Monday 25 August 2014

Arete du Doigt, Pointe Percee

The Pointe Percee, perched high above Sallanches, has long been on my to-do list, mainly because it dominates the view on the first 20km of motorway to Geneva - a section of road I know pretty well after a couple of seasons driving transfers.

"The" line on the peak is undoubtedly the Arete du Doigt, which has 12 pitches and difficulties up to 5c. Sharon and I thought about camping somewhere near the route the night before we went up but there was precipitation due during the small hours so we decided on an early start from Chamonix instead.

Reaching the parking area at the Col des Annes, we were slightly dismayed to see our rock climb looking very white - 

The Arete du Doigt is the left-hand skyline. The Doigt itself is the tooth about half way up the ridge.

Still, we figured that it's always worth having a look so we ploughed on up.

Sharon on the enormous slabs at the foot of the Pointe Percee N face.

The snow was getting thicker near the foot of our line and as we got closer I became convinced that our day was going to be little more than a recce. However, when we reached the first pitch there were 2 French teams already on the route (who we passed immediately and never saw again, although we could sometimes hear them in the mist so they must have continued) and the rock was surprisingly dry so we decided to give it a go. The first 4 pitches fell in one block of moving together and we could have gained a lot of time had it not been for having to warm our hands up every 10 metres or so. The climbing is straightforward though and we only had every third or fourth bolt clipped and still felt fine. 

Once on top of the "Doigt" itself, a 15m abseil and a short walk saw us onto the second section of climbing, which was stunningly exposed but technically easy. 

Sharon on the "Razoir" section of the route, between the Doigt and the crux pitches.

After this we found ourselves at the little notch where you can either carry on straight up (5c, 5b and then a short aid section), traverse right and join another route (3 pitches of 5b) or traverse right even further right and join the normal route (easy scrambling). By this stage it was absolutely freezing but I wanted to do the direct route so up I went. The climbing is actually pretty steady (definitely a soft touch for 5c) but the incredibly low temperatures caused all sorts of trouble and shortly after reaching the belay I got hot aches in my hands - not something you expect when rock climbing in August. The pitch was brilliant though and I was glad of the thick cloud which obscured what I imagine would be a pretty big drop below the crux moves!

Sharon on the crux.

Above this was a 5b slab which was quickly dispatched and then a short tower which is aided on bolts. 

After only the briefest of explanations from me about how to go about aiding efficiently, Sharon coped pretty well with her first aid pitch!

From the top of the aid wall it's an easy scramble to the summit. Just to prove that sometimes you earn a bit of luck, the clouds parted and revealed Mont Blanc to us as we sorted our gear out on the top.

Me coiling the ropes on the summit, with 2 choucas flying past and Mont Blanc reigning supreme behind. 

The scramble down the normal route was fun and fairly fast and we were soon below the clouds and heading for the car.

Me on the walk out, contemplating a final hour of effort before pizza and beer.

It's nice (and quite rare) when a route truly lives up to expectations but the Arete du Doigt is an amazing adventure. We spent virtually the whole day in cloud but the climbing is so good that it was still well worth doing and the highest praise I can give is that when there's better weather, I'd love to repeat the route and see the view. By the way, here is the best description of the route, which we found spot on and easy to follow -

One final thing; it can be hard to figure out how long a route like this will take and what you need so here are our timings for the day, plus a kit list, just as a guide for if you go and do it. Bear in mind that we aren't particularly fit, we weren't rushing and spent a good chunk of the climbing time warming our hands up! All in all, very doable in a day if you're halfway efficient and willing to walk a longish way.

Car to route - 2 hours 10 minutes. (Not including a 20 minute stop at the Pointe Percee hut)

Climbing - 4 hours, including a quick lunch stop.

Descent - 2 hours 15 minutes summit to car.


10 quickdraws.
2 slings & 2 snapgate karabiners.
2 screwgate karabiners, 2 prussiks and a Reverso belay device each.
1 x 50m single rope.
Harness, rockboots & helmet each.

Clothing (per person)- 

Trekking trousers & base layer
Stretch Fleece
Belay Jacket
Thin Gloves


Sandwich & 1 litre of water, plus drinks bought at the hut on the way up and down.
Photocopy of map & route description