Patrick Pessi on his new route up Les Droites, Ecaille Epique (M5/M6 A1 80/90 Degrees, 1000m). Pessi first saw the possible line fifteen years ago, but knowing how hard it is to keep a such a line secret, refrained from telling anyone until he attempted it last year but was forced off by bad weather. He completed the route on the second attempt in good style. [Photo] Patrick Pessi
Patrick Pessi’s obsession with the north face of Les Droits on the Mont Blanc massif has culminated in the first ascent of Ecaille epique (M5/M6 A1 80 degrees/90 degrees, 1000m). As an adolescent, Pessi memorized the mountain’s lines and angles from a poster in his bedroom and eventually grew up to climb the mountain’s classic routes. During an ascent of the Messner Pillar, he spotted an unclimbed line that seemed to have potential. After keeping the potential line secret for fifteen years, Pessi made an unsuccessful attempt with Jerome Para last spring. Their progress was halted by bad weather.
During a spell of good weather Pessi set out with fellow guide Remi Sfilio and Sebastien Ratel on February 1, 2011. With provisions for two nights the team set off. After four pitches of steep ice, two dry tooling pitches and some snow climbing the team reached the earlier attempt’s high point. Eager to continue after a comfortable bivy the team ran into difficulties. Hard dry tooling and “interesting to protect” pitches forced Ratel into aid climbing. They soon realized that they would need to ration their food to accommodate an extra night out.
Seb Ratel following Pessi. [Photo] Patrick Pessi
The route Ecaille Epique (M5/M6 A1 80/90 Degrees, 1000m). [Photo] Seb Ratel
During the third day on the wall they were faced with two options: Either rappel into the adjacent Messner route or continue on the more “elegant” line, straight up the wall. Pessi decided to take on the clean slab above and as Ratel describes: “From below we could see him in the middle of the slab with his axes in hand; it was incomprehensible. But in fact there was a tiny flake just big enough to squeeze a couple of aliens and axe picks.” Several pitches of dry tooling remained before they reached the Tournier Spur’s ridge. There they dug in for yet another night on the mountain. This time without any food.
The following afternoon they summited and began their descent towards food and safety at the Couvercle hut. Due to fatigue and snow they missed the hut and spent their final night out in the elements before arriving at the Montenvers train station the following day.