Dent Blanche South Ridge

~ Sunday 29th May 2016

The Dent Blanche is the emblem of the Val d'Hérens and dominates the view from Evolene. Often climbed in our Alpine Progression week, it's one of the trickier 4000m peaks as the "normal route" up the South Ridge route is a tough AD with the harder climbing all above 4000m. Even the hut walk-in is a challenge, with a relentless 1600m climb from the valley. The good news is there's great climbing on solid rock, positive holds, and the views are fantastic. It can be quite friendly in snowy conditions too, when the other 4k peaks are out of condition - as long as the snow is consolidated the rock sections are do-able in crampons.

Dent Blanche South ridge

Unusually for Alpine routes, the climbing starts almost straight out of the hut door - 5 minutes of steep scree lead to an exposed scramble up an airy ridge, usually in the dark!

British Mountain Guides

If the start looks as snowy as this you're in for a tough time! Happily, an easy snow section follows and allows some faster height gain. There's an easier rocky ridge (cut right before the top to avoid an awkward step) and then more snow. This bit is steep, often corniced and not to be underestimated.

Valais alpine routes

As the sun comes up the Grand Gendarme comes into view at 4000m. An easier section of rocky ridge leads to the foot of the pinnacle where the normal route traverses out left into a gully, with metal spikes for anchors and to show the way. This can be snow all the way, or dry later in the season. In dry conditions it's nice to avoid the traverse by climbing straight up the gendarme's crest on good, red rock - some of the best climbing on the route and rarely busy.

The "direct" re-joins the normal route and then follows a wide crack up the continuation ridge.

Next comes a long section of fine, airy ridge on good rock. There are a couple of pinnacles, best climbed direct on the crest or avoided on looser ground on the right.

The knife-edge crest leads to a worryingly steep final pinnacle. Happily this can be avoided by traversing on the left - steep rock but big holds lead to an awkward corner and back up to the main ridge.

Once back on the ridge, follow it turning a conspicuous lump of white quartzite on the right. Somewhere around here you'll need to put on crampons for the summit snow.

Summit! Well-earned success.

Dent Blanche summit. Guided climb

...but the summit is only half-way and getting off the Dent Blanche, like so many Alpine peaks, takes a fair bit of effort and concentration. First comes some careful cramponing down the summit snow. You can reverse the "awkward" corner, but it's easier to continue along the ridge for 50m where you'll find a bolt belay. An exciting abseil from here takes you to the foot of the final gendarme.

Some airy shuffling back down the crest and a couple of abseils off pinnacles leads to the top of the couloir. If you came up this way you'll remember the metal spikes. A mix of abseil and downclimbing from spike to spike gets you down and back out to the ridge, where easier climbing on rock, then snow, then rock...then snow...then rock...leads at last to the hut.

Many teams spend a second night in the hut, then walk out via the Tete Blanche and Bertol. (This can actually be a nice way to approach the mountain and acclimatise on the way) If you've made good time though, descending to the valley is tempting...cold beer and hot showers being "only" 1600m downhill!

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