Petit Dru, West Face American Direttissima John Harlin 1965

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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 21, 2012 - 11:16pm PT
This is the final chapter of the American Route story on the Petit Dru.

Robbins and Gary Hemming caused a big splash with their effort in 1962 which was the first major climb by an American team in the Alps.

The "Direttissima" was the last addition in 1965 and reported in the 1966 AAJ. Pure nostalgia since 2005 when the 90 Meter Dihedral fell off!



























Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 22, 2012 - 11:31am PT
Thanks Stevie! This was one of the big turning points wasn't it?! Not long after, seven months actually, we lost our boy from Redwood City---Harlin--- to a frayed rope on the Eiger Direttissima project-- 1965. It is a kind of fun, as an aside of course, to recall that Harlin's middle name was Elvis. We all know of course his son, Harlin III, is the Editor-in-Chief of the American Alpine Journal, a noted mountaineer in his own right and a prolific author.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Jan 22, 2012 - 12:09pm PT
Great find Steve !
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 22, 2012 - 01:45pm PT
Hopefully some parties that did the route will chime in. Usually Brits would be the first to repeat a climb like this one. Who did the first few repeats?
Ian Parsons

climber
Jan 22, 2012 - 03:50pm PT
The German team of Geisenberger and Reisacher repeated the route in 1972; this was probably the second ascent (refs. Mountain # 27 and 53). The Poles Piotr Malinowski, Marian Piekutowski, Zbigniew Wach and Jan Wolf made a winter ascent 25 feb - 5 march 1976, following an unsuccessful attempt the previous winter; probable third ascent (photo-article Mountain #53). Roger Mear and I (yes - Brits) made an ascent in the summer of 1981; I've no idea whether this was the fourth or whether there had been other ascents in the interim, although our activity certainly attracted the interest of a helicopter which, having once spotted us, returned each day (quite a few, I'm afraid!) to check on progress (photo-article Mountain #86). In the following years it became the target for free attempts and achieved that status sometime in the mid-1980s; I think two or three teams got very close, and I'm not sure who actually completely freed it - although I seem to recall that Eric Escoffier, Thierry "Turbo" Renault and Marco Pedrini were probably all somewhere in the mix. The free rating was runout 7b, ie presumably about 5.12b R.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 22, 2012 - 04:21pm PT
Welcome Ian and thanks for the route history!

How did you find the climbing when you repeated the route?

Did you do the South Face of the Fou?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 22, 2012 - 05:39pm PT
Number 98 on Gaston's 100 Finest Climbs in the Mont Blanc Massif!





Ian Parsons

climber
Jan 22, 2012 - 08:08pm PT
Hi Steve

I'll stir up the memory cells and get back to you with some details - 30 years is a long time! I never did the Fou, although I have a feeling that Roger did; early 1970s, probably. (I don't know how well known Roger is in the US; his CV includes a new route on the east face of Huntingdon, first winter ascent of the Cassin on Denali, and FA of Deborah East Ridge - the one that Dave Roberts described so graphically!)
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 29, 2012 - 06:56pm PT
Ian- Thanks for the reflections and background on Roger Mear.

I ask about the Fou to try and establish which American route was most difficult from this period.
Ian Parsons

climber
Jan 29, 2012 - 09:34pm PT
Hi Steve, and apologies for the delay; to be honest, every time I've come onto the ST site in the last week I've been distracted by goings-on in Patagonia - which have been far more interesting and inspiring than anything we may have managed 30 years ago!

First off; Roger did the Fou in 1971. I haven't spoken to him, but I came across an obituary notice for the guy he did it with, Wilf Tauber, in the "Cerro Torre edition" of Mountain, #23. Off the top of my head I would say that the Dru was probably the bigger deal; as far as we knew we were trying pretty much the hardest big rock route in the Alps at the time, and nothing that Roger said afterwards suggested otherwise. With hindsight it's fairly obvious that a probably overwhelming contender lurked a bit further up the Mer de Glace in the form of Yannick Seigneur's Directe de l'Amitie, and in the Dolomites in 1981 a certain Igor Koller was getting busy!

Marco Pedrini and Sergio Vicari recorded an ascent of the Harlin/Robbins on 9 July 1983 (which we would call 9/7/83, but you call 7/9/83), mostly free but with a few points of aid; Pedrini, you will recall, made the first solo ascent of the Compressor Route, which I gather has been in the news lately! A completely free ascent on 22 July 1983 was recorded by Pascal Etienne, Eric Escoffier, Christophe Profit and Thierry Renault.

