On top of the Aiguille du Fou, John Harlin was captivated by a display in the sky:

           We at last pulled ourselves onto the summit slabs.  Here the summit of the Fou floated in the clouds and the towering cumulus all around at our level reminded me of many similar moments while flying.  However, here one could actually feel the elements and be part of them.  These sculptured forms, ever-changing like life itself, made mockery of our Fou.  The south face of the Fou, perhaps the hardest climb in the western Alps , yet it could not compare to a soaring cliff of vapor with cracks and chimneys of translucent crystals never to feel a human hand.”  (John Harlin, AAJ 1964)  From this summit floating in the clouds, high above the Vallée Blanche and seemingly even above the Grandes Jorasses, John obliged me by stepping out for a best ever summit photograph.

           The ascent of this Chamonix Aiguille was a beautiful experience.  Gaston Rébuffat described the route in The Mont Blanc Massif:  The Hundred Finest Routes.


Although it has been famous now for several years because of its great and very sustained difficulty, at first sight the S Face of the Fou does not look a very attractive route.  Situated as it is above a couloir, in between two great rock shoulders, much diminished by the effects of perspective, the American Route might appear little more than a training route.  But once you have climbed that steep couloir, crossed a bergschrund which can sometimes be awkward and gone up gullies very exposed to stonefall, and once you arrive at the foot of that great monolithic wall, under the overhangs, you will soon forget those first impressions.


The summit is at 3501 m and the wall itself is no more than 300 m, but it is of extreme difficulty, a difficulty due to several factors, not least its unusual structure.  All the other walls in this range are seamed with couloirs, lined with arêtes and spurs.  The Fou is unique in having a flat, smooth, vertical surface, a simple diamond shape in red granite; it is bounded by four straight, pure lines, and right up the centre is the route.


The most outstanding achievement of those who first climbed it, remarkable American climbers very well trained on granite and in the Mont Blanc range, is to have discovered a route which, in its beauty and purity, is worthy of that wall.  It gives a quite extraordinary impression.

           In 1962 Yvon Chouinard predicted:  “Yosemite Valley will, in the near future, be the training ground for a new generation of super-alpinists who will venture forth to the high mountains of the world to do the most esthetic and difficult walls on the face of the earth.”  (AAJ 1963)  Royal Robbins’ 1962 ascent of the West Face Direct on the Petite Dru, and this route on the South Face of the Fou, began the fulfillment of Chouinard’s prophecy.

HARLIN ATOP THE FOU, after the ascent of the South Face, Chamonix Aiguilles, Mont Blanc Massif, Chamonix, France, by:  John Harlin, Gary Hemming, Stewart Fulton, and Tom Frost, July 1963.  The Grandes Jorasses beyond.