Divine Providence: Nina Caprez On-Sights Mont Blanc’s Most Difficult Route

By Nina Caprez.

I am not quite sure what bit me when I did this route, but it must have been something magical. Sometimes your gut makes you try things. That is the case for Divine.

I spent some time in the mountains in July, a pretty ridge, a nice summit like the Chardonnet, I went for some climbing at the Trident and the Grand Capucin, I sent Avé César in the Petit Clocher du Portalet, and in general I built up some decent legs.

Well, I felt ready and and so did my partner Benoit, who I trust with my life.

With a three day window in the weather but some storms coming behind, we might have started off a bit optimistically or even culotés. Yet from start to end, it all rolled out nicely. Luck was on our side.

On the first day, we grabbed the last gondola in Torino, crossing under the Grand Capucin in silence, to then reach the Bivouac de la Fourche. We are alone, with a mindblowing view : The Grand Pilier d’Angle before our eyes. This 900 meter face is majestic, intimidating, and really makes you want to climb it.

(Above) Dinner at Bivi Fourche

The mood between Benoit and I is joyful. Divine Providence has been making rounds around his mind for years. The wait is finally over. We melt some snow and eat some LYO food and our excitement continues to grow. We are out and sleeping right away and our 4am wakeup comes quickly. We eat and drink some tea. Time to go!

In two little rappels, we find ourselves on the Glacier de la Brenva, which leads us to the Col Moore. The full moon lights our steps but the day is quick to follow.

Another five rappels to land on the most dangerous part of the route: crossing under the large and beautiful seracs. A quick hello but then we pick up the pace to cut the chance of them breaking on us.

From afar, we have carefully observed the line and we know exactly from which point we want to start the assault of the wall.

Crossing the rimaye at 7 in the morning is always going to be a tad sketchy. You see the gap under your feet, you pray that the snow bridge will hold, and you go ! After a short  committed climb with crampons and through small snow field, we are now finally at the bottom of the first pitch.

The 400 meter base of Divine Providence up to the bivy was a nightmare for the previous parties because of lousy rock quality. Benoit and I chose the FFME alternative, a route that opened in 1992. A harder climb than the original, this option offers better rock. While I was a bit scared by this first section at first, I found myself at ease once in it.

We start ascending in 5c to 6b pitches.  Large packs on our backs, yes, but the rock is solid, I even quite enjoyed it, to be honest. I could picture myself with my bulky bag, following nice crack lines, setting up relays where suitable.  We were still very watchful since there was still some decent amount of rock just asking to snap, but for people climbing in the Chartreuse, it was nothing unheard of.

(Above): Nina 6a 

At 4pm we get onto a little ledge. Bivy at last. And it is not just a bivy, it is the dream Bivouac. 500 meters above the ground, perched among some of the most beautiful peaks in Europe! We are elated! What a joy to be there, living fully and relieved that all had gone well so far.

We slept as well as two people in one sleeping bag can and woke up with a magnificent sunrise, very eager to start the real climbing. On the menu, 10 pitches from 6b to 7b on impeccable granite.

I can summarize the next eight hours in one word: dazzling

I have rarely seen such beautiful cracks on concrete-solid rock that was so easy to protect. I had a ball. We hauled out bags so that we could both be climbing freely and enjoying every last bit of it.

Nina Caprez 7a+(Above) Nina on 7a+

Benoit, who is not quite able to onsight all the pitches, still enjoys the climb as much as I do.

3 o’clock and we get to the top of the rock face and switch into another 250 meters of mixed climb awaiting. Et wow! That certainly shook us up! We expected a nice ridge line, stretched rope but no way. There is, in fact, some more really shaky rock scramble with ice. Benoit took the lead there. My partner is a solid mountaineer and he showed me what he is capable of in this section. He even saved my bacon when I start sliding off with a large boulder. Massive adrenaline shot at both ends of the rope. I quickly gathered myself to continue on.

(Above) Arrete de Peuterey

At 7pm, we finally got to the Arrête de Peuterey. It’s a perfect snow ridge with a thousand meters of air on each side. We get off rope and made an easy last stretch thanks to the tracks of climbers who had exited the l’intégrale de Peuterey earlier.

I was drained, yet savouring each step, always finding good support for my pick. My heart was pounding, but out of joy and excitement.

(Above) Nina on 7b.

At 9pm we congratulated each other on top of the Mont Blanc. What a moment to remember. We had reached the famous summit by it’s hardest route and it did not look all that impossible now.

Benoit and I make a perfect rope team: the free climber with the mountaineer, two approaches to moving and a wide range of experiences to adapt to the many challenges that mountains have to offer.

I am really happy to have dared throwing myself in a classic mountaineering route. I am proud to have kept smiling through and to be the first female to complete the ascent. I feel blessed to have shared it with Benoit. I feel alive, although exhausted.

Congratulations, Nina!

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