At the end of September 2014 Pavel "Bača" Vrtík and Dušan "Stoupa" Janák climbed the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, the Alps, France-Italy border. They repeated a line called No Siesta with a four pitches variant to a Bonatti-Voucher line (because of a lack of ice). On the route they spent two nights and endured one snowstorm.
Read an English translation of Bača´s article Siesta with Marion about the ascent (the original article in Czech available at Lezec.cz).
Line of climbing. 2 Bivacs.
Stoupa is silently pressing a roaring Reactor between his shaking knees. The wet flysheet of our bivouac sack is licked by the stove flames from time to time and it gives us a warning hiss. Our little safe space is filling with dangerous fumes.
“Hey Stoupa,” I say, “here on the label it says something about carbon-monoxide poisoning”. A voice comes from somewhere half a meter behind the fog, “dude, that’s why I’m having headache”. “You're right, we should get in some fresh air.”
Well, it's easy to say we should get some fresh air in. But to lift the flysheet means to be exposed to the unforgiving stream of avalanches that are showering us. We are squatting in the middle of the North wall of Jorasses, six hundred meters above the ground, on a 30×60 platform. Everything is soaked wet, including sleeping bags, and we should let all the heat from the stove out?
“Look, carbon monoxide is lighter than the air, so it’s enough to breathe closer to the ground.” Problem solved.
Marion is standing restlessly on the porch of the Leschaux refuge. Caring thoughts are racking her brains. “Gosh, everyone has run away from that damned wall but what the hell are those two lights doing in No siesta? Who can that be and why don’t they come down?”
A kind manly voice stops her train of thought. “Hi babe. Come and warm up, you’re all shaking. Dude, I do not envy Bača and Stoupa this shit.”
“Are they your friends?” Marion says and takes the Czech guy’s sticky-fingered arm off her shoulder. Her dark eyes keep watching the North wall dreamily. The morning will bring the decision.
The black stud has neighed and one hundred and fourteen horses are taking our carriage to the Mecca of mountaineering, under the roof of the lazier Europe, to French Chamonix. The two boys, four girls, a Baudelaire-like ratio, lots of food, drink and unbridled joy. The sadder were the farewells on the Mer de Glace glacier, where our groups divided into the southern one, ascending the ladders to warmed rocks by the Envers hut, and the northern one advancing on the Leschaux glacier under the cold wall of Grandes Jorasses.
We lay down under the wall with dusk. It’s actually still quite far from the marginal crevasse and we have no idea how to get over it. Wake-up at four, three porridges and carrying all our material for three days we are off to look for our way through the labyrinth of icy towers. We are stopped by a twenty-meter high barrier of overhanging ice. It stretches from the left to the right as far we can see.
“Holy shit, this is where some exercise starts!” “Stoupa, pull a bit more, I will try it here on the left, next to the rock, it seems it could work here.” Piton. Nut. In the middle I took off my backpack and hung it on the screw. We have four screws. A few meters below the top, leaning back more than 30 degrees from the vertical, I am pecking a tiny hole for the next step. All of a sudden a loud bang. I already saw the ice mass above me leaning forward and burying me in its entrails together with Stoupa’s snack I was hiding in my pocket. A scene like from the Ice Age movie. It must have thundered everywhere. In the entire universe. Even from the other side of the mountain, because the glaciologists measured a 70-centimeter slide of the whole iceberg at that moment. So a quick drilling, running the loop through, rappelling, removing everything and hurrying back to Stoupa.
Bača climbing on bergschrund. Photo: Dušan "Stoupa" Janák
“Damn, what now, how the hell are we going to get to the starting point?” We are helplessly plodding along the overhanging wall. All of a sudden we see the natural curiosity. The joke. The obscure thing. The most incredible chimney I have ever seen. Towering above us right in the middle of the compact ice wall. Backpacks under us on a loop and let’s go up. Let’s hope we can scrape through it and get to the starting ice field. Heck, it’s half past eight but the route is free!
Marion swiftly sits on her warm bed in her Chamonix apartment. Her raven black hair are covering the dark dream that seemed to be real. Her heart is pounding in her chest under her sweaty T-shirt and her excited breath can hardly fit her narrow lungs. What was that bang? The guy she returned with from the party yesterday probably fell off the bed. What’s his name again? Walter? Bogatyr? Never mind, I better packed my stuff and go have a look under the Jorasses, hopefully the conditions in MacIntyre will be good. And as Marion says she does.
