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New descent equipped on the Dru

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 innes 05 Oct 2021

ENSA have equipped a new rap line (actually 2 lines) down the SE face of the Grand Dru.

A useful topo is shown at the end of the video, and there's a description in the text.  

youtube.com/watch?v=G5bH1mhA_v8&

Also, there is quite an impressive trundle at 0:40.!!

Post edited at 10:30
In reply to innes:

really useful.  Hadn't seen that.  The descent was mentioned in last weeks Chamoniarde report

http://www.alpine-club.org.uk/news/chamonix-condtions

In reply to innes:

Good grief. Dent and Burgener will be turning in their graves.

In reply to Robert Durran:

The text below is on the ENSA Facebook page this morning.  There are even "catadioptres" (cats-eyes) for descent at night.

Nouvelle descente en rappel en face Sud-Est du Grand Dru

Équipement septembre 2021

Michel Fauquet, Frédéric Gentet et François Pallandre de l’ENSA, avec la participation de Yann Gérôme du PGHM et Nicolas Estubier, Mathias Flandin du CNISAG.

La ligne descend dans la partie la plus raide de la face, en 7 rappels puis se divise en deux au niveau des terrasses pour rejoindre soit le sommet du glacier par 5 rappels supplémentaires, soit les vires de départ de la traversé des Drus en 10 rappels de plus.

Tous les rappels sont sur relais inox chainés collé. Les anneaux pour passer le rappel sont en position haute pour faciliter la prise du rappel. Des catadioptres indiquent les relais pour les descentes de nuit. Cordes de 2x50 mètres obligatoire. Les directions sont données pour un grimpeur face à la paroi.

Du sommet descendre l’arête en direction du col des Drus sur une cinquantaine de mètres, désescalader un petit ressaut. Suivre la rampe plein sud jusqu’à un promontoire caractéristique (Catadioptre).

1er rappel 7 m vire.

2e rappel 50 m en légère diagonale à gauche, relais pendu.

3e rappel 45 m dans l’axe, vire.

4e rappel 48 m relais sur la grosse vire légèrement à gauche.

5e rappel 47 m dans l’axe, relais sur la droite.

6e rappel 44 m relais sur la gauche d’une grosse terrasse.

7e rappel 50 m en diagonale sur la gauche.

Sur la vire traverser horizontalement sur 30 m (deux broches scellées).

8e rappel 45 m ressauts et dalles dans l’axe.

9e rappel 45 m dans l’axe, relais sous un surplomb dans un dièdre a droite.

10e rappel 45 m relais à gauche.

11e rappel 35 m descendre dans la gorge et la traverser à gauche (main courante). Relais sur l’éperon.

12e rappel 45 m dalle, suivre la vire sur 40 mètres, passer un bloc coincé, 4 broches.

13e rappel 46 m descendre sur la tête du pilier, relais sur vire.

14e rappel 42 m relais à gauche dans un petit dévers.

15e rappel 50 m dans l’axe.

16e rappel 10 m arrivée dans la neige.

17e rappel 50 m au bout de la fausse vire.

Variante de droite

Depuis le 7e relais, rappel de 50 m en diagonale à droite.

Traverser à pied à droite en direction d’un gros bloc (cairn) puis continuer à l’horizontale sur 50m.

8e rappel 50 m en diagonale à droite, relais sous un bloc déversant.

9e rappel en diagonale à droite en suivant la rampe 40m, relais décalé sur un promontoire à droite.

10e rappel 48 m, descendre dans le mur à gauche du couloir, relais à gauche.

11e rappel 50 m dans l’axe.

12e rappel 10 m jusqu’au glacier.

Post edited at 14:55
In reply to cdpej:

Whilst I appreciate the ethics around fixed gear in the Alps (and especially the Chamonix Valley) is very very different to the UK, surely installing reflectors is a step to far, even for the French!

 Holdtickler 05 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:

2x50m ropes compulsory, 7 of the pitches are bang on 50m. Not much wriggle room! Make sure you don't take that rope you'd forgotten you'd trimmed 2m off the end then or things could get exciting. Or those long tails on your overrhand...?

In reply to cdpej:

> The text below is on the ENSA Facebook page this morning.  There are even "catadioptres" (cats-eyes) for descent at night.

You seem to have your ear top the ground. So where is the demand generated for this sort of dumbing down by bolted, catseyed abseil piste down an unnatural line on an iconic alpine peak? And why? Is there any sort of local or French opposition to this sort of thing, or has the towel been thrown in long ago?

In reply to Robert Durran:

Probably a subject best debated over a beer!  I can see your point of view. I am not aware of any French opposition.

 wbo2 05 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:  the bolts are probably the only things holding the mountain together...

<50m ropes is very unusual nowadays

In reply to wbo2:

>   the bolts are probably the only things holding the mountain together...

Yeah, I hope they went heavy on the resin

> <50m ropes is very unusual nowadays

Long gone are the days when you chose between buying either the 45m or 50m rope (or GASP!! a 55m for a really really long one)

In reply to innes:

What's wrong with the standard descent route down the S ridge of the Petit Dru? Surely ridges are the safest from the point of view of rock fall?

In reply to Robert Durran:

This sort of thing feels very strange to some Brits, but in Italy and France climbing, mountaineering, ski-ing, even ski mountaineering and yes cross country ski-ing  are seriously big business. They employ thousands directly and indirectly. 

The 'getting up' the mountain has long been made easier/more accessible  (you can choose), mountain huts!!, bolts, secure belay points, ski lifts, the staggering growth of via ferratas in recent years, the growing number of guides and yes those wanting to 'tick' / enjoy (you can choose) routes of all types, from off piste and heli-ski-ing to very well marked and bolted training areas.

All these people need to get down (and lots more of them) is a huge challenge and making it safer means less call outs for rescue services. This is a step that I'd never thought of, but I suspect we'll see lots more of them. It's cheap, easy to deploy (relatively) and if it stops 10 chopper / rescue team call outs a year, that's a lot of money.

I don't know about the French, but in Aosta, the idea that you'd oppose improving the safety of what is still objectively highly risky would most probably be regarded as a bit of an odd question. The guides I know want/need to work and this makes their job safer for them and clients, and the number of both grows continually. Just look at the demand to get up Mont Blanc as one obvious example. it feels insatiable sometimes

There is no political force that I'm aware of that is looking to 'resist' changes or establish British type trad ethics.

In reply to cdpej:

> I am not aware of any French opposition.

Sad times

In reply to aostaman:

And particularly sad that it is being driven by commercial pressures

 wbo2 05 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:  there are  many cliffs with bolted rap descents.  This is another 

 MG 05 Oct 2021
In reply to aostaman:

Is that true across the Italian alps?  I know the Aosta valley quite well and got the impression outside the Mont Blanc region there was limited appetite for new equipment - e.g the Gran Paradiso area.  Or is it just these areas have yet to be developed in this way?

In reply to wbo2:

>   there are  many cliffs with bolted rap descents.  This is another 

The Dru is not just another "cliff"; it is one of the great iconic peaks, with an extraordinary history of ground-breaking alpinism. 

In reply to Robert Durran:

Sounds like it still is, this cats eyes thing seems pretty ground breaking. What a great idea. 

 Mr Lopez 06 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:

The big question here is why is that guy doing a body belay through the back of the neck. Some ground breaking innovative technique right there

 Sans-Plan 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Mr Lopez:

> The big question here is why is that guy doing a body belay through the back of the neck. Some ground breaking innovative technique right there

Yeah that was my only take from it too!

 oureed 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Mr Lopez:

> The big question here is why is that guy doing a body belay through the back of the neck. Some ground breaking innovative technique right there

It's called a shoulder belay. Standard practice in the Alps for at least the past 200 years! More effective if sitting down though

 wbo2 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran: That is correct -, and with a history of rapping down.  

https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/expedition+alpine/invention_of_abseiling-397612

About 1/2 way down this thread.

In reply to wbo2:

> That is correct -, and with a history of rapping down.  

I assume you are deliberately missing the point.

 TheGeneralist 06 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:

(Assuming my eyes didn't decieve me) it looked like the rope was fixed through a ring on the upper bolt at the end of the video, which was connected to a slightly lower bolt by a couple of chain links.

