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L'Etale - 2483 m: bagged at last; 4th time of asking

L'Etale - 2483 m: bagged at last; 4th time of asking


Postby uk-scrambler » Sun Jun 05, 2022 9:11 pm

Date walked: 05/06/2022

Time taken: 7

Ascent: 1300m

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L'Etale is a mountain that has fascinated me for a long time; ever since I realised there was a 'normal' route that mere mortals such as myself can take to reach the summit. I've spent many hours looking at the route on the map and reading about it online. It is a route I have seen graded on one French site as 'savage'. The weird alien spacecraft like metal tripod that sits on the summit has acquired a kind of mythical status in my mind and I wondered if I would ever stand up there myself. Everything about it makes it difficult to achieve - it is a complex mountain containing several peaks and a long knife edge ridge. The true summit is tucked away at the back and you have to climb to almost 2000 m before you can even see it. I've tried and failed 3 times before to climb L'Etale; always at end May/start June. Each previous time the amount of snow has meant I've got nowhere near. I wrote about a previous failed attempt here: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=108697

This was our first time back in France since Covid. I'd been checking the webcams since April and I knew the snow levels were low this year. If the weather was good then it would be the best chance yet to get to the summit. Luca took a break from his GCSE revision, and with a forecast for a sunny morning, we set off to try and achieve what had eluded us so many times before.

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IGN 3531 Megeve (near Annecy): route taken for l'Etale in red. Route in yellow was a 'warm-up' taken a couple of days previously up the Combe de la Blonniere


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You don't get a much better chance than this. 0900 in the morning. Not much snow. Great forecast (for the morning at least!)


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L'Etale up there in the background.


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Southern part of the Aravis Chain. L-R: Aiguille de Manigod (2024 m; centre of photo), Tete de l'Aulp (2129 m), La Rouelle (2082 m), La Goenne (2174 m), Mont Charvin (2409 m). L'Etale (2483 m) is off to the left (not in shot).


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Our send off party. Wish us luck guys.


We started from Comburce car park at 0900. The weather could not be better, but rain and thunder threatened the forecast for later in the afternoon. The first part of the walk is a pleasant stroll through meadows and woodland. The previous day's torrential rain meant it was very muddy. The cattle in the fields churn the paths into a quagmire and leave frequent 'prizes' in the way. Sadly, in trying to avoid one of these I slipped and ended up putting my hand down in a big pile of shite. Ah well.

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Here-we-go...


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We knew the weather wouldn't last. Best to enjoy it whilst you have it!


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Moo.


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L'etale (2483 m) up there somewhere


Further up we get to La Turte and a couple of other chalets that mark the way up through the woods towards La Creuse (1665 m) where the fun begins. We were in good spirits, feeling like this might actually be the day we do it, so long as the weather holds.

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A long way to go still...


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Keep going...


The paths are very good down here. It must take a lot of effort to maintain them. A few years ago a large avalanche wiped out many of the paths and signs this side of la creuse. We were impressed to see that a new replacement patch and signage had been established. Whoever does this - we salute you. Before too long we were at la creuse, feeling good, and ready to make the steep push up to Col du Passet; an area we had not been able to get anywhere near in 2019 due to excessive snow. This time around there was nothing in the way.

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La creuse achieved without problems.


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Looking back down on la creuse. The path climbs steeply at this point.


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The next target. Col du Passet (2032 m)


We knew the weather wouldn't last all day, and on the climb up to Col du Passet a rain shower came over. This would be the pattern for the rest of the hike: overcast, windy, with rain showers coming over every few minutes. Given the clouds were high we decided we'd keep on for the summit as long as it wasn't looking like a storm that was going to hit us. It meant the scrambling was going to be on wet rock but we were still feeling optimistic.

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Still on the way to Col du Passet, but it suddenly looks more menacing.


Reaching Col du Passet felt great. The views over towards Charvin are excellent. It also gives the first view along the Foiroux towards L'Etale summit itself, which is now visible. Low snow levels on the Foiroux confirmed this was our best chance yet to get to the top. We stopped for lunch and sheltered under a large rock whilst a heavy shower blew over.

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Wonderful atmosphere up above 2000 m. View across the Aravis chain towards Mont Charvin (2409 m) at the southern end.


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A few clouds followed us up Col du Passet. But fortunately they quickly dissapated and visibility remained good despite the rain showers.


This was as far as I'd been before on L'Etale. In previous years I've never made it over the vast scree field of the Foiroux due to residual snow and avalanche risk. There was still some snow left around this time, but it was easily negotiated with brief use of microspikes.

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Route across the Foiroux. The correct way is to go to the left of the big rock. We lost the path under the snow and went to the right. It slowed us down considerably.


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Looking back down the Foiroux (steeper than it looks) towards Col du Passet. La Tournette in the background.


It's hard to judge distance on the scree fields and it seemed to take us a long time before we finally got towards the steeper sections where the combe narrows towards a small col that acts like a wind tunnel. We lost the path towards the the col (buried under snow) and made the mistake of assuming that the route must go straight for the col. Big mistake, the wind on there was extreme and the lip of the col is like a knife edge. We sat for a while straddling the col, clinging on to the top above what felt like a shear drop either side. We realised that either we had got the wrong route, or these 'savage' French routes are far beyond what we are capable of!

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View back from the Foiroux. The weather comes in from that direction (Lake Annecy beyond La Tournette). Still no storms, so we kept at it...


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La Tournette (background); Sulens in front.


