If you’re looking for a very nice yet not so popular climb on a 4000 meter peak in the Alps, the Dent d’Herens must be on your wishlist. You already get the taste of a different adventure while driving the very long Val Pelline, north of Aosta, everything is calm there and the presence of humans is hardly noticed in a bunch of hamlets you drive through. Climbing the Dent d’Herens requires 2 full days, as there are no lifts to help you covering the 2000 meters of vertical gain from the trailhead to the summit. It is certainly better to bring a mountain bike to cover the 6km of dirt road along the Place Moulin dam, you can even go a little further than the Prarayer Hut until the path becomes narrower and you reach the first bridge over the stream. The approach to the Aosta Hut on the first day takes 3 / 3.30 hours from the parking lot (using the mountain bike, otherwise it’s much longer), it’s a pleasant walk that reminded me those the remote valleys of Nepal. The last stretch to get to the Refuge is equipped with old rusty chains, this choice is faster than following the new trail on the right of the moraine.
The Aosta Hut is small, a true alpine refuge, anchored on a steep grassy slope next to the moraine. Diego, the hut keeper, has been running it for 6 years now, he’s a character always smiling and very nice. The genepy, made by his father with the plants collected by him, is a must to try right when you check-in, after the meals and finally when you’re heading down the valley after the climb. When we climbed Dent d’Herens it was early September, the conditions were very good thanks to a recent snowfall, and there were only 4 other teams ready to climb the following day.
From that evening in the hut I remember a huge bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and a meat stew with such a strong gamy flavor that somebody did not have the courage to have more than 2-3 bites of it. The next morning there was no rush to go outside, from the refuge the path up the steep moraine is very evident, but the glacier was not in the best conditions. In the steep section we lost a bit of time on route finding, as there were many crevassed and the old track was not that clear. In these dry conditions, it is better to stay as far as possible on the left under the rock wall, and be careful on the crevasses.
The climb starts 150 meters below the Tiefenmatten Col, the route there is well equipped with a metal chain, in some reviews people talk about the danger of rockfalls, I think you could be under the fire range if other climbers are climbing the chains, but you’re definitely safe once you get on the chains. The climb goes up sideways and some steeper steps are pumpy. The rocky ridge that goes from the Col to the steep snow slope is fun, overall easy but poorly equipped, the difficulties in any case do not exceed grade 3.
The Tiefenmatten ridge is rated AD, I’ve found the climbing sections a little more technical than those you encounter on the Matterhorn, probably because you always climb sideways and the rock here is more sheer without real handholds. However, it’s pretty short and quick, if the rock is dry and you definitely climb it without crampons. There are no problems in route finding here, as you can clearly follow the crampon scratches on the rock. Once you reach the snow plateau you put crampons back on, the conditions we found were excellent so we just zigzagged short roped. The last 150-200 meters before the summit you are back on rock climbing, there’s an easy rock slab with some iron stanctions every 20 meters “matterhorn style” to belay your partner quickly both on the uphill and downhill. The final ridge has some exposed passages with breathtaking views down the north face, the view from the summit is amazing, with the Matterhorn so close you can almost touch it, and the whole Imperial Crown (from Dent Blanche to Weisshorn) to the north. I think it took us 5 hours to reach the summit of Dent d’Herens from the Aosta Refuge, climbing back down to the hut we did better.
For the descent we opted for the abseil line right after the steep snow slope. It’s pretty evident for an expert eye to find the first anchor.
There are 7 abseils, a 60 meter rope is required. All the anchors are well protected (except the first two, not ideals if you have other parties above) the abseils are all tendentially sideways to the right (looking down). Watch out for the second anchor, it’s short and a little off axis. Do not skip the third belay otherwise you will find yourself on a single peg (not a bad one though, which can be linked to a good little cam, if you have them) 7 meters from the next abseil bolted anchor. I think going down the rock ridge is faster for an expert team, I was just curious to check the abseils out.
It was my first time on the Dent d’Herens, the 38th 4000er of my list. I wanna thank Graham and all those who rely on me in all these climbs that are new to me. It is an even more exciting adventure for both of us to tackle new summit.