For our last adventure day we decided to go easy on ourselves and following Jerry’s advice we went to check out the artificial outdoors ice wall at Aiguilles.
It’s a village around 1 hour drive in where, almost at the center of it the locals installed artificial ice climbing wall. There is no walking, plenty of ice – something for everyone!
The way it is setup is dead simple: there are water hoses installed at the top of the cliffs that sprinkle/drip water. That water freezes, creating all sort of ice formations at different angles. From 90deg vertical walls to less steep, more beginner friendly lines. The overflow goes directly to the river at the base of the cliff.
The wall is around 30 meters tall in it’s highest point. There are 3 or 4 sectors along the river. Room for 20+ people to climb at once. Access is ensured by fixed ropes, but leading is also possible. The tops are equipped with number of bolted anchors for easy setup. Water hoses can be easily moved so you don’t have to get shower with water as you go.
When we arrived there was already around 10 people climbing on the most far right hand side of the crag, so we ‘claimed’ the middle section. Set up couple of top ropes and picked the most outrageous, steep and overhanging lines we could come up with. After all, it’s top rope – and it’s all about testing the limits.
Around lunch time we relocated to the right hand side sector where friendly locals let use their ropes (while they went out for a lunch break).
We quickly clocked in as many laps as we could.
Sarah decided to try one of the bolted dry tooling routes so we quickly tied in and send her off. There are good couple of lines of this type – ranging from M5 to M-VERY_HARD.
Peter also gave it a go, sending it to the top with only one break. Not bad for a novice in this kind of discipline.
After that the locals got back and we decided to just go home. The long week and steep lines of this crag took its toll. We were all wrecked.
Evening was spend with the final game of K2, the board game, where we were trying to not kill our little climbers… With little to no success this time.
Today Sarah, Ronan and I are flying back to Dublin, while Peter is driving to Chamonix for another week of adventures (skiing this time) with his brother and his friends.
Because of our long day 2 days ago I’m delayed in doing the write-ups. I’ll try to keep it brief.
For our 5th outing we decided to do it differently. Sarah and Ronan set off early as per our usual routine. They decided to get back to Freissineieres to do the routes they missed on the previous day (main focus on “Ice Pocalypse”, WI4).
Peter and I were still tired from Day4 mini-epic so we decided to take it slow and perhaps check out some other places. We left around 10 and drove towards Fournel. Unfortunately it quickly became clear that our little ‘Black Lion’ couldn’t make it far into the valley (even with snow chains on) and we just gave up (since we didn’t want to waste too much time).
We hatched a plan of late start at Freissineieres, which would mean that we could be climbing Ice Pocalypse (that is the route number 3, left hand side on the Y split, on picture on previous blog) alone, since the morning crowds would be mostly over.
And that exactly what we did. We showed up at the bottom of the route around 1pm, and all the parties (car park was full, 6 or 7 cars!) were queuing at the bottom of the top pitch, or already abseiling.
We decided to swap the pitches (since I did the 1st one last time), so Peter went 1st now , then I did the 2nd.
When I reached the anchors we met Sarah and Ronan, who just abseiled off the 3rd pitch and were getting ready to move right on final pitch of Happy Together route (right hand side).
As we expected the crowds were all nearly gone, so Peter grabbed the lead again and finished our route on fairly traveled out P3. It was a long one, and definitely crux pitch, when in condition graded WI4+. Another fantastic performance by Peter.
By then our friends were also done and we all met up by the base.
Evening was spent in a company of our host Jerry Gore, who is not only very friendly, knowledgeable (about the area, but also all sorts of climbing & adventures in general) and accommodating, but also accomplished climber & mountain guide himself he understands the needs of people like us – regular weekend warriors.
We picked Jerry’s brain about possible suggestions and ideas for our last day (in light of less than favorable weather forecast).
