Barre des Ecrins - Mountaineering


Holiday Overview

Climb the highest mountain in the Ecrins National park, the Barre des Ecrins 4102m and take in the dramatic Pointe des Cinéastes ridge in a weekend.

An intensive long weekend of mountaineering and alpinism with the goal to climb the Barre des Ecrins (Grade: peu difficile / bit more difficult) after an acclimatisation climb of Pointe des Cinéastes (Grade: peu difficile / bit more difficult) and a day of glacier and alpinism skills and technique adapted to your level.

Climb in one of the most dramatic national parks in France away from the crowds that flock to Mt Blanc! The Ecrins is the largest national park in France with over 100 impressive summits over 3000m hung with a total of 170km2 of glaciers.

The Barre des Ecrins is the highest summit in the Ecrins. It stands at 4102m and being an easily accessible climb it attracts mountaineers from all over the world. It was first climbed in June 1864 by Whymper and Moore (English explorers) and Walker (American) accompanied by 2 French guides.

There are vast numbers of dramatic landscapes alpine pastures, woodlands and high altitude lakes, and in summer the area is carpeted with flowers. The area is a haven for flora and fauna with ibex, chamois, golden eagles, wild boar, marmots and even wolves. What more could you ask for, it’s a mountaineer’s paradise!

The weekend will start with a day of glacier skills on the Glacier Blanc. This is a day to revisit glacier and alpinism techniques and learn some new ones! The essentials include moving together on a rope and the different distances required for glaciers and on the rock, cramponing technique, how to best use ice axes, spotting hazards and crevasse rescue.

After a night in the Refuge du Glacier Blanc, you will set off to climb Le Pointe des Cineastres. This climb (3c) will help your body acclimatise to the altitude and to get used to climbing above 3000m. The views are magnificent as you progress over the 5 peaks that make up this spectacular ridge. At times it can be a bit exposed so a head for heights is a must!

After spending the night, this time in the Refuge des Ecrins, you will climb the goal of this trip: the Barre des Ecrins 4102m. This involves a spectacular glacier crossing as the sun is rising, giving the mountain a beautiful red glow. You will weave your way up the face of the Dome des Ecrins, avoiding seracs and crevasses.

After the Dome you attack the famous ridge with a stunning and exposed 100m rock climb (4a). Once on the summit, you can relax and take in the spectacular views over the Alps and feel on top of the world!

Have a look at our moutaineering kit list for advice on what to bring.

You might also be interested in our weekend Dome des Ecrins Mountaineering trip or our Mountaineering Week in the Ecrins.

Itinerary

Overview

We have put together an itinerary aimed at preparing you for a successful ascension of the Barre des Ecrins summit at 4102m in the minimum of time available over a weekend!!

It starts off with a day to revisit glacier and mountaineering skills and learn some new ones. After that you will do an acclimatisation climb above 3000m to prepare your body for higher altitude before attempting the summit of the Barre des Ecrins at 4102m on the final day!

As with all mountaineering, we may need to adapt the itinerary if weather conditions aren't favourable, but where possible and safe we will stick to this idea.

Tackling a summit over 4000m is not a challenge to take lightly and a high level of fitness is required. As the final ridge of the Barre des Ecrins is an exposed mixed climb with rock, snow and ice climbing involved, previous climbing experience is required and confidence using ice axe and crampons is essential.

Day 1 - Glacier Skills

If you have taken the night train to Gap, your guide will meet you at the train station and take you to Pré de Madame Carle, the starting point of your adventure. En route we will stop for breakfast and a shower (after a night on the train this is usually a good idea!!).

If you have stayed overnight somewhere else, we will arrange a time to collect you to join the rest of the group at Pré de Madame Carle.

Once we are all together, we will sort out equipment for the 3 days and start to make our way up to the Glacier Blanc.

Starting altitude: 1874m

Summit altitude: 2542m

Ascent: 668m

Average climbing time: 2 1/2 hours plus time to practice skills on the glacier.

Mountaineering is strenuous involving long days with lots of ascent and descent so pacing yourself and stamina are key. This is a relatively straightforward walk on a well marked path to the foot of the glacier. Once at the foot of the glacier, you will start your glacier skills.

Keeping safe is every mountaineer's priority and the purpose of today is to go through and practice the essential safety techniques used for mountaineering. You will revisit crampon techniques, moving together on a rope, appropriate distances to keep between you in different circumstances, using an ice axe effectively, recognising hazards and look after yourself and fellow mountaineers whilst climbing.

Early on in the mountaineering season (June), the crevasses in the glacier should be filled up or covered with snow, but as the season progresses and the snow melts, the crevasses become more open and obvious to see.

