A great week in the western Alps. The village (small town) of La Grave in the Romanche valley provided a base for the club’s major overseas trip of the year, (so far). The camp site, “Camping La Meije” ,had excellent facilities and also offered a free swimming pool, which many made use of, and a crazy golf course, which we didn’t.
Read on for two reports first from Dick followed by Tim and go here for the trip photo gallery.
Our pitches were on “Les Terraces”, which although it meant carrying tents and gear up a bit of a slope, gave the most spectacular views across the river to the glaciers and crags of the mountains to the south.
Activities during the week were varied to say the least, and all I can do is list some of them. Walks on well marked hill paths, single and multi pitch rock climbs, Via Ferrata routes on new wires and rungs, cable car ascents to the foot of a glacier followed crampon and ice axe stomps over the ice and snow fields. This involved walking roped together, which is an art in itself.
Other perhaps less anticipated activities, included white water rafting down the Romanche, and a visit to a large Alpine Garden run by the University of Grenoble, but open to the public, on the Col du Lautaret.
One group hired a professional guide, who took them to the summit of Le Ratteau at over 3600 m.
An additional occupation, perhaps a bit less energetic, involved sitting in a sports bar in the village watching the Tour de France on the screens. It did, in fact come within a few miles of our location. An amusing incident, to me at least, occurred while standing on the tip of a glacier on Wednesday morning. My mobile rang, a voice asked “where are we climbing this evening? Is it Bowles?”. It was Tracy back in Sussex. A discussion concerning the differences between sandstone and a snow covered Alp followed. Call me old fashioned but the I still find modern electronics a bit amazing. All too soon the week was over, and the long drive home loomed. This was made a bit more interesting by a luggage crisis, but eventually everything was fitted in somewhere and off we went. A staging post at Chalon-sur-Soane for a number of us, eased the journey.
It just remains to thank Nick and Kim on behalf of the other nine attendees for organising another memorable trip.
Ecrins Via Ferrata
Via Ferrata – Iron Way, I’d read about these cables and ladders up rock faces and heard tales of daring do from other Club Members on previous trips, but had never sampled one myself. All this was to change when I joined the trip to the Ecrins.
On our first morning Nick, Kim, Jill and myself set out to climb Les Mines du Grand Clot a 750m via ferrata only a few miles from the camp site which runs up the steep sided valley and follows the entrance galleries and fissures of an old silver, iron and lead mine. The great thing about via ferrata is that you just don your helmet, put on your harness, attach the two shock absorbing lanyards and away you go.
No weighty ropes, slings and normal lead gear, you are on your own and to all intents and purposes soloing, except that if you did fall your shock absorbing lanyards would arrest you as the krabs clipped to the cable ran down to the next bolt below you to which the cable is fixed. You get all the thrill of exposure and exercise of climbing at a considerably reduced risk and effort. From a sheer pleasure point of view the via ferrata is probably the best risk reducing invention since the introduction of the condom.
Our route led up past deep gallery entrances and old rusting mine cables, up surprisingly steep, even overhanging chimney cracks – “look at those rungs behind you – you can bridge there!” and along dramatic ledges with the snow covered ridges and glaciers of La Meije as a back drop until finally after 5 hours we topped out (I know that was slow by the standards of some other parties, but we had made frequent photo stops and a lunch stop!). Now began the bit that the guide book glossed over in a couple of sentences- the long 2 to 3 hour descent which had to be made in scorching sun when you’ve run out of water. It first involves walking up and over a plateau , then down to reach the ski resort village of Le Chazelet, where we found a welcome fountain of cool water, before descending the steep grass covered slopes past a quaint chapel to the road and back to La Grave.
The next day, our appetites whetted by the adventures of the day before, Jill and I set off up the 250m via ferrata at Arsine. This is recently equipped with shiny new cables and staples, and once again we ascended through stunning vertical faces of rock which gave ever increasingly exposed sections high above the car park and the river. After a lunch of baguettes and cheese where we chatted to a retired Japanese dentist who had followed us up, we descended the well marked path, arriving back at the car in time to enjoy an afternoon of sport climbing.
The following day we had a complete change of terrain and after taking the (very slow!) cable car up to Col des Ruillans a large group on two ropes set off up the Girose Glacier, which in spite of the sunny weather was a lot colder than on the previous two days requiring coats and even gloves. Starting from 3,211m we soon began to feel the unaccustomed effects of altitude, and by the time we reached a bergschrund, quite a few of the party were ready to go down again. However Jill, Dick, Monty, the two Chris’s and myself opted to carry on for a bit reaching the Col de la Girose where a lunch stop was declared. Afterwards the decision to descend was made. The reason given was the ever threatening clouds rolling in, although the more honest reason was that we were all knackered. However our prudence proved correct because on reaching the cable car station and descending splashes of sleet and rain began to appear on the cable car cabin windows, and this gave way to a full blown rainstorm by the time we reached the valley.
The following day was a wash out due to periods of heavy rain and most of us visited the Alpine Gardens about 10 miles up the road from La Grave which proved to be really interesting.
Our final full day dawned clear and sunny again and Nick, Kim, the two Chris’s and myself drove round to L’Alpe – D’huez dodging hundreds of cyclists all following the Tour de France Stage which had gone through here the previous day. Here we found yet another recently constructed via ferrata which went virtually straight up a 200m cliff, again with some airy and exciting sections. The other interesting thing about this via ferrata is that you park the car at the top, then descend to the bottom down an attractive valley, which means when you finish, you are just five minutes walk from the car.
A great trip to an area new to me, and as for via ferrata?
I’m hooked – just the ticket for a near septuagenarian.