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The wind tunnel where to combe narrows. Much steeper than it looks. The path goes to the right through the gulley just above the snow. We made the mistake of assuming we had to keep on the left hand side up to the col.


The one good thing about hitting the col was the views. Wow. Mont Blanc not quite in view (hidden behind L'Etale). But we had a great view over the Blonniere peaks and ridge that we had tackled earlier in the week. The west peak of l'Etale reared up above us to the left like a monster. It looks like an incredible scramble. I've never read of anyone doing it but someone must have.

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View over the Blonniere peaks from l"Etale col


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L'Etale west peak


It took some time to work our way back off the col. Thinking the way was not doable due to the wind we were fortunate that Luca spotted a red marker lower down on the other side of the gulley. Although on these upper sections the 'path' is very indistinct, the way is marked here and there with splodges of red paint on the rocks. We had lost the way under a brief snowfield. It was an awkward traverse for us across wet rock but having regained the path we had renewed confidence and pushed up towards the final scramble.

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Luca making it up to the bottom of the final section. Foiroux in the back ground, and l'Etale west peak.


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That's the way, straight up.


The final section is a full on scramble up good grippy limestone. However, there is one difficult move at the bottom of this section, very exposed in high winds, with handholds that feel just out of reach. This must be what is meant by savage. We felt we could do this bit, but only if it was just this bit, no chance if it was like this all the way to the top. Fortunately the difficulty eases off after that and becomes less exposed. We spotted the way across the face... surely not far to go now.

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Route across the face to the top.


Suddenly we were there. The weird alien tripod was there right ahead - much bigger than I thought it would be. I honestly didn't know if we would ever be able to achieve such a difficult peak; one I've been reading about for years. Here we were.

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There it is! L'Etale summit - 2483 m.


The views are incredible, of course (Mont Blanc etc). We would have loved to hang around up there for longer than we did. But given the wind, the risk was that before long we would be literally hanging around up there. We took about 5 mins to enjoy the feeling, but the sight of darker clouds heading our way hastened our retreat. Before we left we did look over the start of the ridge route across the top of l'Etale and in the direction of Mandallaz and, eventually, Charvin. What a ridge that is - clearly not something we could attempt in the conditions - but something we'd like to have a go at in the future. A head for heights and confident scrambling definitely required!

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Luca making his way over to the summit.


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Bagged.


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Never thought I'd see the day.


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A quick break. Can't stay here long!


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View north towards the Aravis north chain. Pointe Percee (2750 m) visible in the mid-distance. Alpine big boys further distant.


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The ridge. Wow. A target for one day... all the way across from l'Etale summit (2483 m) to Charvin (2409 m)


The rain was coming in, skies darkening. Just the small matter of getting back down again. The difficult move at the bottom of the limestone was in our minds - it is a nasty downclimb. You need to memorise the move on the way up.

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The scramble back down.


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Not sure if its easier going up or down.


Back on the Foiroux the heavens opened. Still a long way to go. The less said about the traipse back the better. We were thrilled that we'd made it to the summit but decided not to talk about how great it was until we were safely back down at la creuse.

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Emergency poncho out. Over the Foiroux back to Col du Passet.


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One more snowfield to negotiate.


A thrilling hike and a great way to end the week. Already planning the next challenges, which is definitely going to include the ridge across the other Etale peaks. That will for sure require calmer winds however!
Attachments
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The difficulty eases off after an initial tricky move.
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Re: L'Etale - 2483 m: bagged at last; 4th time of asking

Postby Pointless Parasite » Wed Jun 08, 2022 6:01 am

Great report and congratulations :clap:. Snow conditions this year have certainly been very different. There was little snow over winter (I had about 10 successive weekends of good weather) and we've had a warm May that has melted almost everything at these altitudes.

I've not climbed L'Etale, but it's a fine ridge. I first noticed it when I climbed Dent de Cons earlier this year and was very impressed by Mont Charvin, which looked frankly evil.
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Re: L'Etale - 2483 m: bagged at last; 4th time of asking

Postby past my sell by date » Mon Jun 13, 2022 5:39 pm

Great report - exciting stuff - I've never got that far West of the Chamonix valley. but Col du Passet rang a bell and I remember we 've stayed at the Loriaz a couple of times and may have done Mont Buet
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Re: L'Etale - 2483 m: bagged at last; 4th time of asking

Postby uk-scrambler » Sat Jul 02, 2022 3:20 pm

Pointless Parasite wrote:Great report and congratulations :clap:. Snow conditions this year have certainly been very different. There was little snow over winter (I had about 10 successive weekends of good weather) and we've had a warm May that has melted almost everything at these altitudes.

I've not climbed L'Etale, but it's a fine ridge. I first noticed it when I climbed Dent de Cons earlier this year and was very impressed by Mont Charvin, which looked frankly evil.


Thanks. I bet you've been able to get on some nice outings this year the way the weather has been!
L'Etale is a great ridge. Hoping to have a go at it later in the summer actually.
I've never been to Dent de Cons, but I've seen it across from Charvin... which is hard work but quite manageable from the L'aulp de Marlens side.
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Re: L'Etale - 2483 m: bagged at last; 4th time of asking

Postby uk-scrambler » Sat Jul 02, 2022 3:21 pm

past my sell by date wrote:Great report - exciting stuff - I've never got that far West of the Chamonix valley. but Col du Passet rang a bell and I remember we 've stayed at the Loriaz a couple of times and may have done Mont Buet


Thanks. It's a lovely part of the world. Mont Buet is on my list to have a go at at some point; it looks like hard work, but must be a good feeling to get up above 3000m under your own steam!
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