I'm probably heading to Chamonix over the summer and have an eye on the Swiss direct, Bonatti route, Guliver's travels on the Grand Capucin and the American direct in the Dru. As I'm pretty new to this alpine malarkey I was wondering if anyone could recommend any other rock routes of a similar quality and difficulty with straight forward approaches.
Also, if anyone has any up to date knowledge on the American direct that would be much appreciated. As I understand it the top section was badly affected by a recent rock fall but the bottom is OK? Is it now common for people to ab off from the jammed block because of this or do most traverse in to the north face route. How feasible is the traverse?
Finally, forgive me if this comes across as naive, but I get the impression a lot of the classic routes are crack climbs. Are we talking Yosemite style cracks, i.e. hard and scary, or more amenable cracks supplemented with face holds?
If you are pretty new to this Alpine malarky, that list has some serious stuff on it.
The approach to the Dru alone can be an epic.
I would strongly recommend something a little gentler gradewise to start with, so you can familiarise with the current conditions, altitude, approaches, weather etc. The biggest difference between 'climbing' and Alpine climbing is about the absolute neccessity for speed, and the compromises you'll have to make to achieve it, (less gear, general multi-day fitness etc.)
The cracks are not generally Yosemiteish, though some are if you want them.
Judging by your profile you should find the climbing easy enough. The crack climbing is generally more like that found in Tuolumne of Squamish than that found in Yosemite; i.e. quite featured rock rather than polished splitter cracks.
For a warm up there's some excellent shorter rock routes on the south face of the midi and surrounding buttresses, and on the east face of Point Lachenal.
As the previous poster suggested, the alpine environment demands respect, but if you have been romping up routes like Positron and the Brandler Hasse you should be more than capable of enjoying the big rock routes on the list.
* Harald and Maud, point lachanel
* O sole mio (and swiss route, or maybe guillivers travels), grande capucin
* Bonatti route (or contamine or or lots), south face midi
* Peigne slabs routes, less than 1 hour approach and nice routes
Could list loads more but have a look at piola's rock climbing guides for the rouge and aiguilies, as well as the Supercracks guidebook, some great routes in there!
Thanks for the recommendations everyone. The Contamine route on Point lachenal and routes on the south face of the midi all look really good.
Does anyone have any up to date and first hand knowledge of the American direct? The Batoux Mont Blanc book suggests the lower sections on the route up to the jammed block are fine, although the Dru should be avoided altogether if there is a heat wave. However, I've heard others say that the American direct isn't really climbable at all. There are logged ascents from last summer, which seems to contradict this though.
I've not been on the Dru since 2004, but I believe that abbing from the jammed block on the American Direct predates the rockfalls, and is popular because it makes the route much more like "alpine cragging", allowing you to stash your boots etc. before the climbing starts and eliminating the long and complex descent down the south face. When we did the AD (summer 2004) there were 4 parties on it and 3 of them (including us) set out with the intention of abbing from the jammed block. The party who were carrying on bivvied in the vicinity of the jammed block and then bailed back down the route anyway. It'd have been great to go to the summit, but the guys who who went up with the gear to bivi and descend the other side looked to be having a hard time carrying all their stuff, and didn't seem to be enjoying the (very good quality) climbing because of that. Not going to the summit also gives you an excuse to go back and do something like the Allain route on the north face so you can bag the top.
As you have several objectives on the Grand Cap, you can have a look at some of the other rocky bits on that side of Mt. Blanc du Tacul as you walk in. There are lots of routes on the satellites around the Grand Cap, many of which look good. Around the corner are the Gervasutti and 3 Points pillars (you'll go past these if you walk in from the Midi) both classic but have a bit more of a mountain feel (some mixed ground, and a snowy descent with some crevasse and serac danger).
Others that fit your criteria and haven't been mentioned yet are the Cordier pillar on the Charmoz and stuff like Willamine Dada and Majorette Thatcher on the lower west face of the Blatiere. Both are easily approached from the Plan d'Aiguille (short section of glacier and some objective danger from stone and ice fall for the approach to the Charmoz though).
