The north face of the Grandes Jorasses (4208m), Mont Blanc Massif, France. Jon Bracey climbed two classic routes on the face in a week; the first British repeat of the Bonatti-Vaucher (ED3/4: VI A2+, 1100m, 1964) with Neil Brodie, and five days later, he and Jonny Baird climbed the McIntyre-Colton (VI/6 M6, 1200m). [Photo] Courtesy of Robin Lacassin
The north face of the Grandes Jorasses (4208m), the largest and perhaps most serious face in the Mont Blanc Massif, was climbed twice in one week by Jon Bracey, British guide and Chamonix fixture. With Neil Brodie he made the first British repeat of the Bonatti-Vaucher (ED3/4: VI A2+, 1100m, 1964); five days later he and Jonny Baird climbed the McIntyre-Colton (VI/6 M6, 1200m). Although not Bracey’s most fantastic accomplishment–he has a long history of impressive ascents in the greater ranges, most recently on Mt. Hunter (14,570′) and Phari Lapcha West (5977m)–it is no small task; these recent climbs on the Jorasses, in remarkably fine September conditions, convinced him to call the week one of his finest.
Bracey and Brodie had planned to climb the more difficult No Siesta, but a team was beginning the route when they arrived at 5 a.m. They changed itineraries to the classic (but rarely climbed) Bonatti-Vaucher. The pair soloed the first 200 meters, then Brodie “drytooled up a steep blank section of rock normally aided, with just one rest point. Thin ice and mixed terrain followed and saw us make good progress until a couple of tough pitches on less-than-perfect rock arrived.” Mixed and rock climbing brought them to a small ledge where they bivied. Sharing one sleeping bag, Bracey reported that “light and fast equals cold and miserable.” Loose rock and thin ice the next day led them to the summit.
Bracey took a rest day, guided ice routes the following three days, and received an unexpected call from Jonny Baird, who convinced Bracey–mid-route–to join him on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses twelve hours later. Bracey hurried up the route and rushed back to Chamonix to re-pack his bag. That same evening he met Baird at the Montenvers train, which took them to the Leschaux refuge, where they managed a wee sleep.
“Amazingly, in the six days since I was last there, a huge crevasse has opened up at the foot of the face,” Bracey said. “I shine my now very dim torch down to reveal a bottomless cavern. In front of me is a four-foot gap to the overhanging ice wall on the far side. In a Vertical Limit-style leap I swing both tools into ice and pull over.”
After the dramatic approach, the two worked up the McIntyre-Colton. Finding the classic route in excellent condition, the pair cruised the vertical ice cruxes to tricky mixed climbing on the headwall, and on through the original finish to the top of the Walker Spur.
“Two routes on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in a week must make this one of the best weeks of my life,” Bracey said.