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Behind The Line With Luca Pandolfi: First Descent Aiguille de Tricot SW Face

Trip Reports / Luca Pandolfi
5
Apr

The Aiguille de Tricot towers over one of the wildest and most beautiful corners of the Mont Blanc Massif in Chamonix. My friend Ben Briggs spotted an unridden 900m line on the SW face of the Aiguille de Tricot a couple years ago but at that time it was not in ideal condition for an attempt. Not many long, clean, unridden lines like this left in the Massif, so with decent snow coverage this year, we decided to give it a shot. The big question mark was the ramp at the bottom that gives access to the face. No doubt this section of the route, and the long, tiring approach, had kept steeps lovers away in the past.

On March 17th, Ben, Tom Grant, Johanna Stalnacke and I loaded ourselves like donkeys and left the parking lot of La Gruvaz for this incredible adventure. If luck was on our side we would return with a new first descent and likely a first ascent. 5 hours of hiking and skinning climbing up 1700 vertical meters took us to the Plan du Glacier hut at the foot of the Aiguille de Tricot.

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The Plan du Glacier hut, swallowed by a roof avalanche. Photo - Tom Grant

The snow on the roof of the hut had slid, covering it completely. Almost an hour of probe and shovel work was needed to find it. We had to dig a hole in the snow and burrow down to access this little wooden nest.

We left the hut at 6 am the next day. One hour later we were attacking the crux of the line - a 55° 60 m long rock ramp covered by a couple of centimeters of thin ice. The climbing went smoother than expected and soon we were traversing over rocky ribs making our way to the upper face.

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Ben, Tom and Luca at the bottom of the face. Photo - Johanna Stalnacke

The upper face is really big and thankfully held a fair amount of snow. There was enough snow to link the face with the final ramp out to the bottom but unfortunately not quite enough to reach the rocky summit. We climbed the last 40m to the summit ridge on rock.

Despite the sunny day, the breeze was cold, forcing us to wait on the ridge for three hours as the snow softened enough for a safe descent.

The snow in the couloir was not great so we stayed on the steep right shoulder to start the line. Here the perfect smooth corn made the first sustained 50° turns less sketchy than what they would have been if the snow was firm.

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Luca in his element. Photo - Johanna Stalnacke

Turn after turn my confidence built allowing me to fully enjoy the exposed turns. These precious moments of total concentration seem to last forever when you are up there. It’s like you are in a parallel mental dimension living an experience in a bubble with just your partners.

Half way down the face the gradient eased off a bit and the snow got deeper and softer. We opened the radius of our turns and easily rode through the rocky ribs to reach the last super exposed narrow ridge.

The final ramp was unskiable, and would have required a 60m rappel, so we stayed on the ridge as it became narrower and narrower. We were forced to sidestep and perform a few meters of ’dry skiing’, the latest hot ski trend in Chamonix.

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Approaching the rappel on the narrow final ridge. Photo - Tom Grant

A short 10m rap over an unskiable rock step took us to the last 30m of steep slope over the cliffs. Soon we could relax and enjoy another 1000 vertical meters of amazing corn down to the Chalets de Miage.

We dedicated this line to our friend, Brendan O’Sullivan, a fantastic snowboarder and amazing soul who disappeared last winter in a tragic accident on the North Face of the Tour Ronde.

Aiguille de Tricot - O’Sullivan Direct - 900 m, 45°- 50°, 5.3/E4

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Video of the adventure by Ben Briggs:

Check out more trip reports from Luca here:

www.lucapandolfi.com

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Author
Luca Pandolfi
Category
Trip Reports
Published on
5 April 2016

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