We actually got to talk to him almost every day (and not only about ‘what to do next day’, but also about general climbing & life stuff), and I got to say I’m very impressed with the way it worked out. Having access to a local climbing legend on daily basis is indispensable on short trips like this one. I probably will do a separate post on ‘picking the best accommodation for climbing trip’, but for me personally I’ll be always looking for places affiliated/owned with/by mountain people.
Anyway – the consensus for our last day was to try to visit the artificial single pitch Ice crag in the village around 1h drive from Vallouise. I’ll write it up on how it went in my next entry (tomorrow).
Spoiler alert: nobody got injured this time.
WToday we drove to Freissinières Valley, with intention to climb one of the shorter and quite popular route in the area: Happy Together or Ice Pocalypse (both around WI4, 100m), but changed our mind after 2 pitches of Happy Together and took the right varian that brought us up to up on 550m WI5 epic: Au-delà des ombres (eng:” Beyond the shadows”). We did 85% of the route (skipping last 3 pitches, do to late hour) – had to retreat around 3pm to make it to the ground before dark – it’s not easy to navigate 480m of abseils in unknown terrain in the dark.
According to the guidebook, the route climbs in 12 pitches, but as it is with ice climbing, these things are never set.
I’ll do detailed (pitch by pitch) write up tomorrow, as it’s pretty late now, and we are very tired right now. Either way the whole thing turned into somewhat epic, with a lot of simul-climbing, near lead fall on 90deg steep terrain, bloody face after meeting with falling ice, series of dodgy abseils on dubious V-Threads, stuck rope on rock roof… to name just few.
Luckily we got both safely to the ground just before it got dark.
As I said yesterday here’s how the route went. Pitch by pitch.
We showed up at the bottom of the route at around 9am (it’s 30 min walk from the car park, mind the steep walk in right up the avalanche path) with intention to climb Ice Pocalypse (WI4, nr 4 on the map above or Happy Together (WI4, nr3).
The area is so busy that once I did the pitch 1 (WI3),
and Peter did the 2nd one via it’s steepest line (WI3+/4), we decided to take the right turn (Happy Together), and perhaps see what was beyond.
I did that 3rd pitch (WI3+/4 55m, easy with 10-15m at 85 °).
But since we only had 50m ropes I essentially run it till end of the rope and belayed from 2 poor screws and an ice axe.
This marked the end of Happy Together route. To our surprise there was no one here ( except from 2 French guys who passed us on P1, everyone must have gone the other route, to the left) and it seems like an adventure in the making.
For P4 we agreed that Peter will climb the remaining 10m of the pitch, see what’s beyond and if it’s easy enough we’ll simul-climb for as long as possible. It turned out to be probably 2.5 rope lengths (so over 100m) of easy enough terrain (some small ice steps and a lot of snow slopes, where Peter was only able to put 2 pieces of protection.
For non climbing readers: simul climbing, or moving together, is a technique where both climbers climb at the same time, with the full rope length in between them. No one is belaying and the protection is ensured by whatever the leader will put (sparsely), but generally falling of is rather not recommended.
When I got the tree which marked the last protection we had (seen on above picture on the right) and belayed Peter from there (since he was already at the base of the start of the next bit of steep ice. (there was an option to climb the pillar (seen in the middle of the photo above), but we opted to just take the bit of ice on the right (since we still had loads of terrain to cover [we werent sure how much exactly, it later turns out to be 300 more meters] to go and were time cautious.
Peter quickly disappeared around the corner and I could only be giving rope… 50 meters went and I could just start climbing once there was no more rope to give out. Communications wasn’t possible, as he obviously was traversing out of sight and reach of sound. We have procedures for situations like that, so it was all standard for us at this point.
What wasn’t standard was what I’ve seen after ascending the small bit of ice – a small, very exposed mixed traverse. The thing about traversing, is that even if you go second and have a rope, with sparse protection put by the leader a fall means a massive swing…
The rope stayed tight as I was moving, so I knew Pete found a belay and we were going to be ok (aka won’t die).