Meaning that if the top bolt fails then there is a [ albeit slight] shock load on the lower bolt

This surprised me. I'd have  thought you should put the ringed ab bolt below, or at least alongside the backup.

But then I haven't placed many bolted ab belays.

Anyone know?

In reply to TheGeneralist:

That surprised me too.

In reply to TheGeneralist:

Yep, I'm wondering the same. And at the start a linked double bolt lower off is placed with the bolts at a similar height, with the rope ring on one bolt - the load would seem to be barely shared and a shock  load possible in the (highly unlikely) event of a bolt failure.

Any ideas clever people?

 jcw 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

I think one feature may be stone fall. In the dry conditions that have developed there is a lot of loose choss about and I remember Alain Iglésis saying this was the greatest danger in the mountains these days. Presumably the abseil line is designed to minimize this risk, though the ledges presumably would be unlikely to eliminate it entirely, 

 AJM 06 Oct 2021
In reply to TheGeneralist:

For ease of use, to my limited understanding, although I'm not 100% confident exactly what ease - its easier to get onto the rappel rope if it is attached above the climber than below is all I can think.

From the French:

> Les anneaux pour passer le rappel sont en position haute pour faciliter la prise du rappel

 TheGeneralist 06 Oct 2021
In reply to AJM:

Hmm sort of. I agree that the bolts should be plus haut to the climber. What I'm querying is why the loaded bolt is plus haut than l'autre bolt.

 AJM 06 Oct 2021
In reply to TheGeneralist:

In my assumption (and it is just that), the two are linked, in that it's obviously easier to arrange for the climber to be below the rap ring if there's a second bolt and length of chain below the rap ring for them to clip into. If the rap ring is the lowest part of the belay, then you need a longer sling (with potential for having to unload/load the setup whilst trying to unclip) especially if you want to avoid crowding the rap ring itself for whatever reason.

To be clear, I already know that there's a ton of different ways in which this doesn't really need to be a problem and so on - I'm trying to guess someone else's rationale, not arguing this is the only/easiest/best way! 

In reply to innes:

Funnily enough I was talking to a friend at the wall last night who did the Peuterey Integrale last week. I asked him what the notorious abseils off the Noire were like (I was always put off the idea of doing it because of the horror stories!). He said there is now a bolted abseil piste down safer ground* and that it had apparently just happened to have been bolted shortly before Jornet's speed ascent. So we have dumbed down bolting to facilitate stunts as well as for commercial reasons

*Though, to be fair, he said it was still somewhat scary!

Post edited at 11:25
 AJM 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

I was never good enough as an alpinist for it to be more than a pipe dream, but I thought the abseils off the Noire were committing (no easy exit from the bottom) and exposed to stone fall - right? In some respects if a safer line exists than the original, I'm surprised it's taken this long - continuing to use a more dangerous set of rappels if a safer line is known to exist seems a bit arbitrary. I wonder if the safer line requires bolts (i.e. compact rock so no other option) and that's why it's so recent, or whether noone really went looking, or what.

 oureed 06 Oct 2021
In reply to TheGeneralist:

>  What I'm querying is why the loaded bolt is plus haut than l'autre bolt.

I think 1 bolt is considered perfectly adequate to hold a rappelling climber. They are rated to at least 2 tonnes and there are plenty of other things that will break before that. The second bolt is mostly just for climbers to clip into while they're waiting to access the rappel, so you might as well put it in the most convenient position. The chain provides back-up and extra clip-in points.

Some routes in Switzerland/Germany just have a single, large bolt to rappel off. This system has some redundancy built in.

In reply to MG:

That's a very fair question. First, the Gran Paradiso is huge, approx 700km squared  for example it straddles the whole area between Cogne and the Mercosaur French National, It encompases both Aosta and the Piemonte.

I don't know anything about the Dolomites but the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI) has no interest that I'm aware of in UK style trad ethics as such.

Cogne is the 'main' area (in terms of numbers) in the GP. New route development has continued apace and to quote the last sentence of the introduction (page 9) of the (wonderful) Valle d'Aosta Sport Climbing now 600+ pages:

'Our sincere thanks go to all the bolters to whom this guide is dedicated'. Can't imagine this sentence anywhere in the UK.

There are I understand (but don't really know) a few climbers in the Arco (Piemonte) area who are de-bolting some routes, however it's those that are cracks. I don't think there is any work on cleaning the open faces, the guides would go nuts! It would also force the huge numbers of climbers onto a very limited number of routes.

 oureed 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

> Dent and Burgener will be turning in their graves.

I doubt Burgener will be that bothered by an additional few anchors on the Drus. I mean, look what they did to his slab on the Dent du Geant!!

In reply to AJM:

> I was never good enough as an alpinist for it to be more than a pipe dream, but I thought the abseils off the Noire were committing (no easy exit from the bottom) and exposed to stone fall - right? In some respects if a safer line exists than the original, I'm surprised it's taken this long - continuing to use a more dangerous set of rappels if a safer line is known to exist seems a bit arbitrary. I wonder if the safer line requires bolts (i.e. compact rock so no other option) and that's why it's so recent, or whether noone really went looking, or what.

That is precisely how it works. These abseil pistes take the most compact and usually steepest* and most direct line in order to avoid problems with stonefall and with pulling ropes and with anchors in the most convenient spots. Obviously that will usually mean that there is a lack of natural anchors and so they are bolted. 

Obviously it would be arbitrary to keep using a dangerous natural line if a safer natural line existed, but that is not what is happening at all; these are contrived, designer, abseil pistes.

*In the film they say it takes the steepest part of the face.

Post edited at 12:50
In reply to aostaman:

> There is no political force that I'm aware of that is looking to 'resist' changes or establish British type trad ethics.

It is nothing to do with establishing "British type trad ethics"; it is about a move away from traditional alpine ethics in the high mountains (to which, as you say, there seems to be little, if any, resistance).

 AJM 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

I was musing about this particular case, not about the generalities of what one might look for in the bolting of an abseil piste!

But anyway, I guess personally I find it hard to get too worked up about this one - you're replacing one set of scary and dangerous abseils with some safer but still scary abseils. In some ways if it was shortcutting some of the actual climbing I could feel a bit more strongly, but it's just a question of what you're sitting in your harness attached to for what, 2-3 hours. At the end of the day I'm not sure my hypothetical experience over the three days would be worsened by getting to avoid a couple of hours of stone fall risk. 

Personal view, obviously - I just don't particularly see random chance as a risk that enhances my climbing experience in the same way that the considered risk of actually climbing can do.

In reply to AJM:

I suppose my view is that, if it's too dangerous or scary, nobody actually has to go and do it; there are plenty other things to do. 

 Mr Lopez 06 Oct 2021
In reply to oureed:

That wasn't quite a shoulder belay though...

 oureed 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

> It is nothing to do with establishing "British type trad ethics"; it is about a move away from traditional alpine ethics in the high mountains (to which, as you say, there seems to be little, if any, resistance).

The first ascent of Mont Aiguille in 1492 is considered by many to be the 'birth' of alpinism. It was basically sieged over several days using dozens of ladders and kilometres of rope. It was Mummery who come up with the expression 'by fair means' and perhaps Preuss who expressed it most vividly. Both were killed pursuing their ideal. For most people, fixed gear has always had an important place in Alpine climbing.

There seems to be a trend in a lot of places in Europe to remove bolts/pitons from crack climbs, but ensure that rappel anchors are solid and tidy. I think in general it's a pretty coherent policy.

Post edited at 13:42
 AJM 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

I get that. If someone installed fixed ropes along the whole length of it I'd find it far less interesting. It's just a question of how much dumbing down is necessary to spoil the experience, and the answer is different for different people.

Presumably all the previous abseils (not just on the Noire descent but elsewhere) have been equipped with some form of in situ gear (pegs, one assumes - my AC guide certainly references some cemented pegs on the S ridge of the Noire) essentially forever, there's (presumably still?) a bivouac hut at the Dames Anglaises - a safer set of abseils isn't at that breaking point for me. But like I say everyone's different.

