Douves Blanches Ridge

~ Monday 16th May 2016

As the summer season approaches, here are some appetite-whetting pictures of one the less well-known Arolla ridges - the Douves Blanches. The central Valais isn't famous for top-quality rock but here you'll find great climbing on solid, red gneiss, and some fine positions with the crux near the top. Probably no white doves, but you might well see eagles overhead. In the AD-D range, this is some of the best climbing in the area and can be climbed on our Grandes Courses or Performance Alpinism courses or as part of a Private Guiding package.

The route isn't exactly remote - it's the left-hand skyline of the busy Bertol hut approach - but it's unusual to meet another team and much of the route feels fairly untravelled with just a few pegs in the crux pitch and a bunch of slings for an abseil anchor to show the way. Although the route is all rock the descent is on glacier. Not far, and all downhill, but not to be underestimated either! The Col de la Tsa can need an abseil depending on conditions, and there are some sizeable crevasses.

Although the approach uses the hut path, Bertol isn't a very helpful starting point as the hut is another 90 minutes up from the start of the route. Starting from the valley is one option - it's about 2 hours to the climbing - but the Plan de Bertol is a great spot for a bivvy and you can pick up the gear on the way down in the afternoon.

Finding the start isn't obvious. You could go for an epic "intergrale" from the foot of the ridge but this would be pretty long! Most teams head for the huge slab below the obvious tower of the Quille. Look for a line of chimneys and ledges heading up left, aiming for the lower left of the Quille. Harder options head straight up the cracks in the slab, directly onto the Quille.

Arolla Alps mountain guide technical course

Once on the ridge turn right and...follow the ridge! You could traverse round the Quille on slabs on the right, but going over is quite easy, and better.

Switzerland Alps mountain guide technical mountaineering

Beyond there the rock gets steeper...

...and the views open up! Mont Collon, Petit Mont Collon, Col de Chermontane and the Pigne d'Arolla in the background.

There are a few towers to go over, or round. The route description in the Alpine Club guide is fairly vague, but the route-finding is easy enough.

The climbing gets steadily better - and harder - as you gain height. Luckily the rock is good and you'll probably be climbing in the sun!

High on the route comes the crux. A steep lay-back out right leads...

...into a steep corner with a few old pegs. (But some good wire and cam placements too!)

A short descent leads onto the final section. Easier but airy climbing onto the summit - with a few false summits on the way, it's further than it looks!

The summit, when it eventually arrives, brings fine views West to the Dent Blanche and Matterhorn (If you're keen for those peaks then the Douves Blanches would make a fine acclimatising route) It's been a long day, especially if you started from the valley, but it's all downhill from here! Don't switch off - the glacier gets the sun all day and will be soft, and there are some big crevasses. You'll quickly pick up the Bertol-Aiguille de la Tsa trail, then turn right through the Col de la Tsa. This can be easy snow, but can also be steep, or bare ice, with a big bergschrund. An abseil gets you past the steep bit, then it's fast snow down to the Bertol path and a knee-bashing descent to the valley for a well-earned beer.

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