The Chartreuse Range

"In our little journey up to the Grande Chartreuse, I do not remember to have gone ten paces without an exclamation, that there was no restraining: Not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry."    — Thomas Gray.
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Backcountry skiing in Chartreuse


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A frost covered tree on a ski attempt on Chamechaude that ended up in a snowstorm.

Left: A frost covered tree on a ski attempt on Chamechaude that ended up in a snowstorm.


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A panoramic view on Chamechaude from the Pinea.

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Sea of clouds on Grenoble as seen from the summit of the Pinea. Belledonne sticks out of the clouds on the left..

Left: A panoramic view on Chamechaude from the Pinea.

Right: Sea of clouds on Grenoble as seen from the summit of the Pinea. Belledonne sticks out of the clouds on the left.. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


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The monastery of the Grande Chartreuse with the summit of the Grand Som looming above.

Right: The monastery of the Grande Chartreuse with the summit of the Grand Som looming above.

Yes, there's not only a delicious green liquid going by the name of Chartreuse, but also a mountain range, and you guessed it, it's where the liquor is made. Maceration of herbs in alcohol, the green one is the most widespread, the yellow one being a somewhat cheaper and mellower version, and the white one whose recipe has been lost being totally unattainable if you don't own a couple swiss banks. So the liquor takes its name from the area. Which takes its name from the monastery of the 'Grande Chartreuse'. Which takes its name from the Chartreux monks living there silently since the 11th century. Which has nothing to do with the city of Chartres. More or less.


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Reaching the summit ridge of the Grand Som, looking to the north.

Right: Reaching the summit ridge of the Grand Som, looking to the north.


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Looking down on the monastery from the summit of the Grand Som.

Right: Looking down on the monastery from the summit of the Grand Som.


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Going up the classic Chamechaude with a couple hundred others. Every good sunday you can meet hundreds if not thousands of residents of Grenoble who didn't feel like getting up early for a more remote outing. And since it's only about 700m, there are some who run laps up it. Doing it 6 times in a day is not that unusual... Okay, maybe those guys ought to find a girlfriend...

Left: Going up the classic Chamechaude with a couple hundred others. Every good sunday you can meet hundreds if not thousands of residents of Grenoble who didn't feel like getting up early for a more remote outing. And since it's only about 700m, there are some who run laps up it. Doing it 6 times in a day is not that unusual... Okay, maybe those guys ought to find a girlfriend... Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

This low mountain range tops out on Chamechaude at only 2082 meters, with only 2 other summits above 2000, thus the small ski resorts are often hard hit by the lack of snow. On the other hand in summer it's one of the favorite spot for hikers or bikers of all ages in search of wilderness and great limestone scenery. And when it snows, it's right where the northern winds first deposit their snow first, resulting in some surprising and humongous snowfalls.

In other words, it's a favorite destination for ski-mountaineering fanatics who want an early ride before their day of work starts. There are crowds up there in the early morning.


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Just below the summit of Chamechaude, but above the sea of clouds covering Grenoble.

Left: Just below the summit of Chamechaude, but above the sea of clouds covering Grenoble. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


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The Emeindras hut and part of the Belledonne range seen from the summit of Chamechaude.

Right: The Emeindras hut and part of the Belledonne range seen from the summit of Chamechaude.


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The cross sitting atop Chamechaude. Or rather, sitting atop the Chamechaude cross.

Left: The cross sitting atop Chamechaude. Or rather, sitting atop the Chamechaude cross. Image available as a free wallpaper


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Evening outing on Chamechaude, skiing down the avalanche area under the moon.

Right: Evening outing on Chamechaude, skiing down the avalanche area under the moon.


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Looking down into the start of the couloir quasi-rectiligne from the Aulp du Seuil after a dump of lots of fresh snow.

Left: Looking down into the start of the couloir quasi-rectiligne from the Aulp du Seuil after a dump of lots of fresh snow.

So I'm bored at work after days of continuous bad weather. It's dumping tons of snow but the avalanche level is very high, roads are closed and visibility is nil. Surfing on the web I see that this little known couloir has been skied in the morning, so since I already have the skis in the car, I head out of work ahead of rush hour and within 45 minutes I'm partway up the Chartreuse where the trail starts. I quickly pass another skier, but maybe I shouldn't have: the tracks from the morning are mostly gone and if the visibility is now very good, being in the middle of the trees I can't really tell where I have to go. I end up on the wrong trail and when I realize my mistake, instead of turning around I try to cut across a steep forest, hanging on trees most of the time. By the time I get back on the trail (photo below), I'm drenched from sweat but also from all the snow falling on me from the trees I've touched.