We quickly did a swap of gear and I set of for another rope length of easy enough terrain (WI3 or so).
Peter’s belay, we swapped here and I moved for as much rope I had.
I brought Peter up, we swapped over again and agreed to move together once the rope gets tight, should the terrain be easy enough again.
He only got some 10m of ice and disappeared again. Rope was going fast, meaning he was probably going on a snow slope. Once I had 10 or so meters of it left I started disassembling the ice anchors and moved on once the rope got tight.
Indeed snow slope it was. And not a regular one – it was a massive funnel that went for some 150m and was the escape route for all the avalanche snow coming down. Luckily we knew the avalanche danger wasn’t high and it was safe enough to move that terrain.
The snow was deep and there wasn’t many foot steps. We were obviously in adventure zone not generally visited by regular weekend warriors.
What was in front of us though was the ‘money pitch’. A massive curtain of super steep ice and since technically it was Peter’s lead (the snow slope wasn’t really a pitch) it made me happy inside as I wasn’t really looking forward to lead WI5.
He moved confidently and I knew that he will make it. When he was around half way up, the two French guys whom we met at the beginning of the route started their abseil.
We asked them about the route and were told there’d be another 3 pitches of moderate ice (for around 80m, which matched the books route description), and a long, tedious abseil to the ground, mostly by time consuming V-Threads.
Now Peter was out of sight for me and to best of my knowledge he was just plowing on. It did take a while, but that’s expected. Eventually he shouted “safe” and It was my go.
The route went straight up on near vertical Ice for some 20 meters and then traversed right on a really dodgy snowice and up for another 10 meters on less steep ice.
After I joined Pete at the belay we decided to start our descent as it was already 3pm and it would take at least 2 hours to get down.
Something felt off though as Peter seemed a bit shaken up. He told me straight away, without me even having to ask that he nearly lost it on that pitch. He told me how he lost his footing and essentially was hanging by 1 axe scrambling not to fall. Luckily he recovered himself and was able to finish the pitch.
Anyway, the abseiling adventure begun. First thing off, no bolts, so I had to construct first of the series of V-Threads. This time I decided to go 0-thread – and it worked like a charm.
I backed it up for him with a screw and off he went. Next two abseils were off trees, which was handy as it saved a lot of time. They were also spaced so our 50m ropes were enough.
Unfortunately during one of the abseils Peter got hit and banged up by falling ice. Few open wounds on his face made him look like he met pissed of Mike Tyson.
We obviously both carry first aid kits, but there was no need for any serious doctoring so we decided to just keep going (as there was still few abseils to go).
Another 3 rope lengths were on V-Threads again. We were able to reuse (and backup) some of them which sped up the process significantly. Drilling a V-thread is always time consuming.
The last 100 meters was the most nerve wrecking though. First Peter overshot abseil point, so he had to make himself safe, I got down and pulled him in. Then we abseiled of a roof into free-hanging situation with into naked wall, with nothing to abseil off!
Luckily for us again there were a pair of ‘hidden’ bolts directly under the roof! Peter was able to use his ice axe and pull himself to it. We were nearly done.
Quickly now, let’s just pull the ropes and hope they won’t get stuck – we are only 40meters to the ground, and in a point of no return – there was no way to climb the ropes back as we were under a massive roof.
And of course the ropes DID get stuck… the knot seem to lodge itself at the mouth of the roof… We were cooked… Almost. One end of the rope was already touching the ground – worst case scenario we tie it off, and abseil of it, leaving both of them behind.
– We looked at each other and almost at the same time said – one more tug. It worked. The knot connecting the two 50 meter ropes dislodged itself in whatever groove it was stuck in and we were ready to rig for final abseil.
