Friday, 6 July 2012

Alpine Dispatches ♯2

Dent du Geant (the big rock spire on the left!)

1st major objective ticked! At 10.30 Wednesday morning we summited the Dent du Geant, at 4013m one of the finest rock spires in the Alps.
Being a long and committing route meant a 04:00am start. It was a fantastic night though with clear sky and a full moon illuminating the glacier and Mont Blanc in the background.

Mont Blanc by moonlight

The route involves a glacier approach from the Torino hut then steep rock and ice to gain the main rock face running up a prominent pillar of rock to the summit. Despite the presence of fixed lines one the main face we free climbed the majority of the route, no mean feat at 4000m!

Approach gully to the main face

The main face of le Dent
The climbing was truly amazing both in the quality of the rock and exposed position on such a high face. After some tricky moves towards the top and several pitches thinking, “surely this must be the last pitch” we made it. We were truly exhausted but stoked to have got up there. I’m always amazed the length people go to for religion. On the summit there is a brass staue of the Madonna. Al, a British guide who summited just after us, advised that the statue does however make for an excellent belay anchor!

The summit (and the Madonna belay!)
The hairiest bit of the route was still to come. As always the summit is only half way. The descent involves a 150m abseil from the summit down the south west face much of which is severely overhanging. The first ab was fine, the second was scary! I went first descending into the mist not able to see the bottom of the ropes. When the knots in the end did appear, about 10m away, I was still hanging well out from the rock face just above the next ab station. Wriggling my body to get some momentum I managed to swing in towards the rock just enough to get a toe on and push out as had as I could. This swung me about 15m away from the face into thin air but on swing back I was able to grab some tat and clip in, safe! The rest of the descent went fine and exhausted we made it back to the hut a few hours later. A true alpine adventure and one of the finest climbs I’ve ever done.

Yesterday we had a ‘rest day’. The forecast was mixed so we decided to stay in the valley, recover a bit, and try some sport climbing. We found a fantastic, easy route that runs up the rock slabs at the end on the Mer du Glace, just up from the village of Le Praz.

Recommended by good friend Mr Peter Blades, he suggested taking a baguette and bottle of vin rouge to enjoy the easy pace and good lunch spot that the route offers. Unfortunately the impending afternoon thunderstorm meant we had to get a wriggle on to complete the 500m, 19 pitch route before getting zapped by lightening on the exposed slopes. Moving roped together rather than belaying and pitching it meant we topped out after only an hour from the start, surely a record! Perfect timing as the rain started just as we started the long (wet) walk back down to the valley.

Over a pint later yesterday afternoon we planned out the remainder of the trip. The weather seems to be a mixed bag so we may have to change this but as of today the plan is as follows.

Tonight we had up the Tour glacier to attempt the Aiguille du Chardonnet via the Forbes Arête. Unfortunately the Albert Premier Hut is fully booked so we will have to bivi somewhere. A cold night but it will mean getting a head start on the route for the following day.

Following that we’ll get back down for a night in the valley before heading up to the Couvercle hut where we’ll base ourselves for a few days to try a variety of routes such as the traverse of Les Courtes, Les Droite and maybe even the mighty Aiguille Verte.

Fingers crossed for good weather!

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