The upper part is quite nice as it follows a trail through a maze of narrow ledges. It's not very exposed but you wouldn't want to ski it down. Once on top I quickly discard the idea of doing the classic Virgule gully: too easy. There's so much snow in it that the supposedly 40° is now hardly 35°. Instead let's try one of the variants: 3 very narrow couloirs that seldom have enough snow in them.

I find the start of the first one rather easily and except for a large cornice on top it's easy getting into. 50° with knee-deep fresh snow: I almost have to push on my poles to go down ! Farther down it gets so narrow that my skis are scrapping the rock on each side in a half-pipe of rock. It's more downclimbing than skiing, but I preclude the idea of going straight down as a large tree blocks the bottom of the couloir. After some climbing motion to get around it, with the skis on the branches, I can let it rip in the larger part of the couloir, later getting into the forest. It's not long but it's a pretty fun ride after work. Finally the hardest part was to escape the talkative bar owner after getting a beer on the parking lot !


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On the trail towards the Aulp du Seuil. The tracks from the morning are already mostly covered. The way up crosses behind the central pine tree into an ingenious system of ledges. The easiest way down, into the 'Couloir en Virgule', is mostly hidden behind the right side of the central tower.

Right: On the trail towards the Aulp du Seuil. The tracks from the morning are already mostly covered. The way up crosses behind the central pine tree into an ingenious system of ledges. The easiest way down, into the 'Couloir en Virgule', is mostly hidden behind the right side of the central tower.


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Agostino and Co during a tour of the Charmant Som (1867m).

Right: Agostino and Co during a tour of the Charmant Som (1867m).


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A bit steep and covered in vegetation on the west side of the Charmant Som.

Left: A bit steep and covered in vegetation on the west side of the Charmant Som.


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Going up the west side of the Pinea (1771m).

Right: Going up the west side of the Pinea (1771m).


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Getting near the summit of the Pinea.

Left: Getting near the summit of the Pinea. Image available as a free wallpaper


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Skiing down in deep powder in the light woods of the east face of the Pinea, down to Le Croz.

Right: Skiing down in deep powder in the light woods of the east face of the Pinea, down to Le Croz.



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Cooling off at the Glesy waterfall after climbing at the site on a hot after-work summer evening.

Rock climbing

An interesting observation is that the name 'Chartreuse', itself of mysterious etymology (maybe from the city of Chartres, but maybe not), has led by a process of folk etymology to the english word 'Chapterhouse', used to describe the same kind of convent as the one central to the geography and history of this small mountain range.

Right: Cooling off at the Glesy waterfall after climbing at the site on a hot after-work summer evening.


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A panoramic view on the Belledonne range across the Isere valley while climbing at St Pancrace. Grenoble is in the right part of the valley.

Left: A panoramic view on the Belledonne range across the Isere valley while climbing at St Pancrace. Grenoble is in the right part of the valley. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation



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Looking south towards the Lorzier rock and the Hurtiere pass from the summit of the Grande Sure.

Grande Sure, Dent de Crolles...


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The ever classic ski tour of Chamechaude seen from the Grande Sure, in summer.

Right: Looking south towards the Lorzier rock and the Hurtiere pass from the summit of the Grande Sure.

Left: The ever classic ski tour of Chamechaude seen from the Grande Sure, in summer.


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The Faita ski tour inn Chartreuse, so easy as to push on the poles the entire way down, if it wasn't for a shortcut with excellent powder snow.

Right: The Faita ski tour inn Chartreuse, so easy as to push on the poles the entire way down, if it wasn't for a shortcut with excellent powder snow.


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The summit sheep of the Grande Sure. Apparently during winter 2009 this sheep was on the summit all winter. I guess it decided against the slaughterhouse. It watched me curiously when I launched into the west couloir. Nice sweater by the way.

Left: The summit sheep of the Grande Sure. Apparently during winter 2009 this sheep was on the summit all winter. I guess it decided against the slaughterhouse. It watched me curiously when I launched into the west couloir. Nice sweater by the way. Image available as a free wallpaper


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Parasail taking off from the Dent de Crolles for an evening flight.

Right: Parasail taking off from the Dent de Crolles for an evening flight.


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Standing atop the summit cross of the Dent de Crolles, dominating Grenoble.

