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French Pre-Alps Peak-bagging Summer 2020
by RobW » Thu Jan 07, 2021 12:19 am
Date walked: 14/07/20204 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
July 14-Sept 12, 2020. With Covid-19 restrictions making flights less attractive, a road trip around the Alps and southern Italy was an obvious choice this year, with plenty of 1000m prominence (P1000m) peaks to choose from (Ribus, named after the Indonesian word for 1000, as that’s where the Ribus list started life). When Britain and France lifted their mutual quarantine requirements, I booked at 2-month Eurotunnel ticket and headed for the Alps, with the vaguest of plans. As it turned out, the trip would include 117 P600 peaks including 74 P1000s, five of them P1500m ultras filling gaps in my Europe collection.
The French peaks were generally of high quality and sometimes quite challenging, and they form the substance of this report, with a guest appearance by the impressive Argentera just across the border in Italy.
French peaks climbed in 2020: Peakbagger.com ascents map
Le Roignais 2995m P1028 was a peak I’d failed to summit in 2006 on my first ever overseas peak-bagging trip, in poor weather. 14 years later the weather and my preparation were better. After an early morning Eurotunnel crossing I spent most of the day driving across the France, paying the highest tolls of the trip, finishing the day coaxing my Focus up the rough road to the trailhead. My estate car is quite well set up for sleeping and was my home for almost the whole trip.
2020 07 13: Le Roignais trailhead by Rob Woodall, on Flickr
July 14: The morning dawned clear. I’d checked with local climber Oscar Argudo, who said the peak is easier when there’s snow in the couloir. As far as I could tell there was none, but I took axe and crampons just in case, and rounding a corner I was surprised to find a snow climb after all,
2020 07 14: Le Roignais NE couloir
steeper than was comfortable as it was my first time in crampons for a while, but better than the steep mucky scree above. A short slightly chossy climb soon led to the scrambly summit block. I was a little apprehensive of the descent, but it was easier than the ascent, taking a slightly better line and with the snow a little softer.
The next day I crossed into Italy, bagging the rather trivial Il Mottarone 1491m P1130 en route to Switzerland. The Covid-19 rules permitted me to travel there, although the British infection rate was quite close to their limit. Once across the Swiss border (unmanned as it turned out) I climbed 5 doable Ribus there (i.e. omitting anything not reasonably soloable), then headed eastwards through Northern Italy, dodging into Central Italy to miss poor weather before joining Lee for a week commencing Aug 27 for some harder Dolomites peaks, then visiting the Slovenian Ribus (the Covid restrictions had been lifted by the time I arrived on Aug 6), then to Central and Southern Italy before returning to France on my way back to the UK. As it turned out, I had time to include the P900m peaks en route, island trips to Sicily and Elba, then worked my way east along the coast, to join Lee again for a long weekend. Our target had been the 'ultra' Monte Viso 3841m P2062, but with good weather, and hut capacity reduced by Covid restrictions, we had left the booking too late. We quickly settled for the impressive Argentera.
Argentera and back into France
My last day in Italy before meeting Lee comprised Monte Armetta 1739m P805 and Punta Marguareis 2651 P780. While below what had become my default P900m cutoff for the trip, these were good peaks, Marguareis particularly fine, with impressive cliffs and a descent route taking me briefly into France. That evening I reccied the rough rocky approach drive for Argentera 3297 P1295, before heading down to message Lee with the good news that we had shortened the approach hike a little. He arrived next morning (Aug 22), I coaxed the Focus back up the rough road then we enjoyed a superb ascent in warm sunshine.
2020 08 22: Argentera from hut: scree ascent to col is R of centre
We used a light half rope, travelling alpine style.
Argentera: summit climb from col
The route follows a series of ledges, the exposed sections protected by fixed ropes (some in poor condition): the crux is a steep chimney, then a short easy scramble leads to the summit cross. We stayed for half an hour enjoying the sunshine and view,
Argentera summit view
then descended, the chimney having a fixed knotted rope saving an abseil. At the hut we enjoyed the first Radler (beer and lemonade) of the trip, cheese and salami, then descended in hot sun, thankful to finally reach the shadow of the valley floor.
Aug 23 with mixed weather we struggled to find a high-prominence target neither of us have done, but Grande Berard 3048m P939 served as a good target with a good weather forecast. The final 200m SW face climb was chossy and thought provoking, but keeping to the best rock and looking out for the sparse cairns, its fine compact summit was attained.
