French alps, Grandes Jorasses. 15 - 17 September 1996.


Where is the borderline of the daring of the spirit and the borderline of the human abilities? Where is that limit we can reach but we fear to look over? That is the question that agitates not only me but many other people like me May be that's why I am here - alone on the northern wall of Grandes-Jorasses. May be I'm trying to find my own answer on these iced walls, on these verticals that are frozen and sleek by wind. Who knows? I've been sitting here in this ice crevice for several hours already, waiting for the end of the night and the foul that is outside my ice trap. I hoped for the morning. I hoped that the storm would calm down and there would be any visibility and the possibility to go down from the summit.

It is my third night on the wall. The night, spent in a small tent without a sleeping-bag with a limited quantity of food and fuel. I'm as much lightened as possible and some parts of the route I go without rope. Tiresome reminds of itself. I'm awfully sleepy. But every time that I fall asleep, the night cold which slowly sneaks up to my back wakes me up and I start shivering. I move my hands, trying to make the blood flow faster and to warm up. Then again I fall into doze, in that state which could hardly be called a sleep for another 10 - 15 min. So lasts that cold endless night and it seems that it will never end. The days of this ascent sail in my memory.

Here is the first day. The day when at 4 a.m. at the light of the torch I climbed over the bergshrund and started to gain my vertical meters on the wall - alone, without a rope. The night concealed the increasing depth of the abyss under my feet which separated me from the valley. When the first rays of dawn appeared I was on the altitude of 300 m. over the icefall already. All the difficulties were waiting for me ahead. From this place the wall ramped and turned into vertical and overhanging rocky parts covered by ice. That was the place I descended from several days ago at my first attempt to do this route. Nothing had changed here. The same vertical friable snow under which there was nothing but the rock without crevices. Here I used the rope. With the help of two ice-axes and unimaginable acrobatic movements with the constant risk of a fall I still managed to pass this place. But that was only the beginning. The rout went further with the same terrible steepness. The snow on the rocks changed into a thin sinters of ice, no more than 1,5 cm so only the tips of my ice-axes and crampons could go into it. When climbing on such an ice you're constantly on the verge of the fall and there is nothing to be done with it. That's the sense of the game that we have chosen. My aim is to win this game.

In the afternoon I came up to the main point of the route: a vertical 60 meters high rocky part, covered by ice. That's where I needed all my skills, all my experience of the years of being in alpinism and rock climbing. I gave all I had got on this wall. I was climbing just "on the nerves". I was connected with the lower hook not by a rope - it was my strained nerve. I had no interim safety points. And I didn't know what would happen to me should I fall. I'd have practically no chance to survive after a 80-100 meters' fall even if I hung on the rope.

On the second day I've been working till 3 a.m. without stop and I had let myself rest for 3 hours only because my head refused to think properly and it was very easy to make a fatal mistake.

With the first rays of the sun I continued movement on the wall. On that day of my ascent even in the morning it was clear that the storm was approaching. The sky was overcastted by big snow clouds. There were 250 m. of a complicated wall that I should manage to climb on before the storm would start. When it snows on the wall, the snow accumulates and becomes a white river flowing on the wall and you can't hide of it. And the wall turns into hell. Many alpinists died in this hell. I realised that I won't be on time. I was just in the middle of a complicated overhanging place when it started to sleet and the mountain covered by a white shroud.

The white flowing river started to choke up all warm parts of my clothes. All my emotions were somewhere far away, my brain clearly commands to each part of my body and the body obeys: ram in a hook..., fix in a carbine..., fix in a rope... . Slowly, meter by meter I gained the height in that snow mess. The snow flew down the wall without stopping. I couldn't even lift my head. Many things I did blindly. But there was God! And after many long hours of a tiresome work on the wall under a blizzard I reached the summit of Grandes-Jorasses. But it was not the victory yet. I needed to descent. Uncertainty was awaiting. There were practically no visibility at all. The wind was knocking me down.The snow whipped my face. I could hardly open my eyes. I decided to descent. But not having even done 100 m. I fell in a crevice. Each step here is dangerous because of hidden crevices, the opportunity to slip on the steep ice, or to get into an avalanche. The weariness of these days tells on itself. I think of all the possible ways out of this situation and make the only suitable decision: to dig in this ice crevice and to spend the night here. Maybe tomorrow the weather will improve. Automatically working with the ice-axe I start digging in, going into the depth of the crevice, trying to hide from the blizzard and to spend one more endless night in the kingdom of ice and snow...

P.S. The ascent on the summit of Grandes-Jorasses (French Alps) by the Northern wall - "Makintuya" route (ED3) "Solo" 15 - 17 of September 1996.

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