Awesome! Crowded! Scary! Knackering!
Do I need to say more?
Awesome: the Dent du Géant is an awesome peak (4012m) that only gives up its summit to climbers. There is no easy way to the top to meet the statue of the Madonna (complete with lighting strike damage). The normal route is AD and is only that grade because of the fat fixed ropes much of the way to the summit. If these are ignored the route offers grade V climbing on a 4000m peak; TD of anyone’s money.
Crowded: those fixed ropes have a few significant undesirable side affects. They make the peak an objective that is far safer and easier (from a rock climbing point of view) and thus popular, very popular! We over took a British team of four with two ropes (?!), another British team, a French team, an Italian team of three and (nearly) a German team. Of course even with some frenetic climbing and overtaking, all those people still slow things down. Another side affect is that of attracting people who perhaps shouldn’t be there; a team of four Brits with just two ropes?! That means one leader, with two seconds, each climbing one of the leader’s twin lead ropes. But how did that fourth guy get up? He went before one of the seconds pushing a prusik knot up one of the fixed lead ropes. Slow. But okay I guess? No, the second on that rope now had no gear placed on the line as the prusiking second had also cleaned. Effect? Any traverse on the line left a significant pendulum risk. So much so that on a tricky bit I thought the guy was going to come off and swing over 10 feet to his left and slam into a gnarly granite wall. To help make sure my day wasn’t ruined by such an event, I clipped one of my quickdraws into his line to protect the traverse.
Scary: the abseil descent is just back from the summit and takes a very direct and steep line back to the base of the rock climbing where everyone leaves their axes, crampons, etc. Much of the line hangs in free space and is four, five or more (depending on the length of your ropes) ropes lengths. We had twin 60m ropes and did it in four stages. After we’d regained the relative security of the snowy shoulder, called the Salle á Manger, that the Dent sits on and set about descending the now sun warm slushy and loose rocky slopes, we heard shouts with tones of panic in them coming from the abseil line. We looked round to see one of Brits hanging at the end of his ropes shouting for us to get help! He had abseiled past the next station and was hanging in space on the knots tied at the end of his rope, and claimed to be unable to prusik back up. Not good! And clearly from the tone of his screams, he was scared – not surprisingly. A helicopter soon arrived, but the Brits declined the help! Was this just British tightness (alpine rescue is an expensive business)? No, the Italian team had joined the fray, abseiling down to the abseil station that the Brit had missed and pulling his lines across from the hanging abyss to the comparative safety of the new belay. Saved, for now… As I said above, it attracts people who ought not really be there. It goes without saying that on a route like this you really must have, and be able use, prusik loops!
Knackering: the guide suggests that the Dent can be easily combined with the West Ridge of the Aiguille de Rochefort. What it doesn’t say is that the snow and rocks up to the shoulder of the Dent, that were crisp névé and ice in the morning, will be slush and rubble on the descent. Add that to our limited acclimatisation and we were knackered! We made good guide book time to the base and beat the guide book time on the route (despite the overtaking). But our descent was slow, in our case, in total an 11 hour day back to the Torino hut.
A great day out!