The first free (dry tooling) ascent of perhaps the hardest mixed route in the Alps, on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, France.
No Siesta takes an ingenious and psychologically demanding line through one of the great walls of the Alps, the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. That Jan Porvaznik and Stan Glejdura managed to climb such a line in 1986, with the techniques and gear used 17 years ago, was truly outstanding. At that time high-standard ice climbing was still in its infancy in the Alps, and waterfall climbing was barely known in the alpine valleys. This was true even though photographs of Jeff Lowe on Bridalveil Falls (Colorado, 1974) fascinated the young generation in the Alps. A few Europeans started to climb waterfall ice, but only as training for their Alpine routes on the difficult north faces.
In 1976 Nick Colton and Alex MacIntyre climbed the notorious north face couloir on the Grandes Jorasses, thereby opening the first of the modern extreme ice routes on alpine terrain. Ten years later the two Czechs Porvaznik and Glejdura climbed a new route they named No Siesta in three days, on ice up to 90 degrees and rock requiring 5.10 A2 climbing. It was a masterpiece, far ahead its time.
All efforts to repeat the route failed until 1997 when the Frenchmen François Marsigny and Olivier Larios climbed it, also taking three days. The route’s reputation as a horror was confirmed.
Other hard mixed routes in the early nineties like Beyond Good And Evil (M5+ A1/2), on the Aiguille du Pélerins (Andy Parkin and Mark Twight), and my hardest solo first ascent, Knocking On Heaven’s Door (M6 A2) on the Jungfrau, were typical for this period: displaying a high level of climbing but using aid techniques where necessary. Stevie Haston and Laurence Gouault opened Scotch On the Rocks (M7) on Mont Blanc du Tacul in 1995, one of the first hard all-free routes on a high peak in the Alps. This seems to be the first step into a new dimension. Until now, Vol de Nuit (M8-)—opened by my wife Daniele and me on the Tacul two years later—was the hardest all-free and boltless multipitch mixed route in the Alps.
The ascent of No Siesta
March 17, 2003: The reports had been for good conditions in Chamonix, but in fact only the Argentiere area was in good shape. While hiking across the Leschaux Glacier I blamed myself for not having called Jean Christophe, but I hadn’t wanted to talk about my plans to anybody. I didn’t even tell my climbing partner, Markus Stofer, about the route I had in mind until we were in the car heading toward Chamonix.
Day 1, March 18: After waking up at 2 a.m., we crossed the glacier and started up the initial 55-degree slope. In about 350 meters we encountered the first rocks and tied in to begin the climb proper. The difficulties began immediately. Using 70-meter ropes we climbed sections up to M7+, following thin slivers of ice and clean granite. My dream to free climb No Siesta was beginning to come true. When I reached the section that had looked difficult from the ground, I realized how much I relied on my mixed climbing experience of the previous years. Without it I would have certainly grabbed the old rusty pitons in the steep section. Instead I used the rotten stuff only as “protection,” and I climbed by hooking my tools in the thin icy crack.
We reached the first bivy used by the Czechs with three hours of daylight remaining, so we continued to an extremely uncomfortable ledge just large enough for one person, where we spent the night.
Day 2, March 19: At first light it was snowing. But the Swiss weather forecast didn’t get it wrong after all, because by 10 a.m. the clouds had lifted. We spent almost the entire day climbing the crux central section, originally graded 5.10b, A1/A2. When we reached the crux pitch a strange sound betrayed my efforts to imitate the friction of EBs with the front points of my crampons. Using a daring underhook ala the Canadian M-climbing testpiece Musashi, and a mantel push up, I dared to climb the crux and found myself ready to “take off” on a holdless slab too far above my last protection to change plans. There was only one option: climb it! In a trance I climbed on, then placed a few cams in the overhanging crack above.
I managed it on sight in the free mixed style. M8 in such a great alpine north face: unimaginable! On this pitch I again realized that without all the M-climbing training of the last years I would not have been able to free climb such hard moves on an 1,100-meter face. We then found the second bivouac used by the Czechs and decided to have a slightly more comfortable night, at least compared to the first.
Day 3, March 20: The third day arrived quickly and we climbed sections of M5/M6 at almost 4,000 meters. At 15:00, after a final corner, we reached the summit crest with its fantastic view of the Grand Paradiso and the Italian Valle d’Aosta. So Siesta had been my best alpine mixed climb ever.
Hard all-free alpine mixed climbing on the big faces in modern style is still in its infancy—by this I mean routes from M7 upward. There are many possibilities on the north faces, but most climbers still prefer dry-tooling using bolts for protection. The few existing hard mixed routes without bolts in the Alps don’t get repeated. The trend is still “mixed sport climbing.”
That there are so many different disciplines within climbing seems okay to me. In the last years the game was to push the grades searching for the impossible. Hard routes like Musashi (M12), The Game (M13), and No Limits (M12+/13) have gone up. I have a lot of fun on these routes, and for me they are the optimal training for big faces without bolts. Of course, this M-climbing must be combined with general alpine experience and hard free climbing.
My feelings were confirmed last December (2003) in Patagonia, when Stefan Glowacz and I made the first ascent of The Lost World (1,100m, 5.10d M8) on Murallon, on the Hielo Continental. We succeeded only because we put all of our effort into fast climbing without compromise—otherwise the weather conditions would not have given us a single chance during the two months we spent there. We climbed 26 hours non-stop in alpine style, with no bolts or breaks, and achieved our goal of climbing completely free in rock, ice, and mixed terrain. We were also faster than we could have been with aid climbing. This was our recipe for success. (See Climbs & Expeditions in this Journal.)
I believe that in the next years more and more people will use the skills gained by modern bolted mixed climbing for real adventure on the big faces—the hard mountains of the world where there are no bolts and risk remains. So I’m certain that mixed climbing will change the top levels of alpinism. Even if it takes years before more routes like No Siesta get their first free ascents in winter, I think these routes will be the future of modern mixed climbing.
Summary of Statistics
Area: France, Mont Blanc Range
Ascent: Grandes Jorasses, north face, first free (M-climbing) ascent of No Siesta (1,100m, VI M8 E5). Robert Jasper (Germany) and Markus Stofer (Switzerland), March 17-19, 2003. The “E” grade is a new “risk” grade being developed by Robert Jasper for mixed, alpine, and waterfall climbs; the current top-end is E6.
A Note About the Author
Robert Jasper was born in 1968 in the Black Forrest area of Germany. He now lives under the Eiger’s north face, his favorite wall, which he has climbed by 11 different routes, including the first ascent of Symphonie de Liberte (5.13a/b) with his wife Daniela. He is a professional climber and has soloed more than 100 of the hardest north face routes in the Alps, including various first ascents. In the sport world, he has climbed Europe’s hardest mixed sport climb, No Limits (M12+/13), as well onsighting rock routes to 5.13b and redpointing to 5.14a. He has also climbed in Patagonia and Nepal. Robert and Daniela have a 17-month old son, Stefan.