Text and pictures © 2007-2016 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/12/20
"Belladonna /n/ in Italian, beautiful lady; in English, a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential similarity of the two languages." — Ambrose Bierce.
The Belledonne range is a minor mountain range which dominates the view eat of Grenoble. Although its main summit, the Grand Pic, is not very high at 2977m, the local weather ensures that the range receives a healthy amount of snow most winters. The wart visible on top of the summit closest from Grenoble is part of the downhill ski resort of Chamrousse which is located barely outside the outskirt of the city. For this reason every winter weekend, hordes of city people head for some skiing and lots of queuing, later coming back grumbling about never going back there again... until the following weekend. I must say that with only half and hour of driving it's a strong incentive to stay in bed late before heading for you white powder fix.
Left: The accesses to the peaks of Belledonne always involve some forest crossing. But the problem is not usually with the pine trees but more with what is normally called 'vern', low laying bushes, completely covered by snow or avalanches in good years and blocking the descents on warm years.
Right: Jenny in the powder snow towards Orionde.
Does the name of Belledonne has to do with pretty women and the proximity of Italy ? No idea. What it does provide is a wide variety of peaks for backcountry skiing. Out of the 16 peaks higher than 2500m, only a few have resorts on them. It may seem like the perfect wilderness, but there are relatively few access points to the range. On our first trip we were really surprised to find the road above Prabert covered with deep snow, very narrow, but nonetheless open for traffic and filled for kms with unstably parked cars after having raced to get as high as possible before getting stuck in the snow.
Left: Evening outing after work.
The Grand Pic has been skied (twice ?) but its rocky nature keeps it for summer hikes. On the other hand, its barely lower twin peak 'La Croix de Belledonne' is a classic winter tour. There are some glaciers in the range, but most are nothing more than permanent snowfields and you'll be hard pressed to find crevasses anywhere except maybe on the Freydane glacier. No road crosses the range, keeping it pretty remote and wild although it's on the outskirt of a city of 150000 people. In recent years a few wolves seem to have returned to the area, at least temporarily.
Right: Reaching the Mollard hut on an evening ski outing up the Sabottes (the minor summit on the left).
Left: Chamrousse, the ski resort closest to Grenoble (under the clouds), after 40cm of fresh snow on november 11th. Thousands of backcountry skiers rush to the still closed slopes.
Right: Chamrousse only slightly less crowded than during peak season.
Left: The Grand Van, unlike its name indicates is a minor summit easily reached from the slopes of the ski resort of Chamrousse. Summit is reached in less than an hour.
Right: Agostino warming up from the storm thanks to a bottle of wine. That's poor thinking as the others were better prepared: they'd packed up mulled wine in thermos bottles.
Right: Deep cold snow on the Grand Sorbier.
Right: Skiers at the Breche de Roche Fendue, just below the summit of the Ferrouillet.
Above: Below the summit of Orionde.
Above: The Chartreuse visible in the background of this panorama of the summit of Orionde.
Above: Panoramic view of Belledonne from the Mt St Mury.
Above: The Belledonne range as seen from the Chartreuse.
Above: 360° panorama from the summit of the Ferrouillet (2587m).
Above: Panorama of Belledonne performed from the summit of Pt 2232. The flat summit on the right is the Dome of Chamrousse.
Above: The Grand Sorbier as seen from the summit of the Grand Van.
Right: A view on the Grand Galbert, part of the Taillefer range. The obvious couloir slanting left of the summit is one of the most sought-after extreme skiing in the area: 1700m above 50°, including a 15m section at 70° which has never been skied. Because of its low altitude, conditions are rarely met for a good and safe descent. I've done one attempt so far.
Right: The north part of Belledonne as seen from Belle Etoile. The valley on the left leads to Chambery.
Right: The Crozet lake on the way towards the Grand Pic de Belledonne.
Above: The frozen Domenon lakes, a short distance from the summit of Belledonne (behind center). The summit of Domene is on the left. This way up Belledonne is not the most interesting. It's mostly flat, long and with tedious traverses.
Above: The cross on the summit of the secondary summit of the highest peak of Belledonne, dubbed 'La croix de Belledonne'. Behind the cross is the Grand Pic, barely 50m higher.
Left: Complete view of the Belledonne range from the Vercors, to the west. On the lower right is the Dome of Chamrousse, marking the southern end of the range. The Etendard peak, part of the farther Grandes Rousses range, is in the background.
Left: The Grand Pic de Belledonne, highest summit of the range, as seen from Balmette. Balmette pass is between the 2 peaks and is a classic ski tour.
Right: Balmette pass. On the way down my skis start feeling sluggish and when I get to the card I understand why: the sandwich structure is separating: they are completely bent with no elasticity left. After 12 years, RIP my Dynastar Vertical 4x4, it's time for a change.
Right: A view on the east side of Grandes Rousses from the summit of Belle Etoile.
Right: A panorama of the south Belledonne range.
Left: La Plagne Vaumart, on the way up to the Arguille rock.
Right: Going up the Vaumart valley. This was my first steep skiing in a good 10 years, and rather unplanned too.
Left: The south couloir of Rocher d'Arguille, a 5.3 couloir with some steep 50° at the top and sustained. And that's only the upper part, the lower part is almost as steep and even longer.
Right: Going over a shoulder to access the Arguille couloir.
Left: Crampon time to get up the couloir itself with the snow not quite transformed yet.
Above: A view on the northern Belledonne range: Petite Valloire, Pointes de la Porte Eglise, Comberousse, Puy Gris, Grande Valloire...
Above: The Belledonne range as seen from Chamechaude in the Chartreuse
Left: Seb on an even steeper variant of the start of the couloir.
