Petit Dru - Directe Americaine - 06.08.2015
|the Petit Dru westface seen from our bivouac|
Myths and history
The Petit Dru west face is definitely one of the most impressive faces around Chamonix.
Feared and loved amongst the climbers because of his beauty but also because the
difficulty of it's routes this poor face has gone through some hard times during the last 12
years. It was the hot summer in 2003 when a big part of the face collapsed followed by
another collapse in 2005. The consequence was that many important and classic routes
were partly or totally destroyed and from then on the face was declared as dead - or at
least almost. There is one route that survived the disaster even though the upper part is
now climbed on the north face: the Directe Americaine.
Don't go, It's too dangerous!
When you go and ask some local guides what they think about climbing the Dru, they
probably will tell you that it isn't recommendable at all. Even though the route is described
amongst the best 100 climbs in the Mont Blanc range in the Batoux guidebook it seems
that only very few climbers finally attempt to climb this face.
Is it really that dangerous? ..who knows. What is certain is that a part of the face still could
collapse and that it is more likely to happen after or during big heat waves.
But it is also certain that there are many other faces where the risk to get hit and killed by
rocks is way higher. The difference is that on this face the falling rock could be a big
Anyway Isra, a spanish friend had told me that he had climbed the route some weeks ago
and that to him it seemed that the conditions were good.
Some snow had fallen since he had done it so we decided to wait for the upper part of the
wall to dry up a bit and wait for stable weather conditions. Fortunately we didn't have to
wait for long.
The original Directe Americaine doesn't lead to the top of the Petit Dru and so many
people just climb to the big jammed block and the rappel down the face. We wanted to
climb the whole face as it is described in the Bateaux guidebook and then descend
towards the Charpoua glacier. There are many ways you can climb this route, but it is very
likely that you have to bivouac at least one night. You can climb the first part of the route to
the jammed block on the first day and then climb the upper part and do the descend on the
second day. According to the informations we got we thought if should be possible to do
the climb and the descend in one push. Surely that meant we would have to use another
tactic, we had to climb "light and fast".
On Wednesday we took the train to Montenvers and under the weight of our backpacks
and the heat of the sun we climbed down the ladders to the Mer the Glace and then up
again on the opposite side towards the Charpoua hut. After the steepest part we took the
small path to the left that leads towards the Dru. We found some nice flat boulders not too
far away from the crossing, where we decided to spend the night. We didn't want to have
to walk too far to get our sleeping bags the next day, otherwise it would have been better
to spend the night in the bivouac-caves directly underneath the Dru.
We went up to the base of the face to see where the route starts and to leave our gear
|the flat boulders|
The long way to the top
The night had been warm and so it was unusually easy to get out of our sleeping bags and
get ready to start. We went up the moraine and at about five we were already at the place
were we had left our gear the day before. As we didn't want to haul our bags up except for
the two hard pitches after the jammed block, so we packed the crampons, ice axes, water
and food in one backpack and filled the other one with our clothes. So the lead-climber
could take the lighter backpack while the follower could climb with the heavy one.
In the lights of our headlamps we traversed the steep snowfield to the start of the ramp
that leads to the first pitches. We started to climb at about 5.30 and we tried to do the first
pitches as fast as possible as we knew that the lower part is more exposed to stone-fall.
I felt quite relieved as we got through this first pitches. Fortunately we didn't have any route-
finding problems as the first pitches had been bolted some years ago by a probably
somehow disturbed French climber from the Chamonix valley.
The interesting thing of our tactic was, that you somehow felt relieved when you could lead
a pitch, because climbing with the "pig" on your back wasn't really relaxing.
