A Guide to Climbing 'Les Intouchables', Trident du Tacul (7b+) | A Mont Blanc Massif Classic
A great line to test sustained crack climbing skills, this route has been described as "one of the best rock routes in the massif" by Philippe Batoux, with the hardest pitch being the impressive 35m 7b+ overhanging crack the route is famous for. This is one for the crack-masters out there.
Thanks to the warm summer, in July my buddy Arnaud and I decided to attempt it. Here is my guide to the route, which includes how we found the toute, a bit of its history, and some details on other climbs in the vicinity.
Trident du Tacul, 'Les Intouchables'
• Grade: ED4; the hardest pitch is 7b+ max, 6b obligatory
• Length: 250m
• No. of pitches: 8
The route was traced and bolted by one of the most active pioneers of free climbing, Michel Piola, in 1988, with the help of H. Bouvard.
Today, as with many other routes in the massif, the route has bolted (“béton” the French say) belays that are also used for the rappels, and there are also bolts in the sections that canno otherwiset be protected. The anchors and bolts have also been replaced recently, which is always nice.
The actual climb features mostly crack climbing, beginning with the first pitch: a physical 7a+ overhanging crack. An interesting warmup! It's not only cracks that make the route though; a 7b slab and a very technical 6c+ arête final pitch are both present.
The most famous pitch and crux of the route is the 35m 7b+ crack. It was originally bolted, as the line was pretty avant-garde in itself. Or, perhaps Piola thought no one would be interested in crack climbing enough to want to climb such a line with trad gear! Also, bear in mind that at that time cams weren’t exactly C4’s, and they had rigid stems.
The first free climb with bolts was made by Alain Ghersen. He wasn’t much of a crack climber, and he decided to lay-back the entire way, grading it 7c+. (I’ve heard laybacking referred to as spring-loaded death, which gives an idea of the effort involved in the technique and the difficulty of placing protections in a crack you can’t see.) Later repeats and climbers more dedicated to this particular style of climbing set the grade between 7b and 7b+, depending on hand size and skill.
In 2005, D. Berthod decided the bolts weren’t his thing and chopped them off, cleaning the line. Later, bolts were definitely useless for Alex Honnold, who free-soloed the route in 2016.
WHY CLIMB HERE?
I was inspired to climb the line last year when topping out the provocatively named Bonne Éthique (ED, 200m 8, pitches), an easier but must-do route that ends nearby. My partner and I got to the belay at the bottom of the really beautiful crack and had the chance to witness an on-sight cruise up the line by Nina Caprez. She even had the time to turn back and smile for the camera.
My attempt wasn’t quite so successful, ending 1/3 of the way up crack totally pumped and exhausted!
IS THE ROUTE TOO EASY FOR YOU?
If anyone feels that on-sighting a 7b+ crack after having just climbed 3 pitches (3 of which are of the 7th grade) is not enough to make the day, look no further! There are two variations to the crack: the Bassanini (7c+, free 1993 G.Bassanini) just to the left, and Super Purple (8a, 1 bolt, free 2010 N. Potard) further to the left.
IS THE ROUTE TOO HARD FOR YOU?
It's also possible to reach the top of the Trident du Tacul by the classic Lépiney route, climbed in 1919 - without the use of pitons!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the route as much as I did.
By Pietro Picco.
Pietro Picco was born at the base of the Mont Blanc in Courmayeur, Italy, and grew up in the shadow of Europe's highest mountain range. It installed within him an attraction that proved too great to resist. He received a degree in Naval Engineering in 2011, and has spent many years sailing the world and working on shipyards. Finally the allure of the mountains pulled him back to his hometown of Courmayeur and the peaks he had known since a child. Since moving back to the Alps, Pietro has worked for the Fondazione Montagna Sicura, a non-profit foundation that educates others on mountain safety. He is studying the glaciers of the Aosta Valley and is qualified to join the Soccorso Alpino mountain rescue service team. In 2017 he started his training to become a mountain guide, hoping to transfer the knowledge and skills gained from his work in the mountains to his own career.