Chamonix / Alpine Hazards / With Bernd on the Bonatti / Not in the Plan
"Our vidid and day-long conciousness of the mountain, of each other, and of the drama which we and the mountain played out at length together, cannot be faithfully reproduced. it has even escaped all but our general recollection.
The mountaineer returns to the hills because he remembers always that he has forgotten so much."
"From experience I know that the north face of the Grande Jorasses by the north spur of the Pointe Walker is a route to dream of, perhaps the finest in existence. But, once again, if the climber wants the route to live up to his dreams, he must himself climb to the highest standard "
Gaston Rebuffat from The Mont Blanc Massif - The 100 Finest Routes.
Like many American alpinists, I'd read this passage and dreamed, along with Gaston, of matching my skills against the standards set on the original "onsight flash" by Riccardo Cassin and company back in 1938. Exactly fifty years after the first ascent I was lucky enough to realize this dream.
Doug Pratt-Johnson and I bivouacked on the glacier below the face to avoid the crowds at Leschoux hut, and to get a head start in the morning. We were successful in our first goal enjoying a beautiful, quiet bivouac. When my alarm watch failed to wake us in the morning it seemed a disaster. Five parties from the hut had passed us, putting us last in line, but it all turned out for the best. We soon passed three Japanese and an East Bloc team who had bivied below the Rebuffat crack. When we had almost caught up to a traffic jam at the block rappel, we stopped on a pleasant ledge and ate a leisurely brunch. We waited until the last man turned the corner, then carried on in peace, not seeing another team until our bivy that night. Figuring our bivy would someplace near the top, we had sleeping bags, pads, bivy sacks, a stove, and plenty of food. Our packs were a bit heavy, but it was worth it that night, luxuriating in comfort on ledges chopped out of the ice.
The route lived up to Gaston's praise. The fifty or so pitches were consistently difficult and interesting, but never extreme. We enjoyed perfect conditions - the rock was dry, and all the gullies and ledges were choked with good ice, which reduced rock fall to a minimum. Crampons were donned and doffed at least fifteen times. I carried a pair of slippers which I wore to lead a number of dry pitches on the gray slabs.
Working our way up, utilizing the latest in clothing and protection, I thought often of the boldness and vision of the first ascent party. The Walker Spur still commands respect, certainly ranking as one of the great alpine routes anywhere. Our ascent epitomized one of the deepest values I've found climbing in the Alps - the historical perspective. That Cassin was some dude!