of course, I keep the GJ guide book with me in the bag, even if I took photos of it in my phone.
Facem bagajele, dimineata mancam bine si plecam spre trenuletul de Montenvers. Acolo intalnim o echipa de francezi (un ghid cu un aspirant ghid) care au aceleasi intentii. Doar ca bagajele lor sunt super-usoare. Nu au cu ei nimic pentru bivuac. <<-Incercam si noi la o zi?>> Cosmin si Cristina sunt de acord, asa ca ma ofer sa colectez saltelele, sacii de dormit si sacii de bivuac si sa ii duc inapoi la masina. Las totusi sacul meu de bivuac (250g) in rucsac, sa fie acolo, pentru orice eventualitate! Si mai fac un sacrilegiu: bag in rucsac si cartea (topoul) cu Grandes Jorasses, desi il aveam fotografiat in telefon. Ah, nu ma mai recunosc!!!

The approach to Leschaux refuge put my thoughts in order. It’s the first time to climb in this team but I feel confident. As I took a pair of technical ice axes and crampons with me, I will lead on the ice parts of the route while the “monkeys” will lead on the rock parts. The only thing that made me a little nervous was the descend part. We knew nothing about it, only that it’s very long and complex. Hopefully we will find tracks on it!
Apropierea pe ghetar spre refugiul Leschaux imi pune ordine in ganduri. Desi nu am mai catarat in aceasta formatie, ma simteam linistit si increzator. Odata intrati in traseu, pe portiunile de gheata aveam sa conduc eu intrucat aveam 2 pioleti si coltari tehnici, urmand ca pe portiunile mai tari de stanca sa conduca “maimutzele”, asa cum se alinta C&C. Despre lunga coborarea pe partea italiana, care este un traseu in sine si pe care nu o cunosteam, aveam insa ceva emotii. Speram sa gasim urme si ne doream sa o parcurgem pe lumina daca se poate.

Arriving at the refuge with 2 hours before dinner, we free our feet from the mountain boots and try to relax a bit. Cristina enjoys petting a big lazy cat that belongs to the guardian. It’s name is “Grand Jo”. As I watch the scene, I remember about another Romanian Lady that was climbing Walker Spur 35 years ago with her husband. Her story written by herself you will find hereLa refugiul Leschaux am ajuns cu 2 h inainte de cina. Ne scoatem bocancii si ne relaxam. La soare leneveste o pisica mare cafenie (aflam ca numele ei e “Grand Jo”). Chipul Cristinei se lumineaza in timp ce o smotoceste cu drag . Gandul imi zboara involuntar la o alta Lady din Romania (Taina Dutescu) care cu 35 ani in urma (August 1981) urcase Pilierul Walker in echipa cu sotul ei Emil Coliban. Relatarea istorica scrisa chiar de ea o gasiti AICI.

Cosmin is studying the route using the binocular. There were 4 teams climbing Walker Spur in that day. Though it was 17:00, 2 teams were still in the lower part of the wall. We decide to have an early start tomorrow morning, around 01:30. The other team of guides will do the same. Just before dinner there is another team from Österreich that arrives at the refuge. They are tired from the long journey (10 h driving that day) and plan to bivy in the wall. So, we will be 3 teams climbing the Walker Spur next day!
Cosmin studiaza printr-un binoclu ruta. In perete in aceea zi erau 4 echipe! Desi timpul era destul de inaintat, doua echipe erau inca in portiunea inferioara a peretelui. Vorbim cu ghidul care ne spune ca va pleca la ora 01:30 de la refugiu. Convenim intre noi sa plecam la aceeasi ora. Intre timp mai ajunge la refugiu o echipa de austrieci care par foarte obositi. Ne povestesc ca au condus 10h de acasa pana aici si ca maine dimineata intra si ei in perete, dar cu material de bivuac. Deci vom fi 3 echipe in perete!

Next day we cross the bergschrund at around 04:30 and I start the first ice pitch. Then some mixed terrain till we decide to take off our crampons and climb with boots. Cosmin takes the lead. It’s already light outside as we are looking to find the entrance in the “Rebuffat-Allain corner”.
A doua zi la lumina frontalelor incepem apropierea de perete. La ora 04:30 trecem ramaia si plec pe prima lungime de gheata. Urmeaza apoi ceva de mixt. In curand ne dam jos coltarii si ramanem in bocanci. Cosmin preia conducerea. Cand terenul devine dificil, trecem la papucii de escalada. E deja lumina afara cand incepem sa ne intrebam daca mai suntem pe ruta corecta.

