A quartet of French mountaineers recently pioneered a new line, BASE (1,000m/3,281ft, M8+ 7a), up the west face of Les Drus, on the Mont Blanc massif. The four climbers, Thomas Auvaro, Léo Billon, Jordi Noguere and Sébastien Ratel, spent a grand total of five days on the mountain to free every pitch of the line.
All four are all members of the Chamonix High Mountain Military Team (GMHM), which is a part of the French Ecole Militaire de Haute Montagne (“High Mountain Military School”). The school is France’s elite alpine military training academy, founded nearly a century ago, and its legendary High Mountain Military Team is widely acknowledged as among the premier alpine military units in the world.
Also known as Aiguille (Needle) du Drus, the greater Les Drus peak contains two summits, the higher Grande Aiguille du Dru (3,754 m), and a slightly lower sub-summit, Petite Aiguille du Dru (3,733 m), the latter of which the team summited Monday. BASE consists of little over a dozen mixed pitches, with a handful of rock sections towards the summit.
“A beautiful adventure, steep and windy, to open this new line in the mystical facing West of the Drus,” Auvaro wrote on Facebook.
The Drus is notorious for regularly letting loose impressive amounts of rockfall, particularly on the west and southwest faces. In addition to making previous would-be ascentionists leery of committing lines like BASE, the rockfall has destroyed a number of established routes over the years. Several severe rockfall scars are clearly visible on the topo photo of the line. Notably, a difficult route sent solo in 1955 by Italian climber Walter Bonatti, tracking up the Southwest Pillar (Bonatti Pillar) of the Petit Dru, has since been destroyed by rockfall, as has another classic line, American Direttissima, put up by Royal Robbins and John Harlin in 1965.
The first ascent of BASE was broadcast live on YouTube, with the full stream available here.