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Dent Blanche (4357 m)

South ridge (normal route)

Trip report
August 20-21, 1998

Dent Blanche is one of the 4000 m peaks of the Alps that are usually found closer to the end of the collection list. About thirty peaks are easier and therefore quickly "done". But for a normal route graded III one has to wait for a good oportunity.
This opportunity has come for us in August 1998. After our Tien Shan holiday became a bit shorter than scheduled, we have some days left to undertake something in the Alps. On Wednesday evening we drive to Wallis; in worst case we would have four days, and that should really be sufficient.
Old hotel Bricola, on the way to the hut
Old hotel Bricola, on the way to the hut
On Thursday, we go up from Ferpècle (Val d'Hérens, 1828 m) to Cabane de la Dent Blanche in quite sunny weather. Above 2800 m, the route leads through formerly glaciated area and along several morain ridges with very loose scree, rather badly marked. Today, however, not a problem since visibility is good. After about 5 1/2 hours we reach the hut which is standing directly in front of the last rocky bump in front of the main ridge, at 3507 m. Soon it gets cloudy and foggy with sometimes strong winds. Thanks to our good timing we can watch that scene comfortably from inside the hut.
Friday, four o'clock - getting up. Shortly before five we leave, under a starry sky. First we follow the rocky ridge (showing considerable difficulty for being "easy", see below) to Wandfluejoch. The following short snowy ridge is easy and quickly done, as well as the next rock ridge. And again putting on the crampons, a traverse along the cornice of P. 3907, and the proper beginning of the south ridge is reached. The first two hillocks are easy (but one should remember the route well for the way back), then the Grand Gendarme comes.
We avoid it to the left side on the easier route, which is now completely free of snow and ice. Soon we are back on the ridge. Some of the following towers are directly climbed, the others areavoided on the right side in scree (as usual at such mountains).The last Gendarme is the biggest obstacle. Not only the rock being most difficult here (III), also all groups come together here, so we have to wait at this key pitch.
at dawn, Matterhorn close to us
At dawn everything looks good - Matterhorn close to us.
south ridge
Dent Blanche south ridge. The Gendarme can be climbed, or one can avoid it.
After that, rather easy walking terrain follows. The snow crest that is mentioned in the guidebook apparently meanwhile completely disappears in summer, we hardly found any snow there. After 5 1/4 hours the summit is reached.
summit crest
On the summit crest. Meanwhile it became cloudy, but the clouds are still rather high.
No reason for a hurry, just ten o'clock, and the weather looks quite good. From the west, slowly dark high altitude clouds come in and already have reached us, and it was rather stormy from the west; Monte Rosa still is completely sunny. Nevertheless we soon go back, since for tomorrow there was pretty bad weather announced - and who knows when that really would come...
Two hours later we know the answer. Without and further warning, the cloud layer suddenly sinks down, and it begins to snow. Of course we are in the middle of our way down in sometimes not an easy terrain. Fortunately, what attacks us now is only the warm front. That doesn't mean it would be too comfortable, but the snow doesn't stay very intensely for the moment. So we can well make our way over the first Gendarme and the scree traverses. At the Grand Gendarme, the weather gets tougher, the storm presses ice crystals behing all eyeglasses, so most people hardly can see anymore. But that happens to all the groups here. All being interested in immediately getting down, everybody helps each other - quickly a rappelling piste is established, everyone gives his rope for one pitch. No question that this is much faster than if everybody would work with his own rope at each rappelling anchor. Nevertheless such a good cooperation is not completely natural but today it works very well. Probably a question of external circumstances.
rappelling in bad weather
In the rappelling piste, soon the worst part is over.
The last waypiece along the ridge there are several opportunities to go wrong, but after some time everybody finds his way down to the glacier. Now it's almost done, we only have to go down all those short pieces, with and without crampons. Especially the last part is not trivial if one tries to avoid the uppermost crest traverse (better follow the crest on top!!). As we finally see the roof of the hut appearing in the fog, an odyssee has come to an end.
The descent from the hut to Ferpècle is mostly rainy; fortunately we have some visibility left, otherwise finding the way in the scree wouldn't be very easy.
In the evening at half past seven we reach the car, wet, but astonishingly (for having descended 2500 meters) not too exhausted. Only that can explain that the 4 1/2 hour car drive home to Lake of Constance made no problems, even not those 120 km between Bern and Zürich which are meanwhile almost 100% converted to a construction site.

