Sat 19th Jul - Sun 10th Aug, 2014
70th Anniversary Alps Meet - 3 weeks
Members: Colin Maddison, Mary Stuart, Duncan Lee, Vicky Alderton, Jim Symon, Philippa Maye, Trish Cranston, Al Metelko, James Williams, Christine Beeston, Cathy Gordon, Dave Shotton, Craig Marsden, Sue Marsden, Roger Mapleson, Bridget Mapleson, Kevin Anderson, Alice Larkin, Ann Waters, Steve Graham (20)
Guests: Kieran Lee, Tom Marsden, Phoebe Marsden, Carys Mapleson, Owen Mapleson, Jemma Waters, James Barrington (7)
Refugees from the Mynedd: Steve Waters, Mike Tempest (2)
It’s the KMC’s 70th Anniversary Alps meet and following the success of last year’s Ailefroide trip we are once again heading for the Parc National Des Ecrins. But this year’s destination is La Bérarde on the other side of the range. It’s a bit of an unknown quantity but research suggests it offers much of the same with access to big peaks, long rock routes, valley cragging, walking and mountain biking. Photos of the elegant and very pointy Aiguille de la Dibona have captured most people’s attention. So as we drive south my only concerns are:
- Would my knee stand up to the alpine test?
- Would there be enough material for the meet report without Andy Stratford on the trip?
Thursday 24th July
Depart Manchester with Mary about 5.00pm and, despite a circuitous route due to traffic problems on the M6, catch the 11.50pm Eurotunnel shuttle and spend night at Ibis Budget Calais.
Friday 25th July
Good going most of the way across France with just a bit of rain though Irish map reading does provide a detour via Chambery. Duncan, Vicky and Kieran (Megaphone Boy) are already at the campsite. It’s slow going for a bit out of Grenoble. But soon we pick up the distant sound of a small boy shouting and judge we only have about 10mm to go. Arrive campsite about 8.00pm.
Others have already taken up residence. James has been out since the start of July and is fresh from an Alpine Club meet in Val d’ Orco. Jim and Philippa have been climbing near Briançon with Kevin and Alice. Al and Trish have spent a few days getting there, arriving a day or two earlier. Cathy Gordon arrives by bus around 9.30pm and already the meet is in double figures.
Saturday 26th July
There’s early cloud clearing to give a mostly fine day with some rain late. Inexplicably, Duncan and Vicky’s neighbours rise early and move their tent further up the campsite!
Al, Trish, Jim, Philippa and Cathy walk/scramble up Tête de la Maye (2518m) and return to report fantastic views. We buy food, wine and a climbing guide and then spend the afternoon cragging at Maye (Gauche and Droite) with Duncan, Vicky, Kieran and James. Six routes are climbed from 4b to 6a.
The first route gives us a clue to the local grading as I get to third bolt on a 6a but take flight before I can clip it. Duncan leads it and James and I follow. It’s absolutely nails.
“Well I’m glad I fell off before I got any higher.”
Most of the rest of the meet arrive during the day - now twenty seven strong.
Sunday 27th July
A fine sunny day with just enough breeze to stop it being too hot for climbing.
Vicky and I climb the first four pitches of Le Gay Pied (300m AD+ 5bmax) on Tête de la Maye. We’re followed by Kevin and Alice who continue to the top and then walk to summit.
Roger, Bridget, Owen, Carys, Sue, Phoebe and Mary walk and scramble to the summit of the Tête de la Maye and savour the views. Most of the rest sample the local cragging.
There’s a very poor forecast for Monday, with rain due late morning or early afternoon, so no specific climbing plans. But in the evening Ann organises a walk for the next day. It’s an early start and there’s to be no nonsense.
“We’ll meet at 8.00am sharp by the boulder. If you’re not there we won’t look for you. No excuses will be necessary.”
Monday 28th July
8.00am sharp and Carys is alone by the boulder!
9.15am and Ann, Carys, Christine and Cathy depart promptly for a walk up the Vallon des Étançons to the Refuge du Chatelleret (2232m) and back via the impressive cascades that descend below the Glacier du Plaret.
