Charles Dubouloz Solos the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses

“I launch myself, I dare, I doubt, I’m scared, I vibrate, I’m cold…but I have this aggressiveness to set foot on the summit,” said Charles Dubouloz right after arriving in Courmayeur in the Italian Alps. Thus, he summarizes what it means to solo one of the grand North Faces of the Alps, in midwinter.

“These six days and five bivouacs [between January 13 and 18] in the shade of a face beaten by the wind are for me the culmination of a relentless practice of sport outside since my young years,” Dubouloz said.

According to Montagnes magazine, the French climber endured -30ºC temperatures. He has some mild frostbite on his toes and he ate nearly nothing during the entire climb. “Well, yes, I ate Haribo Smurfs that I dipped in boiling water,” he told them. “I recommend the recipe, it’s excellent!”

Climbing solo, he had to hoist his 35kg of gear (divided into two bags) up the wall. He had the psychological comfort of knowing that friends Christophe Dumarest and Tom Livingstone were also on the face, climbing the No Siesta route.

Photographer Sev Montaz accompanied him to the base of the wall, then documented the climb with a drone. Montaz has since released a short video of Dubouloz at work.

First ‘Rolling Stones’ solo

The North Face of the Grand Jorasses is a serious challenge for even the most experienced and skilled climbers. Doing it solo in winter is a feat reserved for the very best. Previous winter solos on the iconic mountain bear such illustrious names as Ueli Steck, Catherine Destivelle, Marc Batard, Tsuneo Hasegawa, Tom Ballard…But summer or winter, no one had dared attempt the North Face solo. Until now.

The ‘Rolling Stones’ route on the Grandes Jorasses. Photo: Cedric Perillot

 

His chosen route, the 1,200m ‘Rolling Stones’ line, lies next to the famous Walker Spur. It is rated as ED, M8, A3+, 6a, WI5+. Czechs Thomas Prochaska, Jroslav Rutil, Ludek Schlechta, and Jiri Svejda first opened the route in 1979. Nowadays, it is considered too dangerous to attempt in summer because of its bad rock.

Thus, its first free climb took place in winter, in March 2014. Slovenians Luka Lindic and Luka Krajnc reported steep mixed climbing over 80º and some scary moments among loose blocks, according to Planet Mountain. But no one had dared the risk of a solo climb up that route before.

“I chose it because it represents the difficulty in the massif well,” Dubouloz told Montagnes. “It’s very long, very dry in winter, and then there’s this super-steep headwall, with overhanging cracks in bad rock.”

Dubouloz’s hands and feet bear the scars of his six-day ordeal. Photo: Charles Dubouloz

 

Not surprisingly, the alpine climbing elite has jumped to congratulate the young climber: “Enormissime!” cried Kilian Jornet. Mike Arnold — just back from Nanga Parbat — Juho Knuttila, Stephane Benoist, Christophe Moulin, Claude Gardien, Damien Tomasi, Christophe Dumarest, Roger Shaeli, Guillaume Perriel…virtually all of Europe’s alpine-style masters saluted the accomplishment.

No phone, no bed

Dubouloz couldn’t resist sharing an anecdote. The access to the North Face of the Grandes Jorassess is not from Chamonix, but from Courmayeur, on the other side of the Mer de Glace, in Italy.

When Dubouloz arrived at Courmayeur at 11 pm after the epic climb, the Mont Blanc Tunnel was closed for the night and he couldn’t drive home to Chamonix.

“We [he and photographer Sev Montaz] ended up in a cheap hotel, where they didn’t want to let me in, because I didn’t have my COVID passport with me.”

Like most everyone in Europe, the climber kept his proof of vaccination, with its QR code, on his phone. Unfortunately, his phone had fallen into the void when he was in the middle of the face.

“We had a surreal time trying to negotiate with the owners at midnight to let me sleep for a few hours,” he wrote.

On Chamlang just three months ago

 

Charles Dubouloz on Chamlang last autumn. Photo: Charles Dubouloz

 

Last November, Charles Dubouloz had his first experience at high altitude in Nepal. In a similar grand style, he and Benjamin Vedrines opened a new route on the highly difficult north face of Chamlang. Theirs was a fast, pure, alpine-style ascent. They named their new route In the Shadow of Lies. It was an ironic reference to previous ascents (they didn’t name any in particular) that the first climbers had overrated. Dubouloz spoke about it in an interview with ExplorersWeb.

By the way, Dubouloz’s partner on Chamlang, Benjamin Vedrines, also made headlines this week on another great north face in the Alps: the Eiger’s. With Leo Billon and Sebastien Ratel, Vedrines completed the first alpine-style climb of John Harlin’s Direttisima.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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4 months ago

Brutal. He had a good but cold weather window. Today it started snowing.