CHAMONIX, FRANCE (AFP) – After six days and five nights fighting against the freezing wind, being “glued to the ice”, barely sleeping, hardly eating, Charles Dubouloz is still on a high.
The French mountain guide may be suffering from intense fatigue and frostbite, especially on his hands, but his eyes sparkle as he smiles – he has just conquered the world.
“I wanted to take a nice trip without taking the plane,” he chuckled as he spoke to AFP last Wednesday after returning to the Alpine town of Chamonix from where he had set off six days earlier.
The phrase ‘nice trip’ hardly sums up what Dubouloz went through as he became the first person to climb the mythical and dangerous north face of the Grandes Jorasses, solo and in winter.
Forming a part of the Mont Blanc Massif, the Grandes Jorasses is one of the three great north faces in the Alps, making up ‘The Trilogy’ with the Eiger and the Matterhorn.
It towers above the Leschaux Glacier and by taking it on at this time of year, Dubouloz staked a claim to rank among the very greatest of mountaineers.
“It’s the quintessence of mountaineering, of going solo and even more so in winter. I’m touching a dream,” he told AFP.
“When I got to the top, I cried a lot. I lay down. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.
“Alone, it needs extra commitment, everything is more extreme, working the rope for example. Arriv-ing alone by your own means, up tough routes, it’s incredible. It’s an added dimension.”
The 32-year-old mountaineer began his quest on January 13 when he left Chamonix with two back-packs, a duvet, a small hammock and some food.
After five days of climbing, he reached the 4,208-metre summit of the Grandes Jorasses last Tuesday – an ascent of 1,100 metres by the ‘Rolling Stones’ route, so called for its dryness and its bad rocks, which can crumble at a touch.
The first ascent of the highest peak of the mountain was by Englishman Horace Walker and his guides Melchior Anderegg, Johann Jaun and Julien Grange on June 30, 1868 but the ‘Rolling Stones’ path was only opened up in the summer of 1979 by four Slovak mountaineers.
No one had yet attempted it solo and in winter, where the temperatures at night are close to minus 30 degrees Celsius.
“I only did one bivouac in a hammock, I was glued to the ice, it’s not very pleasant,” he said.
“To rest, I made a terrace with my ice axe and tried to make myself a space roughly 1.50 metres long and 1.70 metres wide. I found myself sleeping half-sitting.” Because of the dangers and the stress they created, Dubouloz said he “hardly ate” during the six days on the mountain.
“This kind of ascent is played out with very thin margins. You are always on the edge of something, the result can be accident or death.
“I admit, I often got scared. There were stretches, including one in particular on very bad rocks, where I was scared all along. There are blocks that move, you have to climb on eggshells.”
Dubouloz is no stranger to taking on breathtaking challenges in the climbing world.
In 2021 he climbed the north face of the Petits Drus, also in the Mont Blanc Massif, and also opened up a new route with Benjamin Vedrines on the north face of Chamlang (7,319m) in Nepal.
His feats have now placed him among the foremost of recent and contemporary French mountaineers such as Jean-Christophe Lafaille, Marc Batard, Lionel Daudet and Christophe Moulin, who climbed this same north face in the winter of 2006 but with two companions.
“What Charles has done is a great achievement, it’s the ordeal of testing himself and tapping into his resources. It’s almost in the realm of meditation,” Moulin told AFP.
With this remarkable ascent, Dubouloz has brought “the great solo adventurer” back to centre stage.
It was popular in the Alps in the 1990s and 2000s before fading into the background in favour of “the great ropes and the records of speed”, according to Moulin. “This is rediscovering the very roots of mountaineering. Routes like this are abominable in winter.
You need exceptional abilities. “It’s an extremely high and challenging face. It’s one of the hardest mountains in all of the Alps to climb. It has crumbling granite, with a lot of delicately balanced rocks.
“It’s very cold, the days are shorter so you have to spend more time up there, the slightest gust of wind is an ordeal. To succeed alone, you really have to be one of the best mountaineers.”
Charles Dubouloz has earned his right to smile.