|The guardian of the Aosta Refugio with his flagon of "falling down juice."|
The hut guardian was very keen to know what we thought of his penne-pasta and tomato sauce. I thought this was a slightly strange question because we were in Italy and this food is ubiquitous. Plus the tomatoes normally come out of a tin.
We said it was "very good,"
[It was very good]. The guardian grinned and said his father wouid be particularly pleased to hear this because, it was he who had carried the fresh tomotoes for five hours up to the Refugio Aosta where we were staying . The guardian explained that he had grown them in his garden. It was like stepping into another world, where things had been done the same way for generations.
|Approaching the Refugio Aosta.|
There were four of us in the hut that night. Me, Charles, the Guardian and the Guardians Dad. Charles pointed out that even in the worlds finest hotels they do not have a 1:1 ratio of staff to guests. Apparently the guardians plan was to close the refuge for the season the next morning but he had agreed to stay another night while we climbed the mountain, because we felt we would not be able to climb the route and descend to the valley all in the same day.
The atstute reader might be asking the question: Why with a perfect forecast were there not more people wanting to climb the Dent d'Herens, one of the alps great 4000meter peaks. Why were there only two climbers in the hut?
The answer in part was because the summer had been so hot that the glaciers had been decimated and in most of the western alps the glaciers were left being extremely difficult to navigate. I had however obtained what I thought was relatively up to date information from a colleague of mine who had climbed the same route a few weeks before hand. Plus I reasoned we were quite an experinced team - Charles and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary , where we had climbed together at least once a year for thirty years. So although the climb might be more difficult than normal I reckoned we had the necessary ability to give it a go- plus it wasn't as if we didnt actually know each other.
Breakfast was at 3.30am.
|DIY breakfast .|
We were away by 4.00am [ish] To start the path unhelpfully descends quite a long way before threading its self through a jumble of boulders before climbing up a long rock moraine. Late in the summer day- light takes its time to appear and it was therefore dificult to find the optimum path.
After what felt like a long time [ may be an hour and a half ] we found ourselves walking on a glacier- not a white crisp version, but one that that had been reduced to black ice covered with ruble. We continued upwards and as it steepened stopped to put our crampons etc on. As we weaved our way around the crevasses the glacier got a lot steeper. There was no snow anywhere just boiler plate hard glacier ice.
Although the ground ahead was steep, it did look that it was going to flatten out and therefore the crevasses would be easier to navigate. We therefore continued upwards, yet just as we thought we had made a breakthrough in terms of route finding , we were confronted with another enormous crevasse. Added to which as we climbed up, it became more difficult to retreat.
In the end we had to admit that this was not to be our day for climbing the Dents d'Herens. Immediately I turned my attention to how we were going to extract ourselves. By now it was completely light and we could see, all too well, what we had already climbed up and now what we had to retreat back down.
|Amazed we got this far!|
The first thing we did was build a ice bollard anchor and made a rappel down to some more ameanable ground.
|An ice bollard rappel.|
|Charles rappelling from the ice bollard.|
We then carefully retraced our steps to where we could rejoin the moraine path and head back to the Refugio. We had a coffee, updated the Guardian on the conditions and while we were saying our good byes he presented us with a half litre plastic lemonade bottle full of his home made Genepi!
|Returning to the Refugio Aosta.|
All in all an interesting experince, but not the one we had planned.