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A classic view of the Dent du Geant (4013m) from the entrance to Combe Maudit to the southwest. The gently impending South Face (TD-/TD, 5.7 A1 or 5.11a, 160m, seven pitches, Burgasser-Leist, 1935) is seen in profile on the right. Behind and to the right is the summit of the Grandes Jorasses (4208m), while the silhouetted formation in the left foreground is the Trident (3639m). Mont Blanc Massif, France. [Photo] Lindsay Griffin

Alex Huber has made the first free solo ascent of the classic South Face (TD-/TD, 5.7 A1 or 5.11a, 160m, seven pitches, Burgasser-Leist, 1935) of the Dent du Geant (4013m), Mont Blanc Massif, France. Belayed by Marius Wiest, Huber climbed the route on-sight in July and then came back at the end of the month to work it for two more days with Tyrolean climber, Guido Unterwurzacher, before dispensing with the harness (though keeping a helmet) for his final rapid ascent. With only 200 meters of climbing and maximum difficulties of 5.11a/b, this may not seem such a major achievement for the German, who has previously soloed short sport climbs up to 5.14a and the airy 550-meter Brandler-Hasse (5.12a) on the north face of the Cima Grande in Italy’s Dolomites. However, the merit of this feat lies not so much with overcoming technical difficulties but more the added problems of altitude, rock quality and the exposed nature of the climbing.

The 4013-meter Geant is one of the more difficult and arguably most spectacular of the Alps’ 4000-meter summits. It was first climbed in 1882 using extensive artificial means via the southwest face: a culmination of eleven years of attempts, in which on one occasion a rocket had been used in an effort to shoot a rope over the pointed double summit.

Perched far above surrounding glaciers at the start of the Rochefort Arete, the vertical to gently overhanging South Face is not high (ca. 160m), but it is certainly exposed and has rather less than perfect Chamonix granite in the middle section, where the route makes long traverses–at first right, then back left. Ranking number 57 in Gaston Rebuffat’s seminal book, The Mont Blanc Massif: 100 Finest Routes, this route has huge historical significance. It was first climbed in 1935 by Herbert Burgasser and Rudolf Leitz, and became the first climb in the Western Alps on which pitons and artificial techniques, already known to climbers in the East, were used systematically. It pointed the way toward first ascents of the Grand Capucin, the West Face of the Dru and other steep walls requiring the sophisticated art of aid climbing, which would take off at the start of the ’50s. Its original grade of 5.7/5.8 and A2 was later rationalized to 5.7 and A1 during its heyday of the 1960s-1980s. There have been few free ascents and the exact date of the first is not well-known, though it is believed to have been in the mid-1980s.