A lot of the routes around the Envers hut would also fit the bill. The walk in to the hut along the Mer de Glace from Montenvers takes about 2-3 hours, but the approaches from the hut are generally short (less than an hour) and you can stay at the hut for a few days to get several routes done. Fleur du Mal on the 2nd point de Nantillons and Children of the Moon on the Aig. du Roc are both very good, things like Republique Bananiere on the Aig. de Republique and Le Soleil A Rendez-vous Avec La Lune on the Grepon look good and are meant to be longer and more sustained. The Contamine route (classic but easier) and Anouk (fully bolted I think) on the West face of the Petit Jorasses are meant to be very good. I haven't done either of those, but I believe the approach is straightforward from the Leschaux hut.
There are several routes on the Petit Clocher de Portalet that look great, but I've never been up for a look so don't know any details.
Thanks Nic, really useful. Doing some further research on those recommendations should keep me going for a while!
Re: the AD, if we do get on it at all, I think we'd only plan to go as far as the jammed block just to reduce the faff. However, what's the feasibility of the leader taking a tag line and hauling up a small haul bag if you wanted to bivy? This set up seemed to be a popular set up with the Europeans in the Dolomites and looked to work well.
I did the American Direct around about 1971 so can't be of much help but I was led to believe that a route adjacent to it has been bolted. Do you know anything about that? I fancy a return visit but at 65 years old I don't fancy a full on alpine epic.
Also check out Fidel Fiasco on the red pillar which has some funky face climbing and pretty much anything on the grande cap is awesome...
As for the American direct my guess would be abseiling back down after it turns bad would be your best bet. Still very unstable up there in recent years. Most people make an abseil descent where the route joins the original route up the NF
In reply to Al Evans: I don't think the Contamine route itself has been bolted, but there is an abseil piste in place which can be used in descent. It probably came into being at the same time as Anouk was bolted - i.e. early '90s.
> Done the Gervasutti. Hasn't the West Face of the Jorasses also been bolted up making it a much less serious proposition than it once was or is that an adjacent route?
Bit more complicated than that. Now, I haven't climbed it, but I did make various investigations into this some time back. I assume you are talking about the classic Contamine and the 1990 Piola route, Anouk. Whilst Anouk has 108 bolts in it, it is 21 pitches and of that 108 bolts, some 40 of them are on belays. The remaining bolts when divided into 21 pitches hardly make it a sport route. Indeed people I've talked to that have done it have sung the praises of it as quite an adventurous outing. However, apparently the abseil descent - that everyone blames on Piola and Anouk - dates from some four years earlier than Anouk...! They also said that the Contamine was so stuffed full of pegs that a retreat via that route may well be a possibility...
I think when we did the Contamine, which we just thought was the WFOTPJ in 1969 we carried only 4 pegs and placed none of them, as I remember there were two pegs in place, both on the 'Whillans overhang", by far the hardest pitch was the slab avoiding the ice pitch as we didn't want to change into crampons. My mate Rod Haslam led this pitch and I thought it was desperate, Rod said afterwards that he had needed boots, would never have led it in PA's.
> what's the feasibility of the leader taking a tag line and hauling up a small haul bag if you wanted to bivy? This set up seemed to be a popular set up with the Europeans in the Dolomites and looked to work well.
I don't have much (any!) experience of hauling, so you may want to take this with a pinch of salt, but the lower pitches (first 5 or so) up to the big terrace are pretty slabby so I would have thought hauling on these would be a pain. They are bolted (though not sport-style - perhaps these are the bolts GridNorth mentioned?) and all pretty straightforward though, so carrying the bag up these shouldn't be a problem. After the big terrace it's steeper, most pitches are reasonably straight, most (though not all) of the belays are on ledges and there aren't any easy "moving together" type sections, which should make hauling straightforward enough.
Jon: thanks for setting me straight about Anouk, and for the context - interesting to hear the abseil descent on this face predates that route - do you have any more info about it? I've heard a lot of Piola-bashing with specific reference to Anouk, so it'd be interesting to find out what really happened...
Envers des Aiguilles area. Each route I've done there has been world class. Easy access. Gob-smacking views. Some of the grades seemed harsh - especially slab pitches. There is a new English version Piola guidebook.
AD - the base and the approach from above are prone to rock fall from the North Face of the Dru. If there is any question of a thaw higher up probably safest to avoid.
