Adventures With My Chimp Part 2: Dent de Geant

Andy Tomlinson

Posted by Andy Tomlinson on Jan 13, 2020

After a night in Chamonix we were at the Torino Hut by 9am…and were soon off for an enjoyable traverse of the Marbrees having missed the early rush. Whilst the chimp remained quiet all day, he was unsettled as the plan for tomorrow was the SW face of the Dent de Geant. Even though the climbing had gone well so far this trip...there was history! 

Last year I planned to do it with a friend…the Torino was packed, as were all the routes. We did the Entreveres, which was heaving. The chimp was unsettled by all the madness seen. We had returned to the hut to hear stories of small to table sized boulders being dislodged close to the couloir that has to be ascended on the approach to the Geant...another friend we met in the Torino had a narrow miss with one such boulder a couple of days earlier, my chimp became decidedly unhappy and I could do nothing to console him. After a long and sleepless night, I decided to head backdown to the valley leaving my two friends to climb the Geant together. At the time this had been a major turning point for me...whilst anxiety about certain routes had never been far from the surface throughout my life, I'd never bottled like this before. At the time I seriously questioned whether I would ever return to climb in the Alps again...over the winter I had persuaded myself another trip would be a good idea...then said friend and Jeremy arranged to join me and here I was...and I decided I wanted to do the Geant, at least at home!

Dent du Geant from the Marbrees

Whilst removing our crampons on return from the Marbrees we got into conversation with an American guide and his client. They had just returned from the Geant and the guide was buzzing as, after 3 trips to this peak he had, on this occasion, worked out the correct route up and down the loose couloir...he generously told us all he knew and then, as a parting gesture, told us that the CEO of a well-known climbing equipment manufacturer had been killed by rock fall, caused by other climbers, when descending the couloir last year! The chimp woke...I pacified it. Back at the Torino we sorted food and I rested for a couple of hours. Dinner, gear sorted (a bit of a ritual for me, but seems to keep the chimp quiet!) then bed. Jeremy understands my chimp well now and recognised a later start, hopefully avoiding the crowds, was advantageous. Time was not an issue as we had decided to spend another night at the Torino to aid acclimatisation…we had plans! We were off at 6.40am.

Heading towards the Geant

A couple of parties were in front as we headed across the glacier towards the Geant. Soon after the fork to the Marbrees, larger numbers of people appeared in the distance behind…the first lift had arrived! Some, moving remarkably quickly, caught us up and overtook. The chimp awoke…get a move on otherwise we’ll be caught be stone fall! On this occasion my human brain could not disagree and we were soon at the base of the rocky couloir…even 5 years ago this would have been a straightforward snow slope in July, but not now with the effects of rapid climate change. Crampons removed quickly, we followed the line of climbers above, carefully watching for any rockfall whilst ensuring we did not dislodge anything either. Whilst loose, it didn’t seem unduly so and we made good progress. Teams were strung out above us, some moving fairly far right [as we had been advised], whilst others took a more direct line. We headed right…it was steeper with quite a lot of loose blocks. With great care, we ascended it safely…we were also fortunate not to have parties above us. All in all, the chimp remained quiet and I was absorbed by the ascent! We were at the Salle a Manger, a large flat area beneath the Giant’s Tooth proper, in guidebook time. After stashing sacks we were ready for off just before a French guided party. We decided to allow them to set off first…a good move as they moved quickly, but we were not too far behind, so we soon had our own space on the route. 

French guided party starting up first pitch

The chimp got me to engineer Jeremy into leading the first pitch, as the first move appeared quite exposed! All was calm as we headed up…we had brought the right amount of clothing too, so kept warm, something I have not always achieved. Swinging leads I found myself heading off up the first pitch of the Burgener Slabs. It was enjoyable climbing and I avoided the fixed rope except where a harder move appeared, ensuring we moved quickly to avoid being harassed from behind, as this unnerves the chimp! Jeremy led through and, cleverly, belayed below the steep flake filled chimneys above the slabs…the chimp and I thought this would be Jeremy’s lead! Whilst very steep, the fixed rope made it very straightforward climbing when combined with the good natural rock holds. We were soon at Point Selle, followed by an exposed traverse to the summit where we joined a German guide and his client. We only had a single 60m rope so, rather cheekily, asked the Guide if we could abseil down on his double 60m ropes…and he generously agreed! We were soon back at the Salle a Manger thanks to our expert leader…it would have been a significantly longer time in descent with our single rope! 

Jeremy following the Burgener Slabs

The guide and his client headed off quickly. A break and we headed down too, finding exactly the correct line and, whilst very loose in places we descending without incident to the glacier. Crampons on and, after a quick jog over some obvious debris from regular stone trundles, we were back on safe ground. A gentle wander back to the Torino followed by a beer, sitting in the sun on the terrace. This had been a perfect day and the chimp had been silenced. We talked of our next adventure…I pleaded for two rest days, but the weather had other ideas…we could only risk one…and we would be travelling! We slept well in the hut that night and were on an early cable car down the next morning.  

The summit

Adventures With My Chimp (Part 3) can be found here.

Want to take a look at something from the archive? Take a look at this.

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