A picture from the guide book shows us the way.  The rock is cold and the backpack heavy but Cosmin is doing great leading this technical pitch.
Ne salveaza o fotografie din cartea Grandes Jorasses. Identificam acolo “diedrul Rebuffat-Allain”, pe care Cosmin il escaladeaza cap de coarda. Escalada nu e usoara, stanca e rece si rucsacul din spinara te dezechilibreaza.

Another traverse section on slabs takes us to the “75m corner” which we climb in 2 pitches. As we climb, the views are amazing and the exposure getting huge. Another key section with a traverse and a pendulum abseil puts us at the base of the “black slabs”.
Urmeaza apoi o traversare pe dale si catararea “diedrului de 75m” din doua lungimi de coarda.  Ceva mai sus din nou un pasaj cheie pe care Cosmin il negociaza atent,  o traversare pe dale si apoi un rapel in pendul. Fiind echipa de trei, totul ia mult mai mult timp.

Cosmin is inviting me to take the lead for this section that takes us up to the “Grey Tower”. At some point marked on the topo with “bold traverse right” I have difficulties in finding the line. I climb and down climb the section several times till my climbing partners declare they got completely frozen.  Somehow I finally manage to find the route and we arrive at the the 2nd Cassin bivouac. From this point, Cristina will take the lead.
Urmatorea sectiune imi revine mie,  “black slabs” (dalles noires).  Incepe cu o coarda fixa in traverseu dreapta si apoi urca pe mai multe lungimi de coarda spre “Grey Tower” (tour grise) pe care-l ocoleste prin dreapta. La un moment dat ma poticnesc la un traverseu si imi tin colegii in loc pana acestia se declara inghetati bocna. Ajung in bivuacul 2 Cassin de unde preia stafeta Cristina.

2 pitches takes us on the spur line where a cold wind is blowing. Another 2 pitches and we get to a bivy spot marked in the topo as R24. It means we have climbed half of the route, 24 pitches from a total of 40. It’s cold and late (19:00) by now and we are tired. Cristina and I are opting for a bivouac but Cosmin insists to keep going all night. I take the lead for the next pitch but soon I find myself in the dark with no clue where to climb. I abseil down to my friends and we start to prepare the bivouac place for the night.
Cu doua lungimi ajungem pe linia crestei unde ne i-a vantul in primire. Inca doua lungimi pe creasta si ne aflam la un alt loc de bivuac marcat pe topo ca si R24. Suntem deja la jumatatea peretelui (lungimea 24 din totalul de 40). E frig, ora e inaintata (19:00), suntem obositi si ne miscam in reluare. Eu si Cristina optam pentru bivuac. Cosmin insista sa continuam. Preiau conducerea fara prea mare chef si incerc sa catar inca o lungime, dar deja e intuneric si nu mai vad nimic. Le strig ca nu are rost sa ne chinuim, vom continua a doua zi …

The bivy place is a small ledge that has a nice view towards West, with Aig du Midi and Mont Blanc. It’s not big enough for us to lay down, but it’s ok if we seat on it like in a chair. Cosmin is organizing things at the belay point to which we will stay attached all night with slings. Cristina will seat between us, to be protected from the wind. We put ropes and backpacks underneath. With a knife we make a horizontal cut in my bivy sac (I don’t know which “monkey” did it! but I remembered I’ve been politely asked before the irreversible operation took place), so now we can all cover and maintain some heat from our bodys. I have the stove (Jetboil) with me and there is snow close to our ledge, so making a hot tea during the cold night will not be a problem.
Neither the most luxury bivouac, nor the worse one! I would not lie to you saying we slept that night… Standing there under a magic sky full of stars, I remembered a funny scene that happened at the Financial Institution where I’ve worked more than 10 years in my past. One of my colleagues used to imagine himself winning at the Lottery and then making important presents to his colleagues: “X” will receive a “2 level house”. “Y” will get a “4 rooms apartment”. “Pobega” will receive a “one room apartment”. <<Why only “one room apartment” for me, Costi ?!>> And the answer was always: << -Because “one room apartment” is already big luxury for you as you are all the time into the mountains sleeping in your tent or wherever you can!>>
And he was right, what more could I say? Bivouacking in the middle of the legendary Grandes Jorasses N Face wall under a sky full of stars in that moment made me feel like the richest man in the world! Locul de bivuac este o terasa mica cu vedere excelenta spre Vest, spre Aig du Midi si Mont Blanc. Incapem daca stam unul langa altul asezati in fund si sprijiniti cu spatele de perete. Cosmin consolideaza o regrupare in care ne legam cu anouri. Corzile si rucsacii sub noi. Gasesc ceva zapada in apropiere, deci vom putea sa ne hidratam peste noapte! Sacul meu de bivuac il taiem pe lungime si ne acoperim cu el. Cristina e la mijloc intre noi. Noaptea a trecut intr-un final: mai cu guri de ceai cald, mai cu frecat pe picioarele amortite de frig, mai cu privit la spectacolul oferit de stele. Mi-am amintit acolo intr-o doara de un fost coleg de la corporatia unde am lucrat 10 ani de zile. Se visa castigand la LOTO si apoi facand cadouri colegilor din departament. “X” va primi o casa cu doua nivele. “Y” va primi un apartament cu 4 camere. “Pobega” va primi o garsoniera. – Dar de ce doar o garsoniera, Costi?, intrebam eu. –Pt ca tu te multumesti cu putin. Esti tot timpul plecat pe munte si acolo dormi pe unde apuci cu cortul. Garsoniera e deja un lux pt tine! Mda, avea dreptate omul in felul lui … Eu, in acel moment, dormind in peretele legendar a lui Grandes Jorasses sub un cer plin de stele , chiar ma consideram cel mai bogat om din lume!

