|South Face of the Dibona|
I was about to be joined by John Young for ten days climbing just as the local, Mt Blanc massif weather forecast had gone awry. A familiar story. It was, however. considerably better down in the Parc Nationale des Ecrins. I suggested to John that we head down there and "warm up" by climbing the south face of the Dibona. John is fundamentally up for any new mountain adventure and just said "lets do it " so off we went.
Yet I had last climbed the Dibona exactly ten years ago and the trouble was I had forgotten that I had forgotten three key parts of my original trip.
We drove from Chamonix leaving in the rain. After a four hour drive we ended up near the end of the remote Berarde valley where we parked the car and set off up the path. The first key thing I had forgotten was how fierce the walk to the Sollier Hut is. A very steep unrelenting 1000 meters plus walk.
The Hut was busy but not too busy. Some work had been done on the infrastructure since I was last here and it was good to be able to take a [albeit cold] shower.
We were keen to grab an early start the next morning because our route, the Madier Climb, is the classic of the Dibona and we didn't want to be all tangled up with other groups. The Hut is a ten minute walk from the start of the climb . If you fell off the climb you would probably land on the roof. We were climbing by about 7.30hrs. Soon passing through the famous tunnel pitch.
|John popping out of the tunnel pitch|
It was several pitches later that I remembered that the climb is a lot longer and considerably more difficult than my memory recalled. Still we climbed on, always on fabulous rock and in sensational situations.
A couple of short rappels from the summit followed by some simple but exposed scrambling lead us to the path which took us pack to the hut. The third thing I had failed to remember is the descent from the hut back to the car is harder work than the ascent. Ultimately a twelve hour leg shredding day. "Some warm up climb" John said.
What to do next ? Well we were down in the Ecrins with a good forecast and it seemed that we should make the most of it. In particular John had never climbed the Barres des Ecrins. [One of the 4000 meter peaks missing from his impressive portfolio.]
|Me with the Barres des Ecrins in the background.|
We secured a reservation in the Barres des Ecrins Refuge [Hut], which was easier than I had anticipated because the flip side to the ease of reservation was that not many people were climbing the the Barres des Ecrins because it was intimidatingly icy and a lot more serious an undertaking than normal- [whatever normal now means in the world of global warming].
We left the road-head at at 10.30hrs and followed a path which was ludicrously busy but after two hours we troughed down a welcome omelette at the Glacier Blanc Refuge. After which we continued plodding on to the Ecrins Refuge. The whole approach walk taking about 4 and half hours.
In this part of the world it is a bit of a tradition for the Hut Guardian to address his guests with an "After Dinner Speech" -a bit of a conditions report and the weather forecast,freezing temperatures etc etc.
It is also the tradition for the Guardian to actually wake people up at their designated breakfast time. Ours was at 3.00am. There were only about 8 of us for the early breakfast.
We were a way by 3.45hrs. Firstly it's all about re-descending about 200vertical meters back down to the glacier. [Global warming] before plodding up the glacier for an hour or so, where the ground rises up sharply and the difficulties commence. Suddenly we knew exactly why there were so few people attempting the peak. It was steep , there was no track, we were surrounded by huge crevasses and it was still dark. We were forced to front-point up some boiler plate hard ice which was distinctly sketchy, while at the same time thinking it its like this all the way , then , we're going to struggle and that is without the no small matter of returning .
We carried on and to our relief the terrain mellowed out and we followed a good track until we arrived just before the Dome des Ecrins. This proved to be another tricky obstacle because all the snow had melted into ice. We had to pitch the final part placing ice screws for protection. We were able to do this in a controlled and considered manner , yet nevertheless it was far harder than what most people would sign up to.
Once we were on the Dome we had to make our way on to the ridge of the Barres des Ecrins. This part of the climb benefited from the dry conditions and the climb to the summit was magnificent. Alpine climbing at its best. We moved quickly along the rocky exposed ridge and were on the summit for 9.00hrs.
|The summit of Les Barres des Ecrins|
|The rapel avoiding the icy slope of ascent in the background|
|Pointing towards Mt Blanc|
|Big crevasses spanned by small snow bridges.|
We reconvened three days later. It seemed sensible to change the emphasis from massive mountain days and explore some of the multi- pitch rock climbing . Firstly we needed to find somewhere that was dry after the apocalyptic rain of the previous days.
We chose to start on the Pantagreul on the Trappistes crag which is near to Sembrancher on the road bewteen Verbier and Martigny.
|Penultimate pitch on the fabulous Pantagreul 6a|
|Col de la Colombiere|
Still a very fine climb to sign off on.