Tom Livingstone: First Free Ascent of the ‘Voie des Guides’?

By the time Tom Livingstone and Tom Seccombe reached the frigid base of the 850m Voie des Guides this month, it had shut down a host of world-class alpinists hoping to free climb it. Previously, the route turned back mountain badasses like Korra Pesce and Jeff Mercier. Bitter cold and steep pitches approaching the limit of mixed climbing difficulty made bids to free the airy route unlikely at best.

But Livingstone did it — and may have been the first person to do so. Over three days on France’s Aiguille du Dru (3,754m), he and Seccombe gutted out multiple M8+ cruxes, wild exposure, and reportedly awful bivvies to tag the summit.

Livingstone’s Instagram description of their ascent paints the action and conditions in dramatic relief.

 

The battle to free ‘Voie des Guides’

The ascent was hard-won and came after temperatures as low as -21°C forced Livingstone and other partners off the wall earlier this season.

He and Seccombe, though, found warmer weather and more success. Voie des Guides looks as steep and unforgiving as Livingstone says it is. Arcing corners with thin ribbons of ice in the back offer little purchase for anyone wearing crampons and carrying axes.

A crux M8+ pitch, from a previous attempt on the "Voie des Guides" by Jeff Mercier and Korra Pesce.

A crux M8+ pitch from a previous attempt on the ‘Voie des Guides’ by Jeff Mercier and Korra Pesce.

 

Consistent exposure and less-than-ideal bivvies began to exhaust the team.

“I freed all pitches and marveled at the steep terrain on the lower pitches,” Livingstone wrote. “Unfortunately, we only found a poor snow ledge to sleep on. On day 2 we forged up the left side of the Niche, our arms and minds tired. Tom S. led up looser terrain, then pendulumed across the famous Quartz Vein. I teetered along as snow flurries fell.”

The route’s last M8+ pitch steepens to a two-metre roof. Livingstone repeatedly used variations of the word “launch” to describe how he climbed the section.

“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,” he recalled. “I was pumped!”

The Aiguille du Dru (aka Les Drus). Photo: Duncan McGoldrick

 

The next day, both climbers summited after running out of food because of an unplanned bivy. Livingstone said he free climbed the last hard pitch “on second,” indicating that he did not free it as the leader.

But he was less concerned with securing a historical ascent than with the satisfaction of a solid effort.

“We summited hungry but content. I’m happy to have freed it (although don’t mind if it’s the first free ascent or 10th). It was a great adventure with lots of modern, difficult climbing!”

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.


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Sandra
3 months ago

Congratulations guys!