Clearly, with rain forecast the obvious thing to do is a 13 pitch route, or so Duncan tells me. We just top out on Ni Poi Ni Maye (350m. TD 6b max) on Tête de la Maye as the rain hits about 2.00pm.
Back at camp Steve W, Mike, Vicky and James have done a bit of bouldering. Mary, Jim, Sue and Philippa are enjoying an art day. The rain continues through the afternoon and into the evening. That evening the meet congregates under James’s tarp to celebrate 50th birthdays for Craig, Cathy, Dave S and Philippa and Roger and Bridget’s wedding anniversary.
Tuesday 29th July
There’s heavy rain early on, drying up for breakfast but with the skies clagged in.
Having extracted his head from the washing up bowl Jim has adopted his new super hero persona – ‘Hangover Man’. Special power – staying upright long enough to identify the green stuff he’s about to fall onto is grass. Nearby his sidekick – ‘Intoxo Boy’ (Craig) is being lectured on inappropriate behaviour and irresponsible drinking by Phoebe, “And what’s more Dad you can never tell me…”
Most people go down the valley to visit the supermarket in Bourg. We buy a small wine lake. The ladies that lunch lunch, shop, try on dresses and buy new hats.
Later Duncan, Vicky and I go to Site Des Eroites near Vénosc where we’re joined by Al, Trish, Jim, Tom and Craig and collectively climb single pitch routes from 4b to 5c. Jim leads the toughest 4b ever… or maybe it’s just the toughest with a hangover. Thomas ties himself in knots threading the lower off with a little help and no sympathy from father.
“It doesn’t work.”
“Take your weight off the rope.”
“Yes you can.”
David Attenborough takes up the commentary, “Here, deep in the valley of Le Bérarde we witness a scene to be repeated daily on the steep terrain of this harsh environment. Alpha males go head to head…”
Elsewhere, impressively, Steve W cycles the many hairpins to Alp d’Huez. Kevin, Alice and James run up the Vallon des Étançons to Refuge du Chatelleret whilst Dave S does a four hour tour to the Refuge du Carrelet (1909m) and the Vallon Chardon searching in vain for chamois and marmots.
Wednesday 30th July
We rise to low cloud that lasts all morning and a few spots of rain that’s reluctant to clear. So, clearly, the obvious thing to do is a 12 pitch route. Or so Duncan would have me believe again.
Back then to the Tête de la Maye with Duncan for Li Maye Dülfer (300m. TD+. 6b+ max). My notes record:
‘Very hard and serious on pitch one and serious on pitch 2 above ledge. Very hard on pitch 3. Wet in places. Spaced bolts. Light rain on first three pitches.’ Thereafter I recall it was rather good. From the top we walk to the summit of the Maye for atmospheric views of the Ecrin peaks rising through the cloud.
Dave S finds chamois and marmots on a walk to Refuge du Chatelleret. Mary, Vicky, Kieran, Sue, Phoebe, Cathy and Christine go cragging at Petite Rochaille. James, Bridget and Carys, Kevin and Alice go cragging at Vénosc. Steve W and Mike climb An 2000 (5c) and Muse et Alpenisme (6a, 6a) at St Christophe site du Collet.
Roger, Owen, Craig and Tom head for the mountain biking at delights of Les Deux Alps and an intense day involving 4000m of body jarring descent!
Thursday 31st July
It’s a hot day with blue skies. Rain is forecast for later but doesn’t come.
Christine, Cathy, Al, Trish, Kevin, Alice, Bridget, Carys and James are all up early for the magnificent Aiguille de la Dibona (3131m). But alas there is snow above the hut for which most are not equipped due to misinformation from the hut guardian, “There is no snow”. No, just a couloir full of it … a bit like the guardian … who’s clearly also full of it.
But Christine and Cathy have gone prepared and summit in the afternoon. Up the snow couloir, across ledges to the Brèche Gunneng and then two fine pitches up the North Ridge (PD. UIAA III+) to the summit of one of the most shapely rock peaks in the Alps.
I take a sweaty walk up to Grande Rochaille with Vicky where we do Une Histoire Sans Fin (110m. 4b, 4c, 4c, 4b). Over on Tête de la Maye Mike and Ann climb Gay Pied (300m. 13 pitches. AD+ 5b max).
