The Dent du Midi (3,257m) is a magnificent, striking mountain when viewed from afar. The Swiss guide book describes it as "An extraordinary edifice of stone", especially when viewed from the Rhone valley.
However, close up it is actually a tottering pile of rubble. The Dent du Midi has several summits, which make up its ridge of ‘dents’ (teeth). At each end there is a Cime (top). The East Cime (3,178m) is pretty much untenable, unless it is glued together by snow and ice. If you are really set on climbing this particular Cime then a strong belief in one’s immortality is a necessary bit of kit to have with you. In the middle of the ridge is the Dent Jaune (3,186m). This is an anomaly, in that it is a delightful climb. I ascended this in 2006 with my very good friend and client Peter Little from Keswick, with whom I have done so much exploratory climbing over the last 25 years. At the west end is the Haute Cime, the true summit which can be reached without stepping on a glacier and without specialised mountaineering kit (in summer, anyway). This makes it a very attractive destination for the seasoned George Fisher customer: Someone who wants to experience the very high alps, but does not want to necessarily get involved with all the climbing paraphernalia which is usually part and parcel of alpine mountaineering.
The Haute Cime was to be our objective. Vin, Tony, Dave and I drove around to Champery, from Chamonix where I live. We set off from the Paradis car park on a beautiful autumn Saturday morning. We trudged up through a very uninteresting forest, following a tedious path for over an hour. Eventually we broke out of the forest, and it was worth the slog because we were rewarded with beautiful views of Champery and in the distance the Rhone valley. The path from here is fantastic, snaking around and above several cliffs before going through a gorge where you turn left and head up a valley to the Susanfe Hut and two very welcome cold beers each; one for the thirst, and one for the pleasure.
A very cosy and, considering it was late in the season, very busy hut. We enjoyed a sociable evening and the food was washed down with a couple of bottles of the local rouge. Yet my major gripe was that inevitably we were presented with an insipid dessert which seems to be part and parcel of staying in Swiss huts. This time: apple puree. Baby food.
Breakfast was at 6.00am and we were away by 6.30. At this time of year it is still dark, so we set off with head torches and plodded up to the col du Susanfe in just over an hour.
A pause and a drink, and then we were off up the Haute Cime proper. There was a surprising amount of snow around, which did a lot to enhance the scene because without it, you could have thought you were on some lifeless planet. Acres of shale.
It might be ‘just a walk’, but it is over 1,100 vertical metres from the hut to the top and it took us a lung-busting four hours to get there. But it was worth it as the views were very, very good. Mt Blanc to the south, and Lake Geneva and the Oberland to the north.
Now all that was left was the matter of going home. This was to be a brutal, unrelenting 2,000 metre descent, back the way we came, stopping briefly at the hut just long enough to buy some drinks and for the legs to seize up. By the time we arrived back at the car we were knackered. Dents du Midi may be only a walk, but you underestimate it at your peril.