Once at the base of the wall we quickly moved away as stuff started to fall from the top, as at least half of us were done getting hit in the face that day…
25 minutes later we were back in the car, happy as always after big adventure. After all we got exactly what we wanted. Yet another set of unforgettable memories!
In the mean time Sarah and Ronan did a route on the other side of the Valley, so we didn’t see them all day. They also had mini epic, but that’s a story for another post. A guest write-up perhaps guys?
Today (Day5) we actually got back to the same area, and did other routes. I’ll do a write up tomorrow (too much going on right now).
Today we got back to Ceillac area and decided to do a local mega-classic – Les Formes du Chaos ( eng: “Shape of Chaos”) around 250meters WI4. The guidebook suggests 6 pitches, but as it goes with icefalls, your mileage may vary. When it condition it’s meant to be a must do for all aspiring climbers.
Unfortunately, because of the recent warm spell it was half melted and quite difficult to navigate, pretty much from the very beginning.
The middle of P1 was completely gone, right hand side was almost ready to go. Water was running everywhere.
We all arrived together and as usual split into 2 teams (Peter & me, Ronan & Sarah).
I hugged the left hand side and set of on P1 (WI3), arriving at the 2nd belay (skipped the first bolts) at around 35m. Meanwhile Ronan moved along slightly right to me and finished 10m above me. There was no one ahead of us, at this point, but soon enough other teams started to line up behind us.
Pitch 2 wasn’t particularly interesting, and very short, so peter wasn’t super happy about it (I made it up to him later, by letting him do the ‘money’ pitch – more above it later).
Pitch 3 was supposed to be very nice (WI4). And it would be, if not for the fact that it was a stream of running water pretty much at its entire width. I learned it the hard way – Started in the middle and immediately felt the water pouring. I escaped to the left, but it wasn’t much better. I decided to just keep going, since the freshly melted water already penetrated my outer layer and was going down my thighs. Unfortunately the belay was on far right, so I had to traverse through all of that water again.
In the mean time another team caught up behind us. It was getting very crowded. All of the left and middle of the next 2 pitches was gone, so traffic jams were inevitable.
P4 (WI4+) was definitely the hardest one. The picture above is distorted (it doesn’t show the angle or the lenght), but it was as steep as it gets at that grade (85deg). Peter lead it (as he described it himself, not in the best style) like a champ and I quickly followed (upon changing my outer layer, and discovering I only brought 1 set of gloves! FAIL).
The other team was keeping up, and were also directly below us at this point.
By the time I reached the top of that pitch I had another 4 or 5 climbers breathing down my neck. Now it was super busy, and people didn’t seem to care about queuing, very often overtaking causing all sort of rope cluster tangles.
Next Pitch (P5, WI3) was also Peter. By the time he finished now I people passing me and I had to wait to avoid climbing directly below them…
I got to the belay as quick as I could, we swapped over and I moved on P6 (very long, but about WI2). The plan was to climb as far as easy terrain goes, so we run out the full rope length, and then simul climbed around another 20 meters.
What I found on the top is something I haven’t seen yet. A pool of water with a free hanging piece of ice, that was so thin that you could nearly see through it. And people were climbing it!
All the teams (but one) that overtook us just folded the gear and went right, towards descent path. Peter was contemplating trying that (non mandatory) pitch, but I wasn’t very keen. It’s not the sort of risk I’m after. This ‘leap of faith’ was a bit too much for me.
The Italians (that we got friendly with over last few pitches) caught up and they wanted to give it a go. I asked Peter to see if he wanted to go with them, and I’d just meet him by the car. And that’s what we did.
The Italians faffed for a bit (almost an hour passed since I got to the pool) but eventually one of them put up the rope and his friend as well as Peter followed.
I went right towards descent path, however ended up in the wrong place (the top of next climb – Sombre Heroes, some 10m walk away), and had some “type 2” fun abseiling on one 50 meter rope (Peter had the other one on him – a mistake we should have avoided.).
