View topic - Climbing in the French Alps

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PostPosted: August 12th, 2014, 7:13 am 
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Pictures for those who don't like text.

Text for those who don't mind it.

My first "hike" was with a French guide I hired before leaving Montreal. There were two of us clients, who had never met, and the guide. The fee was steep (about 350 each for two days, which included the hike in to the hut on day one and excluded the hut fees) but I was told the French guides are the best and I didn't mind paying to get myself safely into a totally unique high alpine environment.

My wife Sylvie slept later and did a hike and we got out of bed at 4am along with just about everybody in the hut. After a quick breakfast we were underway at 4:30 hiking up a series of switchbacks to the nevé and steep rock above. The nevé was like concrete and with crampons we made excellent time. All around the valley we could see headlamps of other groups headed out to various climbs. Way above our hut another one was perched atop a massive promontory of sheer rock but was accessible from the glacier. We could see lights twinkling from there too.

The sky got light and there was not a cloud in the sky. We reached the actual technical climbing, stowed the poles and crampons and roped up. I was nervous although I trusted the guide 100%. The views were breathtaking in all directions, especially the rock immediately in front of me. I was pretty confident of my climbing skills but was still nervous. The guide went first on about 100 feet of rope and then I went second. My partner was roped in 15 feet behind me. I was in the middle being the least experienced and that was fine with me. The guide drew in the rope as I ascended. I moved well and fairly fluidly on this easy pitch and remembered and used all I learned with Nanga on recent slide climbs.

Once we cleared the first pitch we broke into full sunshine and the rock was nice and warm. We saw 2 parties ascending the "Rateau de la Meije", which was all snow and ice with a massive drop off a cliff if you slipped.

The climbing got steeper and steeper. The guide alternated between using simple belay stances and "corde raide", which referred to the entire rope moving as a unit. The rope rarely went slack and I had to signal for "du mou" (slack) a few times. I liked not being babysat and had to find my own lines and solve my own problems. My rope mate gave me some pointers and so did the guide when we were grouped together. There was some massive exposure on a fairly straightforward route with little overall difficulty (about a sustained 5.4, 5.5) and the guide protected those airy parts.

The summit was spectacular and we shared it with another rope from England. The leader picked the guide's brain for beta on another route down but the guide was very vague and evasive. The descent surprised me being much steeper but we downclimbed (mostly face down with palms below the levels of our butts, so it looked harder than it really was. Here I grew tense and hugged the rock too much. The guide and the other client were very good and if I had to go back again I'm sure I would ace it. We reached a glacier, which we duck-walked down into a notch (une brèche) and then it was all over. We got back to the hut after 8 hours of climbing and enjoyed refreshments and food before the 3 hour hike out to the cars through gorgeous mountain scenery.

Every valley has at east one hut with full food and beverage service so climbers (and hikers) can carry smaller, lighter packs. It's about $50-60 pp a night if you go with full meal service but you can cook your own food on the picnic tables outside or you can camp and still use the facilities and/or avail yourself to meals. Alcohol is fairly inexpensive (wine, beer) and soft drinks are almost the same price at $5 a pop. (3 Euros).


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PostPosted: August 12th, 2014, 7:22 am 
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Joined: February 17th, 2014, 11:51 am
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Great report. Nice to live vicariously through your adventure. (loved the pictures as well)


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PostPosted: August 12th, 2014, 11:50 am 
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Location: Bancroft, Ontario Canada
Great report, both the written and photo. I like the patterns of trails worn into gravel and snow... the photo of the trail through snow with the tiny figures climbing is super.

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PostPosted: August 12th, 2014, 1:39 pm 
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Joined: June 20th, 2001, 7:00 pm
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Location: Scarbados, Ontario Canada
Neat, and so different from canoeing or even hiking in the eastern mountains. Got the view from the top, looking across all the other peaks and ranges around you?

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PostPosted: August 12th, 2014, 10:34 pm 
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Location: Picton, Ontario Canada
WOW!!! ...for the pictures & the description!!! What a wonderful (if "airy") experience!!!


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