Granite Alps | Part 2

Peuterey Integrale

written by Viktor Varoshkin, translated by Balkan Vagabondz

There are certain names that echo in my mind in a particular way. Such is the Eiger, The North Face of the Eiger. I haven’t been there, but I feel the place has a hold on me with its monumental awe. Last year I took a glimpse at Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. Separated by the glacier Freney, I was not even close, but it stayed with me, resonating in that familiar threatening way luring my easily tempted mind. The longest line in the entire Alps. It bonds the foundations of the mountains with their culmination – Mont Blanc. I remember looking at each other with Marto realising we do not want to have anything to do with this monstrous formation. Just by a single glance it was transparent one needs to be an exceptional climber, mountaineer and a suicide nut. Over 4500 meters, kilometers of climbing rock needles, snowy ridges, ice and mixed fields in a highly isolated area of the mountain. On both sides the line is pressed by the crushed glaciers Fresnel and Brenva leaving no chance to retreat on the flanks.

Peuterey Integrale

First section – 1200 meter long southern edge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, ruthlessly exposed to a full day of sunlight, the availability of water and snow being questionable.

Second section – the saddle Breche Des Dames Anglaises, the point of no return, dominated by the crumbling rock towers Les Dames Anglaises. In this part of the route one’s survival from the relentless rock falls is a matter of luck.

Next follow the crumbly edge to Aiguilles Blanches, Col de Peuterey, the southeastern edge of the Grand Pillier D’Angle, snowy ridges and ice fields all the way to the top of Mont Blanc de Courmaeur. On this line one’s survival is at the mercy of the local meteorology, which at this altitude can finish you up pretty quickly.

Peuterey Integral – the fearful part of my mind starts to form its contours and build its personality.

The story begins in an ordinary evening of June of 2015. Marto sends me the expedition plan, with which we are supposed to press the federation for some funding and evacuate ourselves in the Alps. I open it to see Peuterey Integral, casually smuggled among other names from the pantheon of Mont Blanc’s massif. For a moment all I want to do is press x and see my desktop’s harmless icons of Heroes III, Battle Net and other empty pursuits.

Instead I say to myself ‘why the hell not’. No chance of departing from this world alive anyway.

Upon arrival we get the picture of our “remarkable luck”, the Alps are falling apart from unprecedented heat, the glaciers are in а disgusting condition, crevasses everywhere, rock falls, collapsing seracs, peaks disappear and the classic routes to Mont Blanc and Matterhorn are all closed. The guides are starving, chalets don’t print cash… Seems like the industry will not abuse the mountain this season. All is left to us – the penniless, foolishly devoted to the cause, dirtbag climbers. We won’t give up. Not because we are romantic and heroic, but because we’ve already paid for petrol.

And let the great wait for climbing conditions begin. . . . . . .

Day One – climb to the shelter Borelli. Tactics include getting up at 11:30PM, allowing us to climb a large part of the southern edge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey without being affected by the heat. In this way we might save water in addition to overcoming the distance to the Breche Des Dames Anglaises.

Disadvantages of the plan – the lack of light makes the climb slower and more dangerous, and increases the possibility of losing the route. So…the climb was slow and dangerous and we lost the route…We entered the west wall which resulted in a tricky aid climbing episode in order to get back on track. But we made it and so did the sun.

Peuterey Integrale

It is important to note that the southern edge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey is longer than the *Bold and the Beautiful. By the time we reached the middle of it I felt that it should have already been over. Our backpacks were heavy, we simul – climbed knowing well we need to be quick before the heat cooked us, before we’ve exhausted our water supply, before the regular thunderstorm hit. In 80% of the times our bonded lives fully relied on precise footwork and perfect hand placements. We are talking about thousands of footholds and thousands of handholds. The gear placements between the two of us were either non existent or just not enough. While passing through rock needles I just had to trust that Marto will preserve my life as I will his, that nobody will allow himself to make a mistake, to break a hold, loose balance or allow the rope between the two of us to tighten so much that it would pull us away and wipe out into the glacier abyss, hundreds of meters below.

The constant pressure was exhausting. The battle between the desire to be and the instinct to survive shreds little pieces from your naked soul. At this stage, we were both certain in one thing – we wouldn’t have committed to the climb if we knew what was going to come upon us. Yet we were already there, far beyond the point of possible retreat. We both knew what was required in order to bring this to an end, and a new beginning. The completion of such routes always brings this particular sense of starting anew. The blissful feeling of rebirth.

Peuterey Integrale

Here we are – carrying a bit of everything that keeps one alive in a place like this – water, food and our gear. We reach the top of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. The symbol of the south side of Mont Blanc – printed on chocolate wrappers, beer caps, hotel billboards, extensively commercialised and overused. However if the people down in the valley had control over this image, here it ruled over us. On the very top of the needle we found a statue of the Virgin Mary which had melted holes in its head from some pagan lightning strikes. I was thinking, Perun or Zeus, probably punished her for taking away people’s devotion. Better not play with those thoughts, who knows which God is looking down on me right now, at this moment in time, in this place I wouldn’t take his/her mercy for granted.

Peuterey Integrale

In any case the statue reminded me of how sudden the brutal indifferent wrath of a thunderstorm might get to us. It would be just a matter of a quick change in the micro meteorology.

Must be fast. The heat is taking the moisture out of us, we probably resemble raisins by now. We are still barely between the -t and the -e of Peuterey Integral. Dehydrated, at the top we find a hidden snowdrift  – possibly the last water from here to Aiguilles Blanches. Marto begins to melt the snow while I mess around with my usual clumsiness. Picking off some food and trying to be helpful by doing nothing.

Still, I prepare the abseil station. Next we are going to rappel down the northern edge passing through multiple sections overhanging granite, which effectively deprives one from the opportunity to consider potential retreat.

To be continued…

* simul-climbing aka French connection – short of simultaneous climbing. Speed climbing technique where climbers, tied on both ends of the rope, climb at the same time. This is a very dangerous expert-only technique requiring years of experience and very well-matched team.

* The Bold and the Beautiful – American television soap opera with over 7000 episodes

Watch the Adventure Film: Granite Alps