Tom Livingstone has reported that he’s made the likely first free ascent of Voie des Guides on the north face of Les Drus with Tom Seccombe.
The classic 850-metre mixed routes is one of the most difficult in the Chamonix area, and Livingstone gave the free variation ED+ M8+. It was first climbed in February 1967 by Yannick Seigneur, Michel Feuillerade, Jean-Paul Paris et Claude Jager using some aid. Read about the first ascent here.
Other top alpinists, such as Jeff Mercier and the late Korra Pesce had attempted to free it, but a few pitches were too difficult for them at the time. Read about Mercier and Pesce’s 2012 attempt here.
“It forces a direct line through some of the steepest parts of the face,” said Livingstone. “Les Drus is one of my favourite peaks.”
He attempted it in January with Rob Smith, but the cold and short days forced them to bail. He tried again with Matt Glenn, but they bailed higher on the way after sending the first M8+ pitch. “It has an overhanging crack which gets thinner and thinner,” said Livingstone, “with fewer footholds.”
With Seccombe, Livingstone sent all of the pitches on day one to a bivy ledge. “On day two,” he said, “we forged up the left side of the Niche, our arms and minds tired. Tom led up looser terrain then pendulumed across the famous Quartz Vein. I teetered along as snow flurries fell. Since I’d freed this pitch, I decided to go ‘full attack’ for the rest. I launched up the second M8+ pitch, a corner which ended with a two-metre roof. I launched into the roof and pulled the lip. Power screams helped my axes stay in baggy torques, and I had the full exposure of the Drus below. I was pumped!”
They bivied again and Seccombe led up the final pitches. They summited without food and made their way down. “It was a great adventure with lots of modern, difficult climbing,” said Livingstone.