Right: While he's posing for the pictures, I am almost freaking out in the first few meters of the couloir. First, it's been a good 10 years since my last steep skiing. Then it's 50° on snow that hasn't quite gotten enough sun yet to transform and is still quite hard. Then I have brand new skis. And finally I have to try to hold steady so I can take a few pictures.
Left: A little farther down the couloir is in excellent conditions and we join Emanuele who was waiting down there.
Right: The middle part provides mental relaxation before the last bit: just 500 more meters of 45°.
Right: And Emanuele getting close to the bottom.
Left: Emanuele having reached the bottom.
Left: A year later in the same couloir I meet two skiers going up the narrow gully in what must be a record attempt at the most number of conversions during an ascent...
Right: In a nearby area, the Great Peak of Belledonne seen from Excellence Peak where an excellent (hah!) and very well hidden couloir awaits the interested skier.
Right: The upper half of the Arguille couloir seen from the distance. It starts right of the summit and goes diagonally down towards the left snow fields.
Above: The Crop lake and the surrounding summits: the Ferrouillet (left), Colomb, Grand Replomb (in the sun) and Barlet (also in the sun), the latter being a great destination for a morning trip before heading to work.
Above: The other side of the Ferrouillet seen from the Sifflet, another excellent steep and short couloir done before heading to work.
Left: The lower and easy Orionde Peak seen from the summit of the Barlet. From where I am there are 4 ways down, starting at 45°. I'll pick the one in worst conditions...
Right: The Grand Replomb seen from Barlet. There's a classic couloir hidden on the right.
Left: The north-west couloir of the Barlet. If you look closely you can see my tracks from the summit, but although the east couloir was excellent, this one was hard-packed and exposed.
Right: Nicolas on the summit of the Sifflet in early morning.
Left: 50° in the Sifflet on powder snow, but the snow all goes down after each curve and there's nothing left for me !
Right: The Grand Colon.
Right: Going up the Grand Colon, with plenty of people on the summit already.
Above: Panorama taken from the summit of Grand Colon, showing the dark Grand Pic in the distance, Grande Lance de Domene and pic Coutet on the left, Grande Lauziere and Domenon on the right.
Left: Sitre lac and the hut of the same name as seen from the start of the ridge. In the background, the Vercors dominating Grenoble and the Chartreuse on the right.
In the computing groups at work, at least half of the various admins and programmers are climbers. That's what you get for living in Grenoble. And it goes a long way to explain why the rock of the closest cliffs are worn smooth. So from many conversations This route stood out as 'something interesting, with a good view and very long. We came back at midnight!'. Having just accomplished some milestone on a project, I take a day off and start off not particularly early but very light. It's 4th class, so I'm taking my climbing shoes.
Above: Grand Lance de Domene seen from the small one. The lake on the left is the Lac Blanc and the glacier below the summit is called Sitre.
Right: Wide angle view from the summit of Grand Lance de Domene: Mt Blanc, Lac Blanc, Grand pic de Belledonne.
Right: Petite Lance de Domene seen from the Sitre glacier which I used as a descent. A shitty descent: it's an unstable pile of mid-size blocks which roll over as soon as you step on them.
I can't find the start of the route as described in the guidebook, but it doesn't matter as everything looks equivalent: a 3rd class scramble... to the top of the first summit with the long winded name of Petite Lance de Domene. A short way down to a pass before continuing onto the big one. Nothing harder and only a few exposed moves to reach this scenic summit which I skied a couple months back.
Left: A field full of Rumex Acetosa, an alpine cousin of sorrel and very common at that whose leaves are good to make wrappers around for instance barley. It used to be called the Monk's salad, but is now entirely forgotten. Pretty good to eat though.
On the way down there are many options and I choose the shortest, but far from the wisest: going down the unstable pile of rocks of the Sitre glacier where I keep falling down with piles of rolling boulders and escape with sharp scratches all over my legs. I'm back at home for lunch, having to figure out what to do for the afternoon. No, scratch that, I'll update the site, as usual.
Right: Deep snow on the Rocher Blanc.
Right: Agostino tracing ahead in fresh snow near the summit of the Rocher Blanc.
Above: Panorama from the summit of the Rocher Blanc, beginning the ski descent. From left to right: rocher Badon, Rocher d'Arguille, Aiguilles de l'Argentiere...
Right: The Belledonne range is mostly known for its backcountry skiing, but it also has a few hidden ice-climbing spots, like this one at the Boulon.
Left: Jenny nearing the end of a 60m pitch of good ice.
Right: Two pitches out of 4 and it gets way too hot in the sun, the ice is melting like an italian ice-cream. Early march is a bit late to climb at such low altitude maybe...
Left: A view of 3 of the main waterfalls of the Boulon.
Right: Long boring approach on closed road.
Left: Long ridge, but now we can see the summit.
Right: The Grands Moulins, with the couloir clearly visible in the middle. The steep section in the middle looks doable.
Left: We put the crampons on before the steep section and keep them until the summit.
Left: As usual, Agostino tracing the entire way, never mind the 50cm of powder snow.
Right: View of Belledonne from the Grands Moulins.
Right: Agostino launching the first curve.
Left: A steepness made almost relaxing by the quality and depth of the powder.
Right: End of the gully, we made it.
Left: A view of the couloir, afterwards, with our tracks visible with the low-angle sun.
Right: Interesting snow conditions at the Eglise Point.
Left: Agostino still trying to ski up the base of the head slope.
Left: Ready to go.
Right: Our track is barely visible hundred of meters below.
Left: Agostino jumping the summit cornice.
Right: Incredible powder in the couloir.
Left: A year later in the same place.
Right: Skiers facing the Grandes Lanches.
Left: Well formed icefalls next to the Oule hut.