Photographer and adventurer, Jonathan Griffith decided to bring 2012 in with a bang by attempting to climb the Lesueur route on the Drus, located in the French Alps. Accompanied by his friend, Wenger Ambassador, Ueli Steck and fellow photographer/adventurer, Adam Long, Griffith shared his thrilling expedition complete with stunning photography. This article was originally posted by Jonathan on Alpine Exposures. Click on any image below to see a larger high resolution version.
Adam new routing on the Verte.
The continuous bad weather over December and early January was starting to get me down. When it finally cleared up, it was even more frustrating as people were naturally more interested in skiing powder than going climbing. However I managed to gather together some people and had an awesome week. It started off on Pellisier Gully on the Lachenal to check out general conditions. The next day we headed off for 'Salade Mixte' on the Aiguille Verte but found it to be in terrible condition so started up a steep new line to the side of it which we didnt finish up the buttress unfortunately- still a good day out on the hill. One to finish off.
I've been planning to get on something big with Ueli Steck for a while now and it has just been a case of waiting for the weather to settle down. As soon as it was a green light he drove over from Switzerland and we set our eyes on the Lesueur route on the Drus. I've done two routes on the North side but I really wanted to do something in the dead of winter and on the actual North Face. The face just looks incredibly inhospitable and for some reason i was really keen to see what the middle of January with its cold and short days would be like on a route like this.
Not sure how long it would take we set off with a pack each with our bivy kit and planned on two days on the face.
The Dru north face
Mid January and it's still really cold in the sun.
Rising ramp traverse.
The climb started off well and fast. We didnt leave too early as we needed to see and days are short. The start of the Pierre Allain has a few meters of delicate climbing then an easy mixed gully to the snow fields above. A few pitches of steadily harder mixed climbing, but nevertheless amazing quality brings you a good height up the route. Up past the huge white rock scar before 9am we felt good and Ueli took over his block lead which starts with a quick traversing ramp line across the face.
From here you head on up to the first crux of the route. Ueli was keen to try and free it if possible and it was pretty amazing to watch from below. I couldnt comment on the grade but it was hard enough just following trying to move as fast as possible.
Leading into the first crux.
On the first crux (Image 1).
On the first crux (Image 2).
Fun mixed pitches.
A series of little runnels bring you up to the second crux. Nice climbing again here with little harder steps but great hooks when you find them. Once again the sending machine wanted to...well...send. 'I'm on a free climbing mission' he says before he takes over the lead again and fires up the second crux. Half way up though and it's a change of tact. Too hard with our packs on (we each had food and bivy kits on our backs so not the lightest of ascents) he lowered his pack to me and fired on up.
On to the second crux.
I'd just learned how to jumar properly from a friend a few days before hand which was lucky but with both packs constantly getting jammed in a series of chimneys it was pretty exhausting by the time I got to the top. One pitch of jumaring was definitely enough and back in the packs they went. In any case amazing effort by Ueli free climbing this pitch.
From here on we took a new 'variation' if you can call it that. We did a series of rising traverses out of the face and onto the ice. The reasons were two fold really- firstly the bivy site looked horrific (not enough snow) so we wanted to push on, and secondly Ueli didnt have the topo with him so just followed his nose. In any case an amazing series of traverses with some sections of heart-in-mouth exposure brought us to two short and very delicate (read no feet) traverses out on to the ice.
Taken from the Grands Montets, thanks Cedric!. ©Cedric Bernardi
Lost in a sea of granite...awesome. ©Cedric Bernardi
The second of two tenuous traverses into the ice.
Now for the interminable ice to the summit!
From here on you just follow the calf busting ice runnels to the top. We arrived shortly after sunset and as we'd brought bivy kit with us we thought we may as well use it and rap back down the next morning in the light. The Breche has an awesome spot with an even better view.
Too cold to sleep so better get the camera out! Stitch shot under a rising sun and half moon.
The night was really really cold, as you'd probably expect, but we managed to rock out on top to ZZ Top-Blue Shoes before heading to bed. Just before sunset we packed up and headed up the Petit Dru for some much needed sunlight before rapping back down the north side.
Quick climb up to the top for some sunshine.
Back down to the Breche for the raps back down. Aiguille
Verte on the left and Grand Dru on the right.
All in all a pretty good start to 2012. Big thumbs up to Ueli for freeing the cruxes and it felt amazing to actually do such a big route in a day in the middle of January. I think this is the first free ascent and first one day ascent in winter but credit for that goes to the Steck- but we did miss out the top few pitches by doing this 'variation'. Now for the next project....
As a photo project this was awesome. Carrying up the 5D on such a route whilst trying to go as fast as possible was really 'cutting edge' for me. The extra weight and faff of getting shots on this type of terrain is a real burden. I tried something new this time as well and kitted Ueli out with a wireless mic set up which has made the video really awesome to watch!