Philippe Gatta
Version française

Mont Blanc (4810 m)
Central Pillar of Frêney (solo) - Alpes, France

Mont Blanc, Frêney side (© P. Gatta)
Mont Blanc, Frêney side (© P. Gatta)

Central Pillar of Frêney

The central Pillar of Frêney of Mont Blanc is a fantastic and committed route. Walter Bonatti, Andrea Oggioni, Pierre Mazeau, Roberto Gallieni, Robert Guillaume, Pierre Kohlman and Antoine Vieille tried to make the first ascent in July 1961 which ended in tragic way with the death of 4 of them. The first successful ascent was made by C. Bonington, I. Glough, J. Duglosz and D. Whillans, 27-29 August 1961, and R. Desmaison, P. Julien, I. Piussi, Y. Pollet-Villard 28-29 August 1961.

This pages presents Philippe's solo ascent. Other peaks of Mont Blanc Massif are described in the following pages:

July 16: Val Veny 1550 m - Eccles Hut 3850 m

3am, I leave the car toward the Eccles hut. The sun already shines when I reach the Monzino hut, the trail is followed by the glacier of Brouillard (fog). It is cold but at least the massif seems “frozen” and no rock fall can be heard. I climb to small steps below the Aiguille Innominata to avoid the crevasses. I reach the Eccles hut at 10:30am. There is lots of snow there. (+2300 m of total ascent).

Monzino Hut (© P. Gatta)
Monzino Hut (© P. Gatta)

Eccles Hut (© P. Gatta)
Eccles Hut (© P. Gatta)

Mont Blanc, Frêney side (© P. Gatta)
Mont Blanc, Frêney side (© P. Gatta)

Pillar of Brouillard (© P. Gatta)
Pillar of Brouillard (© P. Gatta)

July 17: Eccles Hut 3850 m - Top of the Candle, 4500 m

Start from Eccles hut

2:45am. I left the Eccles hut. I join the upper part of the glacier of Brouillard toward the Col Eccles. The Frêney side of the pass has a lot of snow and I can climb down without abseiling. I traverse right above a long rimaye and I reach the bottom of the route, at the base of two obvious dihedral in two hours.

Mont Blanc Frêney side (© P. Gatta)
Mont Blanc Frêney side (© P. Gatta)

Grand Pilier Angle - Glacier of Freney (© P. Gatta)
Grand Pilier Angle - Glacier of Freney (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #1 and #2

Pitch #1 and #2: I never found the "lame détachée" described in the book but there are several options to join the shelf of the second pitch (right of the dihedral). These 2 pitches had a lot of snow.

Innominata seen from Frêney (© P. Gatta)
Innominata seen from Frêney (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #3

Nice pitch with a crack and dihedral (35m IV, V), some pitons, friends useful.

Top of 1st step (© P. Gatta)
Top of 1st step (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #4 and #5

Two pitches not so obvious. Anyway they join the top of the second step. Nice view over the Innominata ridge on the left and the Grand Pilier d'Angle and Peuterey on the right. Lot of ice covered by 10/20cm of soft snow. I'm still using the crampons and ice axes. Tough section at the end of the 4th pitch, just before going to the right: small roof to reach snowy slabs.

Top of 1st step
Top of 1st step (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #6

Great pitch (cannelures and slabs, IV/IV+). The rock was finally dry and I could use the rock shoes. I free solo climb but the rucksack got stuck when I tried to pull it. So I had to abseil anyway and jumar the pitch up.


Pitch #7

Physical pitch; dihedral with a small overhang (V/V+). Almost dry except underneath the overhang where the crack was filled up with ice.


Pitch #8

Crack / chimney (IV), nice technical climbing. Dry pitch that I climb in free solo. Unfortunately the hauling rope got stuck, one more abseil and jumar.

Nice pitch #8 in the Frêney (© P. Gatta)
Nice pitch #8 in the Frêney (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #9

Snowy gully, mix, steep and not pleasant.


Pitch #10

Crack (IV). Dry pitch.


Pitch #11

Crack (IV). No memory of this pitch...


Pitch #12 and #13

Pitch #12 and #13: mix and snow up to the famous horizontal ridge. With the sun, the snow started to melt for 10/15 cm and was hard below. This horizontal ridge is relatively short, a few meters, it is first snowy then in rock and then snowy again. In my opinion that was the hardest section of the entire Freney Pillar. I just ride the ridge without any protection…

Arete horizontale. L12 et L13 (© P. Gatta)
Pitch #12 and #13 (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #14

First pitch of the Candle, short crack (V), several pitons. The only spot for a bivy (80 cm x 120 cm). Great view over the grand couloir of Frêney. On now on, the rock was dry, compact and nice.

