Since first hearing of the famous alpine faces of Chamonix when I was but a wee high school student, I've been fascinated and intimidated by them. The north face of Les Droites is one of those big faces. Fortunately for me, its bark is worse than its bite. I'm still woefully behind the times when it comes to ticking off famous north faces of the alps. I've never done the Eiger, the Matterhorn, or the Piz Bernina. But Les Droites provides an attainable, somewhat moderate north face for people like me to climb when they've mainly been focusing on skiing all season.
Les Droites has a multitude of routes ascending its north face. Some are desperate, none are easy. La Ginat route is the bog-standard north facing route that attracts the most attention, and it can be climbed in less time than the more difficult options - thus reducing the time one might spend away from coffee and other cham-based luxuries. Some locals have managed to solo it in less than two hours - with skis on their back.
In the late afternoon of April 7th, Steve Su and I slogged from the Grands Montets down to the Argentiere hut in preparation for an ascent of La Ginat route which ascends the right side of Les Droites North Face. We foolishly elected not to take skis with us up the route (for use on the long, sloppy descent). I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out where that stupid idea came from.
We were up at 2:00am, and relished our gourmet stale bread breakfast, and washed it down with instant coffee. Yum. 20 minutes out of the hut I tripped over a brand new ice screw sitting in the trail. Booty!
We crossed the Argentiere and simu-climbed most of the route in about four pitches. I found another screw and one broken black diamond crampon stuck in the snow midway up the first pitch. Hmmm...
The climbing is very mellow and moderate for the grade in most springs. Footwork is incredibly easy, and the melt-freeze snice stuck to the surface of old gray ice provides hero-swing potential and perfect sticks - but ice screws generally suck. The route is really just a calf-stamina game. We plodded up the Ginat in a ho-hum time of 5 hours.
Two other parties were on the Ginat that day. They both had skis, and they both made it down to the Montenvers Train station hours before we did. It took us about 9 hours to descend from the summit of les Droites to downtown Chamonix. Hip-deep wallowing in isothermal slop just can't be done much quicker than that. I was motivated to slog and crawl as fast as possible because I was due to work in Arolla the following morning at 4:00am.
All in all a great route - take your skis.
-2 leashless tools with tethers
-2 crampons (that don't break or fall off)
-2 50-60m ropes (can help speed up the 8-rappel descent down from La Breche)
-a fist-full of screws, some stubbies (don't depend on finding too many at the base of the route)
-a handful of cams - BD C3's and C4's from .2 to a #1 ought to do it
-1 small set of nuts.
-2 packs of cigarettes (if you want to blend in with the locals)