Spanish make valiant attempt on the West Face of the Dru

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 22/04/2015
The west face of the Dru with the line of the recent Spanish attempt. Lindsay Griffin
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Spanish climbers Josep Maria Esquirol and David Palmada made a spirited attempt to climb the centre of the rock scar on the west face of the Petit Dru, more or less along the line formerly taken by the American Direttissima.

Since the first cataclysmic rock fall of recent times, in 1997, there have been several very major follow-ups on the 3,733m Petit Dru; 2003, 2005 and 2011.

The 1997 landslide registered as far away as Sion in the Rhone Valley, where it was recorded as between 2.0 and 2.5 on the Richter Scale.

It began from the region of the first big roof on the Harlin/Robbins American Direttissima, destroying the lower section of this route, plus the lower sections of the neighbouring French Direttissima below the Red Shield, the 1986 Camison/Grenier route, Absolu, the 1975 Thomas Gross Route, Catherine Destivelle's 1991 creation and part of the Bonatti Pillar.

At the time certain geologists pronounced that this was a result of a current 'tipping' of the entire range.

Later rock falls "refreshed" all this section, as well as removing most of the top section of the face.

A few bold climbers have ventured into this terrain since 1997, such as Martial Dumas and Jean-Yves Fredericksen, who became the first to climb the right side of the West Face since the huge rock fall of June 2005.

Their line, Les Papas, largely followed the crest of the pillar formerly taken by the now destroyed 1955 Bonatti Route.

In common with Dumas and Fredericksen, and the few other parties to have ventured onto this wall since the first rockfall, the two Spanish chose the winter season, when the face would be most stable.

They first tried in January 2013 but were forced to retreat, then were avalanched, and finally evacuated by helicopter. A return match that season was curtailed when Esquirol broke his fibula while valley ice climbing.

They tried again in November 2014 but problems to Esquirol's pregnant wife forced him home for more than two months.

After another attempt earlier this year, they finally got onto the wall after a difficult approach in heavy snow, climbed the initial 200m couloir, and started up the centre of the grey rock scar.

They made four portaledge camps, with adverse conditions, temperatures between -5°C and -20°C, and technical difficulty limiting their ascent to between 40 - 100m a day.

The pair climbed mostly on aid, on rock that was, not surprisingly, often rotten and/or expanding. The crux was felt to be A5, and led by Palmada, a well-known exponent of hard aid climbing in Spain, who took nine hours to overcome 45m.

With bad weather forecast, the pair decided they would not reach the summit, but instead try for a point that they felt was common to the line of Les Papas.

They reached approximately 50m from this line but then abandoned further progress.

The two reached the foot of the face after 14 days on the wall, and were evacuated by helicopter, mainly due to mild frostbite and, for Esquirol, aggravated pain around a relatively recent operation site.

Despite stopping some distance from the top of the wall, the line has been named Abdruits. Their 990m of climbing was graded VII A5 6a M5 70°

 



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