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Alpine Climbing – Dents du Midi

by Sarah Morton January 08, 2014

Passing the three-hour sign at Lac de Salanfe, along the Dent du Midi trail, I was feeling rather smug – having athletically trotted up the steep-ish first section of the trail, I thought; how clever we were to have delayed our leaving from base until the cool evening set in.

Four hours later, glacier-blue mountain lakes, and lush-green Alpine meadows, were a distant memory. I found myself donning head-torch and scrambling around in steep, loose rock and patchy snow – I could see the hut, and was sure it was just within grasp, but the path wound up the mountain at a more leisurely pace than I felt necessary.

Cold, tired and hungry we finally reached our resting point for the night – the Dents du Midi mountain hut, precariously perched at almost 3000m in the Swiss Alps. Switching off my head-torch I was blown away by the millions of twinkling stars overhead, for a few moments my aching legs and heavy backpack forgotten.

Then, thumped back to earth with the announcement that not only had the hut guests already gone to sleep – equalling no supper, but all the beds were taken. So, for me, it was a make-shift bed of rugs on the kitchen floor – it was every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds.

During the night, winds buffered to gale-force – not only was every protruding bone in my body crying for respite, I was absolutely freezing.

One broken nights sleep, and a cereal bar later, we roped up, to begin the short walk across the softening Plan Neve glacier before starting the steep, scree-covered ascent of the Cime de l’Est – the most northerly peak of the Dent du Midi range.

The ascent was interesting to say the least – falling rocks and snow, steep ledges and sheer drops – I’ve seen nothing like it, even slap-bang in the middle of a Scottish winter – it was great.

The descent was even more interesting, we’d left so much loose rock behind us it might have been a bit sketchy to try returning by the same route.

We opted for one of the most accessible snowy gullies – wide and steep, the snow looked solid and strong, however, we couldn’t see how far it dropped and said a quick prayer that the rope be long enough.

After digging a horseshoe in the snow I was lowered down – for the first time my heart was in my mouth and I was wishing for a quick spritz of Rescue Remedy – instead I sat tight, that was, until the rope ran out – following a mini-panic, I kicked my feet in and down-climbed the remainder of the gully.

Another instalment of scree-slopes seen us back on the glacier and on the home-strait to the hut. A quick bite to eat, then we were back on the trail, this time descending – much more enjoyable in the daylight.

A few hours later we were back at the car – boots off and achy toes dipped in an Alpine stream, before zipping off to Chamonix for our next adventure.

Sarah Morton
Sarah Morton

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