by Andrea Peron and Adèle Milloz
“Ah! These devil’s needles!” exclaimed Laurent Croux in 1902 when he first reached the base of these granite pillars in an attempt to summit Mont Blanc du Tacul from the southeast ridge. He found his endeavor blocked by these spires, which were impassable at that time. These granite pinnacles kept their name and today represent one of the most beautiful and spectacular ascents toward Mont Blanc.
These “Devil’s Needles” are five aesthetically fantastic rocky pillars that make up the upper-middle part of the entire southeast ridge leading to the summit of Tacul. A few years ago, when I was climbing the Kuffner ridge, I saw these pinnacles in all their splendor, and I promised myself that one day I would cross them.
The day — or rather the night, since the alarm goes off at 1:55 a.m. — is here! A short time later we are already roped up and heading toward Combe Maudit, which we follow to its end and then begin the steeper climb, among snow, ice, and rock, to Col du Diable, which we reach less than three hours after setting out. The sun greets us with a spectacular sunrise over the entire Valle d’Aosta and the southern part of the Mont Blanc massif. Here we also confirm that we will have the entire ridge to ourselves, without the disturbance of any other party. This can’t be assumed, given that excellent conditions are required for such an itinerary, but excellent conditions often mean crowding. It’s cold, and what better way to warm up than to attack the Corne du Diable right away. It’s the first needle, which we climb in one 20-meter pitch. Our cold hands scream in reaction to the faster blood circulation stimulated by climbing. After descending back down to the col, we immediately attack Pointe Chaubert, now touched by the first rays of the sun. Our hands and our bodies are grateful for the warmth, and slowly we enter the rhythm of the climb, which — unlike other, more classic walls, where you first climb up to the end of the line and then descend — features continuous ups and downs. Two or three pitches to go up, and as many rappels toward the base of the next spire. In the end, these continuous maneuvers make the difference on a route like this. If you’re quick in all the gear changes, in reading the line, and in finding the belay points for rappelling (which are sometimes a bit hidden), you can manage quite quickly. If you’re slow ... you’ll be there until night. All in all, we did quite well, and at 11:30 a.m. we had finished our up and down between the pinnacles and were ready to cover the last mixed part of the ridge that would lead us to the summit by around 1 p.m.