Mary, Roger, Owen, Craig and Sue walk to Refuge Du Carrelet (1909m). Thomas is running in the same area and is spotted by Sue.
“Look at that boy coming down there trying to look all chic Italian.”
“That’s your son dear”.
We think of checking out Les Cornes in the afternoon but Dave S points out that the guidebook says, ‘L’équipement est aujourd’hui obsolète’ and if your French is so bad you can work that one out, well it’s ….. adieu Anglais grimpeur!
So we go cragging at Maye instead. Mary, Dave S and I do a few 4’s and Tom receives further instruction from his father:
“This is rubbish.”
“No it’s not.”
“It doesn’t work.”
“Thomas thousands of climbers abseil this way!”
Steve Graham arrives in the afternoon and the meet report potential takes a major leap forward. James Barrington arrives and takes the meet total to twenty nine.
Friday 1st August
It’s another warm day with blue skies. Sadly Jim and Philippa and Kevin and Alice depart.
Duncan and I flog up to Tête Blanche for Téte De Turc (350m. 10 pitches. TD+ 6b+ max). It’s hard and slightly damp off the ground and then harder! After 2 points of aid, a minor fall and a Maddison variation I declare the next day a rest day and Duncan gets it in the neck from Vicky for breaking her climbing partner.
James W, James B and Steve G romp up the ever popular Gay Pied followed Dave S and Cathy. Most of the others go cragging at Petite Rochaille and Al and Trish depart for home via lake and beach.
There’s heavy rain later and through the night into the morning.
Saturday 2nd August
It’s a very wet start but dries up by mid-morning. I hear that the forecast at the Guides Bureau predicts ‘A very busy sky with eclairs and fondants. A stormy stormy Sunday’. But some of this could be a mistranslation.
Mary and I join the Marsdens and Maplesons for a walk to Refuge du Carrelet where we’re joined by Duncan, Vicky and Kieran after a while. It’s quite sunny with a cool breeze so we walk a bit further up the valley but until the rain starts. Further down the valley Cathy, Christine and Ann walk to Refuge de l’Alpe du Pin and the impressive waterfall above St Christophe.
Steve and Mike demonstrate their prowess at baby minding by locking Jemma and the keys in the car at the supermarket. A shattering experience all round and especially for the car window. Later Jemma hits Mike with a brush (which seems harsh) and thus is again in solitary confinement when Ann returns.
Sunday 3rd August
It’s very wet through the night; dry but cloudy in the morning. There is a palpable nervousness around the campsite. Seasoned alpinists, veterans of fearful epics, are on edge. Is Jemma packing brushes?
With rain forecast it’s a multi-activity day. Steve W cycles down and up the valley before cragging with Mike. There’s a bit of camp cricket. Tom and Phoebe, Cathy and Christine, Bridget and Owen go rafting at St Christophe then Christine, Cathy, Bridget and Owen do a via ferrata. Others go cragging at Maye.
Kieran starts a water fight. I finish it. He’s clearly indignant at the injustice. “It’s not fair. I only wet him a bit and he put me head first in the paddling pool!”
Monday 4th August
A fine day with mostly blue skies.
Mary, Ann, Sue and I take the 2hr 30 min walk to Refuge du Chatelleret then on towards Refuge du Promontoire (3082m) perched precariously on a spur descending from Le Meije. We’re treated to fantastic views of the south face with cloud swirling in and out. We cross a large snowfield, follow a long moraine and then take a circuitous route around and over glacier polished rock and snow patches to about 3000m.
But we’re not equipped for the final snow slope so we descend into rain and meet James B, Dave S, Steve G and James W coming up the moraine on their way to Promontoire. They describe great plans for the next few days and I continue my descent with renewed hope for the meet report.
Later, as Mary and I arrive back at the village we receive a call. Ann having arrived at the campsite a few minutes before has Craig ring to see if we need head-torches bringing up.
Mary, “No we bloody don’t!”… and with the messenger shot we retire to the bar.