We're climbing in parallel. Bača is pulling the morning shift. Two hundred or three hundred metres to the first difficult spot over the overhang. There are three pitons in it and it lets us through easily. Again we are climbing in parallel and we arrive at the first Jasper’s bivouac (R. Jasper made the first free repeat in No Siesta in 2003). Two or three more pitches and we have lunch – we cook two litres of our drink (ion supply drink + snow) and use it to wash down two energy bars. We feel like Duracell rabbits. Great time, great weather. It’s supposed to get a little cloudy in the evening but who’s afraid of clouds, right? I hand over the rains to Stoupa for the afternoon shift. Ice is declining noticeably. Two pitches with broken surface squeezed all the energy out of Stoupa. It starts snowing a bit. That’s normal in the mountains in the afternoon. Occasionally a small dust-snow avalanche passes by. That's great, finally in the mountains again! The little avalanches become a continuous flow we can’t climb in. It's only about four but we must look for a place to bivouac. No way, no siesta. It’s sleeting. A small micro-platform signalizes night-long fun.
We don’t wake up in the morning. How the hell could someone who got no sleep all night long, kept choking, falling to the valley and shaking with cold wake up? Fortunately, we get up to non-snowing. But it is one hell of a cold. Everything that got wet at night is now frozen. A set of friends has become a set of juggling pins, which was the only thing they could be used for. All this covered with a pile of ice and snow. So, dig up, shake off, warm up, tie up, hang all the stuff, take off again, answer the call of nature, tie up and hang again, climb. The hands are freezing after a few metres, only the feet are mercifully silent. This is bad news. But maybe they will start talking in that vertical corner or over there in that broken overhang or in the slippery glaze. Yes, already, I can already hear the first whisper, a hint of a word, a sentence, shouting, whoa, damn, that’s pain that would make me vomit!
Stoupa on variant of Bonatti-Voucher route. Photo: Pavel "Bača" Vrtík
I am standing five metres above the last nut. I am squinting at the drawing in compact slabs without possibility of any reasonable advancement. Hmmm, a guide book says an ice seventy-five. But where is it hiding? I discover a piton with a carabiner and have myself lowered, probably just like me predecessor. I'm trying a little bit to the left. Overhang, corner, slab, stop. Two meters more to the left are corners of the Bonatti-Voucher route. Morning shaking off and two attempts into the unknown have cost us a lot of time and we need to get to the snow field above us where there is a great double bivouac. So a bit more of a traverse and there we go, we are at Bonatti! We will stick to it for two or three pitches and as soon as we can, we will detour again.
Where could the Czech guys be, Marion is asking herself and is ascending the ice wall with the lightness of dandelion fluff. The ice mantle changes into a beautiful soft firn under her tight calves. The spikes of her weapons bit the ice shell and her body ascends dizzying heights seemingly effortlessly. She is not alone. In her veil, like a swarm of an icy comet, a crowd of suitors are climbing. There are perhaps dozens of them. They take over dangerously, hushing and arguing about who will be able to climb closest to her. Close. So close until they hear her heartbeat and feel the warmth of her skin.
“Dude, watch out, it is a little bit broken here,” Stoupa verbally describes the huge rock that has just landed on my shoulder. His afternoon shift has begun. A broken 6+. Sliding fresh snow that we have to keep removing. Two small peckers to improve the morals and he has made it to the belay station. Walter Bonatti was the man. One more juicy pitch over the overhang and we are back in Siesta. Stoupa’s feet are not talking. Not a sound. We dig a fancy bivouac on the ridge, sitting next to each other like pilots in the F1 cockpit, a kilometre of glacier wall under us and the setting sun draws one of its wonderful wallpapers. The first stars are lighting up above our heads. There, over the horizon, the constellation of Marion is shining. That’s a feeling that cannot be passed on. Everything is contained in that beautiful moment when you can’t describe what is not with what is.
Bača on second bivouac. Photo: Dušan "Stoupa" Janák
“Damn, it’s morning again and dark again, it’s close to the top, why don’t we wait for the sun, eh?” I ignore Stoupa’s sloppy remarks, which I attribute to his hardening frostbites, and I mercilessly pack the bivouac sack, cook and command to attack at the top of the charts. My morning shift consists of a mixed sit-start and a few pitches of icy corners interlaced with juicy overhangs. Before noon grease our beautiful faces with a scented cream to make the girls more available in the civilization and not run away from us like two skunks and also to avoid Stoupa’s getting tanned because he reported sick leave at work. Vivat Italia!
