Success On The Dru, Take Two!

Me at the base of the West face of
The Dru
On Friday morning Ally and I headed off to the Midi Station psyched and ready for a day’s climbing on the South face of the Midi. Unfortunately when we got close to the station, we noticed that the queue for the lift was massive and they were also running a numbered/ticket system for the individual lifts up. This was also annoying as the queue for the tickets was bigger than the one for the lift.
As it was looking like we wouldn’t be getting anywhere near a lift in the next three hours we opted to give it a miss and headed back to the apartment to make up another plan. Thankfully this plan was much better than the original and all was not lost!
The bivi spot (home sweet home)
We decided that we would head up on the Montenvers train that afternoon and then walk across the Mer De Glace and up to bivi at the base of the Dru that night. Then we would be ready for another amazing route early on Saturday morning, but this time on the west face of this spectacular mountain.
As we were walking up the moraine to the bivi site we noticed there was another team of two already at the top of the Sócle (a 240m wall that needs to be climbed before you can gain access to the route). This was not a big problem, as we where planning on getting an early start the next day and if it was a fast team ahead of us, they would stay out of the way. But if it was a slower team, we knew we would be able to pass them fairly quickly, we weren’t too fussed either way. So we got our climbing kit organised and I sorted out my OutdoorResearch Aurora bivi bag and my Deuter Trek Lite 250 sleeping bag ready for another night of anticipation filled sleep in the mountains.
Ally and I chowing down
How comfy does this look?
After a quick bite to eat and once we had watched the awesome sun set over the Aiguilles Rouge, it was into our little bivi cave and off to bed for a few hours sleep before the 3am rise in readiness for our early start up the Sócle the next morning, and then onto “American Direct”.
When my alarm went off at 3am, the moon was shining bright over the Chamonix Aiguilles and it was nice to wake up to such a breath taking view of the mountains (this never fails to disappoint). We brewed up a coffee and wolfed down some porridge, and then it was on with the climbing gear and off across the snow field to the base of the wall.
Here comes the cold!
We swiftly made our way up the Sócle and within a short time we where belayed at the base of the imposing crack system that slices its way up the West face of the Dru. The two other climbers had obviously heard us coming and they had made their way up the first pitch and were just starting the second when we arrived at the base. I set off up the route and after cruising up the first pitch I was able to take the variation second pitch to get to the belay below the third pitch just as the leader of the other group also arrived. Thankfully they spoke English (British climbers) and they were both really nice guys. They agreed that we were going to be faster than them and let Ally shoot off up the third pitch (this was very good of them!).
The Dru in the setting sun
After climbing in a muddled formation of leader, leader, seconder, seconder for a couple of pitches (this was pretty annoying), Ally and I finely broke free and quickly put a few pitches between the others and ourselves.
Once we were on our own, the climbing seemed to get a lot more enjoyable and the immaculate granite cracks seemed to go on forever, with not one bad move throughout the entire route (well mostly). We ran a fair few of the pitches together, so that we kept moving fast up the face and it was not long before we were approaching the famous jammed block bivi ledge.
The view out of my window
The route itself is home to mostly good sound rock quality apart from the pitch below the Jammed block which is full of very very big very loose blocks that were deposited there when the South-West Bona

Bad weather is not always bad. Well not in Chamonix!

