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[TR] Les Hautes-Alpes - Cherchez Les Pentes Raides

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Trip: Les Hautes-Alpes - Cherchez Les Pentes Raides, Vol. II


Date: 4/8/2008


Trip Report:

Volume I: Argentière


I was sad to leave Argentière after six wonderful days. I was hopelessly in love with La Verte, but she just wasn't ready. So I hopped a train for Grenoble, where I met my friend Christophe.


The next day, we did a tour in the Belledonne massif. We skied Rocher de l'Homme: the Man's Rock.


Christophe skis from Col de la Mine de Fer.



I took a rest day to wander Grenoble, which is a wonderful city surrounded by beautiful mountains. Then we drove the 80 km up the road to La Grave.


Christophe isn't a big fan of "Le Ski Extrême," so we planned a nice tour: something new for him, which would also let me see a lot of what the Ecrins offer. Like so many other great tours in the Alps, we began by taking the deux tronçons of the telepherique plus two rope tows, rising more than 7k vertical feet to the Col de la Lauze.


On the rope tow up the Glacier de la Girose.



From there, we had a nice descent on south-facing slopes. Christophe enjoys his backyard.



Then we slapped skins on the skis and skinned to a col where Christophe waited while Pinegar and I continued to Tête Sud du Replat. We skinned by some beautiful steep shots en route and my eggs were aching, but somehow I survived.


Pinegar approaches the summit.



From the col, we skied 1000 m of perfect corn to the Refuge du Chatelleret. J'adore la moquette.


Christophe on corn



After a nice break in the sun, during which Christophe and I finally convinced Pinegar not to attempt a third-degree sunburn, it was time to climb to Refuge du Promontoire, which is situated above 3000 m on the backside of La Meije. Dave and I had a great time trying to embarrass Christophe, being drunk, loud Americans without the good taste to take our repas at the hut, while guzzling a liter of schnapps followed by some vins chauds.


Despite being ugly Americans, we had the great fortune to meet a lovely Parisienne and her brother. Hi C'! He seemed enthusiastic about "Le Ski Extrême" - maybe some day we'll ski some steeps together, who knows.


Sidenote: I think I accidentally deleted all my photos from this part of the trip. Fawk.


The next morning, the weather was shitty. As we skinned toward the Col du Pavé in a jour blanc, I cursed the traverse. The weather finally broke at the col and my attitude improved accordingly. I would post an awesome picture of it, but I think the picture no longer exists. So much for the end of our tour. We skied a sizable descent from Col du Pavé and finished at Villar d'Arêne.


Checking the forecast upon our return to La Grave, the next day looked like the last day of good weather. Christophe and Pinegar both had to return to work, so the solo slay sesh was on. I had some retarded plans for a big day without using the telepheriques, but I came to my senses at the last minute (or did I?).


Here is an example of how stupid I am. I didn't have a watch or phone or any other chronometer with me, so I was using my camera. I woke, wondering whether it was time to begin my big day sans telepheriques, and took a picture. But I forgot about the nine hour time difference, so I thought it was too late for that plan, and adjusted my plans to use the lifts. I brewed a huge pot of coffee. When I was almost finished with it, I realized that it was actually one in the morning. Big crisis, what to do? I switched to wine and Génépi. Génépi is so good.


Midnight madness



Eventually a beautiful morning dawned. There was a little fresh snow and clear skies. But I can't drop one of the opening lines from Exupery's Vol de Nuit - Ciel pur, vent nul - because the wind was ripping.


I was at the station for the first bin, but they announced that only the first piece of the telepherique would be open because of the high winds. Now this place is really starting to remind me of a bigger, gnarlier Alpental....


I had to walk across the street for a grand cafe crème to regain my morale. Then I bought a ticket to get my boost.

*Seulement une montée, SVP

*Tu sais que le deuxième tronçon est fermé?

Yeah, at least that made the ticket cheaper.


Wind ripping on La Meije



Saw three other guys looking to skin. A nice getleman asked me

*Tu vas où?

*Je vais monter au Col de la Girose, j'espère, ou Col de la Lauze - cependant le vent.

Time to skin.





The wind was just ripping at the second tram station. I took an hour-long break, hoping that the wind would break. There was a lonely dog and an employee. He approached me to ask how I'd gotten there. After he left, out of hope, I inquired

*As-tu la météo?


*Il n'y a pas de chance que le vent...




Damn it.


After much observation and hand-warming, I observed that the wind appeared to be milder above the tram station. When the other three tourers finally arrived, I shared my observation.

*Je pense que le vent est plus fort ici.

*Bien sur, c'est le col!

Cool, that's it, I'm going.


So I skinned to the Col de la Girose without any problems. Then I got to ski one of the lines that had made me drool on my tour with Christophe and Pinegar. Here it is. You can see several skiers in there. They stood there forever; I think they had nasty, firm conditions. It was sweet packed pow for me.



The view from above. Yeah, bro.



Now that was fun. What's more, le vent s'arrête! And would you like a second helping of good stuff? Southwest face of Le Râteau.



The view of La Grave from the summit of Râteau. Looking down from 3809 m to 1400 m, Mont Blanc in the distance.



More yummy ski terrain, looking down from atop Râteau



Here's a view of Barre des Ecrins, the southernmost 4000+ m peak in the Alps.



That face on the Barre is actually skiable, but not while I was there. Like so many other great lines, not in condition yet. Warm spring storms should do the trick. I must return.


Got home to Washington, where the steeps are always in condition but the weather and access suck, and skied one of my favorites the next day. Check it.


France: Je t'aime! Here's a parting view of La Meije, taken from the kitchen window chez Christophe. Thanks for the hookup, mon ami.



Gear Notes:

still sucks


Approach Notes:

deux tronçons, si tu as la chance.

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