Dent Blanche First Ski Descent of the WSW Couloir

 

Gilles Sierro skied another wild descent on the Dent Blanche. Click in to read his full trip report and see some pics.

To read more and view all the photos, visit: Dent Blanche first ski descent of the WSW Couloir
http://www.gillesleskieur.com/article-dent-blanche-first-ski-descent-of-the-wsw-couloir-118404628.html

Swiss Fall Line

Leaving Ferpècle on Thursday, Yannick and I are joined in the evening by Olivier. After an evening gathered around the cabin stove (the cabin is 4 degrees), we go to bed, our minds full of questions. We were here to repeat a "ski” route established by Dede Anzévui facing south west, however, our plans have changed.


Since my first run in the face two years ago, my mind has been preoccupied by another line. This line is the most direct, purest, steep and the most exposed too. The line is formed more than I have ever seen. We must try.

 

6am the alarm rings, I slowly fold out of three quilts that helped me get a warm and good night’s sleep. Although I slept well, this is clearly not the case for everyone. The hum of the Jetboil and with it the prospect of a good cappuccino, finally gives a smile to everyone. Breakfast swallowed, the cabin locked, we slide toward the ramp that will allow us to access the foot of the western face and then the Great Couloir.
As we begin this passage we are immediately put into the atmosphere and realize that we may have underestimated the conditions. The snow is hard, steep and the exposure already maximal.
After this first warm-up we stop in awe in front of the wall that is the West Face. Huge and beautiful, it is unlikely to be skied. This is the last opportunity to bail out or change the route. A little bit of binocular action later, we strap on our crampons and commit, axes in hand, for a long vertical travel.
We approach the first crux; a very steep and exposed snow ledge, which should allow us to find a weakness in the huge cliff that, overlooks the very steep slope. I check the clinometer.... 60 degrees, I cannot believe my eyes! I turn to my friends and tell them. We wanted the steeps, apparently we will be rewarded!
A little further up, we move on a thin snow scarf. The stones are really close, and if the snow does not soften the descent may be problematic. After this one, the small couloir that we were hoping for is revealed. We will, for sure, make it up. To overcome the rock wall that separates us from the top of the face, we still have to climb a thin channel of ice and rock. Ice axes anchor well and hooking is fairly easy. Soon a providential platform welcomes us. We prepare it in anticipation for the descent. Here we will have to abseil, there is no other choice. Olivier has installed a belay station with cords that pass around some rocks. We also dig a small ramp, connection between the slope and the only flat spot we find between the summit (...) and the glacier 800 meters below.
We were thinking of finding less steep slopes but this is not so. It is extreme. The shade and hard often glossy snow pumps up the atmosphere. This is a great route to climb for sure. But what will it be on the way down? One thing is certain, the timing is crucial. A little too early and the snow will still be icy, hard, not allowing a good grip for safe descent, a little too late and the snow starts to flow, stones to fly. And at worst, thin snow stuck on rocks which could slide under us at any moment.
With constraints in mind we move slowly upward, wavering in this gigantic funnel, seeking the best way forward. A little below the summit the sun graces us with the first warms rays ... Hopefully it will do the same for snow. The 3 of us take turns to break trail. With the effect of the altitude the work is laborious but we're making good progress. Around11:30 I kiss the summit cross, the others soon join me.
We sit as comfortable as possible. There is no wind, the scenery is fabulous, so we enjoy the view. We eat and toast the summit with a can of Coke that I brought up for that purpose. We also prepare ourselves end equipment for the descent. After a brief discussion, we decide to start at 1 P.M. I take the rope and open, Yannick follows me. Olivier will be in charge of the abseil and will go last. On paper everything is set, now we just need to ski and follow the plan….
 
The time has come, I step into my skis, tighten my boots, check my pack and harness, turn to my climbing partners, give them a nod, take 3 big breaths and I drop in. Straight away I notice that the snow is still frozen. We are above 4000m (14’000 Ft.) I hope that our calculations are right and it will be softer lower down. After a couple of metres of side slipping, I engage my first turn. It’s always the first few turns that set the tone of a steep descent. It’s going well, the skis grip on hard but chalky snow. After about 60m, I position myself below some rocks and wait for Yannick, then Olivier. Their faces show concentration. We linked the top third of the face, taking turns, making sure not to disturb the one and other with snow that slides down.
Around 4100m, it’s a relief when the snow starts to be softer. We still link precise turns but with more serenity. We follow our up track, valuable help, to get to our platform. With a sigh of relief, everything is going well, the timing is perfect. I try to stay focused; the ramp below the abseil is not to be underestimated. It is one of the key passages but now with softer snow, it should be OK. I put my pack onto my back and start to go down the rope that drops me softly at the bottom of the icefall, 40m below. I quickly dig a platform, Yannick gets to me and as Olivier arrives, I continue the descent. The chute is now steep and the upcoming ramp even steeper. But as I get to the 60° passage, the snow is so good that you don’t notice the exposure. RIGHT ON TIME!!!!I scream of joy… the hardest is behind, the others pass in front of me and even being still over 50°, we ski the last pitch, big turns on prefect corn, pass the bergschrund and to our gear depot. Here it is, IT’S DONE!!! This line that I dreamed of, we skied it in style. We look at it one more time from the bottom and we call it “Swiss Fall Line”. We now can let ourselves slide along the gentle glacier to Bricola and head down to Ferpècle. Thank’s to my two fellow friends for this fantastic birthday present and this will probably stay one of the best descent of our life!

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For more by Gilles Sierro, visit www.Gillesleskieur.com.

Read about last 2012's epic descent on the Dent here: http://www.biglines.com/video/ski-and-solo-dent-blanche-4357m

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