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The Central Pillar of Frêney - British route

First ascent: Chris Bonington, Jan Clough, Jan Duglosz, Don Whillans, 27 - 29/08/1961
By: Francesco Lamo
Area: Western Alps, Group: Mont Blanc, Peak: Mont Blanc, Height: 4810m, Country: Italy, Region: Valle d'Aosta

This is certainly one the absolute classic and popular routes in the Alps and leads to the summit of Mont Blanc via the highest rock pillar in the entire massif. Thanks to its altitude and orientation the tip of the Central Pillar, called "Chandelle", is the first to receive the sun's rays at dawn. The overall commitment, both physical and mental, needed to breach the pillar coupled with its intricate climbing history render the Frêney Central Pillar a legendary and timeless outing.

GETTING THERE

From Freney in Val Veny (1450 m) ascend to Rifugio Monzino (2561m, 2.00 hours) and continue on to the Eccles bivouacs via the Brouillard glacier (3850m, another 5-6 hours).
From the bivouacs traverse let to the base of a snow and ice gully; climb this to reach Colle Eccles (4021m). The first of two anchors are located here and lead to the upper Freney glacier (two 60 abseils plus a short scramble). Cross the glacier: do not loose altitude and remain below the Bergschrund to avoid the numerous deep rigole located above the Bergschrund. Reach the lowest point of the Pillar, more or less in the centre of the face (remains of fixed ropes) at circa 4000m altitude.
Crossing the upper Freney glacier to reach the base of the Central Pillar is probably the most dangerous section of the entire climb due to falling rocks. To reduce this danger it's highly recommended to reach the upper glacier before the first rays illuminate the Pillar.
From the bivouacs to the start of the route calculate 2 - 4 hours, depending on conditions, of how well you know the area and how you climb.

DESCENT

Descend down the Normal French route via the Vallot refuge (4362m) and the Refuge du Goûter (3817m).

NOTES

Difficulty: 5b-5c obligatory and some sections A1/A2 or 7a+ (overall difficulty ED). The difficulty of the Central Pillar lies not so much in its technical rock climbing difficulties but the overall complexity, both physical, technical and technical. On average 8-10 hours are needed just to climb the Pillar, if this is in good condition

Tactics: It is possible to start directly from the Monzino hut and bivouac at the base of Chandelle, about 6 - 7 pitches below the top of the Pillar (good places to bivouac just below the Chandelle), or make an additional stop at the Eccles Bivy and climb the entire Pillar the next day and bivouac past the difficulties (reaching at least the Vallot bivouac would be ideal). The first solution is faster (and means you can skip the often overcrowded Eccles huts), but is physically far more demanding.
It is probably far more comfortable to start by wearing climbing shoes and keep your boots in your rucksack, unless there is verglas (snow is usually easy to avoid by climbing up good rock, given the right conditions). Carefully assess the conditions of the lower section of the Pillar, tilted and therefore more prone to snow build-up.
The friendly hut warden of Rifugio Monzino, Armando Chanoine, will certainly provide you with useful information.
A team of three is perfect, provided that the two seconds climb simultaneously (while the leader climbs with a light rucksack, the two seconds follow with heavier packs).
Carefully monitor the weather forecast and calculate at least 2-3 days of stable weather from when you leave the Monzino hut.

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COMMENTS for the route "The Central Pillar of Frêney - British route"

17-10-2013, matteo valsecchi
ho fatto la salita nel 1984 passando dal bivacco ghiglione per l'itinerario col moure col de peterey pilone e rif goutier partendo alla una di notte e alle 20 eravamo al goutier. x me resta ancora oggi l'itinerario piu veloce sempre se le condizioni del percorso non sono cambiate e non essendoci piu il ghiglione ci si puo appoggiare al bivacco della fourche ciao
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Freney - Rif. Monzino 1100m, Rif. Monzino - Bivacchi Eccles 1300m, Central Pillar 500m (695m length), summit of Central Pillar - Mont Blanc 360m

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