In reply to innes:

A measure of how tastes have changed is that this movie, which is dominated by scenes of drilling with lots of juicy shots of drill bits penetrating rock, and not much else, gets 19 plus votes. Seems to be largely an advert for the sponsors Beal, Petzl and particularly Wurtz (drills), who get plenty of footage of their drills and resin guns with their names prominently pointed towards the camera.

In reply to AJM:

In the case of the Drus, it is very hard to see that a rappel line down the south face can have less stone fall risk than the rap line down the ridge. If the guides really have managed to do that, hats off to them. Also, if ropes get stuck on the ridge it is relatively easy to climb up to retrieve them; probably less so on the face. And surely a rescue of climbers stuck on the face would be more difficult than on the ridge.

I suppose a motive for this new rap line is to provide a quicker descent, to overtake climbers descending (and ascending) the ridge; or to provide a new adventure - a traverse of the Drus that includes the "exciting" new rap line, rather than the tedious old ridge; or as a prelude to opening up some new bolted routes on the south face.

 Rob Parsons 06 Oct 2021
In reply to John Stainforth:

> In the case of the Drus, it is very hard to see that a rappel line down the south face can have less stone fall risk than the rap line down the ridge.

Which ridge are you referring to?

In reply to Rob Parsons:

Nowadays called the "SE side", but there is also the SW ridge from the Petit Dru. Both these classic ridges lead to the Charpoua glacier.

 Rob Parsons 06 Oct 2021
In reply to John Stainforth:

> Nowadays called the "SE side", but there is also the SW ridge from the Petit Dru. Both these classic ridges lead to the Charpoua glacier.


Ok thanks. The SW ridge of the Petit Dru is a red herring in this discussion, since the abseil descent being talked about is from the Grand Dru.

I suppose the question is: in what state is/was the existing descent from the Grand Dru via the 'SE side'? I have been down that way, and it was fine when I did it - but that's all a long time ago.

In reply to John Stainforth:

I think most people who have done the abseil line shown in the topo shown below (sometimes called the cnisag abs) recently have found it pretty tricky.  Hence very few parties doing the traverse in under 14 hours.  

https://db2e6d18-c4e9-4578-b150-b10a653b52cd.filesusr.com/ugd/22457a_73e443cca5de43d6989d2a875ec3c631.pdf

 Misha 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

What do you mean by a natural vs a contrived line? If you mean that a gully / crack system is natural and so should be used, ok but it’s going to be more dangerous generally speaking due to stuff funnelling down into it or ropes getting snagged (inconvenient at best, dangerous at worst). I’d take a clean line down a steep face any time.

I get the point about ‘dumbing down’ but alpine climbing is already pretty dangerous, so making the descent safer is not a bad idea. Especially from the perspective of the PGHM.

Bolts are also less obtrusive than the piles of rotten tat that you would otherwise get.

There was a similar debate about Supercouloir about 10 years ago. Having done the route, it was great having bolted belays on almost all pitches, not least because they were tidier and required only a cursory inspection, compared to the old tag stations which were still dotted around (still had to use a couple of those on the bottom section). I don’t think they fundamentally changed the character of the route though. Of course a route where you ab down the line of ascent such as Supercouloir is always going to be less serious anyway.

In reply to Misha:

> What do you mean by a natural vs a contrived line?

A line which uses the natural features of the rock for anchors (in other words the line you would take if there were not bolts). 

> If you mean that a gully / crack system is natural and so should be used, ok but it’s going to be more dangerous generally speaking due to stuff funnelling down into it or ropes getting snagged (inconvenient at best, dangerous at worst). I’d take a clean line down a steep face any time.

Yes, but you are only able to do that because somebody has kindly done industrial scale abseil piste construction. As I said, if people don't like what the mountain has to offer, then they don't have to climb it. If the descent from the Dru became suicidal, I'd have no problem with it never being climbed again - the mountains are not there as our mere playthings..

> I get the point about ‘dumbing down’ but alpine climbing is already pretty dangerous, so making the descent safer is not a bad idea.

Alpinism is about getting up and down a mountain. Why not dumb down all the routes up as well (ok, I know this is already happening in many cases...... )?

In reply to Robert Durran:

If this new trend - of inserting bolted rap lines down faces to avoid the classic ridge descents - catches on, I suppose we can expect bolted lines down, for example, the East Face of the Matterhorn to avoid the crowds on the Hornli Ridge.

In reply to John Stainforth:

> If this new trend - of inserting bolted rap lines down faces to avoid the classic ridge descents - catches on, I suppose we can expect bolted lines down, for example, the East Face of the Matterhorn to avoid the crowds on the Hornli Ridge.

That would probably kill more people than it saves from death.

I think the logical progression is the installation of zip wires straight back to the hut.

In reply to Robert Durran:

> the mountains are not there as our mere playthings..

In the context of something which has absolutely zero effect on the mountain environment beyond humans, and especially as something that reduces the amount of long-life plastic waste in the mountain environment, I'm not sure that this is relevant? It's a climbing ethics problem — let's not pretend it has wider implications to anyone or anything other than climbers and the games that climbers play.

In reply to tehmarks:

> Let's not pretend it has wider implications to anyone or anything other than climbers and the games that climbers play.

Fair enough. I put that badly. I think what I am trying to say is that it might be better not to play the game at all rather than play it badly. In the end it is up to climbers to decide how they play their games - what is good and what is not. What I really don't like is the commercial interests of the guiding industry dictating the rules; they should have no say at all in it in my opinion - their industry should humbly fit in with the way untainted climbers see fit to shape the game.

 Webster 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Tyler:

> Sounds like it still is, this cats eyes thing seems pretty ground breaking. What a great idea. 

the french can manage to put cats eyes on their bolts and yet still havent worked out how to put them on their roads! wtf is wrong with france?

 Webster 06 Oct 2021
In reply to John Stainforth:

have you seen the amount of industrial scale fixed gear on both the hornli and lion ridges of the matterhorn?it is already practically a via ferrata!

and im not sure what people are on about with the 'standard' safest descent off the dru being a ridge? the voie normal off of le dru is a very complicated long absail descent down a chossy gully from what believe, with something like 16 absails off of questionable quality anchors... there is certainly no 'easy' ridge off of the back of le dru!

In reply to Webster:

> and im not sure what people are on about with the 'standard' safest descent off the dru being a ridge? the voie normal off of le dru is a very complicated long absail descent down a chossy gully.

I think maybe people are confusing it with the descent off the Petit Dru down the shoulder to the Flames de Pierre. I don't remember this being all that bad.

 oureed 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

> if people don't like what the mountain has to offer, then they don't have to climb it.

Why not: if you don't like what the Alps have to offer, you don't have to climb there?

There are lots of other mountain ranges around the globe with very little infrastructure. There are even plenty of routes in the Alps with very little fixed gear on the ascent or descent. I can point you to some complete horror-shows if you want!

This attitude that everything should conform to our own personal vision - and those who don't like it should go elsewhere - is pure fundamentalism. Broad churches are happier and more fulfilling places.

 oureed 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Webster:

> the french can manage to put cats eyes on their bolts and yet still havent worked out how to put them on their roads! wtf is wrong with france?

Not many places in the world have cats eyes on the roads. In fact, a lot of places don't even have lights on the other cars! If you rely on these things at home you end up not being able to cope elsewhere.

Oh dear, I may have just become the Robert Durran of driving!!

In reply to oureed:

> Not many places in the world have cats eyes on the roads. In fact, a lot of places don't even have lights on the other cars! If you rely on these things at home you end up not being able to cope elsewhere.

> Oh dear, I may have just become the Robert Durran of driving!!

Yep. Dumb down your own roads and you soon start exporting your impoverished vision of driving around he world. Soon there will be nothing left for proper drivers anywhere.

In reply to oureed:

> This attitude that everything should conform to our own personal vision - and those who don't like it should go elsewhere - is pure fundamentalism. 

I'm simply saying what my vision is and arguing my case (as you are too). I'm not imposing it on anyone - change comes by consensus (unless the guiding industry is involved apparently) , and I'm well aware that I am arguing a lost cause (sadly).

Post edited at 21:09
In reply to Robert Durran:

I don't personally have a strong opinion either way. I'm British and I came to climbing through the literary influence of the purist British alpinists of the 80s. I really respect the puritan ethic and aspire to climb as closely as possible to that style, and entirely self-sufficiently, however large the crag or mountain. I'd rather not do something if I can't climb it with my own skillset and in good style.