I have to say that the Italian side is far more sophisticated than the French one. First it fries you in the sun, you rappel from loose rocks in the slush, are afraid to skip over the marginal edge, look for your way in a labyrinth of crevasses, climb dozens of pitches on a broken ridge and in the end plod through rocks to a hut to find out there is no water, which is a screw-up in the mountains, right? So while Stoupa was massaging his frozen toes, Bača spent several hours getting water from puddles around the hut, managing to collect two litres! The hut is empty, so each of us takes one floor. Stoupa the upper one, allegedly it’s warmer there.
Morning warm up. Photo: Dušan "Stoupa" Janák
With the sunset, Marion walks on the top overhang of snow on the top of Walker’s pillar. Droplets of sweat run down her temples but she doesn’t have to hurry any more. All those who tried to catch up with are now left far behind her and those waiting for her do not know about it yet. Where others tramped in the sun, got stuck up to their knees and tried to straighten their back under the weight of backpacks, Marion stretches her wings and as an evening butterfly she swoops down to the Boccalatte hut. There finally have to be those who sleep in a snowstorm, those who do not rush after anything, those who deserve to be honoured by her visit.
“Jeez, what is the gal next to me doing here?” I shout at Stoupa and want him to have a look whether I happen to be in a naughty erotic dream. Stoupa’s ugly head brings me into reality so I prefer to disappear from the hut not to accidentally get to rumours. After a while, Stoupa gets out with a wily smile. Followed by Marion, hair down to her shoulders, backpack neatly packed, saying thanks for Gypsy cocoa, stretching her beautiful wings and flying down to the valley.
Me and Stoupa walk pretty loaded, across a creek, with bathing, collecting blueberries and a few nice worldly things that girls like Marion have no idea about. And then our good old hitchhiking takes us back to France through a tunnel, to our pretty girls because four are always better than one!
On the Back (leader 4 kg, follower 9 kg):
|gas cartridges (2 x 250 g + 1 x 100 g)||1 kg|
|MSR Reactor cooker with a pot (1.7 l)||0.5 kg|
|Nalgene bottle with a thermo-sleeve (1 l)||0.29 kg|
|Travellunch dinners, double portions (3 x 250 g)||0.75 kg|
|Penco and Nutrend Voltage energy bars (30 x 50 g)||1.5 kg|
|instant sports drink mix in a PET bottle (0.5 l)||0.4 kg|
|instant oatmeals (9 x 60 g)||0.54 kg|
|Petzl Tikka XP headtorch with the Core and 3 spare AAA batteries (2x)||0.4 kg|
|sun cream and glasses, knife, cellphone, topo outlines, toilet paper, first-aid kit, spoon (1x)||0,5 kg|
|Prima Tulák (Climashield XP) sleeping bags (2x)||2.4 kg|
|EVA sleeping mat 14 mm cutted to 120 cm (2x)||0.6 kg|
|Doldy prototype 40 l backpack, BD Speed 55 l backpack (1x)||1.3 kg|
|spare gloves, socks (2x)||0.5 kg|
|belay jacket (2x)||1 kg|
|BD Firstlight tent (1x)||1.5 kg|
|set of BD cams (from mico C3-000 to C4-3)|
|set of various chocks (micro - biggest)|
|pitons (2x RURP, 4 x knifeblade)|
|SR Shark ice screws (2 x short, 1 x middle, 1x long)|
|SR Gemini ropes (2 x 70 m)|
|SR Dyneema slings 8 mm (10 x 60 cm, 6 x 120 cm)|
|various carabiners, descenders, tiblocs, daisy chains|
|SR sit harnesses with Aladin plus chest harnesses|
|SR Bandit ice axes (hammer + adze)|
|SR Lucifer crampons (monopoint, bouncers)|
|SR Kappa helmet, SR Penta helmet|
|boots: Scarpa Ultra, Zamberlan|
|lower layer: T-shirt and long sleeve, shorts, thin long johns|
|insulating layer: Tilak Femund hoody sweatshirt, Tilak Ketil hooded jacket & insulated pants|
|shell layer: Tilak Stinger and Tilak Raptor jackets, Tilak Storm and Tilak Evolution pants|
|thin and thick socks|
|thin Windstopper gloves, thick Tilak ICE GTX and Outdoor Research Vert gloves|