Dienstag, 18. August 2015


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.

Battle plan

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

rusty bolts

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

the top.

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

The descent

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

. We were happy that we had decided to bivouac underneath the summit of the Petit

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

last day..

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 :-)

Montag, 10. August 2015

Here and now we are ....again.... in Chamonix :-)!

The Climbing season this year started quite well and unusually early for me. In April me and my climbing partner Thomas went to the Gorges de Taghia in Marocco, an extraordinary place where we climbed some very nice routes (the best certainly les Rivières Pourpres). Back again from Marocco I wasn't really motivated to do some stuff on ice and so I decided to just go rock climbing. After Thomas returned from his trips to Mallorca and Verdon we did some nice climbs in the Dolomites like the classic KCF on the Rochetta Alta di Bosconero, Die scharfe Helene on the Crep de Boe (a route opened by Mark Oberlechner and Simon Gietl In 2012) and Diamante on the Meisules.

Chamonix and the Mont Blanc range is a perfect place where I still have some routes on my wish-list and where I thought it shouldn't be too hard to find some guiding work.
The plan is to stay in Chamonix for about two months and try to climb as much as possible, meet new people and make some working experience abroad.

So we started on Tuesday 21st from Bolzano, the whole car packed with stuff that could be useful during this two months stay.
We first drove to Verona to the Gronell factory where I got a new pair of alpine boots (thanks Gronell! :-) ).
As we were not very sure if we should directly drive to Chamonix we first checked the weather. According to the weather forecast in Chamonix the weather wasn't really stable and so we decided to make a "little" deviation and do a pit stop at the Piz Badile.

Piz Badile – Cassin – 22.07.2015

Neither Thomas nor me ever clmbed the Badile before, so we decided to go for the classic Cassin route on the east face, about twenty pitches up to VI+. So we drove to Bondo and from there we went up to the hut, not as slow as we would have liked to...some lightnings suggested us to speed up a "little" bit - it was so hot that I decided to take off my pants and walk up in my underwear, something I never experienced before :-).
The next day we started early and got to the base of the face together with two Spanish guys that let us start first. So fortunately we didn't have anyone in front of us and basically had the whole face  for ourselves. We decided to climb as much as possible simultaneously with t-blocks. 

somewhere in the lower part
one of the grade VI pitches in the upper part

the final chimeneys

The perfect granite lead us to climb quite fast and so in 3h20 we already where on the north ridge, even though we lost some time to figure out which was the right crack at the beginning of the upper part.
About 20 minutes later we stood on the top and then started to descend via the north ridge. At half past one we arrived at the hut and then descended to the car.

We didn't want to get to Chamonix too late in the evening so we spent a night camping by a river near Courmayeur.

The weather wasn't good enough to climb the big faces we were aiming for and so we decided to go to the refuge des Enverses to climb some shorter routes.

Première Pointe de Nantillons - Au nom de la rose (7a+) - 24.07.2015

This route offers some really nice pitches on perfect rock, the only thing is, that except for the first pitches it doesn't follow a very logical line. Nonetheless a nice route with some interesting slabs and crack climbing sections!

where are the bolts?

the 7a+ pitch

6c crack - quite obbligatory

6c+ crack

camelot 4 - useful in this pitch

7a pitch - bouldery one

almoust on the top

On the second day we had to wait a bit for the faces to dry up as it had rained during the night and  the temperatures had dropped noticeably.

Tour Verte - Pont des soupirs (6b+) & Tour Rouge - Marchand du sable (VII) – 25.07.2015

So we chose an easy route and climbed the east ridge of the Tour Verte (Pont des soupirs). As the climb wasn't that long and demanding we decided to climb another route on the Tour Rouge and chose the classic "Marchand du sable", a very nice route with a very interesting first pitch (6a??...).  

Pont des soupirs - 6b+ crux

6a+ pitch

The first and hardest pitch of the Marchand du Sable

Nice 6a+ slab almoust at the end - not so easy when wet :-)

the final part of the slab-pitch

Première Pointe de Nantillons - l'Age de l'homme (6c) – 26.07.2015

On our third climbing day on the Aiguilles des Enverses  we wanted to climb a bit more demanding route called "La dolce vita" on the Aiguille du Roc. The description in the guidebook wasn't very useful and so, after about one hour trying to figure out where the route started we gave up and went to climb another route called "l'Age de l'homme" on the Première Pointe de Nantillons".
Way easier than Au nom de la rose also this mainly bolted route offers some really nice pitches but doesn't follow any logical line.
first pitch

The atmosphere on the Enverses hut was really relaxed and we also had the pleasure to meet new people i.e. the girls of the spanish alpine climbing team ( equipo femenino de alpinismo), a very nice and motivated bunch of lovely girls. A pity we didn't meet them sooner!

The day after climbing l'Age de l'homme we returned to Chamonix where we finally placed our big tent :-) in the camping of les Bossons.
On the hut Martín, a Spanish guide, recommended us a climb called État de Choc on the Petit Clocher de Portlet. The weather still wasn't good enough to go for some really long route,  so we decided to check out this one.

