I recently got back from climbing the Croz Spur with the Slovenian start with my friend Ben O’Connor Croft. I have wanted to climb this route on the Grandes Jorasses for sometime now. It was great to finally get it ticked. The climbing was varied and for the most part good, with the exception of the penultimate pitch which was quite tricky with steep, broken rock and poor protection. Normally this pitch has more ice in it but this year it is quite dry so it’s been putting up a bit of a fight! We were one of three teams on the route that day and I’ve been informed we were the only team to make it over the top with the other two teams being helicoptered from just below this ‘crux’ pitch. This however wasn’t the only helicopter action that the Jorasses saw that day….
We approached the Lescaux hut from the Plan d’Aigulle on the friday, which seemed to be the most logical way to get up there due to Montenvers train being shut for annual maintenance. We arrived at the hut in good time to meet a rival French team with there sights set on the Croz Spur as well. This wasn’t great news but when they pointed out there friends biving at the base of the route I was about ready to sack it off. I’m really not a fan of climbing big serious routes with other teams to slow your down, tangle you up and knock stuff down on you. Despite this we set the alarm ready to leave the hut at 2.30.
We left the hut at the same time as the French team and we both set of up the glacier by moonlight. We didn’t need our head torches for the march up the glacier until we crossed the bergshrund 2 and a half hours later and in front of both of the French teams (even the three that were biving at the bottom!). We set a good pace up the ice runnels of the Slovenian route passing some fun mixed pitches and steep thin sections with little trouble. The Sun came up as we were getting ready to climb the first mixed pitch just after the first snow field.
More delicate ice and mixed lead us up to the upper snow field and to the junction with the original croz spur. A fun mixed ramp leads up to the spur proper and after that there was a fun rock pitch with a good view of the Colton/Macintyre (which still isn’t in condition) and the Walker Spur.
Two pitches of thin mixed lead up to the base of the penultimate and crux pitch. At this section of the route a very poor quality rock band comes in from the right which leaves very little possibility of good protection. I started of up the the pitch feeing slightly nervous about it but I wasn’t going to get this far without having a good go. Plus we only had 1 60m rope with us which wouldn’t have been much fun to have descended with and I wasn’t going to call a helicopter just because I wasn’t good enough!!!!
I was surprised at how much gear I was able to get in, although most of it fell out as I went up. We had had a tip off that it was hard to protect so we had brought extra small cams/wires and a pecker. I managed to drop the pecker when I tried to place it, but the small cams and wires came in very useful. I was relieved when I pulled up onto the easier angled ice above and managed to bury a 22cm ice srew.
The final pitch was fine and we were soon sunning ourselves on the breche just below the summit.
We started the descent down the south side which went much better than I thought it would with only one rope. There was plenty of tat to use and the recent snow was holding everything together nicely. We must have made 9 or 10 ab’s down onto the glacier were we started to down climb the snow cone to the glacier. We soon realised the the only way over it was to jump as there was nothing to ab off and a few rocks were starting to come down from the slopes above. It was about 10′ or so but the snow was pretty slushy soft for the most part. I went first without any trouble and Ben followed. Unfortunately Ben misjudged the landing and softness of the snow and ended up with a badly sprained knee. We carried on down the glacier a bit to get out of the danger zone but it was obvious that all was not well and I could see Ben was in a lot of pain, his balance was off and his knee was giving way if he put to much weight on it. We managed to get down onto the final section of ridge before the last glacier down to the Boccalatte hut where we stopped and had a discussion. We were both pretty nervous about carrying on as that ridge is quite steep and tricky to descend in places with sections of down climbing and traversing knife edge ridge. We decided that rather than making his knee worse and risking him falling of the ridge due to his impaired balance we would be better off calling for help.
We called it in and it arrived 20mins after in the form of a green red and white helicopter to fly us over to Aosta hospital to get Ben checked out. I guess these things happen sometimes and I am glad that it wasn’t any worse.
Ben’s knee is getting better and I wish him a speedy recovery in time to rip up some winter pow pow.
Thanks for a great day Ben and thanks to the helicopter guy’s for getting us down safely (although it would have been nice to have gone to Chamonix instead )