2020 08 23: descending Grande Berard's brittle summit ridge
Aug 24 Lee and I tackled Pic Bayle 3465m P1175, which should have been an easy bag with a high cable car and easy glacier crossing, but late-season the final misty summit climb was chossy and needed protection.
2020 08 24: Pic Bayle: top of glacier a welcome handrail during chossy descent
My afternoon peak Pied Moutet 2339 P681 had fun scrambling and wonderful views.
2020 08 24: Pied Moutet summit
Aug 25 I met Oscar for La Dent Parrachée 3697 P1180. We’re working together on the World Ribus project and it was good to meet in person, and to have company on one of the more challenging Ribu 3000ers of the area.
2020 08 25: Parrachee: steep bouldery couloir, steep higher up: best route passes just R of gendarme
Our slightly off-route ascent of the loose chossy key couloir was harder than it needed to be, but the ridge is fun and engaging, the exposure and scrambling never severe.
Descending Parrachee summit ridge
Late afternoon I crossed the valley to squeeze in Signal du Petit Mont Cenis 3162 P979, a lovely ascent, although my decision to descend via the SE ridge got me into loose chossy ground with the best line not clear at times, and I was relieved to get down to the main trail before daylight began to fail.
2020 08 25: Cenis summit view S: Pointe Droset and Lac du Mont-Cenis, early evening
Aug 26 I enjoyed a beautiful ascent of the easy Mont Chaberton 3131m P1281.
2020 08 26: Chaberton ascent: looking N to Pointe des Trois Sciés with Charniers at back
Its summit provides a dramatic end-on view of my afternoon goal, Pic de Rochebrune 3320m P1019, doing nothing to boost my confidence in my ability to solo it. The approach is equally dramatic, with easy scrambling leading to La Breche.
2020 08 26: Rochebrune: La Breche. From here, scrambling is serious, exposed but never quite technical
The crux 8m wall has a fixed rope, then I held my nerve for the next couple of pitches, vertical but with good holds and not technical.
Rochebrune trailhead, Col Isoard, Clot la Cime at back.
The trailhead is the Col de l'Isoard of Tour de France fame, and as I arrived back at the near-deserted car park early evening a van arrived: skateboarders intent on a late evening descent of the pass! A second van arrived, same again. The first group returned from their descent, next time they suggested I drive down after them; they travelled as fast as I could drive the upper section, 20-25mph. It was good to meet a new brand of English eccentric. UKDH - look them up.
Aug 27 I climbed the popular near-ultra Le Taillefer 2857m P1490 with its beautiful lakes,
2020 08 27: Taillefer ascent: Lac Fourchu and Lac de l' Agneau
impressive cliffs, and distinctive summit marker,
Taillefer summit: Ribus Pic Bayle L, Les Aiguilles d'Arves R
and in the afternoon the more straightforward but impressive Le Tabor 2389m P1022.
2020 08 27: Le Tabor from Piquet de Nantes
This got me into position for an ascent of the fantastic Grande Tete de l'Obiou
Le Tabor: view S over Piquet de Nantes to Grande Tete de l'Obiou
which I climbed the next morning before the arrival of a long-forecast weather front.
Grande Tete de l'Obiou 2789m P1541, the fifth P1500 'ultra' of my trip,
2020 08 28: Obiou E face early morning
includes plenty of scrambling, exposed in places. Oscar suggested I include the extraordinary Chatières (cat flaps!) route. This crosses ledges to an outrageously exposed corner, where I nearly took a wrong turning. Fortunately a French couple arrived;
Obiou: Chatières route: NE prow viewpoint
she’d done the route before and I followed them up an improbable sequence of gullies
Obiou: Chatières route surprise
and thrutchy squeezes
Obiou: Chatières chockstone
before emerging at the summit cairn. On the intricate descent, with a good GPS track I was able to return the favour and put them back on route. I count Obiou as one of my best ever climbs. I was down half an hour before the rain started. It was to continue for 2 days and I found a hotel in Grenoble – my only day off in the 2 month trip.
Aug 30, despite a lateish start (I couldn't miss the hotel breakfast!) my ascent of Le Grand Veymont 2341m P1165 was cold and wet,
2020 08 30: Le Grand Veymont: trailhead
but the weather improved on the descent and I had time for an afternoon ascent of Montagne de Céüse 2016m P1040, an easy ascent from the west, its summit perched above dramatic eastern cliffs.
