Aiguille du Dru
|Aiguille du Dru|
The west and south-west faces of the Petit Dru, with obvious grey rockfall scar (May, 2006)
|Elevation||3,754 m (12,316 ft)|
|First ascent||12 September 1878 by Clinton Thomas Dent, James Walker Hartley, Alexander Burgener and K. Maurer|
The Aiguille du Dru (also the Dru or the Drus; French, Les Drus) is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps, lying to the east of the village of Les Praz in the Chamonix valley. "Aiguille" means "needle" in French.
The mountain has two summits:
- Grande Aiguille du Dru (or the Grand Dru) 3,754 m, and
- Petite Aiguille du Dru (or the Petit Dru) 3,733 m.
The two summits are located on the west ridge of the Aiguille Verte (4,122 m) and are connected to each other by the Brèche du Dru (3,697 m). The north face of the Petit Dru is considered one of the six great north faces of the Alps.
The first ascent of the Grand Dru was by British alpinists Clinton Thomas Dent and James Walker Hartley, with guides Alexander Burgener and K. Maurer, who climbed it via the south-east face on 12 September 1878. Dent, in his description of the climb, wrote:
Those who follow us, and I think there will be many, will perhaps be glad of a few hints about this peak. Taken together, it affords the most continuously interesting rock climb with which I am acquainted. There is no wearisome tramp over moraine, no great extent of snow fields to traverse. Sleeping out as we did, it would be possible to ascend and return to Chamonix in about 16 to 18 hrs. But the mountain is never safe when snow is on the rocks, and at such times stones fall freely down the couloir leading up from the head of the glacier. The best time for the expedition would be, in ordinary seasons, in the month of August. The rocks are sound and are peculiarly unlike those of other mountains. From the moment the glacier is left, hard climbing begins, and the hands as well as the feet are continuously employed. The difficulties are therefore enormously increased if the rocks be glazed or cold; and in bad weather the crags of the Dru would be as pretty a place for an accident as can well be imagined.
The Petit Dru was climbed in the following year, on 29 August 1879, by J. E. Charlet-Straton, P. Payot and F. Follignet via the south face and the south-west ridge. The first traverse of both summits of the Drus was by E. Fontaine and J. Ravanel on 23 August 1901. The first winter traverse of the Drus was by Armand Charlet and Camille Devouassoux on 25 February 1938.
In 1889 both peaks of the Dru were climbed for the first time from the Petit Dru to the Grand Dru by two parties. One party contained Miss Katherine Richardson and guides Emile Rey and Jean-Baptiste Bich, and the other Mr Nash and Mr Williams with guides François Simond, Frederic Payot and Edouard Cupelin.
The west and south-west faces
These 1000 m-high rock faces have seen serious rockfalls in 1950, 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2011, which have considerably affected the structure of the mountain and destroyed a number of routes. Although at the time of the first ascent of the north face (Pierre Allain and R. Leininger on 1 August 1935), Pierre Allain considered the west face to be unclimbable, the team of A. Dagory, Guido Magnone, Lucien Bérardini and Mr. Lainé succeeded on the face in a series of attempts on July 5 and 17–19 July 1952 using considerable artificial aid. From 17–22 August 1955, the Italian climber Walter Bonatti climbed a difficult solo route on the south-west pillar of the Petit Dru (the Bonatti Pillar); this route – like many on the west face – no longer exists in its original state owing to rockfall, the scars of which remain clearly visible from the Chamonix valley. Seven years later, from 24–26 July 1962, Gary Hemming and Royal Robbins climbed the 'American Direct', a more direct route up the west face than that taken in 1952. On 10–13 August 1965, Royal Robbins, this time accompanied by John Harlin, climbed the 'American Direttissima'. This route was destroyed by the 2005 rockfall.
On 4 September 1913 a party of climbers led by Camille Simond and Roberts Charlet-Straton attempted to carry a hollow metal statue of Our Lady of Lourdes up the peak. The statue, almost a metre high, weighing 13 kilos and made of aluminium, had to be left in a rocky crevice at 3,000 m because of poor weather, and it was only on 18 September 1919 that the statue was finally hoisted to the summit by a party from Argentière: Alfred, Arthur, Camille, Joseph, and Jules-Félicien Ravanel together with the village priest, abbé Alexis Couttin.
- Clinton Thomas Dent, 'The History of an Ascent of the Aiguille du Dru', Alpine Journal, Vol. IX, reprinted as 'The First Ascent of the Dru', in Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, ed. Walt Unsworth, London: Allen Lane, 1981, p. 61. Dent describes the scene on reaching the summit: 'Our first care was to level the telescope in the direction of Couttet's hotel. There was not much excitement there, but in front of the Imperial [Hotel] we were pleased to think we saw someone looking in our direction. Accordingly with much pomp and ceremony the stick (which I may here state was borrowed without leave) was fixed up. Then to my horror Alexander produced from a concealed pocket a piece of scarlet flannel like unto a baby's undergarment, and tied it on. I protested in vain. In a moment the objectionable rag was floating proudly in the breeze.' pp. 59–60
- Alpine Journal, 1888–89, vol. 14, 511–512
- Ravanel, Ludovic; Philip Deline (2008). "La face ouest des Drus (massif du Mont-Blanc) : évolution de l’instabilité d’une paroi rocheuse dans la haute montagne alpine depuis la fin du petit âge glaciaire". Géomorphologie: relief, processus, environnement (4): 261–272. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
- Victor Saunders, "Flight from the Hornli", alpinejournal.org.uk. Accessed 12 September 2011.
- Lindsay Griffin, "West face of the Dru re-climbed", alpinist.com. Accessed 12 September 2011.
- Jack Geldard, "Major Rockfall on Les Dru, Chamonix Valley", ukclimbing.com. Accessed 13 September 2011.
- Harlin, John (1966). "Petit Dru, West Face Direttissima". American Alpine Journal (New York City, New York, USA: The American Alpine Club) 1966: 81–89. ISSN 0065-6925.
- "Petit Dru, West Face Direttissima", supertopo.com. Accessed 16 February 2012
- http://www.alpinisme.com/FR/histoire-alpinisme/les-drus/index.php?fic=p7 Account of the hoisting of the summit statue (in French)