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Walker Spur in Winter – Grandes Jorasses

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

This is a trip report for an ascent of the Walker spur by Kim Ladiges & Daniel Joll on the 22/3/2019 (first day of spring so not quite a winter ascent but certainly 'wintery').

Conditions

Temperature for 4000m max : -11C min : -17C light winds.

Major snowfall occurred 5 days previously, strong winds had stripped a fair bit of this snow off the ridge so that it mostly appeared rocky from a distance.

Route

The Walker Spur follows the crest of the buttress left of the central ice fields which leads to the furthest left high point.

Strategy

Approach: We walked in with snowshoes (approx. 6-7hrs), it would be easier in skis but we only had 1 set and we needed them to retrieve the stash of extra bivvy gear at the bottom of the face after the ascent.

We bivvied in a schrund right at the toe of the ridge. We took no tent and shared a Macpac quilt between the two of us.

We left bivvy kit at the base of the route. On the climb we carried a jetboil, a 250g gas cylinder and a 2 person bothy bag in case of emergency. We crossed the bergshrund at around 5.30am, reached the summit at midnight and descended through the night to be at the road by 7am.

We carried 3 litres of water between us, brewed once before the summit and once on the descent.

If the glacier was hard packed enough to walk without skis I would consider staying at the Leschaux Refuge to avoid having to carry bivvy kit or retrieve anything from the base of the route. It is however quite far from the face, around 2-3 hours.

If leaving kit at the base be sure to leave it somewhere that snow doesn't bury it - we ran into some Italians this season who left there skis at the base of the Jorrases (for a month) and could no longer find them…

Overview of the climb

Most of the climb involved rockclimbing with gloves but with crampons off. I would describe the climbing as mostly engaging moderate terrain with the exception of the 4 pitches at the crux which felt intimidating in gloves and big boots (somewhat runout - thanks Dan for the toprope!). It was nice to have the 2 micro-taxions and 2 tiblocs for simul climbing. The climbing was more gloved rockclimbing than lots of hard dry-tooling – we carried two tools but you could certainly climb this route with one. The route finding is not obvious- we made no errors but it would be easy to go the wrong way. There are pitons everywhere. There did not appear to be many comfortable bivvy spots.

Descent

We traversed towards point Whymper and down climbed a snow gully next to the rock ridge (approx 45 degrees max). A short walk from here led to a couple of rappels that placed us on the Glacier des Grandes Jorasses. From here it is necessary to ascend and traverse over to a ridge (snow arete in winter) that we downclimbed and made 1 x 30m rappel at the end. From here it is a long descent to a set of steel ladders to descend a cliff. Make sure you find out where these are - they are hard to find in winter. Finally an hours walk to the road. It took us about 7 hours to make the 2800m descent with a little time spent finding the way.

Rack

  1. 1 x Tendon Master 60m 8.9mm rope

  2. 2 sets cams, BD red C3 – BD #2 camalot

  3. 1 BD green C3 and 1 BD #3 camalot

  4. 1 x set ultralight wires with 3 brass offsets

  5. 6 ice screws including a 10cm stubby

  6. 12 quickdraws (6 x 60 cm slings + 6 x ultralight draws)

  7. 3 x 120cm slings

  8. 2 x 240cm sling

  9. 2 x Microtraxion

  10. 2 x Tibloc

Clothing

  1. Macpac Fitzroy softshell jacket and trousers

  2. Macpac Fleece Onesie

  3. Macpac Prothermal top

  4. Macpac Nitro pullover

  5. Macpac Dash gloves

  6. Macpac Powder gloves

  7. Macpac Arrowsmith down anorak

  8. 2 pairs socks

  9. Vapour barrier socks or plastic bags for approach

  10. Julbo sunglasses

  11. I wore double boots and Dan had single boots but with electric socks that he didn't use.

Equipment

  1. Lightweight harness

  2. Helmet

  3. Headtorch + spare batteries

  4. Macpac Pursuit 40L pack

  5. Dart crampons

  6. 2 x petzl nomics each

  7. I x 800ml jet boil

  8. 2 x ultralight 1L thermos flasks

  9. 2 x 250g gas (one used at bivvy before climb)

  10. 1 x Macpac quilt + sleeping pad each (left at base)

  11. 1 x 300g bothy bag

  12. First aid kit

  13. Snacks

  14. 3 x Radix freezedry meals (2 for bivvy and 1 on descent)

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