Duncan and Vicky do Du 5 à Tire-Larigot (400m. D+ 5b max) on Tête de la Maye. Christine and Bridget do Le Premier Voyage du Toons (100m. AD 4b, 3b, 4b, 4b) on the Grande Rochaille. Phoebe spends the day minding Kieran. Steve and Mike work on their baby minding skills and try to get car window fixed.
Tuesday 5th August
Sunny with cloud that is forecast to burn off.
It’s a leisurely morning for Duncan and me as we prepare to bivvi for a route on the south face of the Aiguille de la Dibona. Mary watches bemusedly as I pack carefully, discarding every last ounce of expendable weight, including the duvet, and then add a bottle of wine.
We watch Mike and Steve W through my monocular on Du 5 à Tire-Larigot on Tête de la Maye. Roger and Owen head back to Les Deux Alps with their mountain bikes.
Elsewhere on the campsite there is great activity preparing for an assault on Pic de la Grave (3666m) by the LCC led by Christine and on Le Râteau (3809m) by Craig, Roger and Tom. There is much scrounging of gear. The Maplesons have brought a table cloth but no ice axes or crampons for an alpine holiday!
Christine leads a master class in crevasse rescue for the lady’s team. It is clearly going to be a no nonsense trip.
Christine, “Everyone tie a figure of eight”.
Phoebe, “Children don’t tie knots; parents do that.”
Christine, “Tie a figure of eight NOW before I get very cross!”
Seasoned alpinists, veterans of many epics, are suddenly on edge again.
Whilst all this is going on, somewhere up above, Steve G, James W, Dave S and James B are making a determined bid for meet report fame with an epic day out on La Râteau (3809m). Setting off from the Refuge du Promontoire about 5.00am the going is slow but they gain the Brêche de la Meije and ascend the north-east flank and East Ridge (AD) to the summit – a cracking ridge line climb by all accounts.
The descent though is truly the stuff of epics as they try to follow the fairytale that is the Alpine Club guidebook description. They descend the snowy South Ridge to the Brèche du Râteau. Steve G and James W turn east down the chossy (‘horrible!’) couloir towards the glacier. Dave S and James B attempt to abseil an alternative line on two 20m ropes! Ultimately four abseils take the former pair onto the glacier and they walk-out to arrive at the Chatelleret Hut at midnight and a night sleeping on the tables.
Meanwhile, back on the ‘abseil of doom’, Dave and James B make multiple short abseil too numerous to count but, alas, ultimately too few to reach the glacier before darkness falls. Sadly, they must sit out the cold night on a ledge warmed only by the glow from their descenders and platonic snuggling.
Blissfully unaware of these goings on Duncan and I set off on our walk in to Dibona. The sacks are heavy despite taking a light wine but fortunately it’s not too hot. Two and a half hours brings us to a good bivvi spot below the south face. The mist swirls around the face giving it a sombre and brooding air to match that on the bivvi below. The moon is out and it clears to a cold starry night.
Wednesday 6th August
It dawns cold but clear on our bivvi below Dibona. There are blue skies with high cirrus moving in from the west as the morning progresses. We shake the ice from the bivvi bags and rise a bit before 8.00pm. Teams are already starting on the south face. There is a pair at bottom of our route - Visite Obligatoire (430m. TD+ UIAA VI+) - as we breakfast and they’re still on pitch 1 as we reach the face!
We follow Señor and Señora El Faff for three pitches. But Duncan leads the third pitch about three inches off the heels of the second ahead and we’re let through on pitch four. Duncan complains that I’m getting all the steep pitches and he’s having to second them with the sack but that’s as near as Mr Grumpy gets to joining the trip. Three pitches of VI+ and one of VI lead to a couple of easier pitches at half height (V & V-) before another three of VI+ and one of VI lead to a final pitch of VI- and the summit in 4 hrs 50 mins. Fantastic climbing all the way; seldom have I seen Duncan so happy sober.
Further north, Team LLC make their assault on Pic de La Grave (3666m) via the North Face route (PD) across the Glacier de la Girose from the Col des Ruillans. From the bergschund Christine, Ann and Phoebe take steep (45°) snow slopes to the summit whilst Mary, Bridget and Carys continue across the glacier to summit the neighbouring Dôme de la Lauze (3568m).
