Reaching Heaven in the Swiss Alps

Aiguille Blanche Descents
By Richard Goedeke

Head north down to a rocky shoulder. Go steeply down from a fixed abseil point on the Northwest Face and, most conveniently, abseil 40m from the lowest rocks to clear the bergschrund and thence descend to the Col de Peuterey (3934m). Now one must decide whether to continue upward to the summit of Mont Blanc or to go down. The former is better.

For the next stage there are two possibilities (both taking two to four hours) on the left (west) of the ridge edge leading to the top of the Grand Pilier d'Angle. Traverse left a short distance until below where the ridge angles ease and cross the bergschrund here (often awkward) before working right to regain the ridge. Alternatively, make a longer (150m) traverse left before heading directly up a ramp of mixed climbing (stone-fall danger) to gain the ridge behind the Grand Pilier by a gendarme. After this, climb the corniced ridge and finally up the steepening snow or ice face to the summit cornices of Mont Blanc de Courmayeur (very long and in bad weather quickly murderous).

Descent via Freney Glacier

In good conditions, a feasible descent is to cross over the Freney Glacier and climb up to the Col Eccles and the bivouac box there (usually overcrowded in good weather). From there, descend to the Monzino Hut, down the abundantly crevassed Brouillard Glacier, possibly helped by tracks. This provides a good escape providing the col can be reached before the weather breaks, but in new snow the Freney basin quickly becomes avalanche prone.

Descent via Rochers Gruber

Another way is the descent of the Rochers Gruber, a steep rognon between the Aiguille Blanche and the highest ice-fall of the Freney Glacier. To start, descend from the col south-south-westwards to the beginning of a snow ridge (not easy to find in mist) and down this until it changes into a steep snow and rock rib. First descend on the left (east) near the rock rib on steep snow as far as a steep drop. Above the drop cross over to the rocks on the right. Now abseil, keeping right and using several small traverses to gain the lower Freney Glacier. Descend the very crevassed slopes until under the Col de l'lnnominata which is then gained up a steep gully (difficult). On the other side an easier descent leads down to the Monzino Hut. If a Rochers-Gruber descent is thought too dangerous, digging a snow hole will buy time to consider the remaining options.

Adjacent Peaks

Apart from the seldom climbed summit (4112m, Pointe Gussfeldt) there is also the Northwest Summit (4104m, Pointe Jones) and the customarily climbed South Summit (4107m, Pointe Seymour King). To the south is the striking Punta Gugliermina (3893m). Other worthwhile routes: North Face (TD, a pure ice face averaging 520 with some 550, 800mH, 57 hours for the face); and Punta Gugliermina South Face (TD+, a rock climb sustained at V+ and V, with sections of VI and AI, 600mH, 1116 hours from Rifugio Monzino).

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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