Climbing the Dent Blanche via Ferpècle Couloir Ridge & NNE Face | Keith Ball
Beyond his work as a full time Mountaineering Instructor Keith Ball is a dark horse in the British climbing scene, at his best in winter as the suffering increases and the weather deteriorates. Quietly amassing an impressive tick list of hard Scottish ice and mixed classics he’s also a keen Alpinist with an enviable collection of big routes to his name.
Words by Keith Ball
It was very much in-between seasons when we arrived in the Alps.
It had been a dry autumn so most north faces were looking black and the lower valleys parched. The winter snows had not yet arrived. We had had some beta about the Dent Blanche and so headed there to take a look for ourselves. The obvious problem of a week’s trip was getting acclimatised quickly enough to then be able to tackle a higher and bigger route.
Luckily the Grand Cornier sits immediately to the north of the Dent Blanche bivi hut and its south west ridge proved to be useful for acclimatisation route. It also provided great views of the Dent Blanche.
This left us feeling more tired than acclimatised though so we decided for an easier route on the Dent Blanche than the NNE face. Opting for the rarely in condition Ferpècle Couloir to get us onto the Ferpècle ridge, we summited the Dent Blanche after experiencing some particularly loose terrain.
It was however a fine line that if nothing else gave us some more thin air to breath in. The descent of the south ridge was positively solid compared to our ascent.
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Back in the valley after a night in the hut we rested and considered our options for the remainder of the week. After scouring guidebooks for most of the Alps we came to the obvious conclusion. The mountain where we knew most about conditions was the one we had just summited. We just had to psych ourselves up for the 5hr walk back up to the bivi hut. We calculated and then recalculated if we had time for the NNE face. Even with our fresh knowledge of the descent we only just had enough of the week left in order to make our flight on Sunday morning and maybe more importantly work on Monday.
In the end we went for it, re-summiting with only twelve hours to descend and to get Geneva for our flight. The route was definitely worth the gamble, a little loose towards the top but a classic none the less.
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