At the time we had very little information about the route. There was a fairly brief pitch-by-pitch description in an edition of the ACG annual bulletin - 1966, presumably - and a route description in the French language Vallot Guide of the time, quite possibly distilled and translated from Harlin's original by somebody who hadn't actually done the route. Neither of these descriptions covered the ground up to the Grey Ledges, although the Vallot Guide mentioned two different starts up the lower tier which roughly, although (from memory) not exactly, correlate with Harlin's account above. Although both Harlin/Robbins (on the FA) and the FFA team approached from below, gaining the Grey Ledges via the first bit of the 1952 Magnone West Face route, I think it became normal in the short span between the FFA and when the mountain started falling down "big time" to approach by rappelling down the couloir from the Flammes de Pierre ridge and reaching the Grey Ledges, again, by the Magnone route.

From the outset we approached this as a bigwall - which is one reason it took so long. As far as we knew it was like El Cap, but in the Alps, and without access to up-to-date local knowledge we didn't realise that there might be a lighter, faster way; although our own subsequent suggestion - that by pushing it another grade or two a lot of it might go free - might actually have encouraged events a couple of years later. So we set off fairly encumbered with three ropes, a full pin rack, a pretty full nut rack (which was mostly what we used) food and fuel for a long time (and actually, down at the Charpoua hut afterwards, one of the best bits of the whole trip was being able to feed some excellent [and very hungry] Spaniards with whom we'd shared the descent!), plus a large rucsac and a haulbag.

It didn't start particularly well; if you're averse to knee damage, certainly. Having driven into the valley and camped just below Argentiere on, I think, the monday, we caught the nearby telepherique up to Les Grands Montets on tuesday afternoon. The idea was that, with loads such as ours, it would be much easier to descend the appropriate couloir to the glacier under the Nant Blanc Face of the Verte and thence to the Rognon des Drus, than to flog up there from Montenvers. This was largely true, save for my unfamiliarity with descending slushy couloirs with a large haulbag. After much grumbling and prodding, a short distance from the bottom I "cut loose" - involuntarily - shot over the bergschrund, and postholed one of my lower limbs into deep, wet snow; wherein it set, as in concrete, while the rest of me plus haulbag, tendons and ligaments a-stretching and complaining, tried to continue their downward trajectory. Fortunately everything stopped before the onset of midterm damage - although the jury's still out on longterm - but, in the short term, I hobbled down to the Rognon with a rapidly expanding knee.

Such infirmity might have compromised our chances of success on the morrow, had that not already happened. Exhausted from the day's labours, and deserving a little comfort, it was disheartening to find that, due to a slight cock-up at the local hardware store or wherever, our earlier request for white gas/gaz blanc/essence etc had been misunderstood for whatever "methylated spirit" is in French - that's right: meths - just about the only fluid substance on the planet that an MSR won't burn! Fortunately we managed to decide, between us, that it was largely Roger's fault; so the next day, while my knee and I had a recuperative lie-in, he headed apace to Chamonix and returned in the early afternoon clutching the secret of fire.

Ok Steve - it's now 0232 local time, and sleep is imminent; next instalment in a day or two.

Ian
pneame

Trad climber
Tampa, FL
Feb 2, 2012 - 03:38pm PT
I know there's an audience of at least 2 waiting for the next installment, Ian. No pressure or anything....
I'm feeling the pain from trying to make your leg like a chicken's, having done much the same myself a long time ago.
enzolino

climber
Galgenen, Switzerland
Feb 2, 2012 - 03:46pm PT
Are you sure that the rock fall involved also the "Direttissima Americana"?
I thought only the Bonatti route was involved in the rock fall ...
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Feb 2, 2012 - 04:05pm PT
Here's a photo taken on the 12 September 2011, Enzo:

Credit: jaaan

This was the day after the latest 'big' rock fall. Since then another large lump fell off the top lefthand side of the scar - from that area of stepped overhangs.
Ian Parsons

climber
Feb 2, 2012 - 08:54pm PT
Hi Enzo

I think the first set of major rockfalls some years ago mostly affected the routes between the Harlin/Robbins and the Bonatti Pillar - in particular the French Direct (Bruel, Profit, Giot, Sachetat; 1982) which was replaced shortly afterwards, albeit briefly, by a Russian route; the Harlin/Robbins appeared to be just about still there, though I've no idea whether it had any ascents in that time, and I don't know exactly what state the Bonatti was left in. The more recent rockfalls appear to have obliterated everything in this area; so Harlin/Robbins, French/Russian Direct , Gross Route, Absolu, Destivelle, Bonatti Pillar, and presumably the lower section of the 1952 Route. Of course the other "American Direct", the Hemming/Robbins, was I think barely affected, if at all, and as far as I know is now the standard route on the West Face.

