Mountaineering Week in the Ecrins


Holiday Overview

A mountaineering trip off the beaten track. Climb three big alpine summits in the Ecrins National Park away from the honeypot mountains. Real mountaineering how it used to be!

If you are a passionate walker or climber and love the mountains, you will find it difficult to resist the lure of the big Alpine peaks and will love this mountaineering week off the beaten track!

This is a mountaineering trip for walkers or climbers who want to climb in the high mountains away from the honeypot mountains! The trip is based in the Ecrins - one of the most dramatic mountain ranges in the Alps. It is much less busy than the Mont Blanc massif with the added bonus of the best sun record in the Alps!

It is a progressive week of mountaineering and alpinism taking in three spectacular peaks of the Southern French Alps including L'Obiou 2789m or Piolit 2464m (Grade: facile / easy), Les Rouies 3589m (Grade: facile / easy) and either the Sirac 3444m (Grade: peu difficile / bit more difficult) or L'Olan 3564m (Grade: peu difficile / bit more difficult).

Two of the summits involve glacier crossings and scrambling / climbing in high mountain conditions and all the peaks have exposed sections!

Over the course of the week, you will learn and practice essential rope and safety techniques for moving together and climbing in the high mountains and across glaciers with opportunities to learn more advanced techniques.

If you have never climbed in the high mountains before or had glacier experience, this is an ideal week to discover walking and climbing in crampons and climbing in big boots! You will also learn how to pace yourself at altitude.

The area we use for this mountaineering trip is away from the main tourist areas so you won't be sharing your experiences with 100ds of other mountaineers and should get a real taste of the magic of mountaineering in the Alps!

The area is rich in flora and fauna with golden eagles, wild boar, chamois, ibex, marmots and there are wolves in the vicinity. For flower enthusiasts, look out for the orange lily, the 60 plus species of orchids including the lady's slipper and countless others.

A real taste of classic mountaineering and alpinism off the tourist track!

Have a look at our mountaineering kit list for adivce on what to pack.

You may also be interested in our Dome des Ecrins and Barre des Ecrins mountaineering trips.

Itinerary

Overview

Get away from the crowds and explore the peaks of the Southern French Alps without having to share them with 200 other budding mountaineers!

This is a progressive itinerary taking in three stunning summits: L'Obiou 2789m / Piolit 2464m, dramatic trekking summits with some exposed and technical sections, Les Rouies 3589m, a beautiful glacier crossing and short scramble, and either the Sirac 3444m, a glacier crossing and climbing / scrambling or L'Olan 3564m, a glacier crossing with climbing / scrambling.

As with all mountaineering, the itinerary is subject to favourable weather so may change, but wherever possible we will try to stick to the suggested itinerary described here!

Day 1 - Arrival

We'll arrange a suitable time to come and meet you at your accommodation where we will have a welcome drink and go through the week. Then you can settle down to a hearty evening meal, prepared by Collette before a good night's sleep in preparation for tomorrow!

Day 2 - The Obiou OR Piolit

Pretty much any high mountain in the Alps involves a bit of climbing or scrambling to get to the top and often in exposed and committing conditions! It is rare to find an easy path all the way up - otherwise everyone would be there!

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 learn how to move together on a rope, how to place protection, recognise hazards and look after yourself and fellow mountaineers whilst climbing.

Mountaineering is also strenuous involving long days with lots of ascent and descent so pacing and stamina are crucial. We don't want to exhaust you on your first day but we'll be aiming for a challenging walk / scramble so you can acclimatise and feel the importance of good pacing!

There are a couple of choices of mountains we can use that lend themselves perfectly to our objectives for today and we'll decide nearer the time based on local conditions. One possibility is the Obiou 2789m, which is the highest mountain of the Devoluy massif and is a spectacular and dramatic trekking peak.

At the start of the walk you get your first taste of the 'airy' ambiance of this mountain with a little exposed section. After that you go straight up through the rocks and finish off with a chimney climb to reach the summit!

Enjoy spectacular views over the Ecrins National Park, the Champsaur, Valgaudemar and Devoluy valleys and see if you can spot your next objectives for the week!

The other possibility is the Piolit 2464m via the west Aguille ridge. This is a beautiful mountain with a characteristic pointy top. A stunning ridge walk with some climbing and scrambling. Perfect territory for practicing mountaineering skills with spectacular views over the Gapencais valley, the Ecrins and the Lac de Serre Poncon.