The first abseil was particularly sketchy as I wasn’t 100% sure I’ll reach the next station… (although I could see the next belay tree, so that was good). Eventually I was 1 meter short, which was enough to make myself safe, pull the rope and after two more abseils (one of them free hanging, pretty cool experience) and I was on the ground.
Meanwhile Ronan and Sarah got in to the pool pitch and also decide to skip it. They wandered around a bit in search of descent path, but finally found it and safely got into the car.
First day of climbing today. I got to say – we were all psyched, but upon waking up and realizing that the weather was rather… Irish… well the psych was still there. Despite the rain we decided to just head out. With already packed bags we left at 8am, which turned out to be perfect – Upon arriving to Ceillac (1h drive from Vallouise) – there was barely anyone there yet. We were going to have the routes all for ourselves (not really though ;).
The main dish today was pair of routes called “Les Y” (in WI3+ grade). Luckily, by the time we arrived and geared up the weather cleared up. Actually it was too warm now. Easily +5C.
Peter and I were hoping to do both of them and started with the right hand side one. Meanwhile Sarah and Ronan hit the left hand side one. Both are similar length (around 200m), but with only 3 or 4 relatively small ice pitches each. Good, but not amazing.
By mid day we were done with the right hand side variant, mostly because we seem to understand each other pretty well, and there was no wasted time. We decided then to abseil to where the routes meet (above pitch 1). From there we went left (the route that Sarah and Ronan started the day with).
Unfortunately the crowds (mostly Spanish for some reason) caught up with us and now there was at least 3 parties ahead of us (one of which 4 climbers on one set of ropes!)
We were mostly climbing side by side with the crowds (the pitches could accommodate up to 3 leaders at once), until the final pitch, which was a long wait. Sincce it was very narrow, and mostly hollowed column it could really accomodate 2 climbers at once. We had a nice lunch and waited out until every one left, and set off. It was Peter’s lead, and he opted for the middle line.
Later we learned from our friends that on that pitch they did the right hand side, which was also nice, with small touch of crampons on rock.
Anyway, we topped out easily and just followed the trail (going right) straight to the car park. Some amazing views from there!
The walk is pretty steep, but nothing serious. Takes some 30 minutes, and is definitely a better option that an abseil.
Upon returning home we borrowed Jerry’s dog (amazing animal!) and went to the pub.
Kesha the dog is a popular visitor in the local pub down the road, as every one seem to know her.
Apparently taking dogs to pub is a common thing in France. Who’d knew.
We arrived to village of Vallouise yesterday. Obviously not without troubles. A lot of snow fell over last while, which made driving from Turin quite challenging. Luckily we had snow chains and made it safely. Unfortunately the conditions for ice climbing are pretty poor right now. A lot of snow fall made the climbs prone to avalanches.
It was recommended by our host, Jerry Gore of alpbase.com that we should try some of the local excellent ski slopes.
Since my companions (Peter, Ronan and Sarah) are seasoned skiers, and I myself know how not to kill myself by going down too fast (plow style Ftw) we headed out to the nearby Puy St Vincent. We are in the Alps after all!
Since today is Sunday, the place was quite busy, especially there was a lot of children around. I’m always amazed seeing these little rascals going fearlessly downhill… I bet some of them ski better than walk!
We spent good 6 hours trying different routes. Obviously the guys went on the advanced priests, while I explored all the green ones and some blues (easy ones that is).
This was my 3rd time on the skis and the fact that I now know how to turn made me very happy.
Evening was spent planning climbing routes for tomorrow. We will try some of the classics of Ceillic, but more about it tomorrow, after we actually do some climbing.
I also introduced the teamto my other hobby – board games.
I brought K2 – the board game. Thematically fitting enjoyment to fill in the nights.
The game took just over an hour and I’m sure we’ll ll get to play it few more times during this trip. Now it’s time to pack the bag.
Again the forecast isn’t amazing, but we’ll give it a go.