Text and pictures © 2007-2021 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"How to fall on a slab ? I would say facing the rock and sliding on ya feet, there's always a chance they'll grip and save you. I prefer to close my eyes — I can't stand to see people getting hurt — especially me..." — Robin Soper.
Left: Double rainbow above the town of Grenoble.
Right: Map of the mountain ranges around Grenoble (Landsat 7 pseudocolor image).
Housing more than 150 thousand people, Grenoble is the biggest french city located in the Alps. Many call it the capital of the Alps, but I'll wait a while before giving it this arrogant qualifier, although that makes for a nice shortcut.
The region around it, the Dauphiné is named, for obscure historical reasons, after an ocean mammal never seen in those mountainous parts. And the other paradox is that this mountain city is also considered the flattest city in France: you can bike around the whole town without ever having to change gear. This is due to the fact that at the end of the last glacial age the whole valley was the bottom of a lake, making it a great place to bike or skate to work; and indeed on fair weather days, you have to slalom your way between racing bike teams, other swerving with their shopping bags on the handlebar, unstable roller skaters, sweaty joggers on the wrong side of the track, old timers taking a stroll with their dogs on a 10m leash across the track, dogs running around without leash, kids crossing the path in a run, overhanging ferns blocking the view, maintenance crews with large blades chopping some of aforementioned ferns...
Left: Lightning strike during a spring thunderstorm.
Right: A view on my way to work from the bike path. This is virtually downtown Grenoble, with its 55MW nuclear
toyresearch reactor and the rock ridge of the Neron towering 1000m above the city floor and leading the path to the rest of the Chartreuse range.
Two medium rivers, the Drac and the Isère converge in the city a few hundred meters from where I work. In most cities such a peninsula would be considered prime real estate. In Grenoble it's a huge playing field for scientists where research laboratories are mixed up with
toyexperimental nuclear power plants, universities packed up with foreign students, high tech companies experimenting in nanotech, giant particle accelerators, secret military compounds and lots more. In recent years most of the 'hot' nuclear stuff has been removed, leaving only one experimental reactor. Yup, I sometimes work in there, let's hope there won't be too many bugs in my programs...
Above: The city of Grenoble seen from the Tour Sans Venin on the side of the Vercors. The range on the left is the Chartreuse with the Neron clearly visible as the large rock ridge in the middle. Belledonne covers the snowed mountains in the center. The Taillefer is the massive bulk just right of Belledonne.
Above: A night panorama of Grenoble taken from La Tour Sans Venin.
As stated above, Grenoble is in the middle of the mountains, and the different ranges are pretty obvious from downtown. To the north you have the Chartreuse range and its very obvious summits of the Neron (like the emperor) and the Bastille (like the Paris jail of the Marquis De Sade and countless others). To the east you have the Belledonne range and its good skiing. To the south-east you'll find the wide bulk of the Taillefer. Barely visible to the south is the beginning of the Devoluy. All along the west side are the cliffs limiting access to the Vercors plateau, main place of the resistance to the Nazi. And if that is not enough, a short drive will take you in direction of Briançon to access the Oisans and the Ecrins national park, or towards the north Chambery, the Beauges, the Vanoise...
Left: Agostino climbing at La Poyat.
Right: Jenny rappelling at the industrial cliff of Fontaine. Better go late after all the garbage trucks have stopped bringing their lore right underneath !
There are plenty of local crags around Grenoble, several are very near but their main drawback, besides city noise, is that some have been used so much that the rock is worn off and slippery as hell. Add to this some old grading wars between groups of first ascenders and the unreliability of the ratings will leave you on the ground. Or make you return to it quickly. There's a 6b I had to (strongly) aid my way up, while I managed to on-sight some 7a on another cliff. Go figure.
Left: Espace Comboire is one of those urban cliffs where it would be easy to forget you are close to the city if it wasn't for the constant noise of the highway and the supermarket loudspeaker calls right below. The settings itself is nice for after-work climbing, in the middle of the woods above the river with a 5 minutes approach and 3-pitch routes.
Right: 'Les Trois Pucelles' (the 3 virgins), a notorious rock sticking out above Grenoble and marking the entrance to the Vercors plateau. There are some funny place names. There is a saying here that goes something like: 'Si tu montes les Deux Soeurs, tu verras les Trois Pucelles, Seyssins, Montcul et le Rocher de Fesse'. An interesting perspective... The Taillefer is visible in the back.
Right: Some abandoned farms in the hills surrounding Grenoble, with a view on the Chartreuse. I pass there almost every morning on my mountain bike when going to work.
Left: Rappel at Fontaine.
Right: Coming down from the Vercors there are many mountain-bike paths, usually taken by lazy bums who ride the bus on the way up. The Neron is on the left with Belledonne covering most of the horizon.
Left: One of the large dihedrals of Les Lames.
Right: Ago on a 6c slab route with an evil finish move, still one of the easiest face climbs at Les Lames.
'Les Lames' is one of the most renown local crags of Grenoble, just a few minutes ride from the city on the foot of the Chartreuse. It's known mostly for its hard routes, which explains why we didn't go there earlier... The cliff consist of a succession of slabs of rock forming large dihedrals. The slabs themselves are quite smooth and provide hard routes (8a and more), the dihedrals themselves have the easiest routes, and the left sides of the dihedral have more holds but are overhanging, usually with a crack splitting them in the middle. Pick your poison.
Right: Jenny on an excellent overhanging hand crack.
Left: The same crack seen from the side. In the background are some heinous slabs.
Warning: a rock slide happened right above the cliff in 2011 and it is now way too dangerous to climb there: most trees below have been uprooted by huge rocks and there are continuous rockfalls from above. DO NOT CLIMB THERE.
Right: A sweaty Agostino chalks it up.
Right: Jenny on the lefmost and easiest route of l'Abattoir, the slabby Extrême gauche, D3).
Left: Jenny on the rightmost route of l'Abattoir (D5), wrestling with a steep overhang.
There used to be 3 dry-climbing spots near Grenoble, but one at La Poya recently got transformed into a standard rock-climbing cliff. The remaining two are L'Abattoir near Meaudre up in the Vercors and l'Usine down in the valley at Voreppe.
Right: Trying a Yaniro.
Left: Agostino on his first time dry-climbing.
Right: Stas on the slabby Les chiens de la casse (D4), where the ice on that day plugged a critical hole in the crux.
Left: Stas on Mefiate (D6).
Right: The other dry-climbing spot of Grenoble, down in the valley: l'Usine of Voreppe. Here the warming up route.
Left: Jenny on the warming up route.