Dru North Face, Czech Route 1979 with variations + video


Today, I have receive an e-mail from Pavel "Baca" VRTIK, a climber from Czech Republic. He writes me this words about the first ascensionnists.
Now, i know them better, it's the same story than the Lesueur Brother. I have a MAXIMUM RESPECT for all those guys.
Jiří Slavík and Jan Šimon were in age about 20 and they had no experience in big mountains. They just climbed on Czech sandstone crags and dreamed about a day to get out to the mountains. You can imagine their equipment - certainly no cams ! Regardind to the grade 5+/A1, it should be noted the climbing classification in the Alps became open in 1977 (Pumprisse at Fleichsbank). Until that time, the hardest routes were of grade 6 and the top climbers of that time hesitated to use this grade in order not to be considered "big mouthed".
What is also amazing is about their first ascent on 28-30/7/1979. Just a few days after another first ascent on Les Droites 3 days before (24-25/7/1979). "Czech variant of the Couzy Spur, 5c/A2. Route 254 in Damilano's guidebook.
Jan died on October23 , 1984. Just after completed with Karel Jakes and Jaromir Stejskal, the first ascent of the west face of Dhaulagiri. He died during the descent. http://cs.euroclimbing.com/?p=11350


SLAVICK at age 55 still climbs 8a ! http://www.directalpine.cz/jiri-slavik-prcas


Text from Corrado PESCE  :
The North Face of the Drus in Chamonix host some of the most daunting alpine terrain in the Alps. In winter it stand steep and dark as a tombstone looming above the tasty powder slopes of Pas de chevres.
The view from the top of the Grand Montets call for uncopromisely steep and blank rock. Aside for the two Classics routes, the NE couloir and the original 1935 route the face have draught little interest among westerners alpinists.

A closer look and the repetition of a few routes on the face gave us a different view of what kind of climbing was to be found on the north face, good cracks, good rock, sheltered from fohn wind and above all awesome mixed climbing.
 No wonder, routes like Lesueur Route are mostly sought after from top alpine mixed climbing specialists mainly from Britain. The remaining of the face, comprised between super classics Dru Couloir and Allain-Leininger 1935 route, hosts routes rarely or not repeated, climbed almost exclusively by alpinists from Eastern Europe, very little is known about those routes. From Left to right there are a Polish route first climbed by Himalayan legends Kurtyka and Kukuczka, a route from two climbers from former Ceskoslovenska republic Simon-Slavik back in 1979, then the french direttissima Gabarrou Long from 1985, the soon to become classic route from the Lesueur brothers, a tremendous effort way ahead of his time back in 1952, and the Guides Route,climbed in the winter 1968 by french Alpinists Seigneur,Paris,Jager,Feuillerade.
The Guides route and the Lesueur are the only ones climbed in winter. During the summer of 1998 a competition organized by the Russian Mountaineering federation unleashed a bunch of Russian Alpine Masters on the Drus steepness, the result was obviously a string of fast repeats and hard variations on various routes. Nevertheless the Czech and Polish routes as far as we know remained unrepeated.
Together, we wanted to climb the portion of the face left of Lesueur route since quite long time and secretely hoped to find there some challenging mixed climbing.
The high pressure system and warm temperatures called for a try on this project.Super stoked we started from the Grand Montets for a recce. Double set of cams and double set of ice tools, we standed in front of the beast, for some kind of reason we deemed unnecessary to carry any topos, and we started on the face were it looked more comfortable to. Because i've been guiding on skis dayly for awhile the idea of carrying anything else than skiboots never touched me. Jeff would lead the recce.
After a few hours of wrestles in splitter cracks and our crampons wrecked on the smooth sides of a chimney, we were questioning our little progress and poor tactics.
 Rock Shoes seemed necessary for any further progress.
We fixed a rope(bad style) like a dog peeing on a wall to mark his territory, pretty useless action since this portion of the face saw only two parties in 33 years,but, with all the foxes in Chamonix valley, one never know, and the Drus this winter seemed to attract a lot of people.

Two days later we were back on the cablecar to the GM chatting with artist filmaker David Autheman,the dude was going off skitouring with a couple of young and nice ladies, we were going to the coldest,grimmest, darkest place around,but our motivation was still intact.
After so many days of melt and freeze the approach was too sketchy to do with ski, our skills might remind those of a girafe. It was with some relief that we took off our backpacks and started climbing up the fixed rope.
Of all the existing ways of gaining altitude climbing up a 8 millimeters rope with a Tibloc is the one we are most uncompetent at.Just above it was a perfect steep crack that eated all of our big cams.
From above i watched my friend blasting himself following the pitch climbing in big boots with the haulbag and all our gear on his shoulders,we decided to haul as much as possible and to use rock shoes for the steepest pitches.

