It has mythical status in the mixed climbing world: “Beyond Good and Evil” is an extremely difficult route on the Mont Blanc range, and over the years it has become an inescapable benchmark. The route naturally inspired its first ascensionists, Andy Parkin and Mark Twight, and its first repeaters, François Damilano and François Marsigny – but also the up-and-coming generation, represented by Marion Poitevin and Sébastien Ratel. Three duos, three experiences, three encounters…
Opened by Andy Parkin
and Mark Twight
First repeat of the route, by François Damilano and François Marsigny
Repeated by Marion Poitevin
and Sébastien Ratel.
PERCHED AT 3000 M
With its 14 exceptional pitches over severe mixed terrain, it is the stuff of myth… “Beyond Good and Evil” covers 600 metres of elevation on the north face of L’Aiguille des Pèlerins (3318m). Located just to the right of the “Rebuffat-Terray” route, it proudly displays its 550 metres of crux pitches with an 85° gradient! Indeed, according to routebook Neige, glace et mixte, it’s a byword for “committed climbing with minimal protection”. Such is the setting of this extraordinary goulotte, whose famous dihedral can be seen from all over Chamonix, and fires the imagination. “All climbers feel the need to measure themselves against this benchmark, against climbing history”, says François Damilano, Millet technical adviser and the first man to repeat this route, with François Marsigny, in 1995. Today, “Beyond” is still a benchmark, although advances in equipment performance have made it more accessible than it was 20 years ago.
THREE YEARS' RESISTANCE
Englishman Andy Parkin and American Mark Twight, two giants of committed mountaineering, had opened this legendary line in November 1992 after two failed bids and three years’ resistance! Having noticed the possibility of a line up the wall, Mark and Andy were trying in November 1989 to tame it on the very day that the Berlin Wall came down. It was a good omen, but Mark fell… “From below, it looked like the perfect line. But once we began climbing, the ice was too thin and was coming off.” But no way were they giving up. At that time, Mark was using climbing as a bridge, “a way to become a more capable man, to test myself, learn of myself, and, in line with Nietzche’s philosophy, overcome man to become superman.” And so the two men kept trying. The third attempt was the one. The route map they sketched showed major commitment, with drawings of a “ha, ha!” traverse and a skull-and-crossbones belay:
“That was absolutely terrifying. It was steep and very loose. And you couldn’t put the belay in a protected place,” recalls Mark.
THREE TEAMS, THREE STORIES
Was this banter or the bald truth? Three years later, François Marsigny and François Damilano wanted to go and see for themselves. The route had never been repeated, and retained an aura of mystery: “We thought it would be terrifying, so we took loads of chocks and screws, a hammer…” recalls François Damilano. “But the ice was decent. We did pitch after pitch up the groove, yet we were scared of what lay ahead.” In the end, they saw nothing that merited a skull-and-crossbones, and completed this repeat at the first attempt. Mark felt bitter: “I remember thinking, ‘But it’s not the same route!’. Part of me really struggled with that… And now, 20 years later, I think to myself that they probably still had an incredible experience!” Others have since followed suit. Marion Poitevin, aged 28, is one of them! The first women to join France’s High Mountain Military Unit (GMHM) tucked this route under her belt in October 2013 with Seb Ratel: “Some of the pitches are certainly more technical, but we were never in danger of death! It wasn’t as tough as stated in the original topo, for sure. But when I put myself in the first ascensionists’ shoes, when I imagine their condition and equipment… I say to myself that they were truly ahead of their time. They were visionaries…”
I THINK TO MYSELF THAT THEY PROBABLY STILL HAD AN INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE! »
« something good»
So Mark should feel reassured. He and Andy definitely did “something good”. As they hoped, today’s young climbers find “Beyond” worth doing and have fantastic experiences on the route, which François Marsigny describes as “fantastic, almost out of this world”. “Once a route’s repeated, in a sense it loses its aura,” concedes François Damilano. “It can start a fashion. it gets talked about, people take photos… An extra layer is added to the myth.” For without a doubt, “Beyond Good and Evil” is one of those routes that “stay etched in your mind throughout your mountaineering career.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
In 2012, the 20th anniversary of the opening of “Beyond Good and Evil” was marked by a film made for Millet by director/mountaineer Bertrand Delapierre. In action on the route: Marion Poitevin and Seb Ratel. Recollections from Mark Twight, Andy Parkin, François Damilano and François Marsigny. A stunning 11-minute tribute to the vertical realm, in the form of a journey back to the future.