This was one of my great climbing dreams for a long time ! Enough to say that I have been talking about doing it at least for three years now. Not even to say how long it was in the state “one day I may be able to climb it”.
Leaving in Switzerland makes planning and execution much easier. Chamonix is 3h30min drive from where I live. After coming back from Norway, I figured it may be a good time.
Together with Arne we made a short acclimatization plan and executed it. Funny enough on the way down from Via Salluard Cezary said that Paweł Zieliński from KW Krakow (my climbing club) has just done it free (WoW!). I wrote to Paweł and got a bunch of tips, the entire group stopped at mine on their way to Krakow, so I was able to gather a few informations, in particular about the approach.
Cold front was passing by Thu->Fri night, we initially wanted to approach then, but when the forecast turned out to be good also for Sunday, we moved the plan to climb on Sunday instead of Saturday. Interestingly, Maciek Ostrowski wrote to me on Thu, that he’d heard that I’m planning Freney. Having common friends is so awesome (thanks Maciek and Iza for connecting us). Together with Tomek Stanek they were to try Freney as well, during the same weather window. We drove on Friday and grabbed them on the way. Tunnel, packing, food, and around 1pm or so we were on the way to Monzino. The hike is easy and pleasant, takes about 2h. Monzino has a free WiFi, a cheesy music from 90ties, good food and a nice warden (some people will strongly disagree with me).
We setup for the approach to Bivacco Eccles around 5.40 or so. It’s important to go early to have a nice firm snow on the glacier. The route is rather obvious, it took us a bit less than 4h to reach the bivacco. We had it all for ourselves, spent a day cooking resting and preparing mentally. Myself and Maciek also went towards the Eccles Pic, to see how is the approach route. It was of a great help next night when we needed to find the approach.
There are two ways to get to the col from Eccles, one goes to the Bouliard Glacier and follows it – it was inaccessible anymore due to large crevasses, instead we went through a rocky ridge, basically diagonally up and to the right, with occasional switchback. Generally really exposed terrain steep or choosy.
We went to sleep really early, to get woken up by an Italian guide with a client who just approached and were aiming to do Innominata Ridge the following day. We made space for them, they crawled into lower beds. Alarm clock at 00.30 marked start of the day. A quick meal and loads of drinking, harnesses on and by 1.40 am or so we started the approach. The terrain known from the day before took us 1h – the same as previous day. Then there were 4 a bit sketchy rappels. First quite short, to arrive in the couloir just below the col. I knew from Pawel that the next belay is going to be made of two nuts – it matched. Alright we were on a correct rappel route, following rappels were out of slings. Second rap was full 60m down, third diagonally right (climbers right) another 60m, forth again just down to the glacier. Than a bit of down climbing on steep snow / ice and we were in easy terrain. I have read a story of someone down climbing that entire couloir, it very much depends on snow conditions, for us I could not even imagine going up that thing. I have probably even said something like “Helicopter it is if we need to bail”. Getting further to the base of the route was rather easy, around 200m traverse and then steep snow/ice up circumventing one more, small bergschrund.
We started to climb around 6.15/6.30am. Maciek and Tomek were leading the way, it was really good to have another known party up the wall, it decreased a bit anxiety and it was good to consult the route a few times.
We did blocks of 4-5 pitches. First 10 or so pitches were mostly easy, on mostly solid rock, a few harder pitches, but nothing harder than a 6a. I’ve put my climbing shoes after pitch 3, guys did that later. Climbing is not hard but the climate is very intense, you get accompaniment of frequent rock falls of both sides of the pillar. When we got to the Chandelle a huge cloud came and it became really cold, also sun was slowly moving to the other side of the mountain, making it even colder. I lead first two pitches on the Chandelle, first difficulties made me to A0. I was cold, I did not believe either of us can onsight 7a, and I was sure we do not want to workout moves and repeat it in those temperatures – that would be totally insane.
Arne quite quickly led the traverse pitch (7a) and really slowly the crux pitch (7a+) both aid. On a hindsight I should have gone to do the crux pitch, as I believe we’d save a bit of time as I did have some aiding experience, while Arne had to figure it out on the go. He did well, but it took a long time, with me almost crying at the belay out to pain caused by temperature, frozen fingers and toes.
Rest of the Chandelle was rather easy climbing, Arne finished the lead. We topped out around 7pm and made a single rap, after which we wasted at least an hour trying to unfuck the rope that became a huge mess. Than I lead one more 60m mixed pitch, after which we unropped and climbed free to the top of Mont Blanc the Courmayer and then to the main summit. Around Chandelle we stopped making photos, as we did not want to waste time and in particular cause it was really cold.
(Maciek’s photos on the way to the summit, we did zero ;-/)
I don’t even know what time we were on the top of Europe, we started the descent quickly and were in Vallot at midnight. We spent 30min there resting, eating and talking whether or not we should stay there for the night or not. Fortunately Arne convinced me to go down to Refuge du Goûter. We got there at 2am, happy to receive first congrats from an Italian guide that was about to go towards the summit with two clients. He sent us to beds that they just released – it was really nice of him.
After a really refreshing 2h30min of sleep we ate last freezed dried and walked down. I wanted to cross the famous “rolling stones” couloir before first sunrise hit it. Still remembering Wojtek Kozub who had a fatal accident there. Around Tete Rouse hut my right knee started to hurt, to the point that I took two strong Ibuprofens… they did not help, or maybe they helped –> assuming so I cannot imagine how painful it would be without them. Descent to the train took ages, I mastered every possible combination of steps such that I don’t need to bend my right knee, and it started to rain half way…
We got down to the train to meet our friends who topped out Chandelle around 1h-1h30min before us and MB ~4h before us. The loud “KURWA” that Arne heard on the way was Maciek accidentally dropping his backpack with ice axe, phone and some food. Fortunately it was after he took out his crampons. They were planning to descent via 3M route but without an axe it would be really stupid, hence they were in Goûter as well, paying insane money for the night.
Got back to Chamonix ! Ate great burgers and best ice-creams in the town. Then got back to Italy to pick up a car.
Overall. What an adventure ! Great days ! With a bunch of type 2 fun :-), and a bit type 1 fun. One of my climbing dreams became a reality. It was definitelly a really long day, myself I found it easier than Gervasutti or Anouk, but objectively I think it’s harder, the entire approach and descent make it much more serious, it’s just that (whether I want to admit it or not) I am becoming more experienced, stronger and faster.
I’m really happy and privileged person.
Maciek’s FB post.
Photos (I will add more once I get them from Maciek). We did not spent enough time taking pictures :-(.
I also highly recommend reading Bonington story about first ascent.