Next day we start the climb late, around 09:00. It’s my turn to put the climbing shoes and finish what I was left from the previous day. 
A doua zi ne dezmortim destul de greu si parasim locul de bivuac pe la 09:00. Urc in expadrile in timp ce Cosmin si Cristina ma urmeaza in bocanci.

We get to the “Triangular Snowfield” where we switch again to crampons for another 2 pitches of ice.
Ajungem la “Triunghiul de zapada” (névé triangulaire) unde ne punem coltarii pentru doua lungimi de gheata.

As we get to a mixed chimney, Cristina takes the lead and climbs all the way to the base of “Tour Rouse”. A steep pitch of traverse put us on the easy climbing ground again. From here the line is not obvious and the rock is loose, but Cristina is making good progress. So far all is good, the guide book says 2 more pitches of rock and then 2 more pitches of ice will take us to the summit. 

But suddenly there is a loud screaming coming from Cristina. She had an accident! Her hand got under a loose rock as she tried to stop it from rolling toward us. Cosmin starts to climb towards her, manage to stop the blood and bandage the hand as good as he can. <<It will require some stitches once we get to the hospital !>> he said.
Cristina isi pune papucii de escalada pentru un horn friabil si niste lungimi de traverseu dreapta care ne scot langa bastionul surplombant a lui Tour Rousse. O lungime de traverseu expus ne pune din nou pe o trasa usoara. Din ghid reiese ca ar mai fi inca 3 lungimi de stanca si apoi inca 2 de gheata care ne vor scoate pe varf. Lungimile de stanca sunt usoare, dar terenul e friabil. Linia trebuie intuita, nu este foarte evidenta. La un moment dat, Cristina (care era cap de coarda) scoate un strigat puternic de durere. Un bolovan a pornit de sub piciorul ei si in incercarea de a-l opri, si-a accidentat mana. Cosmin urca repede la ea, ii opreste sangerarea si ii bandajeaza mana. Imi spune ca rana va avea nevoie de copcii odata ajunsa la spital. Situatia nu imi pare deloc roz.

I receive all these bad news at the belay ledge below them and I can’t help myself from thinking about different scenarios. Let’s say we manage to climb to the summit… but from there the descend it’s not easy and the time is late. Soon will be dark. How will Cristina manage to use the ice axe and then abseil with one hand? Will they call helicopter for rescue?!
Ma intreb in gand oare ce va urma si imi fac scenarii. Sa zicem ca reusim sa ajungem pe varf… Dar de acolo retragerea nu e deloc usoara si timpul e inaintat! Cum va putea Cristina sa foloseasca pioletul? Cum va face rapel? Vor chema elicopterul?!

Instead of an answer, I see Cosmin starting to lead the next pitch while pointing to some loose rock we should avoid when following. As I climb close to Cristina, I can see she is struggling with one hand but she is determined to keep the rhythm. Once we get to the belay station, she is asking Cosmin to help her put the crampons on for the next ice pitches that will come. I really admire her for her strength and determination to continue. No helli rescue needed for this brave “monkey”! I got all my answers now.
In loc de raspuns, il vad pe Cosmin ca deja a plecat mai departe cap de coarda. Imi striga pe unde sa o luam ca sa ocolim sectiunea friabila. Catar in spatele Cristinei si vad ca desi nu poate sa-si foloseasca decat o mana, e hotarata sa tina ritmul. Odata ajungi in regrupare, il roaga pe Cosmin sa o ajute sa isi puna coltarii pentru urmatoarele lungimi. I se citeste hotararea in priviri si eu inteleg totul. Elicopterului nu va zbura azi. Cel putin, nu pentru noi. Cristina e o fata puternica!

