Dent Blanche (22.08.2016)

Written by hmsv1 (Hannah Vickers)

Start point Cabane de la Dent Blanche
Characteristic Alpine trip
Duration 8h 00min
Map
Ascents Dent Blanche (4,357m) 22.08.2016

The Dent Blanche is a fantastic mountain and with its four ridges it is like a perfect pyramidal peak which ought to be next to Ama Dablam in the Himalayas. Interestingly it was also wrongly named on the maps back in the 1800s (I think?) and should have been named the Dent d’Herens since it lies in the Val d’Herens, and the current Dent d’Herens should have been named the Dent Blanche since it is more snow-covered and whiter…. Having now been somewhat fascinated by the sight of the mountain from just about every peak I’d been on since the start of the holiday, I was now pretty excited about the opportunity to actually climb it. I was paired up with another guy Richard for the final three days and he was also keen to do an ascent of the Dent Blanche and was already well acclimatized having been in the Alps for 2 weeks and climbed the Matterhorn the week before. Pretty impressive for a chap who is 66 years old! We met up with our guide Graham at around 9 and then headed off for the short drive to Ferpecle where the road stops and the walk in to the Cabane de la Dent Blanche starts. The car park at Ferpecle is at around 2000 m.a.s.l and the hut was at 3507m.a.s.l, so there was a fair amount of height to ascend with heavy rucksacks. It was fortunate that we started the walk quite early in the day and there was some fog/clouds lingering around which kept the temperature fairly cool and comfortable to walk in!

View back down the valley from the walk up to the Cabane de la Dent Blanche
View back down the valley from the walk up to the Cabane de la Dent Blanche
First glimpses of the Dent Blanche
First glimpses of the Dent Blanche
The broad ridge leading up to the hut
The broad ridge leading up to the hut
Lots of fog :(
Lots of fog :(
But also some sun!
But also some sun!

Around 2/3 of the 1500m height gain was done on good quality swiss path (with of course a few hundred switchbacks along the way to make the ascent as gentle as possible….) until we reached glacial moraine which was more loose and bouldery in nature. Less of a path for the last hour or so but still well marked and some easy scrambling along the way to make things more interesting. We used about 4 hours to get to the hut in a very leisurely pace with a few stops along the way. Unfortunately we were only rewarded with brief glimpses of the Dent Blanche in between the clouds and the visibility remained pretty poor up at the hut for the rest of the day. And there was a cold wind blowing from the north - I almost felt forced to put on some trousers over my shorts, tough times!

The Dent Blanche hut isn’t particularly big and there were only 2 or 3 dormitories with lots of beds, so I feared a night with a strong possibility for having to lie awake listening to snorers. In the end it wasn’t really the snoring which was a problem, but there was a fierce wind blowing for much of the night which made me a bit worried about freezing to death on the ascent. Then the wind finally stopped and the dormitory suddenly went from being a comfortable temperature to sauna-temperature. So all in all, I didn’t sleep a lot and wasn’t entirely cheerful when all the alarms went off at 4.15am.

Matterhorn as the sun begins to rise
Matterhorn as the sun begins to rise
The Dent d'Herens gets sunlight first
The Dent d'Herens gets sunlight first
Now we get sunshine too :)
Now we get sunshine too :)
The south ridge of the Dent Blanche
The south ridge of the Dent Blanche
Couldn't get enough of this view!
Couldn't get enough of this view!
Approaching the snow gully behind the Grand Gendarme
Approaching the snow gully behind the Grand Gendarme
Climbing said gully :)
Climbing said gully :)
Me and Richard on the way up (photo taken by Graham)
Me and Richard on the way up (photo taken by Graham)
Looking back at other climbers behind us
Looking back at other climbers behind us

There were a lot of teams eating breakfast and putting on gear at the same time, so it was a bit chaotic to try and get ready to go. Graham and Richard had headed outside to rope up so I eventually met them there and we tried to head off and get in front of as many teams as possible so we didn’t get stuck behind slower groups. From the hut the climbing starts more or less straight away and the first 20 minutes or so was spent ascending a rocky ridge which involved a mix of walking and scrambling which was in places quite exposed – although we didn’t really get much of an idea of the drop down to the glacier until we descended in daylight later in the day. From the end of the first ridge it was time to get the crampons and ice axe out for a fairly steep snow slope which eventually flattened out after a few hundred metres and led us up to the next rock ridge. By this point it was starting to get vaguely light and the silhouette of the Matterhorn could be seen in the far distance. But it was a long way from being warm! Took off crampons again at the start of the ridge and continued short-roping over fairly easy ground for a while. I think we’d managed to be fairly efficient with the crampon transitions because by this point the teams that had been in front of us were now behind, which was a bit of a relief.

Climbing back towards the ridge
Climbing back towards the ridge
Other climbers on the way up the gully
Other climbers on the way up the gully
On the ridge again with the Grand Gendarme behind
On the ridge again with the Grand Gendarme behind
Lots of good quality scrambling ahead
Lots of good quality scrambling ahead
Two on their way back already
Two on their way back already
View of other climbers making their way over some pinnacles
View of other climbers making their way over some pinnacles
Approaching the summit!
Approaching the summit!

