The almost perfect free standing pyramid of the Dent Blanche had interested me since we started climbing in the alps. With the long ridges set on the four points of the compass we decided the classic south ridge route was a must.
The route is a minimum of two days and with no lift assistance the walk up to the Dent Blanche hut (3507m) from the valley requires good fitness. Thankfully the varied terrain from the lush valley to the glacier moraine and then the snowfield gives plenty of interest and photo opportunities.
Before reaching the carpark at Ferpecle Laura called ahead to book the hut. Disaster, it was full! This had never happened to me before. The forecast for the next couple of days was perfect and we’d driven from Chamonix to do the route. We decided to hit the local shop stock up on avocado, tinned sardines and bivvy near the hut that night. All of of sudden my pack was a lot heavier than I’d been banking on. Nevertheless we started up the path towards the first landmark on the route, Alpe Bricola an old closed down hotel.
taking a well earned rest at Alpe Bricola. Pack now containing a tent and sleeping bag..
From Alp Bricola the path is well defined and obvious as it traverses under the Manzettes glacier. Leaving all vegetation behind now and onto a more lunar landscape.
the now well receded Manzettes glacier
The route to the hut now takes a steeper turn across big slabs. At this point the combination of sun, altitude and heavy pack was slowing me down. Another hour and we were over the slabs and moraine and onto an ice ramp before the snowfield. The variety of the walk took a lot of the pain away. We were joined on the snowfield by a team of paragliders, competing in a race across the alps. I would be jealous of their speedy descent in the coming days.
paragliders preparing for a takeoff
The snowfield runs straight to the foot of the hut. Upon arrival I began looking for a bivvy spot only to be informed that there were plenty of free beds. The paraglider had booked most of the place out but weren’t staying. Result!
In an effort to save money we took a bed but decided to eat our makeshift avocado and sardine dinner instead of a hut meal.
view from our dinner spot
From the viewing platform the south ridge looked dry and with only 6 or 7 other teams in the hut and a perfect weather forecast our chances were looking good. We decided to go for a 3:30am start.
Typically it was 4am before we got going, scrambling up the boulder field directly behind the hut and onto the icy saddle of the Wandflueucke (3703m). With the sun just beginning to rise we got fantastic views of the Matterhorn and the Dent d’herens.
Finally on the south ridge we made our way towards the grande gendarme, turning this on the left. It can be climbed direct but we had neither the time or the fitness for this option. Turning takes you into a wide gully with three belay stakes. The climbing here is around III and presented to difficulties, there was very little snow or ice which helped speed things up. The gully takes you to a notch below the second gendarme which we turned awkwardly on the right, in hindsight I would have climbed it direct. By turning the tower we ended up on some very chossy rock which under better snow conditions may have been more consolidated. This was the worst part of the route for me, we lost a good bit of height and ended up having to climb up some loose blocks back to the ridge.
Safely back on the crest we reached the final tower and turned this via a longer traverse to the left before taking a belay and climbing a c10m wall pitch. Although not difficult in the dry conditions this was the crux pitch for me. We were also held up by a party abseiling down the route with tangled ropes.
At the top of the wall the snow and ice returned. We followed the ridge as it narrowed and steepened. The snow was well scoured close to the summit and care had to be taken to ensure there was no slides. Eventually the ridge flattens and the summit cross comes into view. The benefit of being the slowest party was having the top to ourselves.
The clouds were building so we decided not to hang around on the summit too long. I often find I need full concentration on a descent and wanted to get off the snow/ice on the ridge in a safe time.
Laura on the descent, hope that axe isn’t resting on a cornice…
The return to the hut was a physical slog and very time consuming. We abseiled the 10m wall, the second gendarme and used the three posts in the wide gully. All of this was fine on a 60m single rope.
Luckily the weather remained pretty benign and we could afford to take our time. Not worried about rock fall or widening crevasses. We arrived at the hut just after 4pm so a 12hr day all in. Neither of us could face the walk out so we decided to relax and have another night in the hut with a few beers.
The walk out the next day was on painful legs but glancing up at the peak for a reminder made it worthwhile.
a welcome drink on the return to the valley