The red pillar of Brouillard

When driving up the Valley of Valle D’Aosta as you come out of one of the tunnels you get the first glimpse of Mont Blanc. It is a bit like as if you were to slowly get closer to a shop window full of pastries and at a certain point your nose comes into contact with the window! Its southern side is immediately imposing, steep and severe and it is full of rocky pillars, spurs, ice walls and sharp ridges.

The major points include the very famous Peuterey ridge, the Brouillard ridge and the Innominata ridge, that follows up an imaginary line right in the middle of the wall that separates the Freney side from the Brouillard side. A large part of the international mountaineering history took place in this huge glacial basin, where for many years big names like Boninghton, Bonatti, Gervasutti, Ratti, Boivin, Gabarrou, Marsigny and Casarotto to name just a few battled it out to explore every possible angle, all of them putting up futuristic routes.

But let’s just focus on the basin of Brouillard, that little angle of granite characterized by four pillars, including one tower in particular that is red like fire, compact, vertical and has a similar shape to a bottle that happens to be called: The Red Pillar of Brouillard. It is the most captivating out of the four pillars, its line is harmonious and at the same time its squared off, the summit of the tower overhangs slightly and acts as a protective shield as if to say “here you don’t pass”! However some people have managed to pass that barrier, such as Walter Bonatti, who had so much tenacity and aesthetic sense, he could have sold some of it, and along with Oggioni in 1959 he climbed up the Val Veny heading straight for the pillar, confident to leave once again his signature on this line.

About 2000 m of difference in altitude separates the valley floor from the base of the wall and in between there are meadows, moraines, via ferrata, crevasses, seracs and rocky ridges. Nothing special, for those two who were used to hard work and with just a few technical pieces of equipment available between them. But all this effort and hard work to climb 400 “measly” metres of red granite? I had the pleasure and the honour to repeat this line 56 years after it was put up and I can guarantee that those 400 metres of perfect granite, up a completely logical, steep and difficult line are among some of the most beautiful metres of climbing that I have ever done. Nowadays we feel talented, strong and hold records but we have the easy life with precise weather forecasts, ultra-lightweight and high performance material.

Back in the day, these men who were mountaineers with a capital M, started from the valley floor with a picture in hand, a bit of bread, ham, wine and Zuava style velvet trousers and a knitted woollen jumper and the outcomes on the rock were masterpieces, as if it were art. Actually, when thinking about it, I was… We can only thank these names for the legacy that they have left us, trying to catch the spirit and treasure it not only for us but also for the future generations.

Over the years, other lines have been put up on these pillars, with different styles specific to each era. Among these is the well-known “Anneaux Magiques” by Michel Piola. One could describe him as the exact opposite to the “Bonatti”: in continuous search of pure difficulty, always trying to make a collection of some nice pitches. Winding between slabs, flakes and cracks up the steepest part of the pillar. Piola and Anker used bolts (just a few!) where it wasn’t possible to place protection.

It was 1989, as we were saying, maybe two generations on of climbers than the days of Bonatti, 30 years in which the objectives of climbing changed dramatically and also the methods. Today in 2015, almost 60 years have passed since the first historical ascent, and still today, despite stopping in a comfortable manned rifugio, it remains a major commitment to repeat it.

Thanks Bonatti

BONATTI Traced in red:

Approach: From Val Veny to the Monzino rifugio, then along the Brouillard glacier.

Start of the route: On the left of the pillar climb briefly up the left canal, to find an obvious terrace right on the edge of the arête. Old ropes indicate the access point.

Length: 400 metres

Difficulty: 6a+ max

Descent: Abseil down the route with bolted anchors, for the first two abseils stay off the line to avoid getting the rope stuck.

Useful equipment: NDA, a complete set of friends up to 3BD, a set of nuts, slings and 8 quickdraws.

Rest stages: Eccles Bivouac (Not recommended); Monzino rifugio.

Note: On the second third of the route you reach the canal that on the right it separates from the tower, in correspondence with a quartz vein (wide crack) that splits the wall on the left (bolted anchor), follow the quartz vein until you are by the arête, and take a long cracked dihedral to reach the anchor above (55 m).

ANNEAUX MAGIQUES: Traced in green

Approach: From Val Veny to the Monzino rifugio, then along the Brouillard glacier.

Start of the route: In the centre of the pillar in correspondence with an obvious diagonal ramp to the right. After the first 3 metres belay from the spike with a sling.

Length: 300 metres

Difficulty: 6c+ max / 6c obligatory (one move)

Descent: Abseil down the route with bolted and /or pitons at the anchors taking you back down to your boots.

Useful material: NDA, a complete set of BD friends, double up on the sizes from 0.5 – 2, a set of nuts, slings and 10 quickdraws.

Rest stages: Eccles Bivouac (Not recommended); Monzino rifugio.

Note: The third pitch is not obvious, head towards the quartz vein on the left, of which the first part you go up until the ledge.

L1: Diagonal ramp up to the anchor under the roof, 6a

L2: Straight up on crimps and flakes, 6b

L3: Little shallow dihedrals towards the left, then on broken ground, if you want you can move to the left breaking the pitch in two, not very evident, 6a.

L4: Quartz vein. Bolted anchor above the enormous flake.

L5: Compact wall, bolted distantly. 6c if you exit straight up, 6b/b+ if you exit to the right at the last bolt.

L6: Series of cracked dihedrals towards to the right, try to find from the bottom the anchor with a purple sling, 6b.

L7: Crux pitch with a difficulty of 6c+ because a crimp broke off. Firstly up the overhanging arête and then rightwards and then straight up the cracks, very consistent, useful to keep a no.2 to protect the roof before the crux move.

L8: A cracked inverted L shaped dihedral. Exit to the left and just above return to the right with a boulder move. Anchor on the terrace with just one bolt.

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