However, the glacier is constantly moving and there is always a risk of disappearing down an unseen crevasse! Falling into a crevasse can be fatal so avoiding them and knowing how to rescue someone if they do fall in is an important skill!

After having spent the day going through different techniques you will continue on the GR (footpath) to the Refuge du Glacier Blanc( 2542m) where a hot dinner will be waiting for you.

Day 2 - Pointe des Cineastes 3203m

Le Pointe des Cinéastes (3204m) is one of the most aesthetic climbs in the Ecrins. You climb along an arête passing over 6 small summits that jut out of the ridge. It will be a long day - from the refuge du Glacier Blanc to the top of the climb it is about 4 hours.

It's a varied climb with a bit of everything - a 1 hour approach walk over scree or snow (depending on the conditions), a beautiful 200m multi-pitch climb (3c), several abseils of 25m, and a 2 hour scrambly descent on scree, or snow. There are spectacular views of the Glacier Blanc and the Glacier Noir.

Starting altitude: 2542m

Summit altitude: 3204m

Ascent: 660m

Average climbing time: 6 hours

In the morning you will be woken early - around 4 am, where you will experience the classic French mountain refuge breakfast which consists of bread, jam or honey with a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

The reason for the early 'alpine' start is for safety. As the day progresses the sun melts the snow and ice in the high mountains. Sinking in up to your thighs or knees in soft snow is very hard work and slow going so it is best to avoid this situation by walking on the snow whilst it is still hard and weight bearing!! Thawing also increases the risk of rock fall and avalanches.

Having already prepared your bag the night before, you will put your head torch on and set off in the dark.

Sunrise isn't far away. After a rocky (or snowy) traverse and scramble in the dark you head up a rocky couloir to reach the start of the climb. The sun will start coming up while you are starting the climb and the light and colours over the mountains is a spectacle you will never forget. As you progress up this 3c level route, you will climb the 5 peaks of the ridge. These are more exposed so a head of heights is essential!

There are breath taking views of Ecrins massif including Pelvoux, la Meije, and the Glacier Blanc and Glacier Noir. Once you've taken in the views it's time to head down. There are 2-3 abseils to get you down onto the scree. Once down, you will then make your way to the Refuge des Ecrins (3175m) which is further up the valley. You should arrive around lunch time and be able to order a meal at the refuge.

In the evening you will be served a hot meal.

Day 3 - Barre des Ecrins 4102m

You can see the dramatic ridge and summit of the Barre des Ecrins from the refuge. All there is between you and this majestic mountain is a glacier, some rock, a bit of ice ....... and a few hours of physical excertion! Now is your chance to 'bag it'!!  

Starting altitude: 3175m

Summit altitude: 4102m

Ascent: 840m

Descent: 2230m

Average climbing time: 4 hours ascent and 2 hours descent (to Refuge des Ecrins) and 1.5 hours to reach Pré de Madame Carle.

You will have another early alpine start and make your way down from the refuge to the glacier. Here you put your crampons on and rope up and you’re ready to go. There are a couple of different route options to get to the Barre des Ecrins and your guide will choose which is the most suitable for the conditions.

One option follows the edge of Glacier Blanc to reach the Col des Ecrins at 3,300m, where there are impressive views across the North Face. The sun rises behind you as you make your way across the glacier and casts a magnificent rosy light on the Dome.

From the Col your guide will pick a route that goes up the vast snow slope, weaving your way up the North East Face between seracs and around crevasses. You’ll arrive at a natural col (Breche Lory) where if you continue you will arrive at the Dome des Ecrins, but you will take a left and this is where your climbing will start.

It is a mixed route of ice, snow and rock on a very exposed ridge. It is about 100m of ascent over about 300m in distance which doesn't seem very far but at 4000m it's certainly long enough!!

A beautiful climb with a wonderful reward of spectacular views across the entire Ecrins National Park. You will then come back down the way you went up - although it goes much quicker and the descent techniques and views are very different from the ones going up so you don't feel like you are retracing your steps.

At the refuge you can order lunch before heading back down to the car or you can go straight down and get something in the valley!

The way back down to Pré de Madame Carle is using the same footpath that you came up on. You will probably have sore feet but a huge smile!

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Directions

The trip starts from Pre de Madame Carle. The closest train station is Briançon which has various connections including an overnight sleeper directly from Paris. The guide can pick you up from the station / local accommodation and take you to Pre de Madame Carle.

He will be travelling from Gap so it is possible to arrange for him to collect you from Gap train station. The Briançon night train also stops in Gap.

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