For the past few years the weather has always been very unsettled during the time I have spent in the alps, so it has been great this year that the weather has been very stable since the day after we arrived. This year we have started our Alps trip in Ailefroide in the Ecrins.
On the first day the weather forecast for the afternoon wasn’t brilliant so we headed for some local multi-pitch rock climbing before the storm came in. As it was the first day we were a bit slow getting started, so our early start turned into a leisurely midday start. After enjoying six pitches of excellent climbing on brilliant rock we got to the top just as the forecast downpour hit. This lead to a rather soggy abseil off in the rain, before walking back and enjoying a well earnt drink in Ailefroide.
With a stable weather forecast for the next week we decided to head up into the high mountains for three days. We chose to acclimatise by climbing Roche Faurio at 3730m before climbing the Barre des Ecrins at 4102m. What I didn’t quite appreciate while making these plans is that the Ecrins Hut is very high at 3170m, although thankfully going straight up to a high hut didn’t seem to affect any of us.
The walk up to the hut was unrelentingly hot and it felt like extremely hard work with 1300m of ascent from the car park over 4 hours. After what felt like an endless climb we left the glacier for the brutal final 150m up to the hut. After a reasonable sleep we woke up to a beautiful starlit morning and after the obligatory coffee and dry bread we were out on the Glacier Blanc and heading for the Roche Faurio.
Unfortunately, as we were climbing the mountain it became clear that while the sky was generally clear, the larger mountains were all holding cloud around their summits. After ascending into the cloud, we were treated with fleeting glimpses through the cloud which demonstrated the stunning views which should have been visible. Within excellent time we were at the top of the snow and the start of the short section of rock to the summit. As the route was a Facile I was expecting the rock ridge to be a formality, however the rock up to the summit was really enjoyable scrambling which was more like a solid PD than a Facile.
After a quick descent we were back at the hut in time for a mid-morning snack, before spending the afternoon asleep recovering from the early start.
Dôme de Neige des Ecrins
Our plans for the second day were to climb the Barre des Ecrins, this meant a horribly early start with breakfast at 3am. The majority of the climb up the Barre is a simple, but steep, snowplod. However, it is threatened by huge unstable seracs for a large portion of the ascent which made it one of the more objectively dangerous peaks I have climbed.
We made reasonable time up to the end of the snow and the start of the rock ridge, however with too many parties trying to climb the mountain a large queue had formed at the start of the rock. After sitting around for over 30mins with almost no movement from the parties already on the rock we decided to abandon our plans to climb the Barre des Ecrins and headed over to the subsidiary summit of the Dôme de Neige des Ecrins.
It was a beautiful day and we head great views in every direction with almost no wind. After the obligatory summit photos and some food, we headed back down to the valley. In the daylight it looked a long way back down to the Glacier Blanc, and it certainly felt it while descending the still frozen snow. We were soon back at the hut, and heading off on the long descent back down to the valley which seemed to go on forever in the ever increasing heat. In total the descent was about 2300m which certainly makes you appreciate the lifts of Chamonix and Valais.
Back in the Valley
Unfortunately on the decent Becky twisted her Ankle so we have had a few rest days which involved an aborted attempt at some more multi pitch climbing and a via ferrata in the Gorge de la Durance. The via ferrata was enjoyable, however since taking up climbing sport via ferratas in the valley don’t seem to have quite have the same excitement.