Ian P
Ian Parsons

climber
Feb 2, 2012 - 08:59pm PT
Hi Pneame

Just working myself up to it - filing end-of-January tax returns has left me somewhat drained!

Ian P
enzolino

climber
Galgenen, Switzerland
Feb 3, 2012 - 11:15am PT
Thanks!

But I've seen in some itelian forum that the American route has not been affected by the rockfall. But I'll look for more reliable information and I'll give you a feedback.
Ian Parsons

climber
Feb 3, 2012 - 03:27pm PT
Ok, thanks - but I suspect that they've simply got the two American routes mixed up. In the course of refreshing my memory over the past couple of weeks I've spent some time studying various high-definition photos of the Dru on the Summitpost website, and the major features of the route - ie the large roofs and the big groove system up the lefthand side of the French Direct's Red Pillar - just aren't there anymore; neither, of course, is the pillar! There are a couple of roofs that I thought might be the remnants of #s 1 and 3 (the biggest ones), until I checked their positions against unaltered ground further left and realised that they were at completely different levels.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 12, 2012 - 01:38pm PT
Nothing quite like a moving playing field! Yow!
Ian Parsons

climber
Feb 13, 2012 - 08:03am PT
This is quite interesting, but I'm not sure whether the link works. It mentions fourth, fifth and sixth ascents in 1977, 1979 and 1980 - making ours the seventh or later. Of particular note is the fifth, over only two days in july 1979, by C.Clement and M.Robinson, names which are completely unfamiliar to me in an alpine context. They obviously look/sound English - ie American/Canadian/Brit/Antipodean/South African - although I suppose Clement could be a French name. Any ideas? Maybe a specific enquiry post would be appropriate; this looks like a very significant ascent that has largely slipped under the radar, being apparently two days quicker than the previous fastest - which was actually the first ascent!

http://www.sudeckikw.pl/strony/artyculy/petit_dru_diret_harlina.html
Ian Parsons

climber
Feb 15, 2012 - 08:41pm PT
Hi again Steve. This is getting a bit drawn out - apologies - but from my point of view fascinating. Quite possibly we have here a major route of which we can not only document the early ascents, but all of them! Although this probably gets easier as we move further right (on the face); I bet Absolu never got a repeat, or the Voie Destivelle.

I'm assuming that the link I posted doesn't work. It's an article on a Polish website, and appears to contain a translation of the AAJ account posted above, together with a listing of ascents (and attempts) up to 1984. Herewith (including a few bits from other sources):

 10-15 August 1965; Harlin, Robbins. (1st ascent)
 1972; G Geisenberger and Reisenacher in 5 days. (I previously recorded the latter as Reisacher - from mountain #27; I don't know which is correct, but it's important.) (2nd ascent)
 Feb 1975; winter attempt by Czok, Kowalewski, Nowosielski, Wach and Wolf.
 Feb 1976, winter attempt; Afanassieff, Desmaison, and Flematti.
 25 Feb - 5 march, 1976; Piotr Malinowski, Marian Piekutowski, Zbigniew Wach and Jan Wolf. (3rd ascent, 1st winter ascent)
 21-26 July 1977; JC Marmier, P Monzat and P Royer. (4th ascent)
 28-29 July 1979; C Clement and M Robinson - "only 22 pitons". (5th ascent)
 Winter 1980; Esteve, Levy, Marmier and Jeguier - "more than 30 days". (6th ascent, 2nd winter ascent)
 Summer 1981; Roger Mear, Ian Parsons - 7 days (or a defensive 6.5!). (7th ascent)
 1982 (but another source says 9 July 1983); Marco Pedrini, Sergio Vicari - free attempt with a few points of aid. (8th ascent)
 22 July 1983; Escoffier, Etienne, Profit and Renault - FFA, 7a+ at the second roof, 2 x A0 (so, presumably, not quite free). (9th Ascent)
 1984; the "Rosjan Two", which has probably suffered in translation! (10th ascent)
 1984; W Babanow, solo. (Presumably this is Valeri Babanow). (11th ascent, and 1st solo)

It's not quite definitive - our ascent wasn't mentioned (I'm not complaining!) so others might have been missed as well; but French input has certainly been researched, and I guess they would have known about most of what was going on. I assume that Babanow was the main source - there's a photo of him on the route (presumably either a self-shot or PR set-up, unless it's actually taken elsewhere).

Hope this is all of interest; at some point I'll resume my tale!
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