Les Grandes Jorasses
Les Grandes Jorasses 4208m
MacIntyre-Colton VI6. 1200m
27th September 2014
Due to an unstable summer with cold temperatures and a lot of rainfall many ice gullies of the big faces in the Mont Blanc massif started to build up early. By the end of summer many routes that normally only form in colder autumn or winter air suddenly stood splendidly in a fading summer light. Above all the Grande Jorasses (4208m) loomed over the massif, unrivaled, her tremendous north face strewn with veins of daunting, glittering ice.
Like for every true alpinist, climbing big faces is not about setting records or gathering another trophy to a mountain vita. It means bringing forth a long kept dream. Alpine dreams are often fed by myths, red or heart stories and personal involvements. And so every story about a climb is a personal one, and hence unique.
My story about the Grandes Jorasses began 16 years ago when i started university and had no idea of the alpine world. It was the grave accident of a young, yet spiritual old boy who scarcely escaped death at the Grande Jorasses while having a big fall very high up in the MayIntyre-Colton. It was deep in winter and the mountains were striking with bitter coldness, harsh winds and snow cover. Yet he survived, despite the coldness, the exposure and his broken body. His story strangely began to entangle mine when we met in the many seminars of Geography and German Literature. Me and my twin sister got to know him better, while he slowly recovered the horrors of his nearly fatal accident. Although we both had just started climbing, we got to sense an unknown, different alpine world- tempting and rejecting at the same time- by his many stories, which he also wrote down in different books. Until then my alpine imagination had only existed from the books of Messner, Harrer, Shackleton and Scott (also the later two unfortunately formed my understanding of ice).
But what gave my path a final direction was when one day, he introduced me to his friend and former fellow of an aspirant mountain guide course: Matthias!
Matthias and me soon became a team and would build a strong bound in the mountains but also in life. We would start rock- and ice climbing together and many alpine routes followed. But the Grandes Jorasses always stood apart, a dark towering might, deeply shadowed by unfading myth and menace, and for a long time i would not dare to near it...
13years of intense ice climbing, including many hard ascends of longer ice routes in Norway and Canada, and the outstanding good conditions in the autumn of 2014 would finally break my spell: the Grandes Jorasses were still looming their 4208meters in the dark night sky but I knew that under these conditions I would properly be prepared for it. Needless to say that still, I could not find any rest the night before our embarkment. The myth of that mountain had fed itself too deep into flesh and soul and I felt as if that towering giant out there would only be waiting to devour me.
A small reasonable voice constantly tried to convince me that I was good enough for it, that my endurance training was at a hight and my climbing level no time better, that it was far from what this route demanded. But nothing could calm that raging tumult inside me, squeezing it´s bitter juices of doubt through all my veins and into every micro cell. It was a relief when- finally- the shrill alarm clock emerged and we would start to prepare the climb.
As soon as the train moved onwards confidence came back and I began looking forward.
The night was only moderately cold, our headlamps were burning brightly and our pace was steady. Above us milliards of stars would brighten the night. We entered the Maul of the dragon by crossing the huge Bergschrund and from there on marched the long ice fields in step: tap, tap, tap,tap,tap... for an endlessly seeming time we all marched onwards, the rope between us moving in silence, though only seldom a screw would be put in for protection.
Matthias surpassing the Bergschrund
With the oncoming daylight we had left the ice passages as well as the steeper ice sections. We were now at the crux. Though the climbing was not difficult my mind got worried regarding the complete inefficiency of any ice screw I had set: The ice-snow mixture was deceptive and I had to rely on a good outcome.
Me climbing in a treacherous snow/ice Mixture
After that more ice fields followed before the mixedterrain began. Heike set of for a beautiful yet demanding mixed pitch before Matthias would take on the lead. He did a great job of leading fast and safe, and so, thanks to him we quickly moved towards the Walker Spur and up the last pitches to the summit of the Grandes Jorasses.
Heike at the beginning of the mixed terrain high up
What can I say? I was honored to got a chance for that mountain, to experience such greatness and beauty. I was honored to climb it with such great souls! It is good that places of such tremendous beauty behold terror, beauty and joy all together. That they have power beyond our being. They demand big dreams and hard effort. And it is only coherent when they behold big myths. It is in those places where we can touch our souls and add mystery to life.
For life nearly may have ended here for some, but it was also here that great myth was born, -and who knows how many souls got aroused by it .....