1st Ascent. Mont Rouge de Grouvetta, NE Face, "Eyes Wide Shut" 900m, ED1, M6, AO, UIAA IV+. 20th November, 2012. Italy.
The story started a couple of weeks ago when Jon Bracey and Matt headed up on a recce mission to check out conditions on the unrepeated 1986 Charlton/Silvester creation Corecrazion on the north face of Mont Grouvetta. Due to avalanche hazard they didn't even make it to the Dalmazzi hut, but it wasn't to be a wasted trip. On the opposite side of the valley the striking Northeast face of the Mont Rouge de Grouvetta (3477m) had caught their eyes. Inspection of the guidebook revealed not a single climb on this 900 metre high face.
On their return ten days later, a recent storm had brought significant snow down to the valley bottom, especially on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif. The ever-keen Italian cross-country skiers had profited and managed to piste the Val ferret tracks, which meant that the road was closed and an extra 8km of walking for the boys. Undeterred the motivated team were not to be put off. Early in the crisp frosty morning upon arriving at the barriers clearly indicating the closed road, the opportunistic Matt glanced around to see not a soul about. A swift manoeuvre saw Matt testing his 4x4 driving skills to save the teams energy for the adventures ahead.
"It's fine, I've got my off-road driving ticket!" commented Matt.
Following chamois tracks they snow-shoed up towards the head of the tranquil Val Ferret, before veering north-westerly with the graceful twin summits of the Mont Rouge du Triolet dominating the views. After finding a good bivi spot amongst the old lateral glacial moraines the team deposited their packs here before heading on to put in a track up to the base of the face. Things didn't go to plan though, as the obvious approach was too avalanche prone. Plan B was conjured up, but would involve a pitch of difficult mixed climbing to access the snow cone.
The morning alarm sounded, far too early as always, but the team were eager for the adventure. After two hours of effort they made it to the base and their headlamp beams illuminated the ominous steep cliffs above, but no sign of a weakness. Finally the first rays of morning light showed the way and Matt took on the early pitches with some tasty footless M6 to get round a steep overhang.
Any doubts about conditions were soon silenced as their ice axes bit into the pristine neve runnels, which led up the fault line above. More steepness on perfect granite provided top notch mixed climbing on thin hooks. However, at midday the team had worryingly only got to about a third height on the face. A gambling man would surely have placed a large bet on them shivering away a cold night without bivi kit at this point.
Then from nowhere a hidden runnel of ice appeared where the team had expected more difficult mixed climbing which enabled the easier half to be gained via a chimney system. More steep thin ice without protection and some good intuitive route finding from the team saw them in sight of the summit ridge just as the sun went down. Now progress slowed into a methodical approach up the two pitches of rock climbing, bypassing a gendarme on the way, to the elusive summit.
The team then abseiled back down the line, via more than 20 rappels, which took them a long 7 hours.
1st Ascent, Tour Ronde, West Wall. Night Fever, M8, 250m. 8th January, 2015.
On 8th January, unpredictable weather patterns, unseasonal temperatures and gale force winds didn't stop Matt and Nick Bullock - who managed to climb what is a hard new mixed line on the Tour Ronde West Wall, Matt's 3rd new route on this face. The pair set off from the Halbronner lift station with a forecast that was promising settled conditions until late evening when strong winds and snow were predicted.
Nick had attempted the line a week earlier with Tim Neill but they chose to bail after climbing three pitches. Tim was more than happy to let Matt stand-in for round two! The pair made quick progress to the previous high point and continued to climb the obvious right facing corner for a further 3 pitches. This line is just to the left of the 1973 rock route which takes the cracked wall on clean, solid, rock.
At the top of the corner, Matt belayed in the dark and worsening weather until joined by Nick. The climbing was technical and committing and at times there were a few suspect blocks. Thick swirling cloud, strong winds and snow now encompassed the climbers before Nick set off to lead the final pitch to the top of the West Wall.
The descent, following the walls to the right of the line was made 'tricky' due to the driving wind and gusting snow. Skis were gladly dug-out at 10pm and through gales and whiteout, the pair reached the Torino Hut at midnight. Patric Gabarrou, who was also climbing in Cirque Maudit saw their headtorches at 8pm near the top of the West Wall and given the conditions thought it prudent to inform the rescue services they may be needed. Fortunately they were not!
The line is an obvious winter, mixed objective, due to the loose rock which needs a good freeze to make the route safe. The route has been tentatively named 'Night Fever' unless it is found to have been previously climbed.
1st Ascent, Pyramid du Tacul, Mont Blanc Massif, “Mastabas” 250m M7, 18th February. 2015.
