A Remarkable Winter in the Alps
It has been a prolific season in the Alps. So much so that, at times, it has been hard to keep track of all the first ascents, first solo ascents and first winter solo ascents that have been achieved.
An extended period of high pressure has allowed alpinists to commit to long, challenging routes and, more often than not, to succeed in their attempts. Below we lay out the timeline of this extraordinary season, with links to more detailed reports.
The season really kicked into gear over the weekend of 28 – 29 January when two teams, operating on opposite sides of the Alps, both succeeded in establishing new routes on iconic peaks. On Saturday 28, Giuseppe Vidoni, Richard Tiraboschi and Tommaso Vection, made the first ascent of 'Happy Birthday' which climbs the south face of the Grandes Jorasses to the Aiguille de l’Évêque via a 1,000m couloir. Vidonia and Tiraboschi had attempted the line a few days earlier but had been forced to retreat when warm conditions on the face above sent a stream of meltwater down the couloir. On returning with Vection, they were able to take the route to the summit, offering a grade of A1, IV, M6, ED.
At the same time, on the Barre des Écrins, Benjamin Védrines, Nicolas Jean and Julien Cruvellier were busy on another 1,000m couloir. 'La Gorge' on the mountain's south face is prone to rockslides in warmer weather and so, despite being an obvious line, it has waited many years for a first ascent. With good, cold conditions, the team of three climbed the route over the weekend, surmounting difficulties of M7, A1, V+, ED+. The trio dubbed their new route 'De L’Or en Barre'.
Just a few days later, on 03 February, Italian climbers François Cazzanelli, Emrik Favre and Stefano Stradelli put up a new WI4+, M7 line on the east face of Mont Blanc du Créton. 'Sognando l’inimmaginabile' was a line that Cazzanelli had been considering for some time but had avoided trying due to concerns about the feasibility of its upper half. With strong winds ruling out their first choice of objective, the team of three chose to give it a go and discovered not just a viable route, but an enjoyable one. Speaking to PlanetMountain, Cazzanelli described the route as “Overall a pleasant outing, difficult, with several demanding but incredible pitches.”
While the three previous routes were first ascents, achieved by strong trios of climbers, Thibault Sibille’s repeat of the Rebuffat route on the northwest face of the Grand Pic de Belledonne was a solo affair. The 32-year-old climbed the line over three days in early February, with two bivouacs on the face. This was the first time that the line had been climbed solo in winter.
Sibille’s was far from the only extended stay on the north faces. The following week, Symon Welfringer, Charles Dubouloz (returning to the Grandes Jorasses after his solo ascent of Rolling Stones in 2022), and Clovis Pauline spent five days on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, making the first repeat of Patrick Gabarrou and Herve Bouvard’s 1986 route ‘Directissime de la Point Walker’. The route was originally climbed in summer with some aid, but the French team succeeded not only in making the first winter ascent, but also in climbing the line free.
At the same time that this French threesome were finding success on the Grandes Jorasses, the Italian trio of François Cazzanelli, Emrik Favre and Stefano Stradelli re-teamed to establish a 600m line on the western flank of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. The ‘Isiah Couloir’ was established over two days (including a very damp spindrift-laden bivy) and breached difficulties up to M8, 7a/7a+ and WI 5.
Also returning to the headlines at this point was Benjamin Védrines, this time climbing with Leo Billón to make the first single-day winter ascent of the 1,100m ED/+ ‘Gousseault-Desmaison’ on the Grandes Jorasses. The pair set off from Chamonix at 1AM on the morning of 15 February, reaching the summit at 4:38PM. There was even time for the ascent to be reported on the same day!
We may yet see more historic achievements before the winter is through. But even if this list of ascents remains unchanged, it will still have been a remarkable season. We cannot know exactly what it presages for the future. Will conditions like those found in 2023 persist in future years or will this prove to be a one-off? What we can be more certain of is that many of these climbers are at the beginning of their alpine careers and we can look forward to seeing much more from them in the coming years.
Edit: In the period since this article was published, news has broken that Jerome Perruquet and Stefano Stradelli have made the first repeat and first winter ascent of 'Diretta allo Scudo' on the Matterhorn.
These were far from the only notable ascents from this extraordinary winter, but they are the most significant in terms of “firsts” and are likely to be the ones remembered in the years to come. However, if we have missed anything, don’t hesitate to let us know.