Due to missing good weather windows with work and conditions being really awkward, I hadn't managed to get much climbing done this autumn. A nice high pressure system sat over the Massif last weekend. So I said no to work and asked about to see who was keen to go climb a hill...
A good friend of mine and of everyone's in the Chamonix Valley, 'Ginger' Ben O'Connor Croft was off work for the weekend and was also wanting to climb something. We had heard a few people had been on the Lesueur route on the Dru and that it was in good condition. We both knew that this would be a big route for us and would have to put a lot into it. Not a problem as we were both really excited to climb something big.
It took us a while to walk up from Montenvers to the Bivvy site as we had to break trail through a lot of fresh snow, but luckily there were four of us heading up there. Two other friends, Tom & Ben, were going up to climb the Dru Couloir, which meant we would all be spending the night in the same 2 man bivvy spot! Thankfully though they brought a tent for themselves which allowed us to all get a good night's sleep before our climbs the following day.
Our plans were to try and climb the route in a day. So we didn't take sleeping bags or bivvy bags, just a 2 man bothy bag that I was supplied with by Outdoor Designs. We planned just to use it at the top for making water and having some food in. We ended up trying to get a few hours sleep in it on a snowy ledge!
|Ginger Ben, friendly face in the valley.|
We started quite early to make the most of the day. Reaching the bottom of the route for 3am. We started up the original route which goes up the couloir as for the north face route, then you break up left on a big snow slope for about 120m until you reach the first pitches. Straight away on these first few pitches we were greeted with amazing quality ice and a wee taster of how phenomenal the route was going to be. We decided to climb in blocks of two, meaning that the leader does two pitches in a row. This allows both climbers to get there head into their comfort zone and focus on what they'll be doing next.
At the start Ben had an exciting moment when one of his axes ripped out of a crack, sending him onto his back. Luckily he had placed a cam just before, stopping him going a little bit further shall we say!
Ben lead the pitch up to the first main crux which was pretty technical and thin, then he got a pretty reasonable hanging belay below the crux overhanging chimney. Once up to the belay I gathered the kit, put on my brilliant technical 'M14 gloves' from Rab, made sure jackets were tucked in properly then set of to see what this pitch had to offer. I wasn't planning to go free the Lesueur route, I thought I'd see how high I got before falling off then start pulling on gear. I managed to technically climb my way up the lower part, then bridge up the chimney before using some jams to pull through onto the groove above where more quality ice was to see me to the belay. This pitch took a while and I used a lot of energy on it, but was really pleased with having just freed it. I would say it was around Scottish 7/8. Ben then came up and continued up for a full rope length, which brought us to about 20m below the next tight chimney crux.
I came up and decided to climb up a bit and just to make a belay below the chimney, after climbing a few hard moves I thought it'd be best if I just carry on up the pitch. The chimney was really tight and awkward so I had to take off my bag and clip it to a piece of gear. I climbed the chimney using typical thuggy moves, wedging my body in and then bringing one foot up on the outside and one on the inside. After the chimney it brought me onto a nice icy ramp, and I decided to belay just above so that I could haul the bags up easily. Ben then climbed the icy chimney above me which horribly turned out to be quite unconsolidated snow. By now it was starting to get dark, and with a couple of hard pitches still ahead we thought it'd be wiser to sit it out over night! Neither of us were looking forward to this...
Ben continued up for a few more pitches till we arrived below this steep corner, that had a large snowy bank underneath it. We thought this would be a suitable place to sit miserably inside a plastic bag and get some sleep if possible.
Inside the bag we had a party, telling jokes, old stories, sipping brandy..... actually we were hunched up, spending ages making a litre of water, ate a snickers, rubbed each other's feet (seriously) and moaned about how wet we were getting due to the condensation. Every hour or so we would get out the bag and dance around for a bit, scream at the bag and where we were, then realise it's warmer in the bag and climb back inside.
Ben set off the next day and climbed the really awkward corner pitch above the bivvy site. Good effort to him climbing a hard pitch first thing in the morning. he then carried on over to the bottom of the next main difficulties. A big rock scared wall that was full of grooves ledges and runnels of ice. I lead two pitches up this wall but went too far left and it brought us to where I think the original route went up as there was a few pegs around. One of these pitches included a traverse along a huge detached flake which must have been about 5m long and 4m high, I was really nervous going along it.
Ben climbed the next few pitches which included a rather tight squeeze through this hole which again the bags had to come off for and I dragged mine behind on a sling. There was one last main pitch before we joined the Dru Couloir, and it was graded Scottish 6 on the topo. The pitch was a big flake line that had a bit of ice in it, which made it awkward for gear. I climbed through the bottom section into the crux of the pitch, It had already felt as hard as some of the previous pitches. maybe due to tiredness but it definitely felt like Scottish 7. I climbed up for a bit and then eventually admitted defeat with trying to free it... I said 'take' and sat on the cam! I felt so shitty with myself having not tried a little bit harder. So after a good shake out to relieve my thumping forearms I thought it'd be quicker just to aid it. I clipped a sling then stood up to clear ice from the crack above then suddenly my cam ripped and I took a good fall and ended up hanging upside down from my crampon which was caught behind one of the ropes. Hanging upside down on the Dru by my crampon I did think this would make a good picture! I wish now that I asked Ben to take one. I suppose the fall served me right for not pushing myself to try and free it. So now a little tender and shaking by the fall, I aided my way up the pitch which was still quite awkward and even if I got through the lower crux I would have still had a big fight on my hands to free the rest of the pitch.
By the time I topped out it was starting to get dark again, we brewed up some water before setting of up the final pitches to reach the breche. The original route does traverse over the couloir and finishes up on the Grand Dru, but the climbing looked in poor condition so we decided to climb the final few pitches of the couloir and stop at the breche. I feel we put in a good effort and enjoyed our couple of big days out on the hill.
After a quick handshake and pat on the back we started down the many abseils in the Dru Couloir. Once back at the bivvy site I lay on my sleeping bag and passed out, later I climbed into the bag whilst Ben made some food. I vaguely remember talking to Ben a hearing him say that he was heading down to town as he had work in the morning. This was at 3am, and by the time I next woke up he was gone. I woke up at 8am had a few cups of tea the stumbled my way down to the Montenvers station. Where I had to wait ages until the next train, but there was no way I was walking down to town. I happily sat there brewing up a tea waiting on my train to leave.