Last week saw James Clapham and I head up to the Gervasutti Pillar on the East face of Mont Blanc Du Tacul. This is a route that has been on my wishlist for some years and it feels great to have finally laid it to rest. I think we both underestimated its length and difficulty and it took much longer to climb than we were expecting.
We stuggled to gain and maintain a fast pace due to snow on the ledges, sections of loose rock and tricky route finding. We had the Topo from Michel Piola’s pink rock climbing guidebook which seemed to be wrong in so many ways and very misleading with regards to the actual length and difficulty of the route. It is easy however to blame a book on one’s shortfalls as a climber so the most important thing for me to remember is that it’s not (always) about how fast you climb something but it’s about the experience and what you gained from the climb itself. In this department the route has given us excellent memories of a grand adventure and was a suitable challenge for us both that pushed us to dig pretty deep.
The first pitch is described by Mr Piola as being a 4+ right to left crack which we couldn’t find perhaps because of the lack of snow on the glacier these days. We ended up climbing a long and tricky crack right at the toe of the pillar itself which was maybe 6a. We followed on the next few pitches to the third where I came across a massive loose flake which was obviously an integral part of the route due to the wear on top of it and the peg just above. I decided that I didn’t fancy my chances of swinging out on it without it coming off in my hands so I gave it 5 minutes of concerted wiggling before sending it off down to join the other random blocks on the glacier below.
After this pitch we got going up the lower reaches of the pillar passing some superb quality granite on the way.
Mostly we stayed on track the whole way up (we think) but it is difficult to tell. A few of the pitches go onto the north side of the pillar and were quite snowy and with a bit of a breeze things felt pretty miserable in our rock boot clad feet…
We got to the top of the Pillar at about 5pm just after the sun had disappeared behind the summit of the Tacul and the change back into our mountain boots was very welcome. A dicey pitch across the col led us to a short abseil. From the bottom of this abseil (20m max) a long (loose) mixed pitch brings you to a point where you can see the mixed gully (which is above super couloir) which leads to a col between the tour rouge and the upper slopes of the Tacul. We moved together all the way through this gully passing some shockingly bad rock and mushy snow and ice. This section definitely needs some snow cover to make it safe and I wouldn’t have wanted to be in there with any less snow than we had. From the col it seemed to take a long time to reach the summit, passing a good few hundred metres of mixed and rock climbing to get to the final snow slope to the summit. We topped out at 9.30pm and got back to the Col du Midi an hour or so later feeling pretty spent.
All in all it was a great route with sections of amazing quality red granite and sections of horrible choss too (mainly in the mixed ground at the top) but it certainly was a grand adventure and one that I’m very proud to have finally ticked. Interestingly a lot of people I have spoken to about it since have said the same thing, “It’s pretty long aye?!”. Yes, yes it is.