Craig, Tom and Roger head off to Refuge de la Selle for their assault on Le Râteau whilst Mike and Steve W go to the Refuge d’ Alp du Pin for a route on the fine looking south east face of Le Pierroux (2864m).
Thursday 7th August
Another fine day. Warm with some cloud and a little bit of light rain in the afternoon.
Steve G and James W are up early for the Aiguille de la Dibona via the Brèche Gunneng and the North Ridge (PD). Setting off at 5.15am they are at the hut in 2hrs 30 mins and complete the route from there in a five hour round trip.
Mary and I take the slog up the hillside for Le Premier Voyage du Toons (100m. AD 4b, 3b, 4b, 4b) on the Grande Rochaille. Vicky and Christine have set off earlier for Douce Maye (200m. 8 pitches. D- 5b max) on Tête de la Maye.
High up above Craig, Thomas and Roger make an early start from the Refuge de la Selle for a long day on Le Râteau, following the Glacier de la Selle to the Brèche du Râteau and the South Ridge (PD) to the summit at 3809m.
“Just take a look over there Tom.”
David Attenborough, “Finally, here on this remote summit supremacy is secured. But how much has it taken from the older male?”
Numbers 13, 14 and 15 of the KMC to summit in three days above 3000m… oh, and the Mynnedd made it to 2864m with Mike and Steve W returning from success on Les Pins Seaux (400m. 10 pitches. TD- 6a max) on Le Pierroux.
Everyone is back at camp by 8.30am for the end of trip barbie at Mapleson’s cabin.
Friday 8th August
Up and away before breakfast for the long drive home, down the narrow winding valley road then foot down on the motorway for an unhindered blast across France. Somehow Dover to Manchester takes almost as long as Grenoble to Calais such is the British roads!
Others crag and walk before heading home over the weekend. Steve G heads for a rendezvous with his girlfriend in Chamonix via a crag day at Servoz. The weather’s poor but the Index and Petite Aiguille Verte are climbed.
Another excellent alpine meet thanks to a great crowd who made the trip – twenty nine in all. Andy would have made it thirty but the meet report would have taken longer to write.
Watch out for details of Alps 2015.
Start booking your time off work. Following the success of the 2013 Alps meet we are extending the 2014 trip to three weeks to extend the fun and as part of the KMC’s 70th year activities. It would be great to see another big turnout for all or part of the time.
We will be returning to Les Ecrins massif, in the High Dauphiné Alps, but this year’s destination is La Bérarde. This is on the north-west side of the Ecrins massif, opening up a different range of high mountain and valley challenges from last year’s trip.
There is a range of mountaineering challenges on rock and snow, including the shapely rock peak of the Aiguille Dibona (3131m), the Massif du Soreiller and bigger peaks like La Meije (3982m), Dôme de Neige des Ecrins (4105m), Barre des Ecrins (4101m), Pic Coolidge (3774m) and L’Ailefroide (3953m).
There is also valley rock-climbing and plenty of walking options. Other activities in the area include mountain biking, white-water sports and a via ferrata down the valley at St Christophe en Osians.
We will be basing ourselves at Camping Municipal at La Bérarde. See http://www.berarde.com/ for further details camping, the area and activities.
I already know of about twenty people planning to go so we could easily break the thirty barrier again and perhaps beat last year’s 34 people. So whether you want to come for all three weeks or just part of the time come and join us. A big turnout would be a great way to mark the KMC’s 70th year.
Map and guides:
Map - IGN - Meije, Pelvoux - Park National des Ecrins (3436 ET) 1:25000
Ecrins Massif, Cerces and Queyras. Alpine Club. Published 2002. ISBN: 0-900523-63-8.
- alpine and valley rock routes.
Escalades à la Bérarde et au Vénéon. Jean-Michel Cambon. ISBN: 2-9502597-9-0
Osians Nouveau, Osians Sauvage – Livre Ouest. Jean-Michel Cambon. ISBN: 9782952403511
The Ecrins National Park: A Walker's Guide. Cicerone Guide. 2008. ISBN: 97818528452
- 70 mountain walking routes in the Ecrins National Park.