Equally, it's the locals train set, and only they have ultimate say in the ethics that they are happy to abide by on their rock and in their mountains. Someone mentioned up-thread that there hasn't been a backlash in the local community — to apply a British spin, that sounds a bit like a consensus being reached? Mountain and climbing tourism is a huge part of local economies the world over, and while we may not like the results, it is the thing that puts food on the table and ensures economic survival for many, many people. In that context, it seem absurd to get on high horses — from afar — about ethics at the direct detriment to their livelihood and their safety.

Chamonix has not been the bastion of ethical purity for a very long time now — this particular line of bolts is not an outlier. We don't still live in the 50s. Those who seek solitude and unviolated mountains still have endless options elsewhere.

In reply to tehmarks:

> Equally, it's the locals train set, and only they have ultimate say in the ethics that they are happy to abide by on their rock and in their mountains. Someone mentioned up-thread that there hasn't been a backlash in the local community — to apply a British spin, that sounds a bit like a consensus being reached? Mountain and climbing tourism is a huge part of local economies the world over, and while we may not like the results, it is the thing that puts food on the table and ensures economic survival for many, many people. In that context, it seem absurd to get on high horses — from afar — about ethics at the direct detriment to their livelihood and their safety.

Yes, they have created a monster which they now can't live without but which is destroying what gave birth to it.

> Chamonix has not been the bastion of ethical purity for a very long time now — this particular line of bolts is not an outlier. We don't still live in the 50s. Those who seek solitude and unviolated mountains still have endless options elsewhere.

Yes, that is true, but it is a pity that The Playground of Europe, the birthplace of mountaineering and by far our nearest accessible big mountain range is not what it was.

Post edited at 21:37
In reply to Robert Durran:

> Yes, that is true, but it is a pity that The Playground of Europe, the birthplace of mountaineering and by far our nearest accessible big mountain range is not what it was.

Fundamentally, I don't disagree.

 chris687 06 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:

Someone should abseil the line and chop the bolts as they go

 Misha 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

I get your point of view but we have to recognise that ethics are different in the Alps and always have been. I’m not arguing in favour of more bolted belays / ab stations but I’ll gladly use them if they’re available and so won’t argue against them either. On trade routes it makes total sense, although I wouldn’t describe the Drus as a trade route.

I haven’t been up the Drus yet so can’t comment on how dangerous etc the previous descents might have been but I find your view rather odd. If a descent becomes ‘too dangerous’ (a relative term, alpine climbing is always dangerous!), it makes no sense to rule out an entire mountain just because you won’t countenance a safer abseil piste. Firstly, people will still go and some of them will have accidents and need rescuing. You might have a somewhat different perspective if you were in the PGHM! Secondly, if it encourages more people to do classic routes which would otherwise fall out of fashion, that’s a good thing in my view. Besides, there’s nothing to stop purists from using the original descents if they do wish. 

 Misha 06 Oct 2021
In reply to chris687:

> Someone should abseil the line and chop the bolts as they go

Not sure if that’s a joke or you just haven’t thought this through…

In reply to Webster:

The nomenclature is a bit confusing because the SW ridge of the Petit Dru and the SE flank of the Grand Dru have both been called Voie Normale, and they can be connected as the traverse of Les Drus. The one I've been down is the SW ridge of the Petit Dru, which was called a Voie Normale, about Difficile in ascent but mainly rapped in descent. It's definitely a ridge, and I don't think anyone has said these ridges are 'easy'. (I only said a stuck rope is relatively easy to retrieve, because of the D grade, from first-hand experience.)  The broad couloir from junction of the ridge and the Flammes de Pierre to the glacier was an unroped scramble. My diary only says that the descent was tedious (like most Alpine descents) and that we did not get down to the Charpoua hut until 6 pm, and then decided to continue on down to Chamonix and got benighted on the Mer de Glace! This was all 50 years ago, so things may have changed quite a lot.

 Misha 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

As for roads - the dumbing down you allude to helps to prevent accidents. Now I get that climbing is inherently dangerous and generally we shouldn’t try to make it safer by ‘artificial’ means. However driving is fairly essential for a lot of people, so it makes total sense to make it as safe as possible. It’s not a valid analogy. 

In reply to Misha:

> It’s not a valid analogy. 

I know. It was a joke.

 daWalt 06 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

I think it's worth bearing in mind that alpinism started as a commercial enterprise. From the outset the alps provided the natural resource onto which a mountain guiding and entire tourism economy was built. way back in the 18th century wealthy patrons would be guided up by stout locals under the guise of "astronomy" or "meteorological research" because just going up a mountain for the hell of it was a bit too low-brow (this didn't last long).

chamonix has always been at the center of this industry; the first asecessionist of mont blanc reccied it for years because he knew it would set him up as a guide in high demand (and he did get pretty rich from it). the traditional alpine custom has always been commercial; paying tourists employ the services of a local mountain guide, use local hotels, mountain huts, etc. etc. and the ethics reflect this. 

don't get too bent out of shape over the commercialization of the alps; that boat sailed quite literally centuries ago.

In reply to Misha:

> I get your point of view but we have to recognise that ethics are different in the Alps and always have been.

Different from what? 

>  If a descent becomes ‘too dangerous’ (a relative term, alpine climbing is always dangerous!), it makes no sense to rule out an entire mountain just because you won’t countenance a safer abseil piste.

In this case, what is the problem with traversing to the Petit Dru and descending from that?

Anyway, I quite like the idea of the Dru becoming a sort of born-again virgin, standing over Chamomix as a monument to the history of alpinism. I'd prefer that to dumbing it down.

> If it encourages more people to do classic routes which would otherwise fall out of fashion, that’s a good thing in my view. 

Why?

> There’s nothing to stop purists from using the original descents if they do wish. 

Isn't that a bit like the tired old "you don't have to clip the bolts" argument.

In reply to daWalt:

> Chamonix has always been at the center of this industry.

I know and I've nothing against guiding. As I said earlier, I just don't think the industry should have a say in the way climbing develops.

In reply to daWalt:

You're not related to the DeWalt of DeWalt drills are you, by any chance? (Sorry, couldn't help that in the context of the current discussion!)

In reply to Misha:

I don't think that descending classic ridge routes has anything to do with purity or "climbing ethnics" (a term that grates with me): they are logical ways to go. You can see where you are going, so route-finding is relatively easy, and the dangers of rock-fall are minimised. You don't need cat's eyes to point the way. The fact that cat's eyes have been fitted to these new rap stations might suggest that they would be quite hard to find without them.

Post edited at 22:56
In reply to John Stainforth:

I hate to imagine the kind of ill-feeling and conflict that could arise on a narrow ridge like that when climbing ethics collide with ethnics ... ...

 Drexciyan 06 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:

I abseiled down this way a few years ago and had no problems, found all the anchors and got down very quick, some had bolts already. I doubt this upgrade will change much  about the Drus experience except make the anchors safer/last longer.

Ultimately you still have to negotiate the charpoua glacier which is f%*#ing heinous and negates any ‘dumbing down’ of your outing!

 Misha 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

Different from our trad ethics. You seem to be applying these to the Alpine environment. If a hold or gear placement breaks or a dog rots, leave the route to someone better or let it lie in obscurity because no one can or no one wants to do it. Which is perhaps fair enough for our trad routes but we shouldn’t apply that ethic to the Alps. Different place, different environment, different ethics.

I think it’s great if people climb classic routes. Otherwise they might as well not exist. A route has no value in itself, it’s value it given by people climbing and enjoying it.

 Misha 07 Oct 2021
In reply to John Stainforth:

They might be tricky to find in the dark. Bear in mind that people may well be descending in the dark, especially after a winter or late season ascent (the NF is increasingly not safe for summer climbing).

In reply to Misha:

That's a good point

 jcw 07 Oct 2021
In reply to innes:and others

Well its good at least to see a serious debate on Alpinism. Don't get many of those these days on UKC. 

 oureed 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

> I've nothing against guiding

You mean apart from considering mountain guides as tainted climbers! I'd been getting a heavy Durran Durran vibe from this thread but it suddenly went all Soft Cell at this point.

