American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Europe, France, Petit Aiguille du Dru

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1943

Petit Aiguille du Dru. Mr. James T. Van Rensselaer has kindly sent us the account of the third ascent of this peak, made by himself in 1884, as recorded in the Continental (Geneva) Times.

Opposite the Montanvert, rising almost directly from the Mer de Glace, stands at an altitude of 12,457 ft. the Aiguille du Dru (Pointe Occidentale). From the glacier, its rocky side, nearly a perpendicular mass, several thousand feet in height, seems to forbid the ascent, and a closer examination of the mountain by a casual observer would convince him of its inaccessibility. It was M. Jean Charlet-Stratton of Argentière who made the first ascension. Nothing but the courage, pluck and perseverance of this enterprising clubiste could have found a way to pass the barriers lying between a brave ascensionist and the summit of this aiguille.

Charlet was forced to allow several years to pass before he conquered the giant, numerous failures following his many attempts. At one time he passed a week alone on the mountain in a vain hope of finding the hidden path.

In the summer of 1878, encouraged by the success of Messrs. Dent and Hartley of the Alpine Club in their ascent of the Aiguille du Dru (Point Orientale), much against the wish of his wife, he decided on a final attempt. Accompanied by the guides Joseph Fouliquet and Prosper Payot, in two days he mastered the peak, experiencing great fatigue and danger. Charlet returned to the valley wrapped in a blanket, his clothes having literally been torn from his back in his passage over the rocks.

In the “Annuaire du Club Alpin Francais” for the year 1879 he gives a most interesting and graphic account of this ascent. As might have been expected, many years were not allowed to pass before a member of the Alpine Club attempted to scale the mountain’s sides, and in August of last year the intrepid Englishman J. Walker Hartley, Esq., with the two Reys of Courmayeur made a successful ascent in six hours from the shoulder. Mr. Hartley and his guides told of a most difficult ascent, the guides described the mountain, to use their own language, as a “casse cou.”

The third ascent was made on the 8th of August of the present year by James T. Van Rensselaer, of New York, a member of the Swiss Alpine Club, with the guides Edward Cupelin and Francois Simond of Chamonix. We give Mr. Van Rensselaer’s own account:

The pointed aiguille acting as a magnet, we were drawn while regarding it daily from Chamonix Montanvert, into a desire to place our flag on the summit. That fascination which an unattained peak seems to hold on the will of a montagnard did not let us delay, and at half-past twelve on the night of the 8th of August we left the Montanvert Hotel, determined, weather permitting, to reach the summit. Crossing the Mer de Glace we passed over the moraine on its left until the foot of the Glacier de Charpoua, lying opposite the Charmoz, was reached. Making a long detour to pass the seracs and crevasses, we crossed this glacier until we reached the foot of the Aiguille du Dru on the northern side. An hour later found us resting on the shoulder, that branch of the mountain seen to the right from Chamonix.

Up to the present time we had no difficulty to speak of, but one place at the side of the mountain above us told us of the obstacles and dangers in store. It seemed as if no passage existed by which we could pass in safety. Perpendicular rocks and couloirs stared us in the face on every side, and it was only their experience so wonderfully striking and so necessary to form a good guide, that made the men realize where we might force a passage. It was a quarter past eight when, tightly roped together, we started from the shoulder, the two guides leading the way. Almost immediately we commenced the ascent of perpendicular rocks and cheminees, and this we kept up until the summit was reached at a quarter to twelve. The length and breadth of these cheminees varied considerably, some of them being almost too narrow to pass while in others no crevice or out-jutting rock gave a rest for the foot, adding greatly to the difficulty of the ascent. In one place our only passage was through a hole made in the side of a large boulder lying against the mountain, and which with a good deal of rubbing and scraping we managed to pass. In another instance a barrier of ice, on which the first guide could not get a foothold, seemed intent on driving us back.

The only way to pass this ice was by chopping it away, a long and dreary piece of work, one guide holding the other during the occupation to prevent him from sliding over the precipice. The attention had constantly to be fixed in climbing, and it was only when near the summit, stopping for a moment, we looked down and saw what we had passed. It was with a feeling of intense relief that we reached the highest point, the guides being overjoyed at their success. Simond could not contain himself, and crying out as loud as his lungs permitted, he commenced rolling stones over on the glacier, 4000 ft. below, to attract attention at Montanvert. The sound of cannon coming from Montanvert and Chamonix soon told us that we were seen, the guide answering it by wild flourishes of the American flag.

The summit is of good size, differing greatly from that of the higher point, where four men could with difficulty find place.

Unfortunately clouds shut out the view on nearly every side, although lifting for a moment on that of Chamonix.

We found the return to the shoulder as difficult as the ascent. In many places we were forced to drive in nails, made with a ring at one end, through which we passed a rope doubled. Descending by means of this rope we pulled it after us when a good foothold had been found. The guides were much scratched, their hands bleeding in many places. On the leg below the knee they were more or less bruised.

During the eight hours we passed between the shoulder and the summit there were but few places where, had one of us slipped or lost his hold, we should all have been sent rolling thousands of feet below.

It was ten in the evening when we reached Montanvert, convinced that we had made the most wonderful ascent the Alps ever afforded, and having been twenty-one hours and one-half on the mountains.

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