Pitch #15 from below (© P. Gatta)
Pitch #15 from below (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #15

Nice crack leaning to the left (A1), lots of pitons, nuts... Great climb, great rock, what a place! Note that there is another crack a further to the right (less pitons). Both cracks can be free climbed. The anchor is good and the pitch obvious to follow, no issue there. I abseil to clean and jumar up and haul the rucksack. All these hauling are tiring because the ropes froze and became hard to manipulate in the Gri-Gri. When I abseil the heat melts the ice on the rope which smokes…

Pitch #15 from below (©P. Gatta)
Pitch #15 from below (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #16

Horizontal traverse to the right under the overhangs (A1). Enjoy this place… With all the pitons and stuff jammed in the crack, the aid climbing is easy. I made an additional anchor at the end of the traverse which seems more logical to me.

Pitch #17 from the chminey below (©P. Gatta)
Pitch #17 from the chminey below (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #17

The famous pitch, dihedral, then chimney under the big roof (A1, V/V+). Again lots of funny stuff jammed in the crack. The climb is a bit physical at this elevation but not so difficult (in my opinion). Because of the overhang and the traverse, when I jumar up to clean the pitch, I am at a few meters away from the rock, hanging with 500 m underneath. My rucksack hang on the other rope, a few meters away. Magic moments, especially alone in the huge face of Mont Blanc. Unfortunately a storm is raging over the Grand Paradis. I know now that I will have to bivouac somewhere below the top of the Candle…

Pitch #17 from below (© P. Gatta)
Pitch #17 from below (© P. Gatta)

Pitch #18 and #19

After a 5 meters step wall, I join the shelf and cross to the left. Small piece of rope ease the traverse. The clouds are getting closer…


Pitch #20

Two small easy shelves lead to a dihedral on the left side of Candle (IV+, V-). Nice view over the Pilier Dérobé, below I can see an anchor of the abseil line between the pilier Dérobé and the Central pillar. It doesn’t look very attractive…


Pitch #21

Last pitch, a 30 m pitch leading to the summit (IV). It is 11:30pm, 4500 m. I started the climb 20 hours ago. It is almost dark, it is snowing and the thunderstorm has just started (not forecasted). The 10 first meters of the slab are almost dry the end is snow covered and I can see if there are any pitons. I climb with the head torch. I reach a small shelf (40 cm x 80 cm). I use one friend and one nuts as anchor. The rope is jammed again so I have to go down again. Finally I am ready for this uncomfortable bivouac, seated on the rope, the legs inside the rucksack.

Pitch #21 after the storm (© P. Gatta)
Pitch #21 after the storm (© P. Gatta)

11pm. I just ate my pasta cooked with cold water which I used for a tea, great dinner… It is now snowing with some small hail and thunderstorm from time to time. I try to sleep 5 or 6 hours, seated on this small shelf without moving too much.

The ivouac (© P. Gatta)
The bivouac seen from above (© P. Gatta)

July 18: Summit Central Pillar of Frêney 4500 m - Mont Blanc 4810 m - Val Veny 1550 m

Mont Blanc

6am I am a bit cold. The Pillar is white, covered by the snow. It fell 10/15 cm of fresh snow. It took me an hour to climb the last pitch with crampon and ice axe on the slab. I had to break the cornice on the top of the Candle and abseil the 15 m. Above the slope is quite steep for 60 meters then there are 140m less steep till the Brouillard ridge then to the Mont Blanc de Courmayeur, the col Major and finally the Mont Blanc. After I descended the Aiguilles Grises for 3300 meters to the Val Veny.

Aig Blanche of Peuterey (© P. Gatta)
Aiguille Blanche of Peuterey seen from Pilier d'Angle (© P. Gatta)

Gear

Ropes 60m in 9.4mm and 30m in 8mm, crampons, 2 technical ice axes, plastic boots, rock shoes, gri-gri, Croll, 8 strings, 9 quickdraws, 7 nuts, 2 Excentrics, 4 Friends, 1 quick link, 4 carabineers w/ screw gate, 1 hook , 1 knife, stove, gas.

Innominata ridge (© P. Gatta)
Innominata ridge (© P. Gatta)

Books and References


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