Gervasutti Pillar is brilliant. Fairly easy climbing but a proper Alpine rock route in a splendid setting. Expect some snow/ice in the upper reaches.
Minaret on the Aiguille d'Argentiere - think the Batoux book and Rebuffat both describe a number of routes there.
Not climbed there but a friend recommended the Dorees area - could be combined with Petit Clocher du Portalet.
Would also recommend the Grand Perron/Pointe Vouillez above Vallorcine. 1.5 hour non strenuous walk-in, superb rock. Great for a 'training route' before heading up to higher things. In new guidebook - Piola's Aiguille Rouge vol 2
Sorry; can't really add anything here. Although Roger Mear and I did the American Direttissima (Harlin/Robbins) in 1981, a route that - to the best of my knowledge - isn't there anymore, I never did the normal American Direct (Hemming/Robbins). Not surprisingly, these two routes often get mixed up; many people don't realise that there are/were actually two American routes on the face, and the fact that they both owe their origin to Royal Robbins and a compatriot whose name begins with an "H" only serves to further confuse matters! It's entirely possible, for instance, that when somebody recalls hearing that the Hemming/Robbins is now completely unclimbable, he's actually (unknowingly) referring to some piece of information that he's picked up about the Harlin/Robbins. However; the last bit of the normal "American Direct" - ie above the German Bivouac - certainly climbs up through a relatively narrow strip of rock that, as Jon pointed out on a 2012 SuperTopo thread, has been gradually squeezed between subsequent rockfalls to the right and the edge of the north face to the left. I don't know whether the original line is still there or not.
> thanks for setting me straight about Anouk, and for the context - interesting to hear the abseil descent on this face predates that route - do you have any more info about it? I've heard a lot of Piola-bashing with specific reference to Anouk, so it'd be interesting to find out what really happened...
I BELIEVE that it was Christophe Profit who equipped them in 1986. You'd have to check this to be 100%. I think Piola came in for a lot of stick over Anouk as he wasn't from the establishment - or indeed French - and was a convenient scapegoat. In addition I guess that Chamonix was going through it's own bolt wars at the time - and at that time (and indeed now) for a lot of folk, Piola = bolt...
Pete Johnson mentions above the Perrons. This is a magnificent 300m high SE facing crag with uncomplicated acces. Most routes a fully bolted, though there are trad (mixed) routes there. At your grades these three should interest you:
In reply to duncan b: There is also a great granite arena on the Italian side of the range around the Dalmazzi (or Triolet) hut. I suspect you would find the Swiss route on the Capucin easy. That is to say, I managed to climb it, and I would never have got anywhere on routes of the calibre of Positron.
Marchand de sable, Bienvenue au Georges V, Amazonia all brilliant routes!!
Can 2nd Dave Searle re Children of the Moon Integrale - did it last year - fantastic, especially top pitches - not to be missed.
Granite climbing paradise. If you're comfy moving well on multipitch at E1/2 standard for all theses routes - it's hard to beat.
> I did the American Direct around about 1971 so can't be of much help but I was led to believe that a route adjacent to it has been bolted. Do you know anything about that?
Hi Al. Sorry - I only twigged belatedly that Jon's post suggesting my involvement referred to your post rather than the original one!
I certainly haven't heard of this - whether either a recent bolted line or a retroed old one. One has to suggest that, since the late 1990s, this probably hasn't been regarded as the most long-term bit of Alpine real estate in which to invest a lot of time and hardware - for the same sort of reason that it hasn't for some years been thought worthwhile to install proper lower-offs at Tintern! Apart from Marc Batard's two routes, which were solo epics (one in winter) and not the sort of occasions on which to install a new multipitch sport route, the other routes hereabouts all seem to have been established prior to the mid-1980s when bolting was still a laborious task, done manually, which one tended to keep to a minimum (I'm guessing here - I've never done a new route on the Dru!). But maybe some research will unearth something. The routes of which I'm aware, working left-to-right from the edge of the north face are:
- C'est arrive demain (with an acute accent in there somewhere); 1979 Remy route, far left side of the face, ED2 in the UKC Database but no further info (perhaps email Mr Lopez [moderator] for more), presumably joins the North face route fairly low down.
