Jonathan Griffith Photography Blog
I always know it's going to be a tough day when I'm knocking back Cliff Caffeinated Shot Blocks still hours away from the bergshrund to stay awake. But the week leading up to the Charmoz had been full of long climbs and very early starts- so the decision to finish it all off by getting up at 3am and climbing the N Face of the Charmoz from town in a day, round trip, was not the best one I've had. But then it seems like such a good way of climbing this face. The idea to do it from town was actually born almost exactly a year ago when myself and Ally headed up only to find the lower slabs covered in snow rather than thin ice. Another notch to the bail list and a year later I read that some Italians had just done it- the Charmoz is one of those faces that can often look in condition but is actually very rarely in condition. I was happy on this occasion to let someone else take the unknown out of the equation and find out whether it was climbable or not- they reported thin conditions and took three days so we packed a big rack and a small bivy kit just in case.
I think this is the right mountain
The alarm was met with the usual startled annoyance at 3am; it felt like a long day was ahead. Meeting up with Ally for our rematch in town and we left the cold inversion and found ourselves sweating our way up the track to the Mer de Glace. The body and mind were tired but for some reason the psyche was high as I was confident it would go- I also couldn't bare the thought of having to bail twice having walked in from town both times. So some way or another it was going to have to go.
Montenvers was slow but the approach on the glacier and to the base of the route was even slower. We failed to find much of the old tracks but thankfully Ally-trail-breaker-Swinton has happy to carve on ahead and we arrived at the shrund 2 hours later than we thought. Oh well, the route looked in amazing condition so that would save us some time. The topo describes the first pitch as being the crux- which I guess it kind of is given that its pretty much completely unprotected for about 30m of climbing, but whilst the ice is hollow and thin it's just a head pitch rather than anything else.
Starting up the face, © Ally Swinton
The whole face we did as a simul climb, but really you could have done as a solo apart from maybe the last two pitches. The lower part of the face is perfect sticky nevee- it wasn't too cold and we made fast progress...it felt a lot like Autumn....finally! The sun rose behind us on the Verte and Drus and life was good.
At the first Snow Field with sunrise on the Drus and Verte
On the Second Snow Field with the Drus and Verte in the background
The final 4 pitches out of the direct were in great condition, and before long I was standing in the sun on the top looking forward to brewing up some water in the late afternoon sun. The view was excellent, the freeze dried meal much appreciated, and the tea abundant. What more could you want when sitting on top of an Alpine North Face in winter?
Ally heads up the final snow field
On the top snow field with the Republique on the left
Getting stuck in to the immaculate goulottes on the top part of the face
Myself near the top, © Ally Swinton
Ally tops out from the face
The descent down to the Nantillons Glacier follows a line of raps- once on the glacier we opted for a more circuitous route that would avoid the seracs above. It was slow going but never a problem. The real crux of the day began after that- getting down to town. Instead of heading back over to Montenvers or over to the Midi we decided to just keep heading straight down. Terrible decision. Hours of deep trail breaking and dangerous terrain followed- the Foehn storm that ripped through town a couple of years ago has devastated this area and we found ourselves climbing through an obstacle course of slippery dead forest. It took the expression 'combat hiking' to a new level. A few hours of combat later and we arrived back down to the inversion and the car- tired but wow what a day out.
Now to find the raps and get off this thing...
The first of many raps down the the Nantillon below
Ally Hobbit Swinton in his element- a chainsaw would have been pretty useful on the last bit of the route
Stuck for Christmas ideas for a climbing friend or family member? Get them an Alpine Climbing Print- at least it won't get stuck on a route on Boxing Day!
All prints are hand printed by myself and come signed and numbered out of a limited edition of only 100 prints. Click here to check out all the new prints on offer
For the next 7 days I'm offering 10% off any single print and 20% off any two or more prints ordered.
Just put in the following codes in the final stages of the checkout for your discount:
It has been a long time coming but I've finally put together a portfolio site. I must be the only photographer who doesn't actually have one and after 10 years taking Alpine Climbing shots from all over the world, and from every major mountain range, it turns out that I've got quite a good selection to choose from! Click here to check it out, and share the site!
Please note all images are copyright Jon Griffith / Millet, please do not copy them off this blog! If you do then I have to pull the post down, so if you enjoy reading the blog please respect that this is a client shoot and the photos should not be taken from the blog.
Last week I got to work on a dream project and climb a dream line. It's the 20 year anniversary of the first ascent of the Andy Parkin's and Mark Twight's Beyond Good and Evil on Les Pelerins, and Millet wanted to mark the occasion. The project is one of those rare beauties that I'd almost do for free as the concept behind it is so good. Essentially Millet are going to come out with a short film about Beyond, combining modern footage of the climb with archival footage of the first ascent and first repeat as well as interviews with all the protagonists involved.
The line of Beyond Good and Evil...starting on the icy slabs bottom left
Shooting Beyond is something I've wanted to do for years, but before I shot it I wanted to actually climb it for myself. On a route like that you get the best shots by knowing the route- knowing the scary bits, knowing where the guy you are shooting is going to suddenly flick out of 'posing for camera mode' and flick in to 'holy shit I'm going to lob' mode. It's a style that is rarer and rarer in this world- I find as a photographer you can often get caught up in shooting 'epic' rather than genuine; genuine captures fear and reality, epic often just concentrates on stuff just looking bad-ass. The two are not necessarily the same.
I was shooting Sebastien Ratel and Marion Poitevin. Seb is without a doubt one of the best Alpinists in a valley full of them, a climber I respect immensely. Marion had just come back from Zodiac on El Cap 24 hours earlier...quite the brutal reintroduction to winter! Working with such talented climbers on a project that Millet had conceived to be all about the climb and genuine story, not just generic photos, opens up so many possibilities; it was a real joy to work on this project.
In any case, the day before the shoot I headed up Beyond with Ally and Graham. It felt great to be out in the hills again after so much time in the valley; there was not a soul in the basin and we had the whole place to ourselves. Last year Beyond was in the best conditions it has ever been and attracted hundreds of climbers from all parts of the world- on such a mythical route it seemed a shame to just hook the hooks of others and use the foot placements of previous parties. It removes a lot of the mystique and story behind Beyond. So it was great breaking trail in to a route I knew nothing about conditions wise- it looked ok on the approach but ice has been very fickle this year so it was still 50:50 whether the crux pitches would go or whether we were just staring at overhanging snow.
Myself on the first crux pitch, glad I sharpened my front points....© Ally Swinton
The adventure began and as we quested up the route I found myself on the sharp end of some of the best climbing I've done in a long time. Freeing the A1 pitch was slow going but mind-blowingly good. It felt like a special day to have Beyond in such virgin conditions without a soul about (I know that a few teams had been on Beyond but all the rain and snow from the previous week had filled it all in). We rejoined the Carrington-Rousse well after dark but our gamble had paid off, sometimes you just get lucky.
The following couple of days were spent on the shoot- I think word had spread and teams were crawling all over it by our second day of the shoot. Ice was falling everywhere, blood all over the place, bucket steps, but at the same time I was incredibly happy to have done it before it turned in to this. Thanks to Ally and Graham for an awesome day and watch out for the video from Millet!
Seb Ratel on the first crux pitch
Seb is one of the best Alpinists in the valley and it's great that Millet have brought him on board
Tenuous moves at the end of the first crux pitch
Marion Poitevin on the 40m diedre
Seb pulling out of the last hard pitch
PS: We didnt do the last two A2 pitches, I can fully understand that this doesn't make it a proper ascent of Beyond Good and Evil but hey I had a wicked time anyway. Nice one Mr Parkin and Mr Twight