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The Tete des Lacs Froids..... where is that?
Hidden away in the Ubaye in the Southern French Alps, this unknown summit is a beautiful walk, scramble and climb in wild, unchartered territory.
This is one of many little known climbing gems in the Southern French Alps - all waiting to be climbed!
Bernard and I set off to explore...
First stop - chez Colin, a good friend and experienced alpinist. He is currently writing up sections for a guide book for the area and opened two climbing routes on the Tete des Lacs Froids in 2007.
He recommended the Au gre d'six gorets, a 300m route graded AD with 4c max (for non technical climbers this means quite difficult route with easy climbing).
After a good 20 minute drive up a forest track we finally arrived at the cabane de la Charbonniere where we were to park. The valley is steep and wooded with cliffs and ridges rising up in various directions. It is at the Italian frontier and there are remnants of the war everywhere with forts, barracks, refuges and even trenches hidden away in the mountainsides.
We set off up a vaguely marked path that took us through woods and avalanche zones in the process of regeneration with summer flowers and grasses establishing themselves in the broken trees and upturned boulders. The path soon petered out and we made our way up over scree and boulders to the Rocher Haut ridge 2705m with an old refuge (war viewing post) strategically positioned on the col.
With spectacular views over to the Mercantour national park it was worth a quick picnic stop before heading down and round the next valley to the climb. There wasn't a soul to be seen for miles, just a vast expanse of mountains, a large chamois grazing opposite us and marmots whistling away on the mountainside.
The route down took us round to another valley and to the Lac Froid, a beautiful blue high altitude lake nestled in a little hanging valley at the foot of the climb.
The rocky summit that was our climbing objective was made up of wide horizontal strata deformed and twisted in the course of geological movements to our right, with a central slab of slate that almost looked like it had been poured on top of the bedrock in the middle and a nicely angled slab of sandstone to the left with our route kindly outlined by the glimmer of bolts all the way up. I wish I had paid more attention in geography classes to make head and tail of all this - it must must be a geologists dream!
Bernard led the climb which started as an easy traverse over beautiful rock. It was a breathtaking experience. Amazing views from every angle, easy climbing that required a bit of concentration but nothing to kick start the adrenalin - just moments of sheer pleasure.
At the third belay we discovered genepi a high altitude mountain plant that is reputed for growing in in accessible places! It is used locally to make a strong alcoholic digestif. So of course we picked some for our own homemade brew!
The last pitch was a little steeper and the cold north face suddenly changed the ambiance to a slightly more serious climb but still definitely in the 'pleasure zones'!
It was over far too quickly and we arrived at a sharp ridge summit. What a view.... we could see the Mercantour National Park to the south, the Ecrins National Park with the Pelvoux and Ailefroid peaks distinguished on the horizon to the north and in the Italian direction Mont Viso's pointy peak. What a paradise for photographers, mountaineers and mountain lovers!
The descent was a bit tricky, down a scree and bouldery couloir and then down scree slopes back to the lake. The suggested route is
to go back the same way but we decided to explore a bit further and traversed around to another col that would take us back in the direction of our car. It was a beautiful traverse in really wild country following chamois tracks. We caught site of a mother chamois with her young as they ran effortlessly off in front of us over steep rocky ground. Amazing.
At the col we headed down through forest. Suddenly it got very steep and inhospitable but we worked our way round and down (however, would not recommend this way down - the suggested way would have been much easier!!). Half way through the woods I startled a black grouse and watched in awe as it flew off straight in front of me. Two seconds later I almost walked on the nest and watched as 3 more young birds flew off. A rare close brush with nature.
We found an ancient war trench just before the car still almost in tact with the corrugated iron roof and wooden planks holding it together. A vivid testament to the history of this region.
All in all it was a fantastic day. The expanse and wildness of the area was the first thing that grabbed me and that there was no-one but no-one else there. The paths were vague and un-marked with just a few cairns here and there from previous walkers giving a real sense of exploration as we picked our way across the mountains. The wildlife was rich and scenery spectacular - what more could you want for a day in the mountains!
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