The Grand Capucin - Chamonix at its finest

Posted by Tim Emmett
Tuesday 4th August 2009

I had never been to Chamonix in the summer before and was hungry to get a taste of the golden alpine granite it is so famous for. Tim on the lower pitches with the headwall looming c Emmett collectionThe one place I wanted to check out was the Grand Capucin a 400M monolith that pierces the snowcap like the head of a giant missile. The summit sits proud at 3838M and everyone I knew that had climbed there, said the rock was unbelievable. I had to find out more…

The final stage of the Mountain Hardwear Academy, in Chamonix gave the perfect opportunity. After 18 months and 6 trips across Europe the candidates had learnt much, so I teamed up with the Spanish fire fighter and aspirant mountain guide Ferran Martinez to take on the Grand Capucin. We decided on “ Voyage de Gulliver” aka Gullivers Travels graded 5.12 ABO (abominable), the zenith of Alpine Climbing grades. Renown as one of the great ticks of the Mnt Blanc Massive

Basically, it’s glorified cragging with a glacial approach and a dose of altitude for good measure. Fun Times!

A 4am start gave way to visibility of less then fifty metres as we started our approach. We couldn’t see a thing and ended up at the base of a wall about a mile away from our objective, oops.

Back on track we eventually got to the Grand Cap, it looked stunning as the clouds drifted away. I love the transition of exchanging heavy winter climbing boots and crampons for a tight pair of Five Tens, way better! The key thing with alpine climbing in the summer is speed; to get up and down the route before the afternoon thunderstorms start to boil. We had to get a move on. The rock was even better than I expected; immaculate, bullet hard granite with nuggets and crystals to paste your rock shoes onto.


After several pitches I tried to free the first pendulum,  (Ferran had seen video footage of Catherine Destivel freeing the same section).
I got ejected into space,
“Come on Timmy, you can do that”
Ferrans eyes lit up as I fell onto the rope.
“You think you can do it Tim”? He was expectant and enthused by the whole performance.
I swung back to the belay and set off for round two.
The challenge was to get to the crack 3 metres to my left, without using the withered strands of rope that hung from the aid bolt usually used to lower into the crack. Undercutting a matchstick crystal with my left, I poised, ready to throw for a sloper with my right. It was so fun, super high up, but totally safe. I got it. Brilliant!
The crack was savage, a bit like London Wall at Millstone but 600ft off a glacier and 3500meters above sea level. Puffing and panting, desperately trying to get my fingers bite, I committed the cardinal sin – I grabbed the quickdraw. Shit! Sometimes it’s so hard to say “NO”!

We needed to get a move on, so I continued up to the belay, before bringing Ferran up too.
We knew we had to be at the summit at noon to stand any chance of getting to the Midi station for the lift back to Chamonix, time was running out as the clouds enveloped the peaks.

Ferran was on top form as we fired through the last few pitches, and standing on the summit was just magic. A full 360 degree view of the Mnt Blanc Massive, only shrouded by the sense of urgency to get back down.

I had heard that the Grand Cap had been BASE jumped before, but only with a sub 3 second delay (slider down). The next challenge is to jump it with a wingsuit. I didn’t have my rig with me, but still scanned the peaks for possible exit points. It looks wild, and maybe one day someone will pluck up the courage to try it, spicy times! The thing is you need to do a running exit, to get enough distance to clear the slabs, and running in a wingsuit is not ideal!

Read more blog entries by Tim Emmett

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