On Friday Ally and I headed up to the Peigne Slabs for some technical smeary action. We did an awesome route called Verdon Memories which is a classic multipitch line with hard slab pitches of up to 6c. Unfortunately there had been some heavy rain the previous night and the last two pitches where fairly wet. This added to the technical slab experience and proved to be fairly tricky on the damp patches (most of the last two pitches).
Me seconding one of the earlier pitches of
“Verdon Memories”
After a good day on the slabs, on Saturday we headed to the area of Giétroz for some single pitch sport climbing fun. We both tried the brilliant 8a “Rev de singe” and by the end of a long hot day had both started to make some good progress on the line and we are keen to get back up soon for some more hard tickage!
Me on the imaculate first pitch of
 “Ou ca m’maene la benne”
On Sunday we headed up to Brevent area to do a route that Ally had had his eye on for a long time. We went for “Oú ca m’améne la benne“ which is known for its three sustained and technical pitches of 7a+,7b+,7b+ and is classed as the hardest route in the Aiguilles Rouge area. After we had onsighted the first two pitches, unfortunately the rain started to come down hard just as I was halfway up the third (last) pitch. So we reluctantly decided to bail off the line and agrred to return another day for round two when the weather forecast is a bit better.
Here comes the weather!
Yesterday Ally and I took his sister (Susan) and her boyfriend (Paul) up into the mountains for a bit of an Alpine route experience. They were keen to get out in the mountains whilst they are visiting Chamonix for a couple of weeks. Ally’s dad Gav was originally going to be taking them out climbing but unfortunately he came off his mountain bike earlier this week and cracked a couple or ribs. So he is on the bench for the next few days. Thankfully the strong French muscle relaxants seem to be working and hopefully he will be back out and about soon.
Me and Paul walking over to
Point Lanchenal
So we headed up the midi cable car and ventured out onto the Valley Blanche glacier to do the “Traverse of the Points Lanchenal“. This is a good little ridge line that is located below Mont Blanc du Tacul. It is home to some good snow ridges and a few little rock sections that offer some short lived technical steps. After doing these and an abseil down a gully and a short rock chimney, it was back down towards the glacier and up to the Midi arête, just in time to catch the bin down and grab some lunch. 
It was a fun day out and I would recommend this little route to anyone wanting a varied and fun first Alpine route without the masses of people that would usually be found on the Cosmiques Arete.
Ally and Sue on the snow ridge of the
“traverse of points lanchenal”
Unfortunately the weather is forecast to crap out again over the next few days, so we will be doing some more smaller one day routes until it stables out. Then we can head up for something high and hard.

Ally and Sue heading up the Midi Arete
  

Always Ease Yourself Into A Climbing Trip – Or Maybe Not!

Sunrise on the approach

On Saturday morning Ally and I left Fife with a fully loaded car filled with enough gear and food to supply a small nation! This mostly consisted of Porridge, couscous and a tone of cereal bars.

Getting stuck into the icy chimney

We where both uber psyched to be on our way to the Alps, and all the way to France we chatted about what routes we wanted to go for and what we should get on first. After a very easy and stress free drive, we arrived in Chamonix on Sunday afternoon raring to get into the mountains.

Crossing the serracs on the approach
Me getting down and dirt with a big chimney.
keeping it real on the abbs

After quickly unloading the car and sorting the gear at Ally’s apartment we headed into cham to check the weather and decided when would be best to head into the mountains. After seeing that Mondays weather was pretty sceptical, we decided to go for a small boulder session that night, then head up on Monday evening to sleep in the Grand Montets top lift station for an early start on Tuesday morning.

Are first objective was to go for The North Face of Les Petit Dru, which is one of the six classic Rebuffat Alpine north faces. We slept in the toilets of the Montets station and after a very broken sleep, due to our minds being filled with anticipation and psych, we got up mega early and headed off to the base of the Dru. It was a fairly involved approach and after some spicy down-climbing, glacier crossing and crevasse jumping, we finely reached the base of the imposing north face.
We swiftly got our gear sorted and started moving together up the initial stages of the route. After a couple of route finding errors and corrections, we were back on track and getting stuck into some of the amazing rock and mixed climbing that this classic route had to offer. It was home to steep cracks, icy off-widths, mixed corners and immaculate granite walls that would be worthy of 4 stars as a single pitch rotes, let alone being part of a 850m route.
Me approaching the big snow niche

Despite this being our first Alpine route of the season we were not affected by the altitude too much (a bit of heavy breathing on the trickier rock sections) and managed to keep up a good pace throughout the day. Only stopping to fill our water bottles from a snow-melt trickle that was running down the slabs ¾ of the way up the route.

Me belaying with a fair bit of space between me and the glacier
Mr Swinton getting ready to rock.
Ally mixing it up a bit.

Unfortunately due to the small route finding corrections earlier in the day, we topped out on the summit in the dark and opted to spend the night at a bivi spot that we had spied about 50m bellow the summit. Despite a very clear sky, it was still a fairly warm bivi, and after a few hours sleep we woke to a totally breath taking view of the sun rise just hitting the top of Mont Blanc and the Grand Jurasses. At that point while I was looking at those sun capped mountains, despite being 3700m above sea level, having only eaten a handful of cereal bars the previous day on the route and having slept on a bed of pointy granite, I would not rather have been anywhere else in the world!