- Passage Cardiaque; 1984 Piola/Steiner route (although Database says 1986), topo in Piola's Mt Blanc book, ABO (ED3 in Database), obl 6b+ (7b with possibly still the odd aid point), originally pegs + 20 bolts (golos) left in place (over 7 pitches), finishes on North Face (still low down) or abs off. This route starts down to the right of the Hemming/Robbins - possibly a bit hazy by now - crosses it at its first belay, and climbs slabs to its left; it finishes at the leftward continuation of the H/R's first terrace.
- Les Strapontins du Paradis; 1980 Remy/Martinez route, starts right of Passage Cardiaque and eventually joins the Hemming/Robbins at the Jammed Block - presumably staying right of the H/R up to this point. TD+; which in 1980, as I'm sure you recall, could simply mean "free and very hard", ED on rock often being reserved for aid routes. Climbed over two days, so not much time for superfluous bolting. It's possible that Roger and I used a few pitches of this route - but mostly on aid - to reach the Grey Ledges on the Harlin/Robbins (and if so, there certainly weren't any bolts on that bit in 1981).
- Voie des Genevois; all I know about this one is that it was somewhere on the west face and was climbed by Bernard Wietlisbach and Nic Schenkel over two days in 1982. Bernard was a very good crack climber and pretty adventurous - repeats of El Cap nail-ups before they became trade routes, and new routes in Baffin and elsewhere - and hardly the sort of person to sprinkle bolts liberally!
All in all not much help, but possibly something to gnaw at through the winter! Let me know if you turn anything up.
In reply to Ian Parsons: There is a *basic* description (good luck with following it!) of the Geneva Route in the AC Guide.
On the right hand side of the West Face, that guide also alludes to: 'Absolu' (1986); 'the bolt extravaganza of the Gross Route' (1975); and the 'French Directissima' (1982). I guess these must all have disappeared by now on account of the huge rockfalls.
> ... Any rough idea were it is/was, relative to other routes?
Quoting from the guide:
"139 - Geneva Route (N Schenkel and B Wiestlibach, 1-2 Aug 1982 (to the Jammmed Block only)
"An entirely free climb, using only nuts for protection, that runs parallel to the American Direct. It follows a fairly direct line to the R side of the Jammed Block and gives very sustained crack climbing with considerable exposure. Treat the pitch grading circumspectly as it appears the standard of climbing could well be higher than that suggested by the first ascent party.
"Start midway between Route 138 (American Direct) and the Bonatti Couloir. Climb a small by well defined corner (20m, VII). Move R along a terrace and then climb up and pendulum R to an obvious crack system. Follow this for 200m (V+ to VII), generally bearing R, to reach the large lower terraces on the W face. There is a prominent crack line halfway between the American Direct and the Bonatti couloir. Climb a chimney just R of this and continue to a thin crack system leading up R. Climb this (VI+/VII) with an exit onto a slab. Climb a crack and corner on the R (40m, VI/VI+) followed by a poorly-protected offwidth (VI+) to a small ledge. Traverse L and climb the L side of the huge diedre that leads to the Jammed Block (V+ and VI). 600m"
It sounds as if it took a line very similar to Strapontins, probably a bit to its left in the lower section and to its right above the large terraces; but that's a very tenuous judgement derived from peering hard at zoomed-in photos without being completely sure where Strapontins actually went! I use the past tense because, unless the central sections of each route were further left than I think, it seems likely that both will have suffered significant damage.
I notice that no pegs were used, never mind bolts; the "fast and free" approach was certainly taking hold across the Alps at the time, and getting a hammer out usually slowed things down. One would imagine, with hindsight, that the note of caution about the grades was due to a couple of factors:
1) Although these look like UIAA grades it's probably more likely, in 1982, that they were embryonic French grades - without the later refinement of a,b,c and + suffixes but with the same basic levels; so, in Yosemite terms, if you were expecting one and found the other it could be the difference between, say, 5.10d and 5.11d! I have some topos of Le Salève - Geneva's local crag - from May 1983, and the Roman numeral grades in use at the time were, with the addition of the appropriate letter suffix, mostly the same as the modern French grades in use today.
2) Those guys from Geneva usually seemed to grade harshly anyway!