American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Europe, The Southeast Face of the Dent D'Herens (First Ascent)

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1930

The S. E. Face of the Dent d’Herens (First Ascent)

The S. E. face of the Dent l’Herens, 4,180 m. (4180 m.= 13,715 ft.) towers over 3,000 feet above the Cherillon Glacier. It is limited toward E. by a jagged ridge, which divides the Cherillon Glacier from the Mont Tabel Glacier, and partly supports the latter. This ridge is designated as S., and was followed by Harold W. Topham with Aloys Supersaxo, Clemens Perren and Aloys Pollinger, July 19 and August 31, 1889. Another party touched the S. E. face of the Dent d’Herens; Guido Rey, with Jean Baptiste Perruguet, Aimé and Ange Maguignaz, descending from the Pointe Blanche, bivouacked at a height of about 10,400 feet or about 600 feet above the Cherillon Glacier. From the bivouac place, on August 21, 1898, they descended to the Cherillon Glacier. The mean inclination of the S. E. wall in the portion followed by our party is 56°.

The incognito of the ascent were the 1,500 odd feet of the middle portion of the wall. The inclination of this part is formidable.

A preliminary exploration of approaches was done on August 2 and 3, 1929. The exploration was furthered on August 16, but an attempt on August 17 was frustrated by bad weather. On the same day a final survey of the S. E. wall was done, and the approach to the S. ridge was explored.

On August 31, Luigi Carrel and Max M. Strumia left the newly built hut at ‘Lo Rionde’ 2,804 m. above Breuil, at 2.45 a. m. By prairies and descending somewhat we reached at 3.20 a. m. the lower extremity of a rocky rib dividing the Cherillon Glacier from the ‘Ghiacciaio del Leone’ (without name on S. map). By turning this, the true left lateral moraine of the Cherillon Glacier was reached at a point about 2,700 m. and it was followed for a while until it appears blocked by a huge mass of rock. From this point the Cherillon Glacier was easily reached 3.50 a. m. The glacier was then crossed in a large circle, so as to avoid the seracs below. The crossing was done without losing height in about 10 mins. At 4.45 a. m. we were at the base of a steep ice cone, the apex of which continued into a couloir to the left of a ridge forming our approach. The rocks which we were to follow belong to a spur that detaches itself from the great S. E. face of the Dent d’Herens between the couloir descending from the true right of the Pointe Blanche and the S. ridge of the Dent d’Herens itself. The lowest portion of this spur is marked with quota 2,984 m. on the map of ‘Monte Cervino’ 1:20,000 of the I. G. M., 1922. The ice cone was ascended in less than 10 mins., after which an easy approach was made to the rocks on the right. These were in the beginning, easy, but covered with much loose debris. The first difficulty encountered was a chimney 4.55 a. m. bounded by smooth plaques, and ending with an overhang. It was turned by a ledge on the left, and the couloir reached. This was followed for a short while (loose rocks) then, on the right side of the couloirs, came various steep plaques, and another chimney. The couloir was again reached and followed to near its upper end, where it turns somewhat to the right and ends against overhanging rocks (6.00 a. m.). A passage followed over very steep and smooth plaques, to the right of the couloir, about 100 ft. in height and extremely difficult. This portion had been descended by the Rey party en rappel. With the aid of an iron piton, and with Carrel swinging from the rope under an overhang, in 40 mins. of exhausting work we were above the difficulty, very near the place of bivouac of the Rey party. We then turned to our left, to face the main wall. This we reached by following a thin, horizontal ridge, where the spur so far followed, ended.

We followed straight up by good rocks until a little shelter was reached at 7.20 a. m. We left it at 7.45 a. m.; a little above, a patch of snow was found. Immediately above this a difficult chimney is encountered, above which the ridge vanishes in the great wall above, which at this point sweeps upward at a terrific angle. Turning to the right, it is possible to reach another ill-defined rib formed of extremely steep rocks, with many holds, but not as secure as before. This rib is followed in the direction of a large, red gendarme of the S. ridge which is immediately above, until the rib ends against a perpendicular wall about 60 ft. in height ending in the said ridge. A first attempt to reach this on the left ended against a huge unstable overhanging rock; a ledge was then followed for a few feet to the right, after which a direct difficult climb brought us to the S. ridge, 9.40 a. m.

The point where the S. ridge was reached is on a level with the Col des Grandes Murailles (ca. 3,850 m.) and near the summit of a very large gendarme the rock changes colour very abruptly, becoming of a dark reddish brown. This band is very readily seen from the E. We left at 10.10 a. m. The top of the gendarme of white rock was turned on the right, E., and the ridge between the white and the red gendarmes was reached by a difficult passage along a vertical fissure. The S. ridge was then followed up to where it joins the S. W. ridge coming from the Col des Grandes Murailles (3,975 m.), 11.30 a. m. Here the difficulties ended and at 12.30 we were standing on the summit, having followed in the last portion the E. arête.

The descent was made by the W. arête, reaching Praraye at 22.15, including a halt of 1½ hrs. on the summit and 1½ hours spent lying flat on the ice a little below the summit, waiting for a severe electrical storm to pass. Halts of 1 hr. and 10 mins. were also made later.

The ascent is a very interesting one but it is rather fatiguing; in the portion between quota 2,984 m. and 3,975 m. or about 1,000 m. the difficulties are continuous. There are three very difficult passages, the first one of which, over the plaques descended en rappel by the Rey party, could be greatly facilitated by placing a cable about 100 ft. in length. The ascent should not be undertaken unless weather conditions are excellent and there is little snow on the face. Even in this condition the lower portion of the wall is exposed to rock falls after sunrise, as experienced by the Rey party. We did not, however, during the whole course of the ascent suffer from any rock fall, although the nearby face and couloirs of the Pointe Blanche and Grandes Murailles were raked by falling stones all day.

M. M. S.

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.