“Unlike the Bonatti pillar, the Walker or even the Freney, it seems improbable that the North Face of Les Droites will ever be downgraded, or become popular and lose its character. It will always remain remote and untamed.” Gaston Rebuffat.
If Rebuffat turned ever so slightly in his grave upon Ueli Steck summiting in about 4 minutes, then he’d have been thrashing about given the 20 people on the route the day before us. With the stellar climbing conditions we’d had the previous few weeks Scott and I decided we’d just go for it. And we’d both been climbing pretty well in the weeks previous having jumped straight onto Pinnochio, Frendo-Ravanel and some other random route which turned out to be the wrong line on the wrong mountain.
Bumping into Matt Helliker on his way upto the Ginat with a client a week or so before he advised us to use snow shoes to get into bottom and for the descent to the Couvercle hut as we didn’t want to carry skis. When I read the email to Scott he looked at me with a raised eyebrow. Having never used them I thought I’d give them a try. Needless to say I’m glad I only rented a pair and I was also more than happy to pay the extra day rental to leave them at the Argentiere hut so as to not carry them up the route. I wasn’t so happy about losing paper, scissor, stone with Scott and being lumped with having to collect them the day after we got down.
So we left the Argentiere hut at about 330am. Route finding was pretty easy given the hordes of people in the previous days (and two Brits that had left about 3 hours in front of us). Crossing the schrund was relatively straightforward, although the snow bridge did collapse about 2 minutes after I crossed.
Moving up the Messner start was pretty rapid and easy (given the post box footsteps) and we were at the top of the icefield by dawn. All pretty relaxed and not what we expected, chatting all the way up the ice field with an aspirant guide on his last Grande Course who was hot on my heels. We’d also caught up with the other Brits.
Then came the headwall, taking the second ice streak to the left of the Shea-Jackson. Given the steps the it was still pretty straightforward, I can imagine it being much trickier. We moved together up most of it, belaying to swap gear, this meant that we managed to overtake the two Belgian teams that we’re slightly ahead of us.
We moved on through the mixed section without issue and what usually is supposed to be the crux was a full sheet of ice. All in all there was probably nothing harder than Scottish 4, but lots of it.
It was on the last section when some Italians overtook us with superlight skis on their backs we felt a bit jealous, knowing they were going to be down in the valley in about 5 hours. Cue next £1k gear purchase.
We mooched up the final slope to the breche having belayed maybe 5 or 6 times in total, texted Chris to say we’d got there and started 9 or so abs down to the South Side which were nowhere near as traumatic as the Whymper Couloir. Although Scott did get nailed in the jaw on the way down.
The Belgian teams caught us up as we had some food at the bottom of the raps. Matt Helliker had said there was a high track to the right all the way to the Courvercle and with about an hour of light left so Scott and I charged across, happy without snow shoes.
Scott was using my forty below overboots, on his Nepal Extremes, which I got for ski-touring in Iran (given I know of 2 people who got frostbite on the face in the same boots already this winter) and they worked well. And the Belgian who didn’t have them was suffering with black and oozing toes, though it may well have just been bruising.
Back to the valley the next morning (via the roulette of a gully below the Couvercle) after a nutritious meal of Chilli soup and Powerbar just a bit late to meet Loic who was staying at our place. Would of been perfect timing had the Montenvers train not decided to go on a lunch break.
The Ginat, one the winter season’s targets, ticked…
- 10 x 15cm ice screws
- 12 x phantom quickdraws
- 1 set of superlight nuts and a few larger wallnuts
- Camalots 1 and 2