This is a description for the "Intégrale de Peuterey," the longest ridge traverse in the Alps. With 4500 meters vertical gain and an average time of 2 to 3 days to complete the climb, this adventure piqued my interest…
Narrative by Ueli Steck
After having studied the route more closely, I wanted to give it a try. I thought of starting the ascent from the valley – adding another 1000 meters of vertical – and then descending to Les Houches. A simple, easy, and straightforward plan, just how I like it.
But the ridge itself is far from easy. There is a lot of rock climbing, route finding can be challenging, and there are plenty of technical rappelling maneuvers.
- TD/ED1.....quite long
- + 4500m vertical gain
- an average of 2 to 3 days to complete
Facts and figures:
- 1000 vertical meter approach
- 4500 vertical meters of climbing
- 3800 vertical meter descent
- Horizontal distance: No idea!
Matteo Pellin and Arnaud Clavel:
"28 hours total, which is the record time for the route we took: starting from Notre Dame de la Guerison in Val Veny, summitting Mont Blanc via the Peuterey Integral, and then descending back down to Courmayer via the Gonnella hut."
The young Slovenian Luka Lindic recently climbed the ridge in 15 hours.
Jonathan Griffith and Jeff Mercier:
These two alpinists climbed the route in 2012 from the Borelli hut to the summit of Mont Blanc in 29 hours and 30 minutes.
Read more >>
Inspired by their performances I thought about the project. As usual I take matters very seriously and I looked carefully over the entire route. I had never spent time on the south side of the Mont Blanc. Caroline George and I decided to take a trip.
The route is not easy to find, but the climbing is doable without a rope. I was convinced that it was possible. Now all I needed – as usual – was good weather. My schedule was tight since it was already Monday, August 12, 2013, and my wife and I had plans to leave for Canada on Saturday, August 17, 2013!
The "weather gods" seemed to be on my side and the good weather did last. Motivated, I drove to Chamonix and set up camp in the Les Bossons campground. I then drove to Courmayeur, and the up the Val Veny valley. On Tuesday, August 13, 2013, Matteo Pellin offered to let me stay overnight in his campground.
I went on a quick recon outing to place my backpack at the base of Aiguille Noire's south ridge. I wouldn't need very much gear, so I only brought the minimum: a 60 meter 6mm Dyneema rope, a harness for rappelling, a few slings, crampons, an ice axe, a helmet, and climbing shoes. I also brought gloves, a beanie, sunglasses, a thin down jacket, and both hardshell pants and jacket – you never know. For water I could fill up just about anywhere on the route, and for food I thought 5 Powergels and 4 Powerbars would be enough.
The night before leaving I was once again spoiled at the campground, relaxing and enjoying Italian hospitality at its best.
A fun day begins
At 04:00 on the mordning of August 14, 2013, Matteo sent me off with a friendly goodbye and a good "caffè doppio." I started to run. At 05:10 I was already at the point where I left my backpack. The first 1000 meters were over. I had completed the approach much faster than expected so it was still dark. I nevertheless started climbing. I had been in the exact same spot just one week before, also in the dark, so I figured that I would be able to find my way.
As the day slowly began, I really enjoyed the climbing. After the descent from Point Welzenbach I took a short break and changed into my climbing shoes. With little difficulty I reached the top of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey at 08:30 am. From here I had to rappel pretty far, but took the time to enjoy the beautiful morning setting.
During the night there had been quite a bit of sheet lightning to the south, but by now the sky was cloudless. The air seemed too dry. I figured that the cold bise winds would create cloud buildup at some point during the day. I would just have to wait and see.
From here the rappels began, one after the other. It took 16 rappels to reach the base of "Les Dames Anglais." A cracked-strewn couloir brought me to a traverse that brought me to the start of the Schneider couloir. From the Schneider couloir I climbed to the Casati shelter. There was a lot of brittle rock, typical alpine terrain.
Solo, solitude, ...
It was really nice to climb alone. When roped up it is often difficult to find good running belays and you always have to pay attention so as not to knock any rocks down on your partner.
Being totally alone I could go my own pace - my rhythm, my day - it was great. For me these days are the most beautiful, just the mountains and me.
Under Point Gugliermina I heard voices. A roped party was climbing just above me. I made sure to keep my distance from the two climbers to avoid triggering any rockfall that could potentially hit them. This is the second roped party I ended up passing. To each their own pace.
I filled my water bottle for the second time. The sun shined brightly and the melting snow and ice provided me with plenty of water to drink, so dehydration was not an issue.
In the end some clouds formed, temperatures dropped, and I found myself underneath a layer of clouds.
On the southeast summit of the Aiguille Blanche de Peuteurey I put on my crampons. The climb continued on snow. The knife-edge ridgeline led to the Pte Central, from where I had to rappel once again. After three rappels and some downclimbing I reached the Col de Peuterey. I was now in a thick fog bank with not more than two meters of visibility. Challenging to say the least, especially since I had to find the passage to the Grand Pillier d’Angle.
I traversed back and forth three times until I decided just to try something. I took at least 30 minutes until I felt like I finally knew where was and where I had to go. In any case I didn’t have the choice, I had to keep moving. In the end I found the right way to go and reached the Grand Pilier d’Angle without any trouble. I was now above the clouds. The summit was not too far away. From here I found some old tracks. I wish they had been at the Col de Peuterey…
Fatigue slowly started to set in. I had been climbing fast for quite some time. My gloves were wet – but up here, at 4000 meters, they froze. I decided to wait to put on my spare pair of gloves only once on the summit. That way I would have dry gloves for the descent.
Just before 15:00 I reached the summit of Mont Blanc du Courmayeur. There was no wind and I was well above the clouds, incredible. It was a wonderful moment. I took time to enjoy it since I was now sure that I would make it back down to the valley.
I felt a tired but good and enjoyed the late afternoon on Mont Blanc. It was 15:35 when I started descending Mont Blanc and then the Dome du Gouter. A wide track wound down the regular route.
While descending I started to run again. Far below me I could see the entire Chamonix Valley. It was still a ways away, with almost 3800 meters of vertical drop and I don't know how many kilometers in distance to cover. I didn’t really care although I did start to feel my thighs.
The valley was now getting closer. Below the Tête Rousse hut I passed a sign. I had no desire to know how much of the descent was left. Fortunately the sign indicated no time or distance. Once at Bellevue I came upon another sign, only 2 hours and 20 minutes to Les Houches. Just after 20:00, 16 hours and 9 minutes after I saying goodbye to Matteo at his campground in Val Veny, I was standing in front of the church in Les Houches. I thought about eating something, but decided to continue. I wanted to get to my campsite in Les Bossons. Although I briefly thought about calling someone to come pick me up, it was such a nice evening that I decided to leisurely walk to Les Bossons. A good hour later I was sitting next to my tent.
After enjoying a great shower and a recovery drink, I slipped comfortably into my sleeping bag. With a smile on my lips I fell asleep.
What a fantastic day!
For more information
For more photos: www.uelisteck.ch