2020 08 30: Montagne de Céüse SW face
Its higher neighbour Pic de Bure 2709m P1268 was the next day’s target, its unmistakeable twin summit profile making an excellent circuit, passing its Observatoire on the summit plateau
2020 08 31: Pic de Bure Observatoire cloud
and enjoying a nice cloud inversion.
Pic de Bure summit inversion
A drive up Tour de France classic Mont Ventoux 1911m P1150 completed the day, sunny with a very cold wind.
2020 08 31: Mont Ventoux: short ascent
September: heading back north
Sept 1 started with near-drive-up Sommet de Lure 1826m P973 amidst nice limestone scenery,
20200901: Sommet de Lure trailhead and summit
nearly running out of diesel en route to my second peak, fortunately finding a tiny self-service filling station.
Around midday I climbed Blayeul Sommet 2189m P949, a long roughish drive-up then a 90 minute hike.
2020 09 01: Blayeul Sommet: view E
Third of the day is Mont Colombis 2189m P874, a drive-up to a spectacular viewpoint,
2020 09 01: Mont Colombis: view S
popular with the cyclists as are many peaks around there. Late evening, the easy bonus P600 La Peyrouse 1710m P746 overlooking the street-lit Grenoble made this the only 4-peak day of the trip.
2020 09 01: Peyrouse at sunset: Veymont skyline
Sept 2, my last day in France comprised two quite challenging P900s. From Oscar’s descriptions, both sounded doable.
Tête du Collier 2568m P904 involves a couple of short exposed scrambles, and after a climb through cloud, stunning views across an inversion
2020 09 02: Tête du Collier: view S: Pic Poncin
to recently-bagged Pic de Bure.
Collier view S: Tête de Claudel: Pic de Bure far R
My afternoon peak was Le Rocher Blanc 2928m P939, not inherently difficult,
2020 09 02: Rocher Blanc ascent
but with the upper section in cloud and with my mind more on forward planning than route finding, I made it harder than necessary, with an exciting exposed off-route traverse at one point.
Richard and Denise had spotted that time spent in Germany would count towards the 14-day quarantine requirement prior to returning to the UK, so after an weekend in Switzerland linking up with Lee again, I headed to the Bavarian Alps for my last week, joining R & D for a Ribu we both needed, finally returning to Britain on Sept 12. An excellent trip exceeding expectations, with an ever changing plan which included many good peaks, most of them easy, especially those in southern Italy.
Route descriptions, GPX route files and Facebook photo albums for the individual peaks, are linked from within this report and can also be accessed via my Peakbagger.com ascents page for 2020
by Pointless Parasite » Sat Jan 09, 2021 2:55 pm
by RobW » Sat Jan 09, 2021 9:13 pm
Pointless Parasite wrote:Nice report. All of these peaks deserve their own thread, really.
Thanks, yes maybe; the best of them at least. The wonderful Obiou has its own report on ScottishHills - I should copy it over here. Each has its own mini report on Peakbagger.com with linked Facebook album, though, so I wanted to tell the story of the journey (having time on my hands just now!). A few chapters yet to write...
Despite all my intentions, this year has been limited to a handful of local peaks including Crete de la Neige and Le Mole (both with well over 1000 m of prominence) and Dents du Midi in September. I never got round to climbing La Tournette, which is now covered in snow and ice.
Are you based over there? My first trip (long ago!) was Chamechaude and northwards. La Tournette was dreich as I recall, glad of the ladder on the summit block. So many great peaks.
by Pointless Parasite » Sun Jan 10, 2021 3:31 pm
RobW wrote:Are you based over there? My first trip (long ago!) was Chamechaude and northwards. La Tournette was dreich as I recall, glad of the ladder on the summit block. So many great peaks.
Yes I live just outside Geneva on the French side. I climbed Cret de la Neige (1720 m) and Le Reculet (1718 m) today. Beautiful, but brutally cold.
by RobW » Mon Jan 11, 2021 10:59 pm
Pointless Parasite wrote:Yes I live just outside Geneva on the French side. I climbed Cret de la Neige (1720 m) and Le Reculet (1718 m) today. Beautiful, but brutally cold.
Nice to have on your doorstep. Oddly I didn't log Le Reculet when I visited them both in 2006 - so an armchair bag - thanks https://www.peakbagger.com/peak.aspx?pid=9643
Lee my occasional Alpine partner (but more frequent in 2020) is at Basel.
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