I see guiding as somewhat akin to prostitution but with much less potential for abuse and coercion; although when I say this to French friends they are usually aghast. The line between professional guide and amateur climber seems to be a lot more blurred in the Alps than the UK. 

 Rob Parsons 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Misha:

> They might be tricky to find in the dark. Bear in mind that people may well be descending in the dark, especially after a winter or late season ascent (the NF is increasingly not safe for summer climbing).


For routes on the north face of the Petit Dru (including the Allain route) you'd naturally descend from the Petit Dru, not the Grand. So the abseil piste under discussion here wouldn't be used.

(Yes, I know: you could do the Traverse to get to it, should you want to.)

 TheGeneralist 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Misha:

> Not sure if that’s a joke or you just haven’t thought this through…

Whoosh!

 Will_he_fall 07 Oct 2021

The addition of bolts to the Dru for abseiling isn't new. This abseil piste replaces the existing one that is a couple of hundred metres to the skiers left of this line. The existing set had one bolt at each station backed up by either a drilled thread or a peg. Having used it a couple of times fairly recently, once after the traverse and once after the north face, I'm glad I won't be doing it again- it's a right faff at the bottom as the last few go down a wet, loose, not quite steep enough gully.

I descended down the normal route to the flamme de pierre after climbing the American direct/nf link up about 5 years ago. The multiple abseils on it rely on loads of tat, old pegs etc... so unpleasant that most teams traverse over to the grand dru and descend that way these days after climbing routes on the petit dru.

I understand the argument about dumbing down, but really all that's happening here is swapping one bolted abseil piste for another one in a better, safer place.

In reply to aostaman:

> Cogne is the 'main' area (in terms of numbers) in the GP. New route development has continued apace and to quote the last sentence of the introduction (page 9) of the (wonderful) Valle d'Aosta Sport Climbing now 600+ pages:

> 'Our sincere thanks go to all the bolters to whom this guide is dedicated'. Can't imagine this sentence anywhere in the UK.

Not at Malham then?

In reply to Robert Durran:

> Yes, that is true, but it is a pity that The Playground of Europe...

In which case shouldn't it be a great big twirly-wirly spiral slide rather than abseil points? WWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

In reply to innes:

Given that that descents and abseils aren't graded for difficulty and don't affect the grades of the routes to get to them, there's no point in making/keeping them more dangerous / environmentally unfriendly than they need to be. No-one goes climbing to be killed by a belay failure.

 daWalt 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Toerag:

> No-one goes climbing to be killed by a belay failure.

I guess if your manky sun-bleached tat snaps you'll go to heaven because you're pure at heart.

In reply to Toerag:

Whilst I don't necessarily disagree with your sentiment Alpine grades certainly take into account commitment. I know several people who have descended the Dru and all had epics, which for them added to the experience of climbing one of the most iconic peaks in the Alps. No one goes out wanting an epic, but most Mountainers and alpinists I know (including myself before I got lazy and just went cragging) know that big commitment and epics are sometimes on the cards, and these can (retrospectively) be incredibly enriching experiences. If the traditional descent is now too dangerous due to rock fall (which I can very much belive) then so be it. I was just a little sad that experience my friends had is now lost to others.

 Rob Parsons 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Toerag:

> Given that that descents and abseils aren't graded for difficulty and don't affect the grades of the routes to get to them,

That's a pretty uninformed comment. The overall grade of any route is for getting up it, and then getting down. There is a huge psychological difference in knowing that the descent is 'easy' (whether that's because it's just down an easy snow field, say, or because it's been tamed by a prepared abseil piste.)

In reply to Toerag:

> Given that that descents and abseils aren't graded for difficulty and don't affect the grades of the routes to get to them, there's no point in making/keeping them more dangerous / environmentally unfriendly than they need to be.

As others have said, an ignorant comment. Ever wondered why the Frendo Spur and the Cosmiques arete are the most overcrowded and arguably overrated routes of their types in the Alps? Yes, because the absence of any descent at all very significantly reduces their overall demands. 

> No-one goes climbing to be killed by a belay failure.

Nobody goes climbing to get killed by anything.

In reply to daWalt:

> I guess if your manky sun-bleached tat snaps you'll go to heaven because you're pure at heart.

No, it would just make you a fool for not replacing it.

Post edited at 14:46
In reply to oureed:

> You mean apart from considering mountain guides as tainted climbers! 

I intended to mean that there views on the development of climbing might be tainted by commercial interests and therefore should be treated with scepticism. 

> I see guiding as somewhat akin to prostitution but with much less potential for abuse and coercion.

I see guides more as pimps prostituting the mountains and mountaineering. Like prostitution I don't think that guiding should be illegal, but there should be robust safeguards to protect the interests of mountains and mountaineering.

 daWalt 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

> I don't know, but it would make you a fool for not replacing it.


you're quite right - and we all know what I would replace it with :-D

In reply to Misha:

> Different from our trad ethics. You seem to be applying these to the Alpine environment.

No, I don't see it like that. I just don't like the way things have gone, probably since the proliferation of convenience bolts into the high mountains by the likes of Piola in the '80s. We could argue about where the line lies, but I think it ought to be short of the Dru or, say, the Brouillard Face - Royal Robbins' "Vandals in the Temple".

> I think it’s great if people climb classic routes. Otherwise they might as well not exist.

The trouble is that this dumbing down of popular routes just makes them more popular and an impoverished experience for everyone. Some things might be better left to die.

> A route has no value in itself, it’s value it given by people climbing and enjoying it.

I'm not even sure I agree with that. Interesting question though. Does the Bonatti Pillar have no value now that it is just a heap of rubble at the foot of the Dru?

Post edited at 14:59
 oureed 07 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

> I see guides more as pimps prostituting the mountains and mountaineering. 

Ah ok. From my perspective, guides are prostituting their love of mountaineering (and why not, there are worse ways to make a living), the mountains equate to the hotel room and the clients are looking to step away from the banality of normal life and experience a bit of excitement without having to invest their entire lives in the process.

 Webster 07 Oct 2021
In reply to oureed:

> Not many places in the world have cats eyes on the roads. 

allot of places in the world arent in western europe... has no french politician ever popped across the channel at night and thought "these crafty brits are on to something here!". we have had them for decades (no idea how long but they were around well before i was born). its hardly a difficult invention but it makes a MASSIVE difference when driving in the dark, especially on wet surfaces.

In reply to innes:

Interestingly there are only 13 logged ascents on UKC of the Drus traverse this century (at least 2 guided).  Maybe the new abseils will make it more popular with Brits.  In contrast there are 4 or 5 a year logged on camp to camp.

Post edited at 21:06
 John Cuthbert 07 Oct 2021
In reply to cdpej:

Just to provide some sort of French perspective on the decision to professionally equip the descent down the ‘back’ of the Dru, as well as to illustrated a broader change that is gradually taking place  thinking about some of the key moral aspects of alpine climbing and alpine living:

The key starting point is that the Chamonix Marie (the local authority) has been debating for some time now about whether the balance between the unfettered provision of access to the Mont Blanc range and the obligations that fall on the Chamonix community as a result, is the right one.

One part of this discussion has been the cost of rescue and medical provision given the level of accidents, the number of which have risen as the Mont Blanc range has become busier.  Indeed, the Marie has publicly published the accident and costs statistics (sorry I couldn’t find the link, but take it from me that these numbers are truly startling). They have been having a genuine debate about whether it is right that climbers should have unfettered access to the Mont Balance range whilst at the same time the Chamonix community should be required to unconditionally meet those costs that arise from unfettered access just because of their geography….

In addition, as everyone is aware, climate change has been raising the risks of alpine climbing in general, but especially so in the Mont Blanc range. For those who climbed in the Chamonix area prior to 1990 (when the big changes started to occur), or in the early 90s, but who have not been active of late, you would be aghast to see the level of change that has taken place. So great has been the scale of glacial[JC1]  erosion, that a large number of what were so-called relatively ‘easy’ scrambly approaches which once suffered virtually no objective risk, are now  transformed into ‘killing fields’ exposed to hundreds of metres of utter death choss. Others have just completely collapsed.