Practical hints

Way to Cabane de la Dent Blanche
Telephone hut: +41 27 283 1085. Reservation is recommendable, since the hut is quite small.
From Ferpècle (1828 m) a bit up the road, then a follow a marked trail to the left via Bricola (abandoned hotel) and further up to about 2750 m towards the (as viewed during ascent) left moraine of Glacier de Manzettes. Over scree and ice, the glacier tounge is traversed; then follow the ridge south of the glacier over large, glacier-polished rocks, scree and ice up via Roc Noir and the upper glacier field (marking poles) to the hut (3507 m). About 5-6 hours. In the scree almost no marks.
From the hut to Dent Blanche via south ridge
From the hut, ascend some meters and the go right and pass a very big stone mark, always keeping on the right side of the ridge. As we went up, everyone followed a group on the left side of the ridge, and that guided us into a quite cumbersome terrain. After about 100 height meters one follows the quite exposed rock crest, reaching the glacier within some minutes. About 30 minutes in total.
After a small snow crest and the plateau of Wandfluejoch, turn left to the beginning of the next rock crest which is tackled at about 3750 m; 20 minutes.
Follwing easy rock, mostly walking terrain, this crest is climbed, then P. 3882 is avoided on the right side, and the next glacier is reachd (1/2 hour). Follow the snow crest for 20 minutes until the ridge becomes rocky.
After two easy hillocks, the base of Grand Gendarme is reached. With good conditions, it is by-passed at the left (first descend about 5 m, then traverse, later III, several iron poles for belay; keep towards a striking tower in the crest, but leave it at your left); the crest is reached again in the saddle above the Gendarme. From here a little nice climbing, the easy again; climb the next tower directly, then through a small gap towards the right side of the crest. Some meters down the other side, over scree up there again towards the crest. At the next Gendarme keep right following a band, go up and back left towards the crest that is reache at a small loose plate of rock (no warranty that this one still is there next year).
Now one stands in front of the last Gendarme which constitutes the main difficulty. From the point mentioned above climb down some meters downwards to the left to reach a more or less good band. Follow this band upwards towards the clearly visible narrow left of the Gendarme. Several anchors and more or less rotten loops. The narrow is conquered through a gully (III), and after about ten meters the terrain becomes easier.
From here on mostly walking. Preferably keep left of the crest, but often also directly on it. Only the strange quartz/marble structure is passed on the right side. As we were there, the crest was completely free of snow.
Of course, like the ascent. Some special details: From the uppermost Gendarme, on can rappel from the top and easily reach the first anchor den ersten Fixpunkt, so one doesn't need to go back to the last anchor of the ascent. The traverse outwards, however, cannot be avoided.
The anchors at the Grand Gendarme allow a rappelling piste, if enough people are on the way and they are correspondingly cooperative.
The real difficulties in the rock concentrate to two pitches:
  • traverse of Grand Gendarme
    if dry and free of snow, not too difficult (III), good belay possibilities. About 30 meters terrain II-III to III, rest is easier.
  • traverse of the uppermost Gendarme
    the traverse costs a considerable amount of time, especially if many people are on the way. Well around two rope lengths about II-III to III.
The whole rest is relatively easy walking terrai with often easy climbing, sometimes II. Like also at Matterhorn, the terrain does not forgive a major mistake at any point.
Map and guide
Guidebooks (in German):
  • SAC, "Hochtouren im Wallis" (CD-ROM, 1998), Routes 303 (hut), 350b (south ridge)
  • SAC, "Walliser Alpen 3" (1993), Routes 3 (hut), 274 (south ridge)
  • 1:50000 LKS 283S "Arolla"
  • 1:25000 LKS 1347 "Matterhorn", 1327 "Evolène"

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