Dent Blanche

11th August 2017

A strenuous week over in the Swiss Valais, climbing some big AD ridges with Colin and Steve.

A clear alpine morning on the Lagginhorn South Ridge, with the Weissmies North Ridge in the background

 

First up was the 'warm-up', a traverse of the Lagginhorn, above Saas Grund. Mark Chadwick's photos from four days previously showed Patagonian conditions, with the rock covered in rime ice from a storm, and an ascent in fairly gruelling conditions. However, we found bone-dry rock, and sunny skies, and crampons were only really needed for the short glacier on approach to the Lagginjoch.

Bypassing one of numerous gendarmes on the ridge

Not far to go! After several hours of effort, on the final sections of exposed ridge before the summit

 

The ridge passed in a blur of concentration, with Colin and Steve moving well over rock of varying quality. The descent down the normal route proved very straightforward, and we managed to complete it all without donning crampons. The struggling Lagginhorn Glacier looks much diminished this year, and although the passage under the south-west face is very quick, it feels quite exposed in the very dry conditions this summer. Possibly better just to continue all the way down the WSW Ridge.

Atmospheric evening light at the Dent Blanche hut

 

Next up was the Dent Blanche, which is an intimidating sight standing guard over the head of the Val d'Herens. The 5 hour approach walk to the hut impresses the remoteness of the mountain, and is the prelude to quite an expedition. 

Steep rock in cold conditions on the direct pitches on the Grand Gendarme

 

The South Ridge gives some excellent climbing on generally very solid granite. Althought the standard route bypassing the Grand Gendarme was dry, the direct up the gendarme is highly recommended, giving several pitches of III-IV, or around UK Severe.

 Although of similar length and the same grade as the Lagginhorn, the Dent Blanche is both technically harder and more sustained. And as it's the easiest way up the mountain, the South Ridge also has to be reversed, lending the enterprise a very committing feel.

Feeling the effort on one of the final sections of rock before the summit, with the Matterhorn and Dent d'Herens in the background

 

The ridge took around 5 hours from hut to summit. There was a slightly threatening cloud build-up beginning to the south and east, so after a mere few minutes of respite, we about-turned and reversed everything we had just climbed! The descent feels trickier than the way up, and can be equally as time-consuming, which makes for a big day. As Steve and Colin both have a fell running background, despite having tired heads and heavy legs, we found ourselves flying down the 1600m descent below the hut down to the road at race pace...