The Chamonix Marie has seen it as part of their duty to ensure that the risk associated with these approaches (that’s easy ground to and from the routes, not the routes themselves) are carefully managed in order to ensure that access to the mountains can be maintained.

Much of this practice is well-established, and there is generally little complaint if a new path to Les Envers des Aiguilles is constructed (with its extensive metal finery) when the old has been swept away by glacial erosion. To fail to do this would be to impose avoidable risks on climbers (avoidable because a new path could be built with government money) and avoidable costs on the Chamonix community (because they have to clean up the mess every time something awful happens).

For the Marie’s part, once this obligation to provide safe access to the mountains for mountaineers is accepted, it doesn’t seem to be a large step towards also managing the risks of descent from ‘classical’ and popular areas where glacial erosion has obliterated what were already awful and high risk ground . The new decent from the Dru is just once case in example.

The Marie (and other institutional authorities) see this as part of their obligation to manage both the access to the Mont Blanc range, but especially to manage the rising risks and costs associated with climate change. In this regard, to make a distinction between an approach path and a mountain descent, is just to be morally arbitrary.

Of course, some on this debate here sees this sort of change as un-necessary. Frankly, these views look ignorant of what is happening with regard to climate change, erosion, and the accident rate in the Mont Blanc range, and how these changes have forced a reassessment of the burden of duties and costs that fall on those that live at the base of a very large mountain

 JC

In reply to John Cuthbert:

Mairie: town hall

Marie: a woman that works there

(Yours sincerely, resident UKC spelling pedant)

In reply to Robert Durran:

> As others have said, an ignorant comment. Ever wondered why the Frendo Spur and the Cosmiques arete are the most overcrowded and arguably overrated routes of their types in the Alps?

Would they get different grades if they had a death gully descent? No. would they be more committing and subsequently receive less traffic? Yes.

Post edited at 16:03
 Pedro50 08 Oct 2021
In reply to cdpej:

> Mairie: town hall

> Marie: a woman that works there

> (Yours sincerely, resident UKC spelling pedant)

A woman WHO works there. You're welcome.

In reply to John Cuthbert:

> Of course, some on this debate here sees this sort of change as un-necessary. Frankly, these views look ignorant of what is happening with regard to climate change, erosion, and the accident rate in the Mont Blanc range, and how these changes have forced a reassessment of the burden of duties and costs that fall on those that live at the base of a very large mountain

John, thanks for so informatively offering this perspective and so reducing my ignorance! Though I am well aware of the drying out of he Alps, I'm sure I would be shocked if I saw it first hand now - I really need to get back to the Alps if my knees improve......  Obviously my views come from a purist (and probably unfashionable) mountaineering perspective which is at odds with the issues facing the Mairie. 

> The Chamonix Mairie has seen it as part of their duty to ensure that the risk associated with these approaches (that’s easy ground to and from the routes, not the routes themselves) are carefully managed in order to ensure that access to the mountains can be maintained.

While, as you say, probably nobody is going to take issue with maintaining safe paths to huts, I'm wondering what sort of measures are being taken on approaches above hut level and and to what extent and on how technical ground - could you give examples?

What do you think would happen if, instead of making approaches and descents safer, there were a strategy of publicising what approaches/routes/descents are dangerous and strongly advising against people doing them (or even barring them if that is possible)? Would people stay away (and, in which case, would that effect the local economy) or would people just go anyway and the carnage continue?

Post edited at 17:15
In reply to Toerag:

> Would they get different grades if they had a death gully descent? No. would they be more committing and subsequently receive less traffic? Yes.

Agreed. Though I'm not sure what your point is.

Post edited at 17:32
In reply to Pedro50:

well done!!

In reply to Webster:

Cat Eyes first appeared on our roads in 1935.

In reply to Currently Resting:

Invented by Yorkshireman,  Percy Shaw.

 John Cuthbert 08 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

hey Rob, so there is a been a major shift to improved communication about safety and conditions, winter and summer.

For climbers and mountaineers the weekly la Chamoniarde post provides detailed information (and at times also a discussion of the issues that are being weighed up in regard to a practical  path or route, though sometimes the full detail does not make the English translation) in a way that did not exist even just 10 years ago. I'm not sure what the output is on the St Gervais side...

Specific route approaches above the common ascent paths to les Refuges tend rarely to be managed, although there has been a lot of talk about the Italian side.... 

Beyond this, there have been frequent policing actions with gendarmes posted to prevent access, to inform,  to check climber's equipment depending on changes in conditions., and more monitoring from the air, most especially from the Midi cable car and the Nid d'Aigle..

The truth is that the Mairie is wrestling with competing constituencies of thought (St Gervais Mairie for example have suggested a much harder line on whether there should be free access), and multiple dilemmas. How things will work out in detail isn't precisely clear.

What is clear is that, so long as global warming continues, climbing in the MB range will become increasingly difficult and increasingly dangerous. Expect a lot more news in this regard from here...

JC

In reply to John Cuthbert:

I, too, am grateful for the update. I have been going back to Chamonix several times a decade, ever since 1971, and have been shocked by the changes to the natural environment as a result of climate change. The shrinkage of the Mer de Glace in 50 years almost has to be seen to be believed. The bottom rung of the old ladders that used to lead down to the glacier from Montenvers was about six feet above the glacier in 1971, and its now about 200 feet, and these ladders have been superseded long ago by at least two new generations of ladders further up the valley. The other things one notices in the summer is much more loose rock around on the mountains than there used to be and the sound of stonefall is more frequent. Also, the snow is generally dirtier, and the nights noticeably warmer in the summers.

The only thing I have been querying about the new descent routes is whether these really will increase safety, or will they just lure more people into mountain environments that are at least as dangerous as they ever were?

 jimtitt 09 Oct 2021
In reply to Webster:

> allot of places in the world arent in western europe... has no french politician ever popped across the channel at night and thought "these crafty brits are on to something here!". we have had them for decades (no idea how long but they were around well before i was born). its hardly a difficult invention but it makes a MASSIVE difference when driving in the dark, especially on wet surfaces.

They don't survive snow-ploughs very well so we don't have them in Germany either.

In reply to John Stainforth:

> .. and have been shocked by the changes to the natural environment as a result of climate change. The shrinkage of the Mer de Glace in 50 years almost has to be seen to be believed. ....

Multicentury glacier fluctuations in the Swiss Alps during the Holocene by Joerin et,al, 2006 confirms that the fastest glacial retreat was in the 19th century between 1855 and 1885. Photographs and paintings show that.

Joerin's paper (figure 3) also confirms that from 10,000 to 3,300 years ago, much of the European alps were effectively ice-free.

That is why bodies, agriculture, tools, weapons, settlements etc as per Otztal man are now being exposed.

Climate change is shocking and extreme, but it has to be understood within a natural context.

DC

In reply to Dave Cumberland:

Every one studying climate change is doing so in a natural context, particularly in historical, geological historical and astronomical contexts. A major part of studying climate change is separating the man-made from the natural signals as accurately as possible.

Post edited at 13:17
In reply to jimtitt:

> They don't survive snow-ploughs very well so we don't have them in Germany either.


I was told the same in Finland where they also don't use them (from memory it's the same in Sweden and Norway too), although one of my Finnish mates who had lived a long time in one of the snowier parts of New England said they had some sort of catseyes there that could survive regular ploughing.

It did always annoy me in Finland though, that the paint they used for road line painting as well as the reflective material used on road signs is noticeably poorer in its 'reflectivity' than the lines and signs we have across the UK. It always seemed like an easy 'win' for road safety that when things need replacing anyway, wouldn't have big cost implications.

 jimtitt 09 Oct 2021
In reply to TobyA:

There are snowplough ones, either with a lot longer metal ramps to ease the plough over which are kinda big and expensive or sunken ones. Neither work once the plough has passed over until the snow melts anyway. In Germany we just put them on posts either side of the road instead, simple really.

 MG 09 Oct 2021
In reply to Dave Cumberland:

> Multicentury glacier fluctuations in the Swiss Alps during the Holocene by Joerin et,al, 2006 confirms that the fastest glacial retreat was in the 19th century between 1855 and 1885.

