Dani Arnold Shatters Speed Record on Petit Dru

Alpine style Climbing
Photo: Daniarnold.ch

He did it on August 15, but the news only leaked out today. Dani Arnold soloed the north face of Petit Dru’s Allain-Leininger route (900m, TD+, 5c). In the old Alpine System, TD+ means “Très Difficile,” which is a half step off ED or “extrêmement difficile”, which basically means you’re gonna die.

Arnold did this in a hard-to-grasp 1h 43 minutes 35 seconds. He broke the speed record not just for that route, but for any line up that peak.

The Swiss climber’s solo blitz of the Petit Dru culminates a decade-long project. It started in 2011 when he broke Ueli Steck’s previous 2h 47′ speed record up the Eiger Nordwand. Arnold soloed it in 2h 28′.

Since that year, Arnold has focused on soloing the other five great north faces of the Alps: the Matterhorn (2015), Piz Badile (2016), Grandes Jorasses (2018), Cima Grande di Lavaredo (2019), and finally, the impressive Petit Dru spire in the Mont Blanc massif.

Except for the Eiger’s, which Steck re-climbed in 2h 22′ in 2015, Arnold’s times still rank as the fastest.

The Petit Dru project actually started in 2020. Arnold did a first rehearsal climb with Michael Kraeftner, which took them 14 hours. That included getting lost and missing the right route twice.

“Back then, I deemed very unlikely that I could ever climb with route without a rope,” Arnold wrote.

Dani Arnold has soloed the six great north faces of the Alps and holds the speed records for five of them. Photo: daniarnold.ch

Main challenge: the icy pitches

Arnold explained that the main problem with a solo climb on Petit Dru is that while most of the route is on dry rock, snow and ice cover a few crucial sections. Waiting for the summer heat to melt the ice is not an option. When the ice melts, loose rocks start falling, making it too dangerous to climb. In fact, Petit Dru’s most famous feature, the Bonatti Pillar, collapsed in 2005, affecting several routes.

Arnold had to postpone the climb a number of times because of bad conditions, including this past July. Traditionally, August is too hot for the Dru. This cool summer, however, Arnold opted to give it a try.

Still, when he climbed up to the bivouac below the face with Stefan Brugger and a good weather forecast, Arnold was not sure whether he would try the route alone. “[I would only go solo] if I felt good and the face was in very good condition,” he said.

Good feelings

He did indeed feel good and no rocks fell as the two climbers approached the face. That evening, Arnold decided he would try to solo. Aware of the fast-changing conditions on the face, however, he carried a rope, a harness, and safety gear.

“In the morning I was very motivated, but also very tense,” Arnold recalled. “Thoughts like, ‘Is it a good idea or should I leave it?’ circled in my head.”

Dani Arnold set off on his own just before 9 am. “The first part of the wall is rather easy terrain, technically not difficult, but physically demanding,” he wrote. “Then it got steeper, and I felt better and better.”

The Chimney proved impossible to pass with a backpack. Photo: daniarnold.ch

Upon reaching an “uncomfortable” section up a wet chimney, Arnold doffed his backpack, securing it to a sling. A little further, he detoured slightly to avoid more wet or icy passages. “It was much more exposed and technically more difficult, but at least it was not wet or frozen,” he said.

Eventually, Arnold passed a big ice field in the middle of the wall, finding his right pace but “never looking at the clock”. He really didn’t look until he reached the top of the Petit Dru and stopped the chronometer.

Dani Arnold jumps atop the Petit Dru. Photo: daniarnold.ch

Exhausted

“Then I just tried to breathe calmly once. It was a very nice moment, but I was exhausted. Especially in the head. This project was very difficult, but it was 100 percent worth it. The more energy I have to spend on something, the greater the satisfaction.”

For the descent, Arnold used a 60m rope and some gear he had left on the summit after a previous training climb. He traversed to the Grand Dru (3,754m, about 20m taller than the Petit Dru), then rappeled down to the glacier. He then continued to the mountain hut where his friends awaited.

Together, they walked down and took the train from Montenvers to Chamonix, a hearty meal and a bottle of wine. It took a few days to verify that his was the fastest overall ascent of the Petit Dru. “Which makes me rather proud,” he admitted. No wonder.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Benny Smith
Benny Smith
2 months ago

Holy cow, what a daredevil! A few years ago I would have bet that nobody would surpass Ueli Steck…

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Jmaf
Jmaf
17 days ago

This is called a solo but I don’t see him using or attaching himself to any pro at all. Isn’t this actually a free solo? Aren’t all of these speed climbs free solos? I watched Steck run up the Eiger Nordwand and I never saw him clip in at all. Am I wrong here or are we just not seeing pictures and videos of sections where they’re clipped in?

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