On 18th February Matt and Jon Bracey added what is thought to be a new 250m M7 mixed route to the North East face of the Pyramid du Tacul in the Mont Blanc Massif, named Mastabas. The ephemeral route starts in the area of the summer rock route Le ronfleur paradoxal for a pitch then follows a natural winter line to join the East Ridge to the summit.
After watching the conditions build throughout January on the face, Matt and Jon approached from the Aiguille du Midi on skis on 18th February. The route climbs thin, icey runnels linked by hard steep mixed sections, giving excellent sustained climbing.
They descended off the back in three abseils to the Glacier then skied the Vallee Blanche back to Chamonix. With its easy ski access, this route should give another option to some of the other popular over-crowded routes in the area when in winter condition.
Matt commented: "Jon had spotted the line back a few winters ago, and ever since then we have just been waiting for conditions to bring the ice into good condition, this is definitely a line that doesn't stay in for long, any warm temperatures and its gone!"
He added: "The crux was such a cool pitch - you climb a thin smear of ice up the back of a steep corner to the first steep pull through an overlap to a rest, then step back into the corner pulling on good hooks, but bad feet into a lose cave before questing right through the steep roof on a few questionable hooks and the worst feet ever to the belay, but all on good gear!”
First free & 2nd ascent of “Birthright” Grand Charmoz. Mont Blanc Massif. 7th June, 2013.
On the 7th June, Matt and Jon Bracey made a rare repeat of Birthright, V 6, 4c, A2, 450m on the Grand Charmoz, Chamonix. It is thought to possibly be the 2nd ascent of the line but the 1st Free ascent.
Birthright was first climbed 20 years ago by Mark Twight and Scott Backes over the 19th-20th October 1993, the line loosely following the Desmaison-Mazeaud rock route climbed in 1959 up the large corner system to the left of the Cordier Pillar. Andy Parkin and Thierry Renault climbed the first 6 pitches back in 1982 before a front moved in and forced them to retreat, since the first ascent Parkin again returned to attempt to solo the line reaching his 6 pitch high point before encountering "thin" ice.
Birthright rarely forms and needs exceptional conditions that occur once every five or ten years.
"If you have a full time job or climb in Chamonix as a tourist you need not apply!" - Mark Twight
Matt and Jon took the lift to the Plan du Aiguille on the morning of the 7th and approached the route on skis. Conditions underfoot were poor but the pair made good time to the base of the climb. Leaving their skis at 11am they moved together up steep but good ice for the first 3 pitches before switching leads and carrying on together for a further 3 pitches up fantastic icey runnels and ramp lines. Protection was spaced but the ice was good, conditions "thinned" out for 2 more pitches above before Twight's and Backes' bivi ledge was reached. Gloves off rock climbing on beautiful rock then led the pair to the halfway ledges where Birthright finishes, 3 hours 45mins after leaving the ski stash.
1ST ASCENT, MT MAUDIT, EAST FACE, MONT BLANC MASSIF "ZEPHYR" 400M, M5+, 6B, 13TH MARCH 2015.
Leaving on the morning of the 13th March from the Aiguille du Midi, Matt and Jon Bracey approached on ski up into Cirque Maudit. The line had been on Matt's mind for quite some time.
Waiting for the route to be in a particular condition, the climbers had held off an attempt until the lower buttress had enough snow to be mixed climbed and until the upper pillar was dry enough to be rock climbed. Another concern was the state of the rock on the upper pillar, knowing that this area can have varying rock conditions.
"The lower pillar was climbed up icy cracks and corners giving some great mixed climbing before crossing a snowfield and some unsettling snowed-up slabs to belay at the base of the upper pillar. The sun was still warming and the winds calm due to climbing on the lee side of the forecasted prevailing 65kph north winds, so gloves off rock climbing was possible."
He added: "Things soon changed... as the sun dipped in behind the East Face, the strong, cold north wind found its way round onto the face, making the remaining excellent rock climbing pitches brutally cold. After much gloves on, gloves off, gloves on, re heats and total body shakes we topped out on the pillar."
1st Ascent, mont noire de peuterey, e-ne face, mont blanc massif. "Supercouloir de peuterey integral". first 350m h.marguerettaz and g.sappa 23/3/1983..Integral to ridge, 650m, Helliker/bracey. td, 16th December, 2013.
Matt and Jon Bracey, have just made the first ascent of the Supercouloir de Peuterey Integral on the Mont Blanc range.
Like a lightening bolt arching through the dead of night sky, a pristine streak of white carves its way down the E-NE face of the Mont Noire de Peuterey. Driving towards the Mont Blanc tunnel from Courmayeur one cannot escape the lure of the majestic Aiguille Noire de Peuterey and Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey. What is this line of pure beauty?
After a bit of digging we still couldn’t find any clues… In these situations, the past has taught us to not ask too many questions for fear of arousing suspicion amongst the locals. History tells us that even our most trusted allies could turn out to be informants!
