Text and pictures © 2004-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"Welcome to the employee rock-climbing seminar. You'll learn valuable teamwork skills by doing dangerous things unrelated to your jobs." — Dilbert (1997/8/3).
Left: Barre des Ecrins (4102m) seen from Roc Noir de Combeynot in the morning.
Although the Ecrins Range has only one 4000m peak, it has several classic mountain climbing worthy goals. The highest, la Barre des Ecrins is often just 'climbed' (walked would be a better term) to its fake snow summit dubbed 'Le dôme des Écrins'. The true summit lies a short rockwall above. Via its south face (pictures below), it offers a gigantic 2000m wall with a few classic routes with moderate 5c rock climbing.
Above: Panorama of the Ecrins Range from Roc Noir de Combeynot, above the Lautaret pass. From left to right: Briançon down in the Guisane valley, the Pelvoux (3943m), la Barre des Ecrins (4102m), la Meije, Villar d'Arene down in the Romanche Valley, the Lautaret pass, Italy in the background and the ridge of the Roc Noir de Combeynot.
Left: La Grande Ruine (3765m) seen from Roc Noir de Combeynot in the morning.
Right: La Barre des Ecrins seen from Roc Noir de Combeynot, rising above the evening fog.
Left: Pic Gaspard and La Meije seen from Roc Noir de Combeynot in the evening.
La Meije, is one of the summit with most possibilities: a colorful history of first ascents, a huge south face with more than 20 pitches of bolted 6b above 3500m, a long classic ridge traverse, ice to mixed spring couloirs, various moderate to extreme skiing in the winter, lots of frozen waterfalls at its very bottom and lots more.
Left: Multiple summit ridges towards the Italian border in the morning.
One of the reasons we moved to Briançon was the proximity with Italy, only about 10km away, with a pass open year-round. Although usually it's the italians who come here, fleeing the mass of fog of the Padania. Quite different from the Turinese climate, Briançon is supposedly the sunniest city in France.
Above: Jenny on La Vie Devant Soi (TD+), Palavar-Les-Flots, dalles d'Ailefroide.
Ailefroide offers a different kind of climbing: granite ! But climbers in need of crack will be at a loss there as it's all slab. Trad gear is mostly useless as the routes are well bolted. I need my fix of crack but the proper place to go is quite far away...
Above: 'Snoopy', one of the most classic of all the Ailefroide slabs.
Right: One of the several traverse pitches on 'Marche au supplice', 6c.
Right: Ailefroide seen from the village. It seems logical that the climbing areas are named the same way as the village just below, but it's confusing that some are actually right there at the base of Mt Pelvoux (main summit on the image), while Mt Ailefroide is much farther up the valley. Routes here are famous for a bunch of reasons: it's one of the few granite crags in France, and it's all slab, although the most classic route of all is the 'fissure d'Ailefroide', a century old chimney testpiece.
Right: Normal descent route from the traverse of Mt Pelvoux, shortly before reaching the ground.
Left: River coming down from the Ailefroide valley in autumn (using HDR techniques).
Right: Resting on the field after running up two long routes in an afternoon. No more than 15 minutes per pitch.
Left: Soleil Glacial, Glacier Noir, Ecrins.
Right: Summit of Soleil Glacial, with view on Glacier Noir, Ecrins.
The two main glaciers coming down the Barre des Ecrins are in sharp contrast: one is a pile of rock with hardly any ice visible and the other a more expected snow and crevasse field. The Glacier Noir offers a prime selection of top grade routes in a true alpine setting, but with moderate approaches and usually good weather.
Left: Ice tube carrying water within the Glacier Noir.
Above: Panorama of the Pelvoux, with Le Pré de Mme Carle in the lower left. Massif des Ecrins.
Above: Panorama of the Glacier Noir seen from Aurore Nucléaire (Pic Sans Nom) assembled from 4 21mm shots. Ecrins. From Left to right: Col de la Temple, Pic Coolidge, Barre des Ecrins (south face), barre noire, pic de neige Cordier.
Left: Upper Glacier Noir seen from Aurore Nucléaire, Pic Sans Nom, massif des Ecrins.
Right: Jenny backlighted on the summit of Aurore Nucléaire, Pic Sans Nom, massif des Ecrins.