État de choc - Petit Clocher de Portlet (7a) – 28.07.2015

What is the most important thing when you want to climb as much as possible spending as less money as possible? Try to avoid using cable cars...! To do the approach to the Petit Clocher de Portlet there are two options:  the first is to take the cable car and then hike for about two hours to get to the base of the face. The other option is to drive a little bit further and do the whole approach by foot. The descriptions says three hours - could be, if you don't park your car a little bit lower down because of a ban on transit. I won't say how much it took us to get to the base of the face but certainly longer than we expected.
The northwest face of the Petit Clocher of Portlet is impressively steep. État du Choque follows a logical succession of cracks and corners, including a 7a off-width crack.
After the long approach it took us some minutes to recover a bit and get ready for the climb. If was the first time we used tape gloves...never found it necessary before.    
So we fought our way up, struggling and jamming up the endless cracks - quite demanding for limestone climbers indeed.  On the second 7a I had to take two rests, even though I didn't find it impossibly hard...I simply was too tired. After about 5 hours we topped out and then rappelled down the face. What a route - what a climb!


6b+ pitch

first 6c pitch

first 7a pitch

First 7a pitch - offwidth

camelot 5 more than useful...

squeezing up the second 6c pitch


start of the upper 7a pitch

doing the last hard moves of the second 7a pitch

The day after the weather was bad and so we took the chance to rest a bit and order our stuff. Then on Thursday we went sport climbing in Bionessay - a very nice crag not to far away from Chamonix.

Pointe d' Ayères - Dret dans l'pentu (7b+) - 31.07.2015

Chamonix is well known for his rock and mixed climbs on granite but we never thought that you could also find some first class limestone routes. On our rest day we had a look at the guidebook of the Ayères valley and found a topo of a quite new bolted 8 pitches route on a really good looking south-face. In the office de haute montagne they told us that this wall dries up very quickly and so we decided to have look at it. Ok, the drive was not too long but therefore the approach took us longer than we thought ....never underestimate the approach times in french guidebooks :-).. So, as often,  we arrived at the base of the face quite late, hmm, half past two... The first pitch turned out to be as horrible as the guy of the office de haute montagne had described it to us. Fortunately it was quite well bolted, otherwise you would fear to die climbing 6c on loose slate rock..
The hope is last to die and so we kept on going...and were rewarded! The second pitch already  offers awesome climbing on solid rock. With exceptions of some sections in the 7b+ pitch and in the first 7a+ pitch the rock is really good and often requires good footwork. The grades are a bit stiff and the climbing quite sustained, so perhaps it wasn't that bad that in the meantime the sun had been hidden by the clouds. Anyway at the top we were freezing our asses off and were really happy as we got back to our backpacks where we had left our jackets after a few rappels.

first pitch

The crux pitch - 7b+

7b - very tecnical

It was already dark as we got back to the car, what didn't bother us that much except for the fact that we knew we hadn't bought anything to eat for dinner. That meant that it definitely was time for another rest day.

Rest days are the best days? Could be - what we like to do is eating...a lot...
Sometimes low price and the high quality of the food don't go hand in hand and as a consequence the menu doesn't always look like you would want it to.  The brand is something we really paid much attention to...as loyal Carrefour-clients we mainly buy Carrefour-products: the white ones - definitely nothing for bio-freaks..

So after the eating-day we went to do some sport climbing in Bionessay, not such a good idea as it got scorching hot after one half past twelve when the sun hit the wall. Anyway we wanted to go back soon as we had planned to go to do the traverse des Aiguilles de Chamonix. But sometimes plans and motivation don't go hand in hand and so we decided to stay in the Camping and start in the morning to do the Arête du Diable on the Mont Blanc du Tacul.

Mont Blanc du Tacul – Arête du Diable (D) – 03.08.2015

We took the first "benne" at 6.30 and started from the Aiguille du Midi at about 7 o'clock. Yes, I know, not the best time to start for such a route but hey, nobody is perfect ;-).
So we jogged down the glacier passing underneath the steep couloirs of the Triangle du Tacul, the Grand Cappucin and the satellites of the Tacul to the start of the couloir that leads up to the Brêche du Diable. After about three hours we were at the Brêche and started to climb the ridge. There weren't any recent tracks on the snow that had fallen during he last days and we enjoyed the fact to be alone on this spectacular ridge. Just some sections were not that enjoyable due to the snow especially on the 4c pitch to get to the top of the pointe Carmen where the cracks where filled with snow making it a bit more interesting. We finally got to the top skipping the pointe Isolée, as we feared not to get the last cable car, which we thought would start at 17.30. 

at the Brèche du Diable

5b dihedral

mixed 4c-pitch

We got to the midi station at about five and realized there was no need to hurry, as there were still so many tourists on the Aiguille du Midi that it rather seemed to be in the Bazaar of Marrakech...
Back down in Chamonix we felt a bit tired but also happy to have finally done also this famous ridge.