I must say I’m feeling pretty drained. I’ve gained (either climbing or walking) close to 5000 vertical meters in 3 days. Tuesday was one of my all time biggest days in the mountains in terms of the mental and physical stress. I’ve had it in my mind to solo a route on the Droites North Face for a while now but never found myself in the right situation to actually do it, either because of fitness/psyche or due to conditions. I absolutely love the mountains of Chamonix, especially the Argentiere basin in the Autumn. I have fond memories of climbing my first grande course, the Ginat and the Colton/Brooks the following year with one of my partners in crime, Ally Swinton. When the good weather comes in there is nowhere on earth I would rather be, which is saying something! These past few days have left me smiling ear to ear and have given me that feeling of satisfaction that I only get from climbing a big face.
Choosing which route to climb on the Droites was a bit interesting. I didn’t particularly want to repeat the Ginat, although it is the obvious choice being the most straightforward. My memories of the descent off the back of the Breche des Droites are pretty bad and it wasn’t somewhere that I wanted to be by myself. I also really wanted to climb the East summit. After scoping the conditions from the Col des Montets through my binoculars I knew that the top of the face had lots of good ice, so I knew I had a few options of ways to go on the headwall.
I headed up the home run of the Grands Montets ski area on monday about 3pm still feeling the Chere Couloir in my legs from the day before. I arrived at the Argentiere hut at about 7pm to find three other teams, one of which was already asleep! I asked what time they would all be getting up. One team was planning on getting up at 12 (!), one at 3 and one at 4.30. This proved quite disrupting to my already nervous sleep which meant I didn’t get much until they had all left. I had set my alarm for 5 but actually didn’t get up until 7 and left the hut just after 8. Making my way across the glacier I could see a team on the central Ice field of the Ginat and another team starting up the crux pitches of the Colton/Brooks. I was 50/50 whether or not I was actually going to climb the thing as I felt quite tired and a bit sluggish. I wanted to do it relatively fast and wasn’t sure how quick a pace I could keep especially with a rope, mini rack, stove etc on my back.
When I got to the bergshrund I had a bit of water and food and automatically got on with getting my spring leashes attached and before I knew it was over and starting up the hero Ice towards the Messner ramp. Meters and meters of Ice began accumulating below my heals as I made my way up to the crux wall. By this point I had caught up with the team on the Ginat and It had confirmed that I should go to a different route as I didn’t feel it was safe or wise to be underneath/near/above other climbers. I took a rest on an ice screw and prepared for the crux steepening, about 60m of 85-90º ice. It took a lot of positive affirmations to fend off the rising pump in my arms and it felt pretty out there with more than 600m of cool autumnal air beneath me.
From the top of this steepening I slowed it right down and rested when I needed as the balls of my feet were killing me and I could really feel the past few days in my legs. Weaving through the final steep section and on to the upper snow field I soon had the summit in my sights. I always love the moment when the sun hits your face after a long slog up a north face, and it didn’t disappoint. Sat on the summit I contemplated what I had just done and what I still had to do. Mostly I just took in the breathtaking scenery…
The descent went relativity smoothly with 10 or so 30m abseils, some down climbing and some shin-deep-slushy-wadding down onto the lower Talefre glacier. I spoke to Ross Hewitt on the phone and he suggested I stay in the Couvercle hut for the night, but I was felling ok so I began the long march back to down to town. I made it back to my bed at 11pm, some 9 hours after leaving the summit. My feet and legs where destroyed and I was too tired to make food so I just passed out for 12 hours and when I woke began consuming calories like a mad man and waddling about like I’d aged 60 years.
The route took me 4 hours and 20mins from bergshrund to summit and was 1070m according to my Suunto. It was an amazing experience and just the kind of adventure I was looking for. If I don’t manage to do another route this autumn I’ll be happy!
Here’s some photo’s from the day. (Click to see them in gallery format)