Eight North Faces Linked in Alps

By Dougald MacDonald ,

North face of the Ailefroide, where nasty conditions provided the crux of the traverse. Wikipedia photo.

North face of the Meije (3,983m), the first peak in Aymeric Clouet and Christophe Dumarest’s eight-peak, 11-day enchainment in the Massif des Écrins. Wikipedia photo.

The French alpinists Aymeric Clouet and Christophe Dumarest have linked eight high peaks in the Écrins Massif in the western Alps by their north faces. Climbing from north to south, they took 11 days to complete this extraordinary and difficult enchainment.

Starting in La Grave on September 25, Clouet and Dumarest climbed La Meije, La Roche Méane, La Roche d’Alvau, Le Dôme des Ecrins, Ailefroide, Les Bans, Le Pic Bonvoisin, and Le Sirac. Although these peaks are lower than the better-known Alpine giants of France and Switzerland— only one, the Dôme des Ecrins, tops 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)—they are no less rugged. Dumarest, 28, told Agence France Presse (AFP) that the link-up was the most difficult and demanding exploit of his long partnership with Clouet, 30, which has included new routes and difficult repeats in Alaska, Patagonia, the Himalaya, and the Alps. “We went to the limits of our technical and physical potential, in strength and endurance,” Dumarest said.

Clouet (left) and Dumarest on top of Fitz Roy for the second time last winter, after climbing a variation to the Afanasieff Route. Courtesy of Shiningwall.com.

The two had previously tried this traverse in April but gave up in the face of grave avalanche danger. It wasn’t a gimme this time, either. The two told AFP that the crux peak of the traverse was the Ailefroide (3,954m), which they climbed in a pea-soup fog with hoar frost covering the rock and serious spin-drift avalanches pounding them. During their descent in the dark, they took three hours to find a hut that stood just 200 feet away from them.

Google Earth image of the eight-peak, north-south traverse. Courtesy of Shiningwall.com.

To resupply during the traverse, the two men used food caches left by friends along the way or ate in huts. One missing cache left them without food for 20 hours. During the entire traverse, the two never saw another climber on any of their routes. Click Here to download the KMZ file and animate this traverse in Google Earth.

Dates of Traverse: September 25–October 5, 2008

Sources:Kairn.com, Shiningwall.com

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