At the end of this ridge we descended a bit toward the start of a snowy traverse, so it was time to put crampons on again. Graham had mentioned beforehand that it could be icy, but I hadn’t expected it to be as icy as it actually was (and I got the impression he was also a bit surprised as well). We moved across together for a short while, but once it got properly icy it wasn’t particularly comfortable to walk across anymore and we all agreed to face in toward the slope and kick in with the front points of the crampons. Even that wasn’t an easy job. The combination of trying not to spend too much time hanging around on the traverse and trying not to think about the possibility of one of us slipping (we’d all fall!!) AND a mean icy wind more or less woke me up from the sleepy state that I had previously been in! It was a relief to get past that section an onto more comfortable rocky ground again. It was around here that the climb up the Grand Gendarme starts, and some teams had already opted to do that. However, since the temperature was feeling positively Arctic (and I ought to know what Arctic-ness feels like…) none of us were super enthusiastic about taking off gloves to climb it so we continued along the ’normal’ route and traversed across to the snow gully on the other side. Having said that it wasn’t filled with snow all the way, the lower part was hard snow/ice but the upper part leading back onto the ridge was fairly rocky and snow free. We did about 3 pitches to get back onto the ridge from there – and when we finally did get back up we were rewarded with some warm sunshine and less wind. It was so nice to feel some warmth again and take off the crampons. Again :)

Richard and I on the ridge (taken by Graham)
Richard and I on the ridge (taken by Graham)
Summit ridge
Summit ridge
On the top!
On the top!
The guys at the top
The guys at the top
Indescribably great views
Indescribably great views
On the snow ridge back down
On the snow ridge back down
More teams on their way up
More teams on their way up

So now we had about an hour or so of very enjoyable scrambling/easy climbing on front of us. For a lot of it we moved together on a short rope while some parts were a little more exposed and we pitched it. We met two guys who were already downclimbing a slightly awkward traverse but otherwise not so many others. It was more satisfying to look back down the ridge at everyone else who were queued up at the pinnacles we’d tackled earlier! After what seemed like only a short time scrambling we were putting on crampons again to ascend the final snow ridge to the summit. I couldn’t quite get over how easy the ascent had felt – or what an amazingly fine mountain we were on. Acclimatisation really works! Great to be able to admire the views and enjoy the journey up whilst feeling strong and surprsingly awake. Maybe it was the comfortable pace we’d being climbing at. Either way, we were up on the top after 3h 45 and it was almost 9am on this gorgeous Monday morning. Much better than a 9am view from an office :) We took a 10, perhaps 15-minute break at the top without the company of anyone else while admiring the views in every direction possible. Could name-drop dozens of different mountains we could see but I can’t actually remember them all. Täschhorn, Dom, Alphubel in the Mischabel range, the Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn and Obergabelhorn nearer to us on the other side of the valley, Rimpfischhorn, Dufourspitze, Lyskamm, Breithorn, the Matterhorn, Dent d’Heren, Grand Combin, Mont Blanc. Many well known tops!

Downclimbing (taken by Graham)
Downclimbing (taken by Graham)
One abseil down the gully
One abseil down the gully
Downclimbing the snow
Downclimbing the snow
View of the Dent Blanche from the snow traverse
View of the Dent Blanche from the snow traverse
Easy walking for a while
Easy walking for a while
Descent from the Dent Blanche hut back down to the valley
Descent from the Dent Blanche hut back down to the valley
Aiguille de la Tsa - we climbed that!
Aiguille de la Tsa - we climbed that!

The descent took more or less the same amount of time to climb up since we downclimbed all the parts we’d ascended, with the exception of the ’awkward’ traverse which we abseiled off. Fortunately we didn’t get held up too much by folk who were still on their way up, and moreover we managed to downclimb the snow gully before other teams started to descend it from above. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time climbing backwards down a mountain as on this one! All good practice though. But it still took a while to descend the rest of the route back to the hut, with crampons on/off the same number of times as on the way up and it was around 1pm by the time we were back. A good time to drink, eat lunch, re-pack and switch to a pair of trainers I’d carried up.

Well, there’s not a lot to be said for the walk down. It was the same as the walk up, but more pleasant to do in trainers rather than mountain boots. Plus we had an uninterrupted view of the fantastic mountain we’d just climbed and all the way back down the valley toward Ferpecle. I was somehow expecting sleepiness to attack me with a vengeance but for some reason or another I seemed to be feeling even more energised and had trouble walking in a normal pace even with a heavy rucksack. Was so tempted to jog back down! Though I don’t think Richard looked like he was in the mood for jogging….. Anyway, we came back to the chalet in Evolene in warm weather and in time for tea and cakes which was very welcome :D Awesome day!!

User comments

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    Nydelig!

    Written by elbow 30.08.2016 08:45

    Så ut som en fantastisk tur. Jeg må virkelig komme meg til Alpene snart!

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      Re: Nydelig!

      Written by hmsv1 30.08.2016 09:42

      Ja, det var definitivt et av sommerens høydepunkter for min del! Man går aldri tom for ting å gjøre i Alpene :)

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