Day 3 - Walk up to Pigeonnier Refuge

This is a beautiful and easy walk up to the refuge where you will spend the night before attacking the summit of Les Rouies tomorrow.

You can walk up directly in about 2 1/2 hours or you can take in the Lac du Lauzon on your way which is a pretty alpine lake with a stunning mountain backdrop.

Once you get to the refuge you can either relax and enjoy the ambiance or go for a little scramble up in the rocks above the refuge. Your guide will meet you up there and will be up for a bit of rope work practice, wildlife spotting or anything else you fancy doing.

The area is a great spot for ibex and other wild mountain animals so it is worth making the most of the local knowledge of your guide and getting some good wildlife shots to take home with you!! Thierry, the guardian who runs the refuge is a great character and will definitely make you welcome. It is one of the best refuges in the area! Just remember you have to get up at 4 in the morning before you get too carried away having a good time though!

Day 4 - Ascent of Les Rouies

Starting altitude: 2423m

Summit altitude: 3589m

Ascent: 1166m

Average walking time: 8 - 9 hours (5 - 6 hours up and 3 - 4 hours down)

Les Rouies is one of the easiest of the big summits of the dramatic Ecrins massif but is not to be underestimated! It is a long day with a traverse over a glacier and a steep little scramble at the end. If you have never walked on a glacier before this is an excellent introduction.

The rock is metamorphic gneiss rock and has a very different look, feel and vegetation to L'Obiou or Piolit. It is situated on the end of a chain of peaks forming the cirque which bars the end of the Valgaudemar valley.

Thierry will wake you up at 4 am where you will experience the classic french mountain refuge breakfast (bread - usually a bit stale, jam or honey and hot chocolate!). It is advisable to bring some snacks with you as it's a long time from now until your lunch at 13:00!

It is at this point as you are preparing your sacks in the dark, that you will have a 'what on earth am I doing here?' moment! Don't worry it's worth it!

After a rocky traverse in the dark you will arrive at the edge of the glacier - usually just as the sun comes up so you can see what you are doing to put your crampons on!

After an explanation of how to use the equipment you will begin the climb up through the couloir to the top of the glacier, which is pretty spectacular in itself.

Once you arrive on top you will be rewarded with amazing views and will start to feel the heat of the sun - truly beautiful! Here you will rope up to traverse the glacier which takes you up to the summit. The last climb is pretty steep and mixed snow and rock but is is worth the effort to get to the top, where you will really feel on top of the world.

From the summit you get an excellent view of the interior of the Ecrins massif including the Barre des Ecrins and La Meije and of the summit of L'Olan just next door - possibly your next challenge! Then you come down the way you came up - although it goes much quicker and the going down technique and views are very different from the going up ones so you don't feel like you are retracing your steps.

At the refuge Thierry will greet you with a well deserved hot meal before you make your way down back to your accommodation.

Day 5 - Rest / Choice Day

This is your opportunity to relax and refuel after your exertions in the mountains, before tackling your biggest challenge of L'Olan or Sirac tomorrow.

You can make the most of the hotel pool and there are local walks you can do from there.

White water rafting and high ropes adventure are possible from la Chapelle and we can also arrange a via ferrata, canyoning, paragliding...

Please note any organised activity or transport arranged for this day are not included in the price.

Day 6 - Walk up to Refuge

There are two choices of summits for today and tomorrow; the Olan or Sirac, equally spectacular and dramatic. There are then several routes up either with varying grades of climbing.

The Sirac

The walk in to the Sirac is up to the refuge Vallonpierre at 2271m from the Gioberney at 1642m. This is a newly refurbished club alpine francais refuge situated in a little hanging valley with a small lake.

There are two main ways to walk in - one direct route which is about 3 - 4 hours walking and quite steep or a traverse around under the glacier with the possibility to stop off for a drink at La Chabourneo refuge.

This is slightly longer and you cut off half of the steep direct ascent so is slightly easier walking. Both routes take you up a real classic alpine valley with the summit of La Sirac dramatically outlined above you.

The Vallonpierre refuge is a good place for chamois so keep your eyes open and see if you can discover where they are hiding!

Your guide will meet you at the refuge to show you the route for tomorrow!

L'Olan

The walk into L'Olan is straight up from la Chapelle at 1101m to the Refuge de l'Olan at 2344m. It is a long, steep and wild walk in through alpine meadows, rocky outcrops and slabs. The path is easy to follow and there are lots of wildlife spotting opportunities along the way.

