The Croz Spur on The North Face of Grandes Jorasses
This spring I managed to take another step forward in my project called “Alpine Adventures” and returned to Chamonix with the goal in mind to climb bigger routes than I usually climb in the area and something more attractive and challenging. I partnered up again with Alex Prigoana who has already become the most constant and like-minded climbing partner for “scarry, bold and unplanned style” climbing.
I am pretty sure we both had the same main climbing objective in mind but neither of us would have said it out loud, in public. We had already learned from our previous climbing experiences in the Alps that plans at home don’t really match the weather conditions in the mountains.
Actually, one might have better chances to climb good and hard, and to have fun, by simply enjoying the French cheese, the good wine in Chamonix and choosing an objective according to the mountain weather conditions.
After ending our warm-up trip on glacier d’Argentiere where we managed to climb the Swiss Route on the North Face of Les Courtes in bad weather and poor visibility we returned to the valley to check the weather forecast. The good news about the weather encouraged us and we turned our attention to The North Face of Grandes Jorasses. Since we weren’t really fond of climbing the most popular, crowded routes, we became more interested in trying to climb the Croz Spur (with the Slovenian variant). This route is not climbed as often as the Colton-MacIntyre, The Shroud or the Cassin Pillar, and is still quite challenging.
Nobody had climbed the North face for a while due to bad weather conditions so we had no exact information about the ice conditions. However we had a good feeling about it. Leslie Fucsko, our Romanian friend and experienced climber whom we had earlier met in Chamonix also suggested it could be a good time to head for Grandes Jorasses so we became even more optimistic.
The next day we headed up via Mer de Glace to the Leschaux refuge, on skis. The weather was good and we had enough time to scout the base of the wall and to try to find the best approach to the start of the route in order to increase our chances to move faster and safer the next morning early in the dark. We started from the Leschaux refuge the next morning at 2 am and we followed our tracks from the day before.
We crossed the big bergschrund at the base of the Croz and then we traversed to the right hoping to get soon enough to the Slovenian start of the route. Then, we surprisingly got stuck under a a big serac and a maze of crevasses that we hadn’t seen the day before. For almost two hours we winded around the place and finally we found a small snow bridge that we crossed and then got our way to the exact start of the route. We lost precious time and energy and I felt quite frustrated. At about 7 am Alex (more optimistic than me) started to climb the first pitch and a small vertical ice section. Then, easier ground followed and the ice runnels slightly to the left were obvious. We moved quite fast and reached the first ice/snow field where we simul climbed and changed leads as we were running out of ice screws. Then another steep and delicate ice section led by Alex took us to the second field. Gaining height on the face allowed us to enjoy the great views, we joked a bit to keep the morale up. But, the more technical sections were yet to come. A mixed ramp to the left led us to the actual spur. Then I led a pitch on delicate granite slabs with little protection (a cam, a couple of nuts and an old rusted piton). Ice was thin there so I had to be extra careful and hook very gently with the ice axes. I stopped and belayed a few meters below the third ice field to allow Alex to go next on a long pitch to where the route follows another mixed ramp to the left.
The chimney like ramp had really nice climbing with both good ice and rock. We reached the main spur again, just 2 pitches under the Croz tower… a very aerial place. It was already late afternoon and the sun was just above us, heating the upper part of the face. The dry rock here made the climbing very pleasant. The rock above us wasn’t looking as solid as on the rest of the face and we decided to go on to the right hand exit and hoped we would still find ice in the crux pitch. After a delicate traverse to the right I got into the chimney which had just a few spots of ice. I couldn’t find good protection and neither good hooking placement. I climbed on slices of poor quality granite oriented downwards. I gently hooked on tiny ice smears and I was really surprised they did not break. Calm and slowly, I climbed the most delicate section until I found better ice in the upper part of the gully.
Alex followed and then led the final pitch to the summit ridge of the Grandes Jorasses in a small breche just to the right of the Croz point. We laughed seeing our tired faces after 12 hours of continuous climbing. The immense and complicated South side of the mountain was now revealed to us. There was still a lot of effort ahead to descend the mountain. We made three abseils on the South side and got to the base of the rock face where we dug a platform for bivouac.
We spent an uncomfortable night sharing a single sleeping bag. The next day, on a fast deteriorating weather we descended to Bocalatte hut and then without a trail visible or any footprints in the snow we had to find our way through the lower part of the glacier, rocky slabs and wild forest to the valley floor at Val Ferret in Italy.
To be continued…