Monday, 20 August 2007

A day in the Ecrin

The jagged peaks of the Ecrin lie betweeen Grenoble and Briancon. They offer great mountaineering possibilities away from the overcrowded aeas in Chamonix and elsewhere. The main peak in the area is the Bar des Ecrin, a 4,000 metre plus peak of great beauty. We chose a route on the other side of the Glacier Blanche (the main glacier running up to 'The Bar') called Pic de Neige Cordier (peak of the white snow maker?). A pleasant walk up the popular footpath to the mouth of the Glacier Blanche took us from the valley floor near Ailefroide to around 2400 metres. Then it was a case of following a slightly rougher path past a mountain hut until we found a suitable bivouac point near the Ecrin Hut. Some well constructed previously used sites just above the edge of the Glacier proved ideal and about 6 hours after setting off we were settled down in our sleeping bags and makeshift shelters after a quick snack and drink. We watched the moon set and the amazing display of stars commence as we drifted of to sleeping in our lofty position.

At 4 am we awoke to the amazing spectacle of tiny dots of lights bunched together in lines making their way up the edge of the Glacier and towards the Bar Des Ecrin. We had a hot chocolate and snack before setting of upwards first traversing the edge of the main glacier ourselves before heading up a smaller ice slope and towards our own objective. Day dawned with the pink glow of sunrise illuminating the huge 1000 metre face of The Bar Des Ecrin, but we were glad to be on our own and not amongst the large guided groups heading up The Bar. Several 100 metres of ascent brought us to a rocky col and we were unsure of the way on. Piles of precariously balanced rocks seemed to guard the route we thought we had to take. Eventually we worked out that our route lay up a more amenable although still potentially dangerous ridge. 45 minutes of scrambling brought us to the tiny rocky summit with great views in all directions including in the far distance Mont Blanc itself and even The Matterhorn.

After absorbing the great panoramas we roped back down to the col and then retraced our steps to our bivvy site whilst watching climbers tackling the jagged ridge to our left.
6 hours later we were trudging back along the valley floor towards a welcome cold beer and sat discussing the pleasures and efforts of the previous 24 hours.

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