The refuge itself is a real classic alpine refuge from the 60s - basic but clean and situated on a pretty alpine plateau surrounded by slabs and rock.

As the refuge is slightly off the beaten track and only really used by climbers and mountaineers, rather than families and ramblers, it has a real mountaineer alpinist atmosphere! As it should really with one of the prestigious summits of the Southern French Alps just behind it!

With nothing else in the way of civilisation anywhere near you and the old style refuge ambiance it is easy to imagine what it was like for the pioneers of Alpinism as they explored these mountains. Again your guide will meet you at the refuge.

Day 7 - Ascent of L'Olan or Sirac

The Sirac

The Sirac is a magnificent mountain to look at with it's corrugated ridge and is equally magnificent to climb.

Starting altitude: 2271m

Summit altitude: 3440m

Ascent: 1169m

Average walking time: 7 - 8 hours (5 - 6 hours up and 3 - 4 hours down)

Alpinism Grade: PD - peu difficile

Another early morning alpine start from the refuge Vallonpierre. As you are stumbling over the rocks in the dark on your way towards the start of the route and wondering how on earth the guide knows which way to go, you may again experience that 'what on earth am I doing here' feeling but this time you'll know it is going to be worth it. The start of another adventure in the mountains!

The traverse over rough terrain finally ends at a wall of solid rock! This is where your climb really starts. The first part is a scramble up a pretty cliff - a pleasure to climb. The cliff then gives way to a section of large blocks separated by short scrambles and climbs.

Then you arrive at a reasonably steep but small glacier which you cross to gain access to the next part of the route. Sometimes the bergschrund between the glacier and the main face can be quite difficult to negotiate but your guide will give you good advice and protect you.

The route is varied and interesting - a mix between scrambling and climbing (grade 4a - 4b) over short sections. It is made particularly interesting in big boots but the rock is good and there are big foot and hand holds.

The last section is a dramatic, very exposed and airy ridge which you follow up to the summit. This gives you absolutely splendid views but you are better off concentrating on your scrambling before getting too carried away in that high mountain bliss.

Wait til you get to the summit before you really relax and drink in the ambiance in relative safety!! Again the way down is the same but feels totally different coming down than it felt going up! A hot lunch will be waiting for you at the Vallonpierre before you finish your journey back down to the valley.

The Olan

The Olan is one of the most prestigious mountains of the Oisans and the Ecrins thanks to its famous north face, over 1200m of pure cliff face with some of the most difficult climbing routes in the Alps.

We are taking the south facing which is slightly less intimidating but still 6 - 700 metres of climbing and scrambling over excellent gneiss (metamorphic) rock in a real high mountain atmosphere with a very exposed ridge scramble / climb at the end - a joy to climb.

Starting altitude: 2344m

Summit altitude: 3564m

Ascent: 1220m

Average walking time: 8 - 9 hours (5 - 6 hours up and 3 - 4 hours down)

Alpinism Grade: PD - peu difficile

Another alpine start at 4 in the morning and traverse in the dark over mixed terrain until you reach the glacier. The glacier is not too technical at the start, however becomes quite steep at the end and there are some crevasses so care is needed.

You leave the glacier by a 40 m long climbing pitch (grade 3) which brings you up to a nice little terrace which you use to traverse the face. This brings you to the bottom of a couloir which you climb up to get to the east ridge. This is the scariest part of the route - it is an extremely exposed ridge which peaks and troughs along to the summit - some scrambling and some climbing (grade 3).

The final part gives you some respite from the exposure with a chimney to work your way up and then on to a nice slab to the north summit!

After this significant mental and technical challenge, the breathtaking views are even more magical!

There are a few choices for coming back down - you can either come back down the way you came or take the col between the north summit and the central summit which leads you down a snowy couloir (about 150m). When this becomes steep you go east along a little path until you rejoin the voie normale that you came up on.

Day 8 - Back to civilisation

This is the sad day where we say goodbye. Hopefully you will leave with some fantastic memories of your adventures in the Southern French Alps and will be back to try some more challenges in the future.

Reviews

Shyam Machiraju - Mountaineering and Alpinism Holiday

July 2011

My first encounter with mountaineering and alpinism and I must confess that was so good that am already thinking of book...

Read More

Directions

We recommend travelling by train. The nearest train station is Gap and from here there are local bus routes to La Chapelle in Valgaudemar. We provide transport from here.

We also offer a transfer service from Gap to your accommodation. Please just ask.

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