Anyway, after about 7 pitches we got to the first ledge. From there on the wall steepens up
and the line to follow seemed quite obvious to us, so we just continued towards a big
dihedral....unfortunately the wrong one...so we abseiled down again to the sledge and had
a better look at the topo :-).
|up and then to the left|
After this two-pitches intermezzo and two more pitches we got to the right dihedral, a nice
40 meters 6b with many rock pitons. We had two route descriptions: one was the topo of
the topoguide book and he other one was the Batoux-topo. There are quite big differences
regarding the grades of the pitches. In our opinion the second and third 6b (according to
the Bateaux guidebook) are easier but i.e. surely the last pitch to get to the jammed block
is way harder than 4c...
|the 40 meters dihedral|
|almost at the jammed block|
We got to the jammed block at about half past twelve. We stopped there to eat and drink
something before we started to climb the first easier pitch of the "90 meters dihedral".
The two 6c pitches of the dihedral are definitely the crux pitches, but they are quite well
protected. We decided to haul the "pig" so that at least the leader could climb without
additional weight. I already felt quite tired after having climbed the lower pitches with
backpack, but still fit enough to get rid of these two pitches.
|the first easier pitch of the 90m dihedral|
|the first 6c pitch of the 90 m dihedral|
|the two crux pitches of the 90m dihedral are quite well protected|
|the second 6c pitch of the 90m dihedral|
To join the Allain-Leininger route, which is the route you follow to get to the top, you have
to do an aid climbing traverse (German rescue traverse).
I just say: interesting. If you are used to do hard aid climbs and hang on sky hooks and
copperheads you probably don't feel scared at all of hanging yourself on 60 years old rusty
and twisted bolts. Anyway, for us it felt interesting.
|aid-climbig in the german rescue traverse|
|climbing up the first part of the traverse-pitch|
Past the traverse we thought it would be quite easy and fast to climb the last 9 pitches to
the top. We were wrong... The 4c and 5a pitches turned out to be a little bit harder, I would
say up to 6b. If you look at the Batoux-topo you could think that you follow a quite straight
and evident line, but it isn't that easy at all. So my advice is that if you plan to climb this
route you better search for a better description on internet.
In the meantime the upper part of the mountain was hidden in the clouds and so route-
finding got even more complicated. Time kept on passing by and we didn't really
understand where we were so we just tried to keep on going searching for easiest way to
|easy first pitch after the traverse|
At about nine o'clock we stood on a platform, about twenty meters underneath the top. It
had taken us approximately 5-6 hours to get there from the end of the traverse and instead
of nine pitches we had climbed about 12...
|on the plattform underneath the summit of the Petit Dru|
It was getting dark and we basically had climbed the whole upper part in the fog, so we
decided to bivouac instead of going on and risk not to get stuck during the descent.
We used the ropes as sleeping mats and and then slipped into the two persons bivouac
bag. I think it would have been fine if the wind wouldn't have increased and it wouldn't
have started to rain a bit... We passed a intense night shivering, shaking an clapping our
hands, rubbing our legs and sleeping a little bit.
Yeah that's real alpinism, or should I say masochism?? :-)
|good morning Mont Blanc|
At about 7 o'clock we started again, this time a bit more tired and with less ease than the
day before. First we got to the top of the Petit Dru, where we enjoyed the sun for a few
minutes, then we traversed to the Brèche des Drus and climbed to the top of the Grand
Dru. We were happy that we had decided to bivouac underneath the summit of the Petit
Dru because it wouldn't have been easy at all to climb to the top of the Grand Dru in the
dark and even harder to find the rappels down to the Glacier de Charpoua.
|Brèche des Drus|
The description of the descent we got in the Office de Haute Montagne was very good and
so we quite easily found the bolts from where you do the first rappel. The face you rappel
down is not always vertical and with many ledges. In the lower part you even rappel down
along a rock couloir. The ancors are not always easy to find so I wouldn't recommend
anyone to do the descend from the Grand Dru at night.
After about nine or ten rappels we were on the Charpoua glacier where we quickly
descended go the Charpoua hut. We didn't stop at the hut but kept on descending until we
got to the next stream where we finally could rehydrate, as we hadn't drunk that much the
|The descend seen from the Charpoua glacier|
After getting our sleeping bags we descended to the Mer the Glace and got back to the
Montenvers station at about five o'clock.
All in all it was a really good climb, one of the best I have done in Chamonix and if it wasn't
for the objective dangers I would say a "must do"!
One route less on my wishlist :-)