I dont see any discussion of rates in that paper. Fig 3 crudely shows a rapid rate fron  1850, roughly contained to the end if the data, presumably  ~2005. Since then  there has been rapid further retreat.

> Joerin's paper (figure 3) also confirms that from 10,000 to 3,300 years ago, much of the European alps were effectively ice-free.

No it doesn't. I've just looked.

> Climate change is shocking and extreme, but it has to be understood within a natural context.

No, it doesn't. 

 John Cuthbert 09 Oct 2021
In reply to John Stainforth:

Entirely with you on the Mer de Glace John, which is perhaps the most easily observed and most notable examples of glacial erosion. Fortunately the Mer de Glace remains reasonably accessible, but even basic access to the Blatiere and the Cordier Piller on the Charmoz becoming incredibly hit and miss, the Freney Face is a nightmare, whilst the approach to the Conscrits hut has had to be completely reconstructed.  

Your final Q. is a relevant one, but the problem i was trying to highlight is: what are the obligations that flow from an 'open access' policy to the MB range given climate change. 

So if it is accepted that climbers will target the Dru even given the deterioration in conditions (which is the free access assumption), what then are the Chamonix Authorities obligations with regard to proper and safe management? With the Dru, the accidents are happening on the descent, hence the re-equipment. 

The alternative is to prevent 'free access' and you can see how the that opens up a whole different can of worms...

JC

In reply to John Cuthbert:

I don't envy the position of the Mairie: they have to juggle many conflicting interests. I don't know what the best solution is.

 rgold 10 Oct 2021
In reply to John Stainforth:

I was on the verge of weighing in to support Robert Durran when John Cuthbert's post revealed a a different perspective.  The extreme effects of climate change, the huge popularity of alpinism, the commercial concerns of a large guiding profession, and a town whose revenues depend on mountain sports and whose agencies are strained by the need to both police and rescue participants, these powerful forces all combine to shape a situation in which it is less and less possible to leave folks to their own devices in a progressively more dangerous environment.

It may be that such installations are part of an unavoidable future for the high Western Alps,  They will certainly bring their own problems, luring less-competent parties onto still-dangerous terrain, encouraging competent parties to lighten their equipment, affecting judgements about whether to carry on or retreat for parties en route, and creating more crowded conditions on routes formerly less frequented.  Perhaps there will be similar situations---one with a rappel piste and one without---that might provide evidence as to whether the trade-off is positive or negative, but it is more likely that we'll never really know.

I think there is a completely different concern that is worth identifying, and that is the tendency to apply such solutions in places where the profusion of factors enumerated by John are not in play, and where  Robert's points are far more powerful and relevant. My observation from what's happening in the US is that bolts almost always create a demand for more bolts, and an installed base of bolts creates an increasingly relied-upon precedent for arguing the need for more of the same, while at the same time desensitizing the climbing public to the presence of drilled modifications to the environment.

So even if we stipulate that the time has come for at least some of the alpine rappel pistes, that should not imply an across-the board embrace of drilled modifications to hills and crags that are not---at least not yet---experiencing the convergence of forces motivating the installations on the Dru.  Because make no mistake, some 100-meter crag with a scramble to the base will become a candidate for its own mini-Dru solution, and self-appointed guardians of the public safety, newly anointed Druids, will be only too happy to "improve the user experience."

 jcw 10 Oct 2021
In reply to rgold

There is one element that I believe is mistaken in your analysis of the Chamonix situation, the huge popularity of Alpinism. On the contrary I believe that efforts like the Dru initiative are aimed at encouraging serious Alpinism in the main range outside the standard runaround for the benefit of guides and amateurs alike.

Post edited at 10:21
In reply to rgold:

Actually, I totally agree with Robart  - his main point is my number one issue with bolts in general. I only argued about safety here, because this was the ground upon which this particular action was being defended. It is what has been called  - wait for it - the thin end of the wedge, although we are now way beyond the thin end. Rock climbing could become as "user friendly" as a well-groomed piste skiing. When asked which way they are going, future climbers may well say: "We're taking the piste!" 

Post edited at 13:12
 wbo2 10 Oct 2021
In reply to rgold:  Examples already exist... https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/rock_talk/more_on_raven_crag_rockfall-691587

Though I suspect replacing the abseil route on the Dru is a little less controversial 

Oddly one thread I've never seen is one where people are going looking for good, nasty, dangerous descents... i.e. the climbing up isn't that good, but on the way down you've got bad anchors, loose rock so on and so forth.. as per another thread perhaps that's the future of climbing for people looking for a bit of old school type 2

Post edited at 14:25
 John Cuthbert 10 Oct 2021
In reply to rgold:

Thanks for your comments and I think that you make some very good points here.

There’s no question that alpine climbing has changed, and one significant part of this has been the advent of bolting. This subject has been exercised many times on these pages so I don’t wish to add much other than to say that I’m not sure that a focus on bolting is the relevant issue here, or is indeed the most significant factor with regard to what has been fuelling either the growth of mountaineering, or changes in attitudes.

Of course, in the MB Range even with the growth in numbers, there looks to have been a huge diversion of activity away from the many of the established classics (like the Dru), and towards bolted rock routes. It’s impossible to say to what extent the classic routes would have stayed busy had the bolts not arrived, but there are copious examples of areas where climate change – rather than bolts -has been the main driver. I remember well bivvying on a shoulder above the couloir descent to the base of the Bonatti Piller on the Dru with the usual coterie of 10 other teams in the summer of ‘87. You will find none today.

In one way, however, the advent of bolting has all been to the good since the other issue I wanted to highlight, but chose not too because I couldn’t find the link, is what has been happening to accident and fatality rates. As I remarked earlier, these numbers are quite startling. I don’t know whether any detailed study has been undertaken on how accident patterns have been shifting in the last 30 years, but I can say that the sheer scale of the increase has been of enormous concern to the local authorities. (I should perhaps add that the accident stats reveal the prevalence of minor incidents – small falls, broken ankles, basic errors of judgement etc – within the overall number, and this drives a continuing debate about competence and equipment standards ….)

The point I’m making is that the re-equipping of the Dru descent should also be seen as part of a broader management exercise to preserve lives. All Chamonix denizens will know how frequent and how awful the loss of life in the MB range is, and even though the old skool part of me also yearns for more wilderness, as I have grown more sensible in my later years, I also have come to realise that lives matter more than old skool mountaineering mores..

In reply to rgold:

> I think there is a completely different concern that is worth identifying, and that is the tendency to apply such solutions in places where the profusion of factors enumerated by John are not in play, and where  Robert's points are far more powerful and relevant. 

Yes, if the consensus is that a bolted abseil piste is justified on the Dru to save lives, it is a small step to seeing them as the norm more for convenience than anything else in other places in the high Alps. And then, if they become the norm in the high Alps, why not have them in places such as the major peaks in Patagonia or, say, the Ruth Gorge; after all, "nobody wants to die just because they get caught by bad weather on the way down Fitzroy" (but maybe this is already happening for all I know). 

> Because make no mistake, some 100-meter crag with a scramble to the base will become a candidate for its own mini-Dru solution.

Havn't there been abseil pistes installed for convenience on lesser alpine walls for some time? I think the progression may be from these to the likes of the Dru rather than the other way round. In 2003 I did a route on the Grauewand above the Furka Pass. The descent was by about 6 bolted abseils down the smoothest part of the wall. It took about half an hour. There were even bolted on little foot ledges to make it more comfortable!

In reply to John Cuthbert:

> So if it is accepted that climbers will target the Dru even given the deterioration in conditions (which is the free access assumption).

Do you think that is a valid assumption?

In reply to John Cuthbert:

> I remember well bivvying on a shoulder above the couloir descent to the base of the Bonatti Piller on the Dru with the usual coterie of 10 other teams in the summer of ‘87. You will find none today.

I suspect the fact that the Bonatti Pillar fell down might be a contributing factor in this! If it were still there would there be fewer or none?

> In one way, however, the advent of bolting has all been to the good since the other issue I wanted to highlight is what has been happening to accident and fatality rates........... I should perhaps add that the accident stats reveal the prevalence of minor incidents – small falls, broken ankles, basic errors of judgement etc – within the overall number, and this drives a continuing debate about competence and equipment standards ….

