Alps - July 8-28th 2005

Friday 8th & Saturday 9th: Deirdre and I took the fast Speedferries catamaran from Dover to Boulogne and bivvied in an 'aire' about 40 miles down the 'autoroute du soleil'. Early afternoon saw us approaching the Ecrins.

A great pity SpeedFerries were forced out of business...

Having seen the weather report we changed our initial plan and headed straight to La Grave against the flow of seemingly hundreds of cyclists.

The Tour de France was due through in a few days and this was some sort of local race?

Sunday 10th: Doubtful weather and feeling a bit tired we did a 'short' walk from the campsite up to Le Chazelet and then back to La Grave via the GR54 and Les Terrasses. Just as we got into La Grave it started raining hard so we were forced into a bar for coffee...

Le Chazelet with the Meije beyond

Monday 11th: Packing up the tent we decided to do the 'Via Ferrata d'Arsine' (200m, PD) just up the valley. We found it steep and exposed compared with what we'd experienced before but it was good with a nice walk down. Sorting out our gear and the car boot (in preparation for our 4 day hut to hut trip) we had just finished when it began to rain heavily so we headed off to the very nice Gîte d'étape La Brèche at Villar d'Arene.

The 'Via Ferrata d'Arsine' - quite a challenging route!

Tuesday 12th: Parking at the telepherique station (1420m) we rode up to the Girose Glacier (3211m) and then roped up to cross the glacier fairly easily to reach the foot of the Pic de la Grave. A short steep icy wall just above the bergschrund followed by a steep climb on mostly good snow took us to the summit ridge which we scrambled to the summit at 3667m. We descended the same way.

The Girose glacier & the Pic de la Grave

From the Col de La Lauze (3512m) we had a difficult descent down steep gravelly slopes made considerably worse by a couple of inches of new snow obscuring any faint paths and hiding treacherous slippery slabs... We were pleased to finally reach the Selle hut (2672m)

We had to cross the Selle glacier to reach the Col du Replat

Wednesday 13th: An early start up the path to cross the Selle Glacier and a steady snow slope to gain the Col du Replat (3335m) where an easy scramble up along the rock ridge took us to the Tete Sud du Replat (3429m).

The Col du Replat - the Tete Sud is on the right

Stepping down from the col through a small snow bowl and gap in the ridge we found ourselves at the top of a steep snow-free rock diedre. With the rock sloping the wrong way for handholds we decided to abseil down it and 60m later we were back on the snowfield.
A long sweeping descent (made longer by mistakenly leaving the path) finally brought us to the zig-zags down to the very nice Chatelleret hut (2225m)

The steep icy couloir to the Col du Clot des Cavales

Thursday 14th: Another early start up the path to the Col du Clot des Cavales (3159m) which was quite pleasant with several interesting sections. The final couloir was a steep icy snow slope which demanded very close attention...

... but the reward was bursting into the sunshine at the top with fantastic views from the col!

From the col we traversed round to the foot of the imposing south arete of the Pic Nord des Cavales - an excellent route (AD III) , (that's it on the left skyline of the photo).

Emmanuel, Laurence et Andy

Stunning views all around from the summit (3362m). Descent by abseil down the line of the route and then a long walk down to the Pave hut (2843m)

From the Pave hut we climbed the Pointe des Aigles

Friday 15th: Leaving our rucksacks at the hut we had a relatively late start as we headed up to climb the Pointe des Aigles (3338m) by a route mainly up the East face. An abseil descent down the East face and then back to the hut to pick up our gear and the long walk out along a striking medial moraine in the valley and finally back to the gite at Villar d'Arene.

The stunning line of Le Fissure from the Aillefroide campsite

Saturday 16th: Deirdre and I drove down to a very busy Aillefroide campsite and pitched our tent in the middle of a field but with a stunning view of the 'Fissure'. Then off for a beer in the village.

Sunday 17th: An incredibly hot day so we just walked a couple of kilometres up the valley to the west and then found a shady spot by the river with a fantastic view of the "Cascade de Clapouse". Then back for more beer in Aillefroide!

Lots of snow on the southern side of the Matterhorn!

Monday 18th: With poor weather forcast we packed up and headed off to Breuil-Cervinia in Valtournence where on a dull rainy day we checked in at the Meuble Joli - an excellent little hotel which was splendidly situated above the old guides office!

Tuesday 19th: After the thunderstorm of the previous night the sky had cleared and we had fantastic views of the southern side of the Matterhorn. Starting from the hotel at 2000m we climbed up a pleasant forested path to reach Lake Goillet (2516m) and then had a lovely days walking through classic alpine scenery anti-clockwise around the valley, via Plan Maison (2585m), the Abruzzi hut (2802m) and then almost to the Bobba refuge in the west of the valley before heading back down for a beer.

The hut beneath the Fontanella-Dragone ridge

Wednesday 20th: Heading off on a 2 day trip we walked down the valley to Perreres, up to the col of the 'Finistra di Cignana' and then on up to the Vuillermoz-Perucca hut (2918m) which sits beneath the classic Fontanella-Dragone ridge.

The Punta Cian

Chatting to a couple of Derbyshire lads who had just completed this 2km long route (~7h) I headed up to the Col di Valcomera to find the approach to the stunning arete of the Fontanella. The lads had told me that they'd had difficulty finding a reasonable approach and I didn't find the "facile" start which the guide later spoke of. Everything I looked at seemed very loose and exposed and no way did I fancy descending any of the approaches I looked at. With a 7+ hour traverse out of the question it looked like just an ascent of the Punta di Fontanella wasn't on either. We decided to abandon any plans to do any climbing.

Less snow on the Matterhorn now!

Thursday 21st: Next morning it was a scorching hot day so we decided just to head back to Breuil and enjoy the walk. When we got to the 'Finistra di Cignana' it was so hot that we even abandoned the idea of going (170mH) up to M.Pancherot at 2614m. Later on rather than descending down into the (hot) valley we carried on along a higher path towards the Bobba hut and linked up with where we'd left that path two days before.

The path was obviously little used but it went through some great scenery and the breeze helped offset the heat. We took our time and drank in the scenery but it was good to reach Breuil and the beer in the bar of the hotel Grivola was excellent - as was the cappuchino!

The Dent d'Herens, Matterhorn & Dent Blanche (with the Testia Griggia hut bottom left)

Friday 22nd: We had already booked a night at the Guides Hut up at Testia Griggia so although both of us were feeling very tired and we sorted our gear and took the easiest option of the telepherique all the way up to the hut at 3480m. Loads of skiers up there but very few people staying at the hut.

On the way up to the Breithorn. (Kleine Matterhorn station in view)

Saturday 23rd: An early start and puzzled that we were the only ones up we were first away from the hut at 5am as it began to get light.

Looking down into the Zermatt valley just before dawn

There was a bitterly cold breeze but the snow was crisp, easy to walk over and we made good time up and into the sunshine near the Kleine Matterhorn where the only person we could see was someone already coming down from the summit of the Breithorn!
However by the time we got to the summit at 4185m the skiers had spilled out on to the piste and large groups were heading in our direction...

Click on the image to view/download the map of our 'Circumnavigation of the Meije' hut-to-hut walk

Sunday 24th: After another night in the Meuble Joli we headed off to Chamonix where we did the tourist bit for a couple of days due to unsettled weather and then headed back home.

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