Nick Bullock enjoying Captain Caveman (M7+, VIII 9, 3 pitches), one of numerous new mixed routes on the Rive Gauche, Argentiere Glacier, French Alps. Bullock and partners accidentally discovered the potential when they rappelled into the wrong gully; within three weeks they had climbed what they believe to be half a dozen new routes. [Photo] Pete Benson
On January 8, Brits Nick Bullock and Kenton Cool went searching for a moderate, preexisting ice route on the Rive Gauche above the Argentiere Glacier in the French Alps. But when they rappelled in, they found themselves facing a much more difficult line. Not the type to bail when handed a challenge, Bullock led the 70-meter mixed route. Over the next three weeks, Bullock would return with a host of partners to establish what he believes to be a total of six new climbs–all established ground-up on gear–in the immediate area.
A few days after that first climb, Homeward Bound (M6+ or Scottish VIII 8), Pete Benson accompanied Bullock on a return to the Argentiere. They established a “sporting” route they called Homage to the Homeland (M6, VII 8, 2 pitches). Soon after that Bullock dispatched Happy House (M5+, VII 7, 1 pitch), a crack variation to Homage, with Neil Brodie, and Captain Caveman (M7+, VIII 9, 3 pitches) and Bringing Home the Bacon (M6+, VII 8, 3 pitches) with Benson. Benson and Bracey teamed up to climb Highlander (M5+, VII 7, 1 pitch).
On his blog, Bullock qualifies the relatively moderate nature that the grades may suggest. All the new routes, he said, feel “a tad spicey as you have to place gear and at times run it out.” He added that the wall is fairly devoid of footholds, which ups the ante when placing gear.
Pete Benson stein-pulls through a steep section of Captain Caveman. [Photo] Nick Bullock
Usually in search of longer mountain routes, Bullock and partners focused their attention on the Rive Gauche this winter when conditions elsewhere proved less than ideal. Many of Bullock’s bigger objectives have been dry of ice and covered in powder, he said, and high-pressure systems have been rare.
“There will be many that say these routes are pointless, small and insignificant lines amongst the mountains,” Bullock said. “But for my mates and me these climbs were great adventurous days out… This type of climbing was a real test of nerve. Pushing on into no-mans-land with no idea what grade it would be, what protection was available and what type of climbing would come is unbelievably rewarding no matter where it is.”