Scots on the Jorasses

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Scottish climbers Guy Robertson & Pete Benson make a free ascent of the Desmaison-Gousseault route on the N Face of Les Grandes Jorasses.

Here Guy tells the tale...


A quick shout from les Chamonix Aiguilles where myself and Pete Benson have been enjoying our annual foray. After three days warming up on sun-kissed rock at 3500m+ on the south face of the Midi (including a great E3, Dam de Lac) we made tracks for the rarely frequented Desmaison-Gousseault route on the N Face of Les Grandes Jorasses...

Taking an awe-ispiring natural 'winter' line with 1200m of sustained climbing (easiest pitches Scottish IV, much M6 and some A1) there's arguably not a mixed route quite like this anywhere in Europe. It has had only about half a dozen ascents since the first in 1973, the quickest by French locals in 4 days, so something adventurous was there for the taking. We'd had eyes on the line for a couple of years, and, weirdly, Desmaison died only a week before our leaving date, giving a distinct air of solemnity to the enterprise. Our resulting not inconsiderable apprehension was further fuelled by rumours / legends that the ghastly spectre of Serge Gousseault still haunted the face, having perished near the top during a fourteen day unsuccessful attempt in 1971 Minds were made up though, and a bonzer 5 day forecast for beau temps and nil vents gave us no choice but to launch an attack.

Most of the uplifts around Cham are closed during this, the off-season, and a bum steer on the approach from the locals (cheers Bairdy ya numpty ) meant we inadvertantly endured a sphincter-twitching 7.5 hour approach down the Geant icefall; nightmare. Running crampooned across 40 degree hard ice slopes with a six day winter pack on, dodging 10 ton serac off cuts - nice start! Then further misery when Benny took the plunge up to his waist in ice-cold glacier meltwater a mere hour from the face - baaaahhh! Funny to watch though, and at least it meant an enforced rest day before the route

Fortunately only one more minor incident came between us and the route, when I left my headtorch (and ear plugs) in the Leschaux hut after making the two hour trudge up to the foot of the wall. All good acclimatisation I repeatedly told myself as I ran back down the glacier! After a food-packed bivvy on the glacier, the route went smoothly and dreamily. Pitch after pitch of **** climbing, typically hovering between Scot 5 - 7, with a few harder sections, it just kept on giving...and giving...and giving some more. Beautiful, tenuous styrofoam ice; steep and strenuous dry-tooling; tricky snowd-up rock; even and 'Gogarth-esque' E3 rock pitch high up on the headwall; and all interspersed by three perfectly reasonable, lie-down bivis,warm and snug under a diamond-studded sky. The stuff of dreams, no more Despite a dropped leashless tool (woops) which was rapidly retrieved from it's slopey destination, we reached the top late in the afternoon of day 4, not too bad for a pair of Scot's weekenders. Happy days indeed.

The only further incident was a panicky slip by myself on steep glacier terrain about an hour or so above the hut on the descent. I thought I'd blown it, turned in haste to arrest a fall, and promptly punched the ice full force with my ring finger - snap, crack, one cracked metatarsal But hey, no tears, such a small price to pay for the best route of a lifetime.

So that was it, the first all free ascent (we think?) of the Desmaison-Gousseault on the north Face of the Jorasses. We've both done a few mixed routes over the years, and share the view that this route is pure Carlsberg - Probably the Best Mixed Climb in the World.

Get on it dudes!

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