Aurore Nucléaire is known as 'the classic hard alpine route' round here. I was a little disappointed by it: the last bit of the approach is exposed to lots of rockfalls from the nearby gully, the guy on the party before us fell on the first few wet meters and had to be helicoptered off, the climbing is not sustained (one hard move every once in a while with plenty of easy stuff), there are a lot of rocks just laying about for the rope to push them off...
Above: Panorama of the Glacier Blanc, Ecrins.
Left: Refuge du glacier blanc with the Pelvoux in the background.
Right: A friendly marmot on the trail to the Glacier Blanc.
Left: Refuge du Sélé, Massif des Ecrins.
Right: Glacier du Coup de Sabre, with Sélé glacier in the back, Massif des Ecrins
Sialouze is a large face on the other side of the Pic Sans Nom which hosts Aurore Nucléaire on its other side. Although the approach is much longer, the rock quality is second to none as shown by the quantity of people spread on the various routes. We walked from the parking lot in under 4 hours while all the others stayed at the mountain hut.
Left: Excellent climbing on the South face of Sialouze, massif des Ecrins.
Right: High up Attaque à main armée, Sialouze, Massif des Ecrins.
Left: High up Attaque à main armée, Sialouze, Massif des Ecrins.
Right: Attaque à main armée on the Sialouze slab, Massif des Ecrins.
Left: Rappelling off Sialouze, with Sélé glacier in the back, Massif des Ecrins.
Right: Start of the Emeraude de Droite gully.
Left: Upper part of the Glacier Noir, under the Ailefroide. There are several things called such: this mountain, the glacier on the other side, the tiny summer village down in the valley and the rock slabs above it.
Right: Jerry leading the first delicate pitch of the Emeraude gully. And Agostino is above tossing ice on us from the crux move. It really was 'the international expedition on the Emeraude': 4 people, 3 countries.
Left: Jerry walking on the glacier. Agostino was on skis while Vincent and I were on snowshoes.
Right: In the middle of the Emeraude gully after the end of the difficulty. From there you traverse 100m and then follow a snow slope to the top. This image shows most of the Glacier noir with the prominent Barre des Ecrins smack in the middle, partly sheltered by Peak Coolidge. The Pelvoux starts on the far right.
Left: Jerry finishing the 2nd steep pitch of the gully. We found the route in good conditions, the snow was hard on the easier sections and the ice good but thin. At this belay I tried to place 2 screws without success, hitting the rock after a few cm each time, finally settling on using a sling around a rock sticking out of the ice.
Right: Spindrift raining down on us as we finish the upper and easier section of the route.
Right: Jerry on the summit of the Emeraude gully. From the top of the gully, still a long way from the true summit of Ailefroide, two rappels take you to the Ailefroide glacier and a short climb up shit rock to the Glacier Noir pass. There 400m down a 50° slope I wish I'd had my skis for and we are back to the packs.
Right: Vincent below the start of the right Emeraude gully (right) while the tiny dot on the left is Jerry finishing his descent off the Glacier Noir couloir. The left Emeraude is in the center.
Right: Heading back down.
Left: On the glacier noir, under the Pelvoux.
Right: One of the several icefalls of Villard-Notre-Dame.
Left: Agostino and Jenny making it to the top of the central icefall of Villard. Direct view on the Etendard.
Right: Wet first pitch at Villard.
Left: The same waterfall in summer. Yup. you can climb it, there are 3 routes right next to it.
Right: Rappelling down next to the waterfall.
Left: The first 3 bolts are smashed by falling rocks. The others are good though.
Right: A butterfly which was trying to inseminate my locking binner.
Left: Jenny on the right route next to the waterfall.
Right: Smooth granite.
Left: On the waterfront.
Right: In the background to can see the classic icefalls which we climbed in winter. This waterfall is actually quite dangerous to climb in winter as it's east facing (gets the sun first thing in the morning) and basically free standing for 200m. Every time I winter climbed in the area, some parts of it collapsed.
Left: Last pitch, doing the overhang with water sprayed by the wind. Chalk won't help you there.
Right: Yup, it's wet.
Left: View up the Rochail valley.
Right: Fantastic bivy spot with the Rochail as a potential ski target for the morning.