Diamond Ridge: The sunny side of the famous north face
Words by Silvan Metz
Photos by Silvan Metz & Martin Feistl
Again, no car stops. Again we stand in the Italian Val Ferret and stretch out our thumbs with tired arms. This is no sign for "well done", it stands for hitchhiking. Has that fallen into oblivion in the meantime, or are we so repellent after the Grandes Jorasses? Already on my first two experiences with this mountain the return to the starting point was a fight. At least, I think, this time we don't have pass the tunnel across the border, so we can walk. But Martin obviously sees it differently - and blocks the whole road at the next car. The bewildered SUV driver is so perplexed that he can't evade the transport order. It works.
But let's start at the beginning. Why don't we have to go back through the tunnel to Chamonix? Aren't the Jorasses synonymous with their legendary north face, which is approached from France and which therefore requires a return through the tunnel? Well, it is. But Martin and I already climbed the classic Walker pillar a few years ago, and Jana from the DAV expedition team and I also climbed The Shroud to the left of it a few weeks later. Time for something new.
And then there were the reports about a new route in the Tronchey Wall. „Diamond Ridge“. The highest wall in the Mont Blanc massif. 1600 meters of altitude to climb, the first ascent required two bivouacs. Good rock in the lower part was promised. Sun too. From the starting point to the summit no markings, let alone paths. And no tunnel afterwards.
No wonder that we don't think long and climb the steep grass and scree slopes towards Punta Grassi at sunrise. The climb starts at 2600 meters, at the beginning with a deterrent Allgäu note - grass and choss. But after a few meters and difficulties finding the route the grass disappears. And the Tronchey Wall appears. Impressive, but somehow we would have imagined it even more impressive. The Tronchey Towers, where the Diamond Ridge joins into the Tronchey Ridge, seem to be within reach.
The actual climbing begins now, and the rock does justice to its descriptions: we circle our way up through dihedral systems in good rock. At noon we are already at the first bivouac under a striking tower. It does not seem so inviting. There is no more snow left here at the end of August. We go through our options: Stay here. No, not so good. Go on. What if the thunderstorms come? What if we can't find any more water? Not so good either, but worth the risk. Worst thing that can happen, the whole thing will be a very thirsty affair.
Martin overruns the steep tower and deletes the A0 from the rating. After that we search our way through simple rugged terrain and are soon in the upper, steep part of the Diamond Ridge. A hundred meters next to us the Tronchey Ridge leads us through hair-raising choss, while we climb up over bomb-proof granite through cracks and slabs. Actually quite nice, but still no snow in sight. At the height of the first Tronchey Tower we meet the Tronchey Ridge and immediately the rock becomes bad. Climbing becomes Choss-Mikado. A (more or less) popular social game for the whole rope team: The structure of the game is predetermined, the rules resemble the original that gave it its name.
After a few moves of this game we stand in front of the couloir under the second tower. After all, here are the remains of the last summer thunderstorm in the form of two small spots of hailstones. We fill a bottle with it and climb the opposite rib. The climb becomes steep, below us lies a large part of the Troncheywand. Well, from above it's quite impressive. But the threatening rumbling in the neck is also impressive. Fog envelops us. We knew about the clouds, but I still don't really feel comfortable during thunderstorms.
In a small niche we build a solid stand and wait. Quite boring, this waiting. And annoying. Especially when you sit on sloping rock slabs and inevitably have to test the friction coefficient between granite and ass. After half an hour of waiting and considerable shrinkage of our chocolate supplies we decide that the thunderstorm will pass and set off. It should not be so far to the bivouac site under the east side of the third Tronchey Tower.
And what a bivvy it is! Below it the east face of the Jorasses falls steeply and far into the depth. It's a pity that we can only guess this in fog. Above it the third tower rises, our breakfast pitch for tomorrow. In this case it's a good thing that we can only guess the view in the fog.
Instead, we prefer to concentrate on the luxurious two by two metre platform and have a good time. As we have comfortably combined the planned first two days in one, there remains a double food portion. A luxury I am not used to on the Jorasses. Actually, I only know calculated starvation here.
The thunderstorm is still raging on the southwest side of the Jorasses, but here the cloud gaps are getting more and more. The view down the east face becomes visible, as well as the chaotic mountain ranges around Leschaux and Argentiere glacier. And then the Valais mountains appear on the horizon. From our luxury seat at 4000 meters we overlook the seemingly small mountains in between, as if they didn't exist at all.
On the horizon we are offered a special spectacle: A huge thunderstorm cell over the Ticino, ten kilometres high and at least four to five times as wide, is illuminated by lightning every second. But since the cell is far too far away, the light show remains surreal silent.
The next morning we enjoy the biggest advantage of an east facing bivouac and let ourselves and the rock warm up by the morning sun. Then I start into the first pitch, which has terribly fragile rock, but no hard climbing yet. Then Martin takes over the second pitch and plays the ropegun trump card to the full: We miss the junction to the Young-variant, which we assume to be (nowadays) potentially the easiest line. So Martin heads instead for the rusty pitons of Croux, Terray and Viney from 1936, 1949 and 1953. I watch him desperate at each of the pitons, since the many years have reduced each of them to the quality of a drawing pin. We have pitons with us, but the ice tool hangs out of reach on the back of the backpack. So Martin frightens himself through the unsecured crossway over to the belay while I'm afraid of seconding the unsecured crossway at the same time. Thats what the meant with team sport, I guess. The feet stand on crumbly structures directly at the edge of an overhang. With the entire 1000 meters of the east face underneath and hardly any holds, my respect for Martin's head increases as I second - and for the above-mentioned climbers of the old days who climbed it in bulky boots and knickerbockers!
Martin does another easier pitch, then we stand just below the summit of the third tower in easy terrain. Through advanced-level Choss-Mikado we carefully sneek our way on. Somehow it feels pretty unfunny to push cams between the loose blocks here.
A few hundred meters later we reach the summit of the Pointe Walker. It feels so good to be back on top of the coolest mountain in the Alps! Less cool feels the thought of the descent, which I have in bad memory. For the upper part there are three variants: The Whymper Rip, slow, but safe. The couloir next to the hanging glacier, which Jana and I have rapelled through and which I don't want to repeat either in the afternoon or in summer. And the incredibly fragile rocks under the Pointe Walker, which Martin and I descended at night after having climbed the Walker Spur and which I also never wanted to repeat. Actually, I would like to try the Whymperrippe, but after a short laziness based decision we hurry down over the latter variant. After the first contact with the sandy rocks I get over my anger about my own inability to learn with the help of acoustic therapy methods. As I'm done with that we have already arrived at the glacie. The usual sprint under the mother of all seracs follows, the crossings, the abseils, the next crossings, the crevasse labyrinth, the climbing down, the next abseils and the next crevasse labyrinth until we finally arrive at the hiking path and only have to blow 1400 meters of altitude into our knees.
But hey, at least the car is in the same valley this time!
Kit list: Clothing
Eclipse Hooded Jacket
Skyline Hooded Jacket (Silvan) / Prophet Jacket (Martin)
Tupilak Atmo (Silvan) / Impellor Shakedry Jacket + Squall Hooded Jacket (Martin)
Firelite (Silvan) / Firefly (Martin)
40m single rope
Cams 0.3-3 + black totem (important)
1 set of nuts
4 alpine draws
6 120cm slings
2 long Kevlar
HMS and normal biners
2 ice screws
1 Ice axe
1 ice clipper
first aid kit