Sneaking in under the radars we left Val Veny shortly before 0600hrs. Poor intelligence almost jeopardized the mission when an unplanned river crossing led to soaking wet feet and some time-consuming bushwhacking. Luckily we struck upon Bouquetin tracks, which led us onto the lateral moraine ridge, giving quick and direct access to the face.
The line is hidden during the approach and there was much relief when we finally gained the base to see the most stupendous 300m of searing near vertical snow ice reaching up towards the sky. Thankfully ice axes sank into the ‘styrofoam’ with ease, as protection was sparse to say the least. We climbed past two old hand placed bolts, which had us wondering about their origin.
Above, easier angled terrain funneled us up towards the steep rocky towers guarding access to ridge. There were lots of possible route choice options, but none of them looked too appealing. Matt, having served his winter climbing apprenticeship in Scotland, opted for an open groove full of tussocks of turf and moss. These provided solid ice axe placements, but no protection. With the steep rock bastion breached, a snowy couloir led up to the ridgeline and the warmth of the afternoon sunshine. With no time to spare, led a hasty abseil descent back down the line.
1st ascent, Tour ronde, nw face, mont blanc massif "chancer" m6, 250m. 20th december, 2014.
On the 20th December, Matt and Jon Bracey climbed what is thought (according to local knowledge) to be a new mixed route/variation on the NW face of the Tour Ronde in the Mont Blanc Massif.
The pair of chancers approached on skis from the Helbronner lift station that morning with a strong NW wind, early morning low cloud and cold temperatures. The feature they where aiming for was a striking splitter corner system filled with a very thin seam of ice.
3 long pitches of mixed ground landed them at the base of the corner. After a "re-warming session" in the biting cold wind, Matt set off up the main feature climbing a fantastic long 55m pitch at around M6 and climbing delicate ice together with a few questionable hooks to pull through the final bulge to a good stance.
Another pitch of steady ground above brought the climbers to a col and a "logical finish" on the ridge where they abseiled into the Rebuffat Gully to descend. The two Alpinists found the line to be excellent and well worthy of future repeats and wished to bring attention to the route whether new or not.
They called the route Chancer and graded it M6, 250m. It may or may not be a new route - as the Chamonix Massif is such a popular area - but either way it is a great looking and relatively easily accessible line that looks set to be popular this season.
1st ascent, Tour Ronde, west wall, mont blanc massif. "hangover" m6+, 250m. 20th december, 2016.
Still on the look out for inspiring new routes in the Mont Blanc Massif, Matt along with Stu Mcdonald skied into the Tour Ronde West Wall on 20th December to check out a line that Matt has had his eye on for a while - a striking diagonal deep crack line splitting the left hand side of the West Wall, with rock routes Mollier-Payot to the left and You play with fire to the right. Matt returned with Jon Bracey on New Year's Day to complete the line and propose a new M6+ named Hangover.
Following much research and having spoken with local area gurus on both the French and Italian side, Matt couldn’t find any information of a mixed climb in this area, only that of the existing rock routes. The quality of the rock on the buttress outside of the crack was superb, but Matt found it hard to believe that this line had not yet seen an ascent.
The plan was to scope out the line to gain some knowledge, climb a few pitches and get back to the Italian Skyway lift before the last one down. With commitments in the valley that evening, a bivi wasn’t an option, neither was a ‘safe’ ski down the Toula Glacier or Vallee Blanche due to the lack of snow in the alps at this time.
Matt and Stu climbed four pitches, finding excellent mixed climbing with great ice in the back of the cracks, not visible from below, along with one old belay and a peg low down, thought to be from an existing rock route. Matt and Stu descended back to their skis and returned to the last lift back to the valley, both very psyched to return and complete the line.
On 1st January, unfortunately Stu had other commitments (or was that a hangover!) so gave the thumbs up for Jon Bracey to team up with Matt to try and complete the line. Not wishing to spend the night up high, Matt and Jon moved quickly up the first 4 pitches - finding good ice in the back of the deep crack - to the high point. Next, a long 55m pitch above proved to be time-consuming, with then another pitch to join the ridge and belay of ‘Mollier-Payot’. They ended their route at a logical point on the ridge, then descended the line in five abseils back to the glacier, making the last lift back to the valley.
Matt pointed out: "You can never always be sure in such an active area that this route hasn’t been climbed, even after all the local knowledge points to the fact that it hasn’t, which is still hard to believe. But you can only put so much research in and just propose it as a new route if everything points to this. The line really was a hidden gem, giving six long, excellent, well protected pitches and is for sure a route that people should repeat and enjoy. It gives a great alternative to some of the other classics in the area."
If proved to have been previously unclimbed, Matt and John propose the name and grade Hangover M6+.