While climbing up to the Leschaux Hut at the end of February, Patrick ?Gab? Gabarrou, Benot Robert and I were drawn to an obvious line on the Aiguille du Tacul, to the right of Eric?s Couloir, a couloir first climbed by Gab. It seemed unthinkable that this line had never been climbed. I asked Gab about it. In my opinion, nobody knows more than Gab about the geography and history of the Mont Blanc massif. His response shocked me: to his knowledge, the line had not been climbed. We promised to return after we made our new route on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses.
Two weeks later, Gab and I were at the base of the line. The route was composed of three different sections: a line of thin ice leading diagonally up and left, followed by a sixty-meter offwidth (clogged in places with snow and ice) and a classic couloir that finished on the summit snow slopes.
The crux of the offwidth (number five Camalot and wider) was unfortunately totally verglassed. I have never liked pulling on cams in verglassed cracks, but here it was even worse: you could watch the cams slide around on the granite. It started to snow, and the spindrift pouring down on me from above became more and more powerful.
?Gab, did you check the forecast?? I shouted.
?No, I thought you checked it.?
The wind picked up. Couloirs have a nasty habit of channeling anything that falls, and above the couloir were large snow slopes that hadn?t stabilized yet. The violence of the spindrift stopped my progress. I hid under my helmet hoping things would settle down. Since the approach slopes were forty degrees and wind-loaded, we placed ourselves in the highest percentile for risk of being avalanched. Neither Gab nor I had any desire to surf a wind slab to descend. We beat a hasty retreat.
We returned several days later in the company of the fabulous 2003 winter high pressure and Christophe Dumarest. I finished the crux crack half-free, half-aid; it proved impossible to free for a French climber capable only of pulling down on horizontal edges on steep routes. The rest was exceptional, a perfect couloir for 200 meters, with vertical sections on styrofoam snow and vertical steps on totally unbonded snow: stupenda!
Editor’s Note: The route, Stupenda (V A2 M5+ WI6, 300m), was repeated one week later by Bruno Sourzac, solo.
–Philippe Batoux, Annery, France (translated by Todd Miller)