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New Line on Grandes Jorasses’s Forgotten Face

The south face on the Italian side of the Grandes Jorasses, Mont Blanc Massif, showing Plein Sud (VI WI4+/5R M6+, 900m), a line climbed May 21-22 by Sergio De Leo, Marcello Sanguineti, Michel Coranotte and Marco Appino. While the new progress is significant and has been given a grade, the ascent party stopped one pitch shy of the summit ridge. [Photo] Marcello Sanguineti

On May 21-22, three Italians and a Frenchman interrupted the solitary ruminations of the Grandes Jorasses’s south face. Sergio De Leo, Marcello Sanguineti, Michel Coranotte and Marco Appino established Plein Sud (VI WI4+/5R M6+, 900m) on the highly regarded but infrequently traveled face. The route reaches almost to the Tronchey ridge, and passes straight through a “monster” cleft that has tempted alpinists for more than 25 years. The team is considering their new ground the fifth ascent of the face.

In 1985 Gian Carlo Grassi, Renzo Luzi and Mauro Rossi set out to climb the cleft after an unusually cold June. They found the chimney impassable and traversed into a side couloir to the right, establishing Phantom Direct (ED2/3: VI/5, ca. 1100m), the face’s fourth ascent.

After watching the face for years, De Leo determined that the cleft could go and set out with his three partners when the right conditions developed. Climbing as two rope teams, the four set out in the mid afternoon on May 21 from chalets di Tronchey, reaching the base of the face around 7 p.m. Initially worried about the bergschrund crossing, the team found this obstacle easy, but the gullies they planned on climbing were veritable waterfalls. Still determined, the group bivied at the bergschrund and set out at 2 a.m. in colder conditions. Following the first 450m of the Phantom Direct, the climbers reached the base of the “monster” cleft around 7 a.m. Departing from the Phantom Direct they climbed into unknown terrain on ice too thin for stubbies. When they reached a wider snow bowl the four were ecstatic to see that the line of snowy weakness continued on higher, cutting through overhanging and difficult rock. The pitches varied between excellent ice, heady dry tooling and loose rock; at times the climbers were forced to clear the snow “bouchons” that crowded them in the narrow runnel. More than six hours after starting the monster, the four reached the top of the gullies, roughly a pitch below the Tronchey ridge.

The team had chosen not to bring a bolt kit and found the slabs separating them from the ridge impossible to protect without drilling. Instead, happy to have nearly finished the feature that had stymied Grassi, they began rappelling to the Pra Sec glacier. The descent took six hours.

De Leo told Up Climbing “Even more than the beauty and technicality of the pitches, this face amazed us, and this feeling overcame our initial repulsion. A person who knows how to be amazed, I have always said to myself, is someone who’s incredibly alive.”

Sources: Marcello Sanguineti,,,

The upper chimney, which stymied Gian Carlo Grassi’s team in 1985. [Photo] Sergio De Leo