I start climbing the last 2 ice pitches. Finally we step over the cornice that puts us on the summit of Pointe Walker (4208m). Happy faces, hugs while making the summit picture using the phone, as I broke my camera LCD during the climb. The sun set as it’s already 19:30. There is no time to lose, here comes the descend!
Plec pe urmatoarele 2 lungimi de gheata. Iata in sfarsit si cornisa care ne scoate direct pe varful lui Pointe Walker (4208m). Ne felicitam si facem poza de varf in lumina apusului de soare cu telefonul, intrucat din neatentie am reusit sa sparg LCD-ul aparatul de fotografiat. E deja ora 19:30. Nu e timp de pierdut! Vedem urmele care coboara pe ghetar si dupa un mic detur hotaram sa stam concentrati si sa ne dam tot concursul ca sa ajungem jos safe.

The descend it’s like a puzzle: down climb a loose rock section, traverse a crevassed glacier, abseils on another ridge, traverse on the glacier again and then down climb another ridge. It’s dark already, but we take our time and stop many times to read the description in the guiding book and do our best to navigate without errors in the complex terrain. Coborarea e un puzzle: incepem traversarea pe o creasta friabila, ghetar plin de crevase, rapeluri pe alta creasta, din nou ghetar apoi din nou descatarare si rapeluri pe alta creasta.  Lumina nu mai e demult. dar nu ne grabim. Citim descrierea in carte si navigam cu rabdare in terenul alpin complex.

At some point Cosmin is left without voice and he is using his hands to tell us we should stop for a brew. It’s been a while since we didn’t drink anything. At some point we finally reach Bocalatte hut (2804m). The guardian wakes up and warmly welcome us. We tell him we will continue to descend to Courmayeur as Cristina’s wound needs medical care. We buy a Coke and rest 30 minutes at the refuge before continuing the descend. Cosmin ramane fara voce. Ne intelegem prin semne sa facem o pauza si sa topim ceva zapada. Nu mai bausem nimic de ore bune si eram deshidratati.  Continuam coborarea si ajungem cu bine la refugiul Bocalatte (2804m). Gardianul se trezeste si ne ureaza un calduros “Bine ati venit!”.  Ii spunem ca vom continua sa coboram spre Courmayeur intrucat rana Cristinei trebuie curatata. Cumparam o bautura energizanta de la refugiu, ne odihnim 30 minute si apoi o luam din loc.

My headlamp is going only in the red light mode now and piss me off. Cosmin is offering his headlamp and I take it. From time to time we stop just to sleep  for 5 minutes that turn out to be 10 minutes or maybe more.  At dawn’s first light we arrive at the main road and keep going all the way to Courmayeur. Here we order a coffee in a bar and sleep in turns with the head on the table. Later, I go to buy tickets for the 09:00 bus only to find out it’s mandatory to show the passports. As some of us forgot to take the passport, I can’t buy the tickets. It’s all for one and all for all. What shell we do?Frontala mea se stinge. Cosmin imi ofera frontala lui si eu o primesc. Din loc in loc mai facem pauze de 10 minute de somn. Suntem rupti de oboseala. Odata cu zorii ajungem la sosea pe care o urmam pana in Courmayeur. E deja dimineata! Bem o cafea la un bar si motaim cu capul pe masa. Asteptam transferul cu autobuzul spre Chamonix, dar ne dam seama ca nu toti avem la noi actele de identitate, care acum sunt obligatorii la achizitionarea biletului.

Cosmin is calling his friend Christian to come and pick us up with his car. Thank you Christian! Then he take Cristina to Sallanches hospital. The doctor cleans the wound, put some stitches and let Cristina know she was lucky. She will be able to climb again in no more than 10 days. Cosmin il suna pe Christian si il roaga sa vina dupa noi cu masina. Multumim Christian! Apoi o duce pe Cristina in Sallanches la spital. Mana e dezinfectata si I se pun copcii. In 10 zile Cristina se poate catara din nou.

What more can I add to the story? It was a great experience to climb Walker Spur with this great couple, Cristina and Cosmin. Hope to climb some other nice routes in future with them! A fost o tura pe cinste cu niste oameni hotarati si frumosi cu care sper sa mai apuc sa catar si in viitor!

Equipment: 2 x 60 m half ropes, 8 cams (size 0-2), 5 nuts (small and medium), 2 ice-screws, 2 technical ice-axes (for the leader) and crampons.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Fredrik Ehne
    Oct 31, 2016 @ 23:37:12

    Great adventure, congratulations on making it all the way up! Nice website as well

    Reply

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