Voie Lesueur, free ascent by Steck and Griffith on Petit Dru
On the North Face of Petit Dru (3754m) Ueli Steck and Jonathan Griffith have carried out what is likely to be the first free ascent of the Voie Lesueur (ED3, M8+, 900m) with some drytooling sections and a new variation finish.
Another difficult, clean and fast ascent for Ueli Steck and, seeing that we're talking about "the Swiss machine" it's hard to imagine things otherwise. This time Steck teamed up with British alpinist and photographer Jon Griffith to carry out what is likely to be the first free ascent with some drytooling sections of of Voie Lesueur on Petit Dru in the Mont Blanc mountain range. Established by the brothers Pierre and Henri Lesueur from 25 - 27 July 1952, the route takes an interesting 900m line up the north Face, close to the Dru North Couloir. It was previously graded ABO (ED3) and the first winter ascent was carried out from 10 - 13 January 1983 by Frenchman Thierry Renault and Englishman Andy Parkin .
Steck and Griffith bivied at the base and early the next morning Griffith led the first block to above the huge white rock scar at circa 9am. Steck took over the lead from here and climbed the first crux, after which Griffith continued towards the second crux pitch, which Steck led without his pack and bivy gear at M8+, leaving Griffith the task of following the pitch by jumar. Beneath the top Steck traversed out left and away from the original line, via some exposed ramps which took them past ice runnels to their bivy site at the Breche col. After a cold night they descended safely the next day down Dru North couloir.
"I'd never climbed the route before and on the upper pitches I followed my instinct" Steck explained to Planetmountain "If you want, I made a route finding error but I can't tell you if our variation is easier or harder because I haven't climbed the other pitches. I'm always very cautious when giving grades, they really are very difficult to distinguish and fully understand because so much depends on the terrain. You need to know that on this route the face is vertical, at times overhanging, with some very delicate moves. It's not easy to compare and I haven't given it much thought but instinctively I'd say that this free ascent is much harder than the Colton - McIntyre on the Grandes Jorasses. The important thing though is that this is a great route! Currently I'm really interested in climbing and freeing some more alpine routes. It's really exciting, having to place all your own gear to protect yourself, establish the belays, it's really complete. And great training for expeditions in spring!"
For his part, Griffith commented "What attracted me was doing something on the North Face in the dead of winter. It's a pretty inhospitable looking face any time of year, and especially so in winter."
For a full report about the ascent and excellent photos check out www.alpineexposures.com