I was going to lead for the remaining of the afternoon,Jeff will have the time to figure out how follow without making it looks as strenous as a M14 at l'Usine.
After two steep pitches, here's  the first test for my poor routefinding skills,left or right? hard to say not knowing exactly on which route we started.
Jeff provided useful helps dropping his crampon 65 meters lower and descend retrieve it.
I had enough time and good reasons to chose for the easiest way. Some drytooling, some good cracks and a lot of tricky manouvres saw both of us atop of a steep pillar at the base of a way steeper, thin looking, shield that would be my partner's occupation tomorrow morning. The sun dropped and so the temperature, Jeff found a nice ledge for us somewhere down and right,it was pretty chilly on the wind, my choice of clothes made by 25 degrees back in town was not sound.
Fortunately Jeff chosed more wisely and provided extra clothes.
Time to bivy.

Our second day started with some pretty interesting climbing for Jeff, a brief attempt of drytooling a thin crack ended with him and his tool ejected by the wall, i watched as one of his tools fell down the face only to stop few meters from our skis 300 meters lower.
We were "obviously" on the czech route graded by the first ascensionists UIAA 5+ A1 (5MT) i reckon in czech repubblic 5 means 5 and + means sandbag. Nevertheless Jeff made steady progress out of it and took us to a dihedral on the left of the shield, then out on easier more broken terrain. It was time for me to take the lead and finally do some mixed climbing. Now we were on the earth of the Dru north face a place we both dreamed to be for quite longtime.

A portion of slabs with some good mixed ramps took us to the base of a gnarly looking crack, the key to the upper wall.

The crack happened to be easier than expected and offered some very cool climbing. We finally joined Lesueur route, this fine line that sneak all the way across the mountain.

Some good dry tooling and ice and it was already time to look for a bivy spot.
I opted for a cone of snow behind a boulder detached from the wall were we could sit on our arses and contemplate how cool was alpine climbing and maybe understand why the best alpinists simply don't do bivys. Jeff didn't seemed appealed by the idea and started looking around on the decreasing daylight.
I have very deep respect for his bivy spotting skills. On No Siesta a route known for his poor bivys he found a awesome ledge cached in the overhanging wall on our side.

It didn't took him very long to find out that there might be a very good bivy atop of a skinny overhanging pillar 20 meters above our heads,he scrambled a few meters and declared that by the amount of frozen human waste aside of the cliff someone had bivied somewhere up there, fortunately we knew exactly who was the last party repeating the Lesueur route.
Jeff sorted his cellphone and called Christophe, a common friend that made a swift repeat of the Lesueur the days before.Christophe confirmed us that the bivy is five stars but mentioned some sort of tricky climbing to get to it.

Night was falling we were standing on the only portion of our route ever repeated, around ten parties in 60 years,running out daylight we had only to sort out a cellphone to get some reliable beta. That's Chamonix.
Jeff started on the fierce crack. I was already seeing myself in the sleeping bag when from above came some grunts, i tried to figure how the climbing could have been because i could see nothing. It didn't look like we were actually going to make it to the bivy spot.
Few minutes later he was back.For two days we've been wondering if we were on a Czech a Polish or a Russian route now we were getting our ass kicked by a boulder problem putted up in big boots by Fontainbleau Specialists back in 1955.
I started cutting a ledge around my feets but i was immediately sent up trying to reach the tantalizing bivy spot.
With the right technique the crack was sent,and the bivy reached.A awesome ledge alredy cleared by snow and ice, in a few minutes we were in the sleeping bags and i could finally eat some of Jeff's food as a reward for the effort provided.
Daylight brought some more good weather and need for action. If the priority for the previous evening was to find a good place were to sleep,the priority for today will be to get back to our intended line that lied somewhere 60 meters down and right our terrace.The day started with a tricky diagonal rappel.
Jeff started in the morning and quickly dispatched the two steep difficult and cold pitches.A grey granite scar some loose flakes and a titanium piton suggested that we might be on the upper russian variation.The climbing was still of the highest quality. Climbing on this face is so inspiring.
I took over on mixed terrain that led us once again on the left at the point were the Lesueur route traverse the dru couloir to the left.We will continue straight up. Finally the terrain got easier and we found ourself on the ridge above the Drus Breche were we soaked on the sun.

We didn't do the scramble to the actual top. Instead we preferred taking our time and not mess with the descent.After so many ours of using arms and legs to do any progress upward the idea of only walking was simply not even take into discussion.Bad style.
The descent down the dru couloir went fine for us but not for Jeff's new rope .The ski down, with such heavy backpacks provided a last sting in the tail. It was a very good route that should interest climbers looking for some adventurous climbing on the heart of a steep big face.