Weekend Warm-Up: First Ascent on Les Drus, Live

What does it take to establish a first ascent on the Drus, opened free and in alpine style?

Watching “First Ascent on the Drus”, a new movie by Jean-Pierre Tauvron, the answer seems to be lots of hard work and a healthy sense of humor.

The film follows the first ascent of BASE, a mixed route on the West Face of Les Drus in the Mont Blanc massif. As for the climbers, they’re a far cry from American dirtbags roping up with friends in Yosemite.

It’s a team from the Chamonix High Mountain Military Group, including French alpinists Thomas Auvaro, Leo Billon, Jordi Noguere, and Sebastien Ratel. They spent several days in February 2021 working on the route. That included an early reconnaissance mission, where they put together a rough sketch of the route from photos.

The climbing partially follows a 2015 attempt carried out by Spaniards Josep Maria Esquirol and David Palmada. Interestingly, the 2021 team streamed parts of the new climb live on YouTube, and filmmaker Tauvron includes the public response as part of their ascent narrative.

Ratel and Noguere feature prominently in the documentary, with frequent interjections from their stoke-filled dialogue.

If you’re wondering how to translate “badass” and “amazing” into French, this is the climbing doc to watch.

le dru

A wide view of the mountain from the live broadcast of the ascent. Photo: GMHM


Live broadcast heightens drama

The video’s description highlights the seriousness with which the climbers approach the project, as well as the style in which they do it.

It’s a documentary meant to showcase “real alpinism, with its slow and natural beat, and its scary suspense due to the live broadcast.”

But by live-streaming the ascent to a largely French audience, the filmmakers also likened the documentary to old radio reports two climbers treated French audiences to in the 1950s and 1960s. Robert Flematti and Rene Desmaison captivated their countrypeople with their exploits in the Alps, and this first ascent team sought to do the same.

The melodramatic style of mid-century TV sometimes springs to the forefront.

“But climbers are so insignificant on this iconic face, which continues to change due to huge crumbling,” the video says. “Are they going to reach the summit? Is this vertical way only a virgin line? Will the Sirocco violent gusts let them pass?”

The answer is yes, they do make it to the top. Tauvron includes his own narration of the climb at the time and how audiences reacted to the danger.

climbers on les drus from below

The GMHM climbers during a difficult pitch. Photo: GMHM


A tense finale

A telescope camera captured the video broadcast for online audiences. During the final moments of the climb, the camera hovered over the summit for several hours, waiting for the climbers to arrive.

The live audience could hear the roaring wind, and the sounds of falling ice, the director said, but nothing else. Despite the lack of visuals, 300 viewers stuck around — just to make sure the climbers reached the summit.

“We’re at the height of our audience, and our anxiety,” Tauvron says. “And the people stayed. Waiting for the slightest sign of life. In any case, up here, all went well.”

Then the climbers spoke directly to the audience in a final video from the summit.

“I think I’ve never done anything as hard,” Noguere said. “Something like that, in the Alps, so steep, so intense.”

Catch all the action — and touching camaraderie — in this fun new documentary.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.