[Originally published in July 2016 this post describes and ascent of Les Droites, Chris Bedford’s last 4000m summit in the Alps].
In mid July, unsettled weather cleared through the alps leaving fresh snow and colder conditions behind. It was an ideal opportunity to grab an ascent of Les Droites with Chris Bedford.
Chris had been waiting for an opportunity to try Les Droites again after an attempt a couple of years ago. To leave it at that would be a gross understatement, as Chris had climbed all of the other major 4000m summits in the Alps, many with his wife Liz. Just one remained – Les Droites.
A quick text exchange followed: “Do you want to do Les Droites? I think it could be good.” The immediate reply of “Yes, deffo!” sealing our plan for the next couple of days.
With this single objective in mind we made the approach to the Refuge Courvercle and had an early night in preparation for our start at midnight. Here lies the difficultly in timing an ascent of Les Droites. It’s imperative to leave early to ensure that the south facing slopes are still sufficiently frozen in descent. Why not go earlier you ask? Well start too early and the glacial approach and initial slopes won’t have sufficiently refrozen from the heat of the day.
Acutely aware of this delicate balance we started out from the hut shortly after midnight to find that the glacier was only moderately consolidated. We traversed carefully through the crevasses trying to pick out the line which we had observed the night before. Making good progress the starting couloir was in sight, only to remain on the horizon as we slowed to a crawl in knee deep unfrozen snow on the glacier.
The likelihood of a successful ascent was rapidly slipping away with the minutes, and I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to Chris that our attempt might be over. Neil Johnson, had experienced tricky conditions accessing the Jardin Ridge the day before and had urged us to simply “keep the faith’.
Keep the faith we did, and the glacier was soon behind us, albeit with some wallowing in deep snow. The approach couloir was good neve however, allowing fast upwards progress onto the broken mixed ground below the East Summit. There was much scope for variation here and we moved together following our nose through the small mixed steps and ‘corde-tendue’ climbing towards the summit.
We moved together up the final steep snow slopes before pulling onto the crest at the top, Chris leading us up onto the top of his final 4000er.
Thanks Chris for a fantastic experience being a very small part of a long term project.
Both Chris and Liz have now ticked all the major 4000m peaks of the Alps, and although I may stand corrected, may be the first husband and wife to do so?..