But could it be that a shift in perception of the range towards being a bolted playground rather than big, bad and gnarly might be a contributing factor in driving these accidents? 

> Even though the old skool part of me also yearns for more wilderness, as I have grown more sensible in my later years, I also have come to realise that lives matter more than old skool mountaineering mores..

I think I remember you saying after one of the big Dru rockfalls, probably 15 or 20 years ago, that you might write an essay entitled something like "The Day The Dru Fell Down", using it as a metaphor for the decline of "old skool" alpinism. If you had, a follow up now might have been interesting.

For my own part, I am quite tempted by the title "The Murder of the Suicidal".

 oureed 11 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

> But could it be that a shift in perception of the range towards being a bolted playground rather than big, bad and gnarly might be a contributing factor in driving these accidents? 

I'm not sure you're 'au fait' with what's happening in the Alps at the moment. Piola's 80s routes are a lot less popular than 30 years ago, but the north face of the Grandes Jorasses and Eiger get multiple ascents a day when conditions are good. Back in the 80s many alpinists would climb the west face of the Drus with a lightweight sack to the top of the 90m corner and then rappel back down, now almost everyone tops out and descends down the back (apart from Honnold who downclimbs the same route!!). The north face of the Petit Dru is now a popular winter objective. The classic descent from this is an abseil down the north couloir on V-threads!

And the youth are much less picky than we ever were when it comes to conditions. Dry-tooling  allows fast ascents of routes that would have been considered unclimbable a few years ago. Same with the classic ridges, which are also seeing a bit of a rebirth these days. People are quite happy to deal with choss-filled sections which we wouldn't have gone near back in the day. 

Cracks that were bolted or chock-full of fixed gear have been cleaned. 

These newly bolted rappel lines are simply replacing existing rappel lines equipped with old pegs and rotting tat. It's a more durable solution.

The real threat to Alpine climbing comes from global warming, not bolted rappel anchors. Personally, I think the routes are bigger (literally!), badder and gnarlier than ever, although it is also true that mobile phones have somewhat tempered this.

Post edited at 10:05
In reply to oureed:

> I'm not sure you're 'au fait' with what's happening in the Alps at the moment.

If all you say is true then clearly not. However, what you are saying does, on the face of it, seem to be at odds with what John is saying: "Of course, in the MB Range even with the growth in numbers, there looks to have been a huge diversion of activity away from the many of the established classics (like the Dru), and towards bolted rock routes." Maybe you are both in a sense correct, but while you are talking about the harder end of the spectrum, John is talking about, for want of a better word, the punter end?

And who is having all these accidents? People on the sort of routes you mention or the less experienced punters, or both? 

> Cracks that were bolted or chock-full of fixed gear have been cleaned. 

That comes to me as great news!

> These newly bolted rappel lines are simply replacing existing rappel lines equipped with old pegs and rotting tat. It's a more durable solution.

Yes, certainly more durable and I get the arguments for them, but more than a straight replacement if they are taking different ideal lines which wouldn't work without bolts.

> Piola's 80s routes are a lot less popular than 30 years ago.

I remember thinking that Piola had really crossed a line when he put up Anouk on the West face of The Petites Jorasses* and I believe it even raised some eyebrows locally. It effectively changed the character of climbing on the face by providing an abseil piste, thus removing the need to climb equipped for the glacial descent into Italy and removing a fair bit of commitment from the classic and wandering Contamine route by providing an escape route where the routes cross at a couple of points. I wonder what the feeling is nowadays about this or other similar "dumbing down".

> Personally, I think the routes are bigger (literally!), badder and gnarlier than ever, although it is also true that mobile phones have somewhat tempered this.

In what way have they tempered this? Do you think people are climbing with lighter sacks, replacing bivouac equipment with a phone in the knowledge that if their "fast 'n light" approach doesn't go according to plan they can call for a helicopter rather than be self-sufficient? If the carrying of a phone is actually changing the way people climb rather than being a last resort, then I think this is regrettable.

 John Cuthbert 11 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

Its not an assumption Rob, people are still climbing on the Dru, hence all the accidents...

JC

 John Cuthbert 11 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

Thanks Rob,

These are all interesting and tricky questions.

No one is collecting any data , so any answer is purely impressionistic.

Still, It seems pretty clear (to me) that not only has the number of climber/mountaineers grown, in cross-section, they are also more diverse. 

Back when we didn't care about rock fall, dodgy bivvies, and going without sleep, a large contingent of the guys I'd run into were not just very experienced and experienced beyond the Alps, their background was usually in some type of adventure climbing. You're a top-notch example. 

The punters really stood out...

I ought to be careful with what I say about many of the people I've climbed with in the MB range over the last 10 years, but their skill set has not been of the same order. I say this only to prefix with what has been going on with French guiding standards as perhaps a better illustration of a change in culture. The ENSA school's training program, for example, was closed by the French Gov for a wee while because of the large number of fatalities amongst Guides and their clients. They were required to demonstrate that they were adequately addressing safety standards in order to have their licence restored, and in the examination that followed they were found to have insufficiently emphasised what you and I learned in our early days (how to navigate in the dark being one such example).

One spin-off of this period of self-examination (ENSA's licence was eventually restored by the French Gov) has been a re-focus or the reintroduction of skills that had been 'lost' or under-played, and this included a focus on 'traditional' climbing skills. (I've even had off the cuff bar conversations with some Cham youths who were dazzled by my confession that i knew my way around 'le trad'.)

There's a lot I could say on this subject, but I need to be careful, so just let me add that I have an overall sense that many modern climbers simply do not have the right skill set to be sticking their neck out on the Dru or similar expeditions. I hasten to add that this is a feature of the increased diversity, and not a condemnation of modern styles, or a harking back to a once glorious time. There are still large numbers of super competent climbers. Look at all the Brits who rock up and crush!

My final point is just to say that i don't think these changes can be explained by the increased prevalence of bolting, although it has played some part. Instead, I would attribute this to much broader change in cultural influences. 

I'm happy to debate that,, as you wish, but i ought to fess right up that I'm about to jet off to Kaly for a month rather than sharpen my ice axes..

Bestest,

JC

 jcw 11 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

Re Anouk. Absolutely. We had the satisfaction of getting to the hut, true with some difficulties on the Italian side while the three parties who had done the abseil got back down at 4am. No cats eyes for them.

Re your remarks about phones, precisely. Oh we'll go light and if we can't make it out in time, call the PGHM. Exactly the irresponsibility they've been complaining about.

That said, the game HAS changed and there's no point in getting on the moral high ground about it. In any case it's crumbling away like the rock!

 John Cuthbert 11 Oct 2021
In reply to Robert Durran:

On these points I agree with both you and oureed.

Oureed is right about the changes in approach that have taken place on the Dru (and in many regards these are more and not less adventurous). My point about the diversion of activity is that these areas are more quiet than they used to be, on average 

I think this is a both a function of climate change and the interweb.

Because there so many areas of the MB range that are now hugely condition dependent, rather then there all the time (do you remember how it used to be possible to climb the North Face of Les Droites or some icy runnel in July during the 80's?), some areas/routes get sieged as soon as they are posted as 'in'. The N.Couloir on the Dru, the Colton-Mc on the Jorasses, and 'Beyond Good and Evil' are notable examples.

Alongside this, some bolted areas are busy than ever: Aig Rouges, Aig Argentiere, Pointe Lachenal etc. The Envers less busy for reasons I don't understand.. 

But Oureed is also right that there are plenty of folk seeking out adventure and exploring (often new) lines in a way which is probably un-precedented.

All of these are features of the increased diversity of activity in the MB range. Alpinism is no longer just one thing...

JC

 Rob Parsons 12 Oct 2021
In reply to John Cuthbert:

> Just to provide some sort of French perspective on the decision to professionally equip the descent down the ‘back’ of the Dru, as well as to illustrated a broader change that is gradually taking place  thinking about some of the key moral aspects of alpine climbing and alpine living ...

Thanks for your comments.

On the specific question of the Drus, I am curious about where accidents might have been taking place of late. For example, is the descent of the Voie Normale of the Petit Dru now being specifically discouraged in favour of that from the Grand, specifically because there has been a spate of accidents there?


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