Serving as a border between Italy and France, the Kuffner Ridge separates two spectacular cirques: the Maudit Cirque and the Brenva (south side of Mont Blanc). The ridge was first climbed in the late 1800s by Mr. Kuffner, who had to chop steps the whole way for his clients. Lucky for me, times—and gear—have changed.
The ridge is very long and offers spectacular knife-edge snow-ridge climbing and lots of mixed terrain. It tops out on Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc’s little brother, 4,465 meters in elevation. It’s one of my favorite climbs. I had climbed it a few years back with a friend and was excited when a client, Flo, asked me to guide her up it. I was looking forward to revisiting this noteworthy climb.
It took us two tries to get it. The first time, we left from the Aiguille du Midi and hiked past the majestic Grand Capucin to reach the bottom of the couloir leading to the Fourche Hut. This little bivouac is perched on the ridge in a totally impossible location. It’s hard to understand how it can stand there on its own. It can only sleep 12 people, and there were more people than that in the hut that night. Was it the nastiness of the hut, the crowd, the lack of sleep, the altitude? I don’t know. But 30 minutes into the climb, Flo got really sick. She started throwing up and feeling very dizzy. So we went back to the hut, napped for an hour and started the long descent down the couloir we had climbed. That took a while since we only had one 40-meter rope and the couloir was 200 meters long. When we got down, she felt better, and we saved the day by climbing the beautiful Aiguille d’Entreves Traverse.
She went home that night. I called her again the following day and said that we should give it another go. She drove back from Switzerland, and we rode the Helbronner lift across the Vallee Blanche and this time slept at the Torino Hut. This added a few hours to the climb but offered better sleep and food. We left in the pitch-black night and headed to a couloir right of the regular couloir to meet the ridge a little higher up. We reached the ridge by dawn. It was a beautiful day, until I heard a huge serac fall on the south face of Mont Blanc, where my husband, Adam, was climbing. The serac kept falling and falling. And then the helicopter came, in and out, and in and out. I thought for sure that Adam was dead. So the whole time, I was freaked out, wondering how my life was going to be from now on. Eventually, I saw him way high up on the climb and was relieved! What a horrible feeling though.
The climb was in great condition and we moved fast up the beautiful ridge that seemingly went on forever. Gradually, the climb disappeared in the clouds. It had just snowed two nights before and the track down from the top of the Maudit had disappeared under lots of fresh snow and accumulations. We topped out in a full-on whiteout and during super-strong northerly winds. I felt quite alone, having to navigate down the Maudit, breaking trail in sometimes thigh-high snow. Yikes! Eventually, we found the three Mont Blanc track and made it back in time to catch the last cable car back down to Chamonix!
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