The Walker spur

There are walls and routes that have a special status in global alpinism. A sort of evergreen alpinism. Even though they were first climbed in different times with different equipment, their glory and attraction never fade. How come, when there are countless steeper walls and more difficult routes? There are several reasons. Firstly, these are large mighty walls in beautiful mountains. Secondly, first ascents were made in the spotlight, so to speak. They attracted vast media attention within the limitations of the time. First climbers became heroes and even received an Olympic medal. Numerous books were written, which added to their cult status. But this isn't enough. The main reason is that these walls still demand commitment, the decision to enter the face after a long access, mostly when night has already fallen, knowing that returning won't be easy and the descent to the other side will be long and possibly demanding. Lots of parties will bivvy in the wall and so the backpack will be heavy which will make climbing less comfortable and harder.


The future of maintaining the reputation of these faces and routes is not to be feared for. With a general decrease in human courage, the percentage of climbers actually attacking these routes is declining. The number of those who dare in comparison to the number of climbers is diminishing (according to T. Škarja J), although the mere physical capacity of climbers is increasing.


And so, here we are, at the anniversary of one of the above-mentioned routes, the one this post is dedicated to: the Walker Spur on the northern face of the Grandes Jorasses. The 1200-metre-high route with difficulty rating ED-, VI. The route was first climbed in 1938, exactly 80 years ago, between August 4 and August 6. The epic component of the story isn't as strong as in the tragedies of the Eiger, it's even lovely. Riccardo Cassin, Ugo Tizzoni and Gino Esposito reached the Col du Géant in August of 1938 and carried on to the Requin Hut. All they had on them was a photo of the mighty face which they kept waving around, asking alpinists they met there how to get to that wall. They told them to descend to Mer de Glace and turn right where two glaciers met (the Leschaux glacier comes from the right). They would see it there. They did as they were told and, carrying two bivvies, climbed the mighty, rocky and mixed spur dropping down from the highest point of the Jorasses, Pointe Walker (4208 m). The route became one of the so-called last three problems of the Alps and is the hardest one of them in terms of technique.


The northern face of the Grandes Jorasses, the Walker Spur descends from the very top of the mountain on the left.


When I had bigger muscles and a smaller belly, the route didn't attract me too much, the difficulty rating wasn't tempting enough. And so I made excuses. In the summer it was too easy and in the winter there wasn't enough ice in comparison to the attractive ice lines of Mont Blanc. So the route had to wait until I became a guide and my attitude towards alpinism became more relaxed. Too bad, the route is perfect and appropriate for all periods of life!


For some time now, I've been occasionally climbing with Aljoša Hribar. After a period of sport climbing (competitive too) in the eighties, he successfully dedicated himself to business and a myriad of adrenaline sports, everything at the highest level. Alpinism had to wait until mature middle age when he took it up again with great ardour despite being in his early fifties. Speaking of age, it's popular (although I don't think it makes much sense) to calculate the total age of the roped party. With us, it is precisely 100, together we're a hundred years old.


The forecast for the week was promising and there were no excuses to be found (well, you can always find them if need be). We decided to climb the face without sleeping bags, but with just two bivvy bags and a stove, hoping to ascend it in one day and potentially bivouac somewhere on the way down. At 1.30 a.m. on August 1, we left the Leschaux Hut and entered the icy base of the face a bit more than two hours later. Climbing at night isn't too comfortable as it's hard to orient yourself. Dawn came a couple of rope-lengths below the Rebuffat crack. From that point on we climbed in climbing shoes all the way up to the foot of the Red Chimney surrounded by ice which, contrary to expectations, provided for serious mixed terrain climbing. Three rope-lengths below the top we met a Spanish party of two preparing their second bivvy in the wall. Oh, how we envied them. They sat on the beautiful shelf with a view a couple of rope-lengths below the top of Grandes Jorasses, making dinner wrapped in sleeping bags. We hurried on to profit from the last light. At 10 p.m. we stepped on the rounded snowy peak. There was no need for philosophy, the wind and cold didn't allow us to sit down and take a short nap so we started to descend. The descent took longer than we would have wanted. Previously, I had descended from Pointe Croz in winter with Urbi and Čečko and we descended straight along the middle of the Jorasses glacier and reached the valley very fast and without trouble. I've also descended from Pointe Young with Miha and Tinca via the Mallet glacier, more than half of the way on skis. And so, I remembered the descent from Jorasses as fairly quick and easy. But that’s not the case in the summer and even less so at night and after climbing 45 rope-lengths. This is why we talked about the option of sitting down and napping soon after reaching the Walker ridge. Aljoša said he would rather do that when we reached the forest. But then I checked the height indicator, 3900 metres. Impossible! We now laugh at this, because we needed six more hours (including preparing water and an attempt at bivouacking on the Rocher du Reposoir) to get to the forest, well not even the forest, but to the Boccalatte Hut (which is another hour and a half above the forest).


Pleasant climbing made somewhat bitter only by the heavy backpack.


One of the hardest parts of the route, 75-metre-long vertical corner.


Just below the edge of the face we also had to climb a couple of rope-lengths on ice.
A couple of rope-lengths below the top the sun began to set.


Ever since the last Fitz Roy in 2013, I've never skipped a night for climbing (even longer for partying). In these circumstances the body slowly reduces energy consumption and the feeling of drunkenness appears that demands consciously slowing down events for the benefit of safety. But since something is usually happening at that time, something “bigger”, at least on a personal level, the body can do more and better than you would’ve thought. And that's nice, the feeling that you fought well and successfully. May the wish for such goofing around never go away!

Tomaž Jakofčič
Tomaž Jakofčič

I was born 1970 in Germany to parents, which were “Gastarbeiter”. There I also spent my first 5 years, after that we returned to Ljubljana, where I still live with my family till this day. My parents were never really into mountain climbing, and I really can’t explain where I got my strong wish for “conquering the useless parts of the world”. Till the end of middle school it wasn’t so bad, because I wouldn’t live out my obsession to the fullest yet. I was constantly daydreaming and this was also the reason I had worse grades, than I could have had, but I managed. I also briefly visited university, if I let out the fact that I got my diploma with almost gray hair. After a few years of teaching in primary school, I finally managed to gather my courage and cut the cord, which bind me to my regular job and I became a “full time climber” and mountain guide.

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