Left: Standing atop the summit cross of the Dent de Crolles, dominating Grenoble.


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Standing on a gendarme during an evening walk to the Dent de Crolles.

Above: Standing on a gendarme during an evening walk to the Dent de Crolles.


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Panorama of the Grande Sure from Charmille. From left to right: Petite Vache, Grande Vache, Sure pass, Grande Sure and Cul de Lampe down below.

Above: Panorama of the Grande Sure from Charmille. From left to right: Petite Vache, Grande Vache, Sure pass, Grande Sure and Cul de Lampe down below.



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Fred hiking in the chaos of blocks known as the 'chaos de Bellefond'.

Chaos of Bellefond


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Lance de Mallisart visible behind.

Right: Fred hiking in the chaos of blocks known as the 'chaos de Bellefond'.

Left: Lance de Mallisart visible behind.


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Fred standing on rock spire with part of the Chartreuse ridge and Belledonne in the background.

Right: Fred standing on rock spire with part of the Chartreuse ridge and Belledonne in the background.


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Summit of the Lance de Mallissart.

Left: Summit of the Lance de Mallissart.


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Rocher du midi: nice rock, hard routes.

Right: Rocher du midi: nice rock, hard routes.


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One of the many caves of the karstic Chartreuse range. A barely readable sign at the entrance says 'Exit 22km'. If you are lucky to go that far.

Left: One of the many caves of the karstic Chartreuse range. A barely readable sign at the entrance says 'Exit 22km'. If you are lucky to go that far. Image available as a free wallpaper



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The scientific 'polygon', where I do work when I'm not off climbing, seen from the Neron. The ring is the ESRF synchrotron. The rivers Drac and Isère merge right after.

The Neron

Right: The scientific 'polygon', where I do work when I'm not off climbing, seen from the Neron. The ring is the ESRF synchrotron. The rivers Drac and Isère merge right after. Image available as a free wallpaper


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The Neron is the obvious ridge north of Grenoble, the southernmost part of the Chartreuse. There are some adventurous hikes on it, a few ancient climbs and a few recent illegal routes. It's been more or less off limits since a major fire in the '90s.

Left: The Neron is the obvious ridge north of Grenoble, the southernmost part of the Chartreuse. There are some adventurous hikes on it, a few ancient climbs and a few recent illegal routes. It's been more or less off limits since a major fire in the '90s.


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Panorama of Grenoble from the Neron.

Right: Panorama of Grenoble from the Neron.

There are some rock climbs on the Neron, as featured in the new guidebook. But, first, they are illegal since the big 2003 fire (the terrain has been weakened) and, second, the rock is not very good.



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The north face of Granier as seen from the namesake pass. The NW pillar is right below the summit, the route following the crack system a few pixels left of the shade/sun limit.

The Granier


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The 3rd pitch of the NW pillar of Granier is one of the most impressive ever: a traverse from an easy ledge right above 400m of vertical rotten rock. Committing and right in view of Chambery.

Right: The north face of Granier as seen from the namesake pass. The NW pillar is right below the summit, the route following the crack system a few pixels left of the shade/sun limit.

Left: The 3rd pitch of the NW pillar of Granier is one of the most impressive ever: a traverse from an easy ledge right above 400m of vertical rotten rock. Committing and right in view of Chambery.

The Granier, at 1933m, is the northernmost summit of the Chartreuse range. Its austere north face dominates the city of Chambery and that's probably the reason why climbers such as Yannick Seigneur put up some routes on it as early as the 60s, never mind the less than optimal rock quality. Let's be honest, the marlstone lower part of the cliff is absolutely rotten, and nowadays the few climbers going up it use the sloping ledge halfway up in order to reach the slightly better rock higher up. A pair of crampons is recommended for the ledge traverse !!!

Testimony to the poor rock quality, this 900m face appeared in 1248, when half of the mountain fell off in the valley below, wiping out five entire villages and causing an estimated 5000 dead, covering a 6x7km area with up to 40m thick of rock... Probably the biggest landslide in historic times in Europe.


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The north face itself as seen from the summit. The rock is worse than it looks, but on the NW pillar it wasn't too bad: the easy parts were rotten while the hard parts were wet. Pick your poison. Yeah, that's Mt Blanc in the distance.

Right: The north face itself as seen from the summit. The rock is worse than it looks, but on the NW pillar it wasn't too bad: the easy parts were rotten while the hard parts were wet. Pick your poison. Yeah, that's Mt Blanc in the distance.