Dent du Geant:
It was back in 2010 that I first looked up at the Dent du Geant from Courmeyeur, Italy, and calculated that if we could jump from the summit and fly down the south face, it would be the biggest BASE jump in the world. A couple of winters ago I climbed up to the bottom of it with Roch Malnuit, and we checked it with a laser. At barely over 100m vertical, it didn't look possible. But we realized then that a beautiful flight actually was possible heading north, into the Valley Blanche, and that was our first objective last week. We climbed the spire together, Roch leading the way. It was a relatively straightforward ascent, with a giant rope to aid us through the blanker sections of the wall to the 4013m summit, from which we flew our wingsuits most of the way back to Chamonix for a stellar first wingsuit descent. Afterward, I asked Roch why the rope was on the spire and he said that part of the reason was to help local guides get their clients to the summit because there are very few easy alpine routes on the Italian side of the Mt Blanc Massif. When Roch then suggested that we climb a route on the Italian side of Mt Blanc, I had forgotten what he said. But it all came back in a rush when I realized that I had gotten myself in a bit over my head, feeling my way through the dark on a steep and loose section of a terrifyingly exposed route at three o'clock in the morning, two days later.
Rognon du Plan:
But first, there was more fear and more excitement. Our friend Erwan Madore' had spotted a potential new exit point near the Aiguille du Midi, at 3600m. We rode the tram up at lunchtime, and ran down the arête. As the route passed to the north face, I felt the pull of the exposure - 1500m of airy space behind me as we inched along the face to reach the part of the cliff that was jumpable. The exit point was a beautiful flat table of granite, and the three of us leapt in quick succession and flew all the way back to Chamonix, burning off the 2600m of altitude in 2:30 minutes.
Noire de Peuteray
The next day, we hiked to the Borelli Refuge on the Italian side of Mt Blanc and settled in for the night. With Erwan again, and also our friend Pierre Fivel, we set our alarms for 2:30am so that we would have plenty of time to reach the summit and descend in daylight, in case it wasn't jumpable for some reason. But just a short distance into the route, which was horrendously loose, dirty, wet, exposed, and difficult to navigate, we realized that there would be no down-climbing. During the 10 hours that it took us to reach the summit, my mind never once strayed from the task at hand, which was to make it through the next pitch of climbing without killing myself and my friends by setting loose one of the 10,000 refrigerator-sized blocks that were held to the mountain by clumps of wet sand and melting ice. If I said that I enjoyed that climb, I would be lying, but the summit was awe-inspiring and the moment that we looked over the edge to the steep east face, we knew that we would be home in a couple of minutes... and we were.