The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Dent Blanche

The Dent Blanche 4356m
It’s one of my favourite peaks in the Alps, always capturing my imagination every time I drive up the Val D’Herrens towards Evolene.


The west face of the Dent Blanche & the righthand skyline is the south ridge


It just magnificent, standing alone, huge, towering and impressive from all angles. The summit feels like the hub of a wheel, with all the Alps spread out like spokes around it.
And it’s a climbers peak. The easiest route to the summit via a small high hut at the foot of the classic south sometimes referred to as the Wandflue ridge, also the route of the successful first ascent back in 1862 by J.Croz, Kennedy, kronig, Wigram.


Our route up the south ridge of the Dent Blanche


As a technical AD/AD+ mixed snow, rock & ice high mountain ridge to the summit of a 4000m peak, with few people and from a beautiful classic Swiss mountain hut, it doesn’t get much better.
It’s a real adventure with a long approach up from the village of Ferpecle just above Les Hauderes. The parking several kilometres up from the village is next to an impressive Dam holding back a huge reservoir of glacial melt from the huge catchment that is the Glacier de Ferpecle and surrounding peaks.
A steep track heading S/SE climbs up to Alp Bricola, flattening for a spell before climbing again over steep moraine to where it finishes at the bottom edge of a now well receded glacier. The way on now less defined works its way over areas of awkward scree and loose rock all strung together with water/glacial washed smooth slabs. You head now east and the ground steepens again to where a small summit is reach and snow/ice leads over a dome and up the Dent Blanche Hut or Cabane de Roussier – 5hrs

Adrian Walter outside the Dent Blanche hut taking in the awesome views

Well this is what I’ve done in the past! In June of this year I found myself breaking trail from just above Bricola at 2400m to the hut at 3500m – 8hrs
It was immediately after the spell of bad weather at the end of may running through till the end of the third week in June. On the Saturday of the fourth week the cloud lifted to reveal a very snowy Alps, the sun came and everyone started to wake up.

A view of the Arolla peaks from the Dent Blanche hut

We stocked up on gas & provisions as the hut was still closed, then headed off on the Monday. We should have taken snow shoes which would have made for lighter work, anyway we eventually got to the hut and set up in the winter room. It was just fantastic, fresh tracks and the first climbers in this year, we had the place totally to ourselves. We chopped wood, drank tea and took in the summer sun, blue skies and fresh white snow everywhere.

The view west from the Dent Blanche Hut

This is a big peak to be attempting in these conditions with the snow knee deep in places and no tracks, so we decided to use the next day as a semi rest day but recci and put a track in the first part of the route up to the grand gendarme.

A beautiful view across to the Matterhorn

Just looking up at the ridge once on it proper was very intimidating, with fresh deep windblown snow and the ridge heavily corniced. Few rocks pocking through on the ridge and all the rock sections just stacked out with snow.
We were down early for food, tea and an early night before setting out the next day for a proper stab at the summit.
I have to say, the route felt pretty serious & committing, decisions on snow conditions, route finding, cleaning snow for protection and to expose holds, snow mushrooms on top of the pinnacle’s which you had to negotiate and break through & iced up cracks all made the going very slow. We had crampons on all the way and all the climbing was with axes which felt like it pushed the grade up a touch.

Adrian negotiating the heavily corniced ridge high up the south ridge

It was incredible, we were totally alone with hardly a cloud in the sky but very technical under crampon. Unsettlingly, we had a few bolts of lightning which came from no-where maybe the moisture from the new snow and the 20+ degrees? I don’t know, but it seemed the right conditions as we had it a few times.
The summit ridge was amazing, steep & corniced and on a knife edge. the views stunning although on this occasion we turned straight back around still on the final 20m summit ridge and headed back down the way we’d come. Time was of the essence now to get back down and over all the obstacles again before dark. It took us 16hrs hut to hut.

Our view of the Dent d'Herens left, The Tete de Valpelline & the Tete Blanche on the right

Day four, we woke late and headed back down to the valley, continually stopping and looking back at the route with our tracks clearly visible. It was just such a fantastic adventure and one I won’t forget in a long while.

Looking across to the Matterhorn & the Monte Rosa chain to it's left

Adrian & I both went rock climbing down in the valley on the Friday and even that felt like an effort!
It’s a cracking route on one of the most beautiful peaks in the Swiss Valais and if you see it from any of the surrounding peaks or maybe when you’re down in Arolla or Evolene you'll be drawn to it, like I’ve been over the many years.


Me on the final 20m summit ridge a couple of years earlier with Steve Martin


Steve Martin just below the Grand Gendarme, south ridge Dent Blanche


Lief Liverson traversing one of the pinnacles, south ridge Dent Blanche


On the summit last year with Greg Paul behind me


Enjoy!
Ade

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