Reaching Heaven in the Swiss Alps

Aiguille Blanche Practicalities
By Richard Goedeke

Difficulties: D+. Rock climbing sustained at III and II with passages of IV, mixed, seldom easy, snow or ice to 500. The principal difficulty lies, nevertheless, not in individual pitches, but rather in the length and the sustained and changing demands. For that reason, the ascent can only be recommended to fully fit, experienced climbers who should only set out in favorable conditions and when the weather is settled. Most will elect to complete the climb by crossing Mont Blanc.

Effort: Hut climb 1000mH (3 hours), bivouac approach 1100mH (47 hours), summit climb from there 700mH (56 hours), continuation to Col Peuterey 150mH descent (2 hours), descent by the Rochers Gruber and back to the Monzino Hut 1650mH descent and 150mH ascent (c. 58 hours) or, alternatively, a continuation to Mont Blanc involves another 850mH (510 hours).

Dangers: Everything that can possibly be encountered in the high mountains — including crevasses on the very disrupted glaciers — are a particularly serious problem when retreating; stone-fall in the couloir to the Breche Nord des Dames Anglaises, especially in"good" conditions; loose rock on the rib on the Southeast Face; hypothermia on the summit ridge in storm; avalanches on the Rochers Gruber in bad weather. Anyone who embarks on this peak must be able to deal with all of these. The principal problem remains the danger of being overtaken by bad weather with the consequent forced retreat. This will usually be down the Rochers Gruber, which is difficult, complicated, and dangerous (with difficult ascent to the Col de l'lnnominata) and must not be underestimated. Abundant food and fuel can become lifesaving. Two parties climbing together can give additional security by speeding the abseiling at the critical stages.

View: An overwhelming aspect of the Freney Face of Mont Blanc opposite, and on the right is the apparently less fierce Brenva Face. Otherwise, one has ample opportunity here to contemplate just how far and steeply the ground drops away everywhere and how one might best escape from such a place.

Highlights: Aesthetically, in its entirety, highly enjoyable for those who can cope with this sort of demand.

Maps: IGN carte touristique 1:25,000, two Mont BlancTrelatete.

Travel: To Courmayeur (1230m) via the Val d'Aosta or from the north through the Mont Blanc tunnel.

Guidebook: Mont Blanc Range, Vol 1 (The Alpine Club, 1990).

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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