When I moved to Chamonix three years ago and saw all those paragliders in the sky it was not long before I started to fly myself. What made me wanting to fly was the possibility to mix up climbing and flying. It has always made me dreaming. And it’s great to have dreams ;)
In between a few injuries, work and expeditions I managed to mix up some easy alpine climbs with paragliding. It has always been fun and I was really looking forward to try on something bigger or more difficult. Together with my good friend Mika we’ve been speaking to do something on the Grandes Jorasses a year ago already. But matching the weather, the wind, the climbing conditions and our own schedules was not easy.
It was a secret for nobody, this year, the Grandes Jorasses were in amazing conditions. Naturally the idea of climbing and flying off this mythical face came back. The tricky part was that I had spent my months of July, August and September working behind a screen, sitting on planes and cars. It was not the 2 hours of running here and there that would have made me feel fit for such a big face at this altitude. Even though the conditions were excellent and made the Grandes Jorasses routes easier to climb, it stays a long and serious face that I would not underestimated. But the desire was here. I wanted to climb on this face and fly off it. My mindset changed, from “I’ve done nothing this summer” to “I can do it”. I knew I would not be a rocket for climbing but I knew I’ll be good and safe enough.
Finally a new weather window came, matching Mika and I schedule. We had to take a few decisions. What route? Where will we take off? One day or two days? The wind was supposed to be North, North West so we thought our best option would be to take off from the Col des Jorasses on the right side (climber’s right) of the North Face. It brought us to the choice of the route : Mika suggested to do “Rêve éphémère d’alpiniste” on the Young Peak. It seemed to be the perfect route for us : a bit shorter than the Colton, close enough to the Col des Jorasses and the probability to see other parties was really low. Below is a picture from Julien Desecures that shows the route we climbed and down right of it, the Col des Jorasses from where we took off.
The first step was to reach the Leschaux hut. I was a bit anxious. We had to take off on the north side of the Aiguille du Midi which I find committing. You have to do it right or you die. My other concern was about the landing. We did not know where we would land on the glacier neither in which way the wind would blow. Down the glacier or up hill? Would it be rocky and uneven with holes and hard ice? With those questions – and the different ways to deal with the situation – in minds, Mika and I took off from the Aiguille du Midi at lunch time. The wind was light, coming from the North. Right after the take off we turned right to pass over the Col du Plan and got above the Vallée Blanche. We “dropped” our heavy bags full of gear and food with a long sling attached to the risers and headed straight, without a turn, toward the Leschaux Glacier. We flew over the Leschaux hut and landed both a little fast but at least next to each other and without hitting a rock or putting the feet on a hole. I was relieved.
We could have done the approach and the ascent in one day by taking the Aiguille du Midi first bin at 8:30 am. But we did not wanted to have to feel any time pressure. I had never climbed on this face before and I really wanted to enjoy all of it without any performing and rushing minds. I like climbing mountains because they are beautiful and it makes me happy. So we spent the afternoon at the Leschaux hut, embracing the view. I was feeling small and excited. The North Face of the Grandes Jorasses was enchanting and all the lines very attractive.
The day after we started the climb with the day light. There was maybe 25+ climbers on the face but nobody on our route. It was a perfect blue bird day, not too cold, not windy. One of those days I like. The climb was nice, not too hard and more varied on top.
When we got closer to the top we saw the clouds coming from Italy on the South side and we realised we had to rush. We did not go all the way up to the Young peak. We traversed right, Abseiled down and reached the Col des Jorasses. No drinking, no photos, no relaxing time. We had to hurrry up, packed the climbing gear as fast as possible and unpacked the canopies. The clouds were on us. The wind was not coming from the North anymore but from the South although we had some small cycles coming form the North. Mika helped me to take off during one of those short windows. I kept watching behind seeing his canopy going up and then down and up again. The South wind got stronger and it was a bit of a struggle for him to take off even though he is a much better pilot than I am. Finally I saw him in the sky. Phew!
The atmosphere was almost magnetic. The flight back home was stunning with the clouds, the lights, the big face just behind and the crevassed glacier of Mt Mallet underneath. I had never flight in this area and once again I was amazed by the beauty of the peaks, ridges and glaciers around me. It is such a fantastic terrain!
I’m publishing the photo below to share the “drop bag” beta Mika showed me. Flying with a heavy bag pack full of gear is tough on the shoulders and not so pleasant. Dropping the bag is way more fun. So here is what we did : before to take off, add a long sling (120cm) in the lock biners of the risers. On the back pack put another long sling holding the two shoulder straps and connect the two slings with a lock biner, paying attention with the risers. When you drop your bag, you want it to go underneath you, not around one of your riser. And obviously it has to be even. The last thing is that the back pack should not be too far low. For piloting and for landing it’s better to have the back pack between the knees and feet.
Below is a rough drawing of the two flights we did for those who are interested. Flying saved us four hours of walking to the Leschaux hut on the first day (Aiguille du Midi – Leschaux Glacier) and six hours or more of hiking down on the second day (Col des Jorasses – Chamonix). Plus, it was fun!
Regarding the gear… the lighter, the more fun… I fly with an Ultralight 3 in 19m2 and I have a Neo String. In total it adds 2345grs to the normal climbing gear. But it really worth it. The ultralight is very compactable and I could fit in my Scrambler (30 liters) everything. I’m amazed by all the improvement the gear has seen in the last 3 years in term of weight and reliability. The Laser Speed light, the Sirocco, the new Baturas, the Ghost Whisperer and the Ultralight and Neo are great examples.
But the most important… it’s not what we do that counts. It’s with whom we do it. Sharing the experience, sharing the adventure with one of my good friends is of more value than the climb or the summit itself. Thanks a lot Mika for roping, flying, laughing and rushing together. It was a great one!