At the end of January, Line van den Berg from the Netherlands and Fay Manners from the UK climbed Phantom Direct in a single push in 31 hours. With this undertaking, they not only secure the first women-only ascent of the route, also known as the 'Via in memoria di Gianni Comino'. They are probably only the fifth rope team to have successfully repeated this route from 1985.
What Line van den Berg Reading before she sets off into the unknown scares her and at the same time awakens her desire to explore: 1600 meters in altitude, longest ice route in the Mont Blanc massif, second ascent only 35 years after opening. "I felt a desire to try, to see for myself, to learn, to fail," she writes on her Blog.
At one o'clock in the morning they set out in the glow of their headlamps. Three hours later they face the first challenge of the tour, the bergschrund. A massive, overhanging serac of patchy snow lying on a featureless slab. Fay Manners tries it first and is rudely rejected twice. You decide to switch. Now Line van den Berg is on the tight end of the rope. She tries not to be discouraged by her climbing partner's falls. With success: after anxious minutes of complete concentration, she stands above the bergschrund and belays.
The bergschrund took more time than expected. The motivation of the two is still unbroken: "Let's go," says Fay Manners before they climb into the channel system above them. The ice is thin, the climbing is filigree, the options for protection are sparse. After about 200 meters you reach the supposedly difficult rope lengths.
"Compared to the photos that we saw on the internet of the 2020 climb, there is so little ice that I didn't even recognize the length of the rope at first," recalls the Dutchwoman. Nevertheless, her rope partner Fay Manners hooks into the small cracks and makes her way up.
Shadowy side of a south wall
Further up, the two alpinists realize why this wall is never climbed in summer: Rock or ice keeps falling out of the warm wall and hissing around their ears. At 13.45:XNUMX p.m. they arrive at the point of no return. Actually, they wanted to be there by lunchtime. They take a moment to reassess their strategy.
"I look Fay in the eye and before I can make my plea to move on - I'm excited and feeling confident with the sleeping bag and stove in our pockets that we won't freeze to death in the event of a disaster - I can say that she thinks the same way. We are there for the adventure.”
There's still a long way to go to the summit. To shorten the time to the exit, they climb simultaneously. In Line van den Berg's mind, time passes quickly and slowly at the same time. The higher they get, the more the wind picks up. And tiredness also makes itself felt and slows down their progress. "Shortly before midnight, after having climbed over rough terrain and laboriously crossed what felt like the eternal Hirondelles ridge with the wind blowing through our clothes and skins, we are at the summit."
Full concentration until the end
The two alpinists spend seven hours descending from the summit to Refugio Boccalette. Step by step they go down the frozen, wet snow. "It's just awful. Steep, dark, cold,” recalls Line van den Berg. After 24+ hours of ascent, attention is the big sticking point.
Line van den Berg and Fay Manners only realize what they have achieved in the 31 hours on the mountain later, when they are sitting in the pizzeria in Courmayeur: the first all-woman ascent of Phantom Direct and probably only the fifth repetition of the extremely demanding tour from 1985 in a single push from the valley. “It just feels massive,” enthuses Line van den Berg.
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