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Traverse of the Grand Cornier

  • Alpinism
  • Switzerland

📅 December 03, 2020

⏱️ 6 min read

In the spring of 2019, we carried cams, nuts, and quickdraws with us on our four-day ski touring trip from the Cabane de Moiry to the Bishorn. We’d planned to climb the Grand Cornier by the NW ridge with all this gear. The heavy backpacks ended up being good for nothing as we favored a different objective that had a more interesting ski descent. A year later, this time in the summer, we returned to the Grand Cornier for revenge.

Approach to the Bivouac de la Dent Blanche with the Dent Blanche in view
[Day 1, 14:40] Approach to the Bivouac de la Dent Blanche with the Dent Blanche in view

A ‘forgotten’ route

Being just shy of 4000m and standing in the shadow of the Dent Blanche makes the Grand Cornier (3962m) a bit of a ‘forgotten’ route in the area. The traverse from SW to NW also creates some logistical challenges as you approach from the Ferpecle valley and descent to the Moiry valley. This results in a long descent to get back to your car in Ferpecle. We solved this issue with a paraglider, but more on that later! Despite all this, the climb has an excellent bivouac, great views of the Dent Blanche, and reasonably sustained climbing.

On the Glacier de la Dent Blanche shortly before arriving at the bivouac
[Day 1, 17:40] On the Glacier de la Dent Blanche shortly before arriving at the bivouac

Cracks in the ridge

It was the 12th of July when Kasper, Tim, Peter, and I started the approach towards the Bivouac de la Dent Blanche. We had impressive views of the Ferpecle ridge of the Dent Blanche, a route I’d like to do some time. As we didn’t expect it to be busy, we took it easy and arrived after 5 hours. In 2018 several cracks appeared in the ridge where the bivouac is situated. Geologists have declared it safe for “a few more years”. Not the most reassuring message to be honest. Still, the cliff to the east, where the toilet is located, is very unstable and prohibited terrain! As an alternative to the toilet, the SAC Jaman advises you to put ‘it’ in a plastic bag and throw it over the edge. We discovered a stone works just as well for this and is also more environmentally friendly.

Preparing a pasta dinner in the Bivouac de la Dent Blanche
[Day 1, 19:50] Preparing a pasta dinner in the Bivouac de la Dent Blanche

Sunset at the Bivouac de la Dent Blanche
[Day 1, 21:00] Sunset at the Bivouac de la Dent Blanche

When we arrived it was already quite late and we immediately started cooking dinner. Tim had brought a pasta pesto, a nice change from all the couscous I had eaten before. There is no gas at the bivouac, so make sure to bring your own! As the sun began to set, it provided us with increasingly beautiful views of the Dent Blanche north face. Every few minutes we ran outside to take new photos of the somewhat differently exposed face.

View of the climb and the unstable toilet building
[Day 1, 21:10] View of the climb and the unstable toilet building

A cold climb

It was cold and dark in the bivouac when we woke up at 04:30. Completely wrapped in blankets and under the light of our head torches we enjoyed our breakfast of yogurt and cereal. I always happily carry the additional weight of yogurt, as it’s much easier to get down in the morning than other options.

North Face of the Dent Blanche in the morning light
[Day 2, 06:00] North Face of the Dent Blanche in the morning light

Roping up shortly before P. 3734
[Day 2, 06:00] Roping up shortly before P. 3734

We left at dusk, 05:15 in the morning. Without a rope, we moved quickly on the first part of the ridge. Low-hanging clouds blocked the sun that had risen in the meantime. Luckily, the pace was high which kept us warm. At a distinctive ‘window’ in the ridge, shortly before P. 3734, the proper climbing started and we decided to rope up. The north face of the Dent Blanche looked even more imposing than last night in the morning light. We continued on running belay through some easy terrain.

Peter and Kasper shortly before the blocky tower
[Day 2, 08:25] Peter and Kasper shortly before the blocky tower

Kasper in the supposed crux pitch
[Day 2, 08:40] Kasper in the supposed crux pitch

The Crux

From a distance, we undoubtedly recognized the blocky tower that would house the crux pitch of the route. A short dihedral pitch offered a nice change in climbing style from the ridge scrambling before. Graded 4a according to the guide book, but I thought it was easier.

At the summit, looking at Peter and Kasper making a short abseil or downclimb
[Day 2, 09:35] At the summit, looking at Peter and Kasper making a short abseil or downclimb

The ridge became very narrow, with the summit in sight. To continue, we had to make multiple short abseils. Downclimbing was possible as well, but we thought it was too exposed and hard. It was still cold and cloudy at the summit, so we quickly descended by the NW ridge towards the glacier. Enough snow had remained on the NW face of the Grand Cornier, which made the transition from the ridge to the glacier easier. We were told this transition can be tricky when dry.

Tim taking off with his paraglider towards Ferpecle
[Day 2, 12:30] Tim taking off with his paraglider towards Ferpecle

Tim’s taxi service

Tim immediately began unpacking our secret weapon the moment we arrived on the Glacier de Moiry. As explained earlier, we parked our car in the Ferpecle valley while we descended towards the Moiry valley. To save our legs from a long loop back towards our car, Tim would pick up the car in Ferpecle with his paraglider. We jokingly called this “Tim’s taxi service”.

On the Glacier de Moiry after, with the Grand Cornier in the background
[Day 2, 12:40] On the Glacier de Moiry after, with the Grand Cornier in the background

After we saw the paraglider disappear into the clouds, we continued our descent towards the parking lot at the Lac de Moiry. Three hours later we arrived almost simultaneously with Tim, who had brought some drinks and snacks to help recover from the long climbing day.

Details

  • Climbing date: 13th of July 2020
  • Climbing partners: Peter, Kasper and Tim
  • Route difficulty: 4a, 450m, AD
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