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Traverse of La Meije

Traverse of La Meije


Postby past my sell by date » Wed Dec 27, 2017 8:14 pm

Date walked: 15/08/2002

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The 3984m La Meije just south of la Grave in the Ecrins region of France was the last of the great alpine peaks to be climbed.
The 3970 m Pic Central - also known as the Doigt de Dieu (finger of God) which has several teeth was climbed in 1870, but the slightly higher Western or Grand Pic not until 1877 by the Promontoire ridge which is the normal route today.
The traverse between the two - thought insurmountable for 15 years was finally achieved in 1885 by Emil Zsigmondy together with his brother Otto. Tragically this brilliant young Austrian climber was killed only two weeks later - at the tender age of 24 - trying to make a route on the South face of the same mountain :( The Brêche immediately East of the Grand Pic, and the first of the teeth are both named in his honour.
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La Meije from the summit of the Barre des Ecrins - the Grand Pic is second from the L: the peaks of La Grande Ruine are in the foreground
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The Promontoire (south) ridge - the route starts from the 3092m Promontoire hut - just out of the bottom of the picture - climbs into and ascends the obvious couloir - the Couloir Duhamel to a flatter area - the Pyramid Duhamel. From here it zig-zags up ledges to the bottom left of a hanging glacier - the Glacier du Carré - whose upper edge is followed to its top - the Brêche du Glacier Carré. Further rocks then lead to the summit
After climbing the Barre des Ecrins, La Meije was the obvious next objective and we drove round from Ailefroide and over the Col du Lautaret to La Grave
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The peaks of La Meije ( R )from near the Col du Lautaret
The normal route does not lend itself to an easy descent - there are awkward diagonal abseils - so the popular procedure is to continue from the Grand Pic by abseiling into the Brêche Zsigmondy, following the ridge to the Pic Centrale and descending on the North side to the Aigle hut - thus traversing the mountain.
Whilst one can reach the Promontoire hut from the La Berade in the South - by the Vallée des Étancons, completing the traverse then leaves one a very long way from one's car, so again the popular option is to start from La Grave, climb over the Brêche de la Meije and descend to the Promontoire (day 1), compete the traverse (day 2)
and return to La Grave from the Aigle hut on day 3. this map shows the whole route
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DAY 1

After taking a ski lift from La Grave the route takes an easy rib - Les Enfetchores to its top at 2943m and continues up the glacier to the 3365m brêche

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The route to the brêche From near La Grave : Les Enfetchores is the leftmost of the two rocky ribs
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Les Enfetchores
The route up Les Enfetchores is rather like the Zig-Zags on Gearr Aonach - the easternmost of Glen Coe's three sisters, but a lot longer - 1200 vertical metres. Most of it is walking and we didn't rope up until we reached the glacier.
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A large crevasse on the Glacier de la Meije - looking up to the brêche
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Looking L to the arrete de la Meijette
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higher up - two tiny figures can be seen (centre picture) just above where the route crosses the bergschrund : it then traverses R across the snow and finally climbs to the brêche
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Nearing the brêche - The Grand Pic, the Pic Glacier Carré (3862m) and The Grand Doigt (3764m)
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This shapely peak immediately R of the brêche is unnamed on the map
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Looking South from the brêche down the glacier des Étancons towards La Berade; there is another hut - the Refuge de Châtélleret down here
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The Promontoire ridge is the reddish rib on the L: the hut can be seen at its very foot
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Looking up to the peaks of La Meije from the very loose start to the descent : the Grand Pic is the middle one - at the back
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Another view of the cliffs from a bit lower down
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Lower still - looking up the (rather loose) Couloir Duhamel : the climbers in it are almost certainly prospecting the start of the route for tomorrow. The summit of the Grand Pic can be seen almost directly above the rib bounding the LH side of the couloir
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The Promontoire hut

DAY 2

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A more detailed map of the traverse
The mountain had been "shut" for some time by the big dump of snow that had driven us out of Switzerland: this was the first day it was "reopening" and the hut was full - entirely I think with guided parties. We set off next morning just before light.
The climbing is not difficult - no more than "severe", (though there's a lot of it): but it's a freezing cold alpine dawn, you're wearing heavy mountain boots and thick leather gloves, you're carrying a heavy pack, the cracks are full of ice, the rock is a bit polished and you've got to keep moving. What might be "severe" in rockboots on a warm afternoon in Langdale feels a bloody sight harder here :( A woman in the group in front of me shot off a greasy slab and was held by her guide. When I reached the same spot, I made the extra effort to step up a bit higher and managed to get my foot on to the remains of a rusty peg :)
As it began to get light we reached the first "crux" a steep little wall .
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A slight "traffic jam"
I had to take my gloves off for this bit, but with a rope above you there's no time for niceties: you reach up, put your frozen fingers on two things that feel as though they might be handholds, stick your foot on something , step up and assume another hold will come into reach :)
Klaus doesn't seem to understand that a good fit 30 year old will always go faster than a good fit 60 year old :lol: he was very worried that we would get held up by incompetents - but it didn't happen. Everyone forged ahead of us - the guides don't take novices on La Meije !!
The only other section around here that I remember in detail was the "Pas du Chat" - a delicate traverse around a bulging rib and an awkward few moves up a steep wall. Soon we were on the terrace that leads to the foot of the glacier and it was crampons on time. The views to the south were superb :D
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Looking South and West from the terrrace
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A wider view
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From the same point La Grande Ruine is in front of the Barre des Ecrins with the twin peaks of Mont Pelvoux to its L
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Starting the climb up the Glacier below the Grand Doigt
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Further up - the Grand Pic comes into view across the glacier
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Looking down from the Brêche Glacier Carré
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Looking up the 200m of easy slabs that lead to the summit: Two climbers can be seen just below the skyline and slightly L of centre
The first section of the final rocks - a smooth red slab - the "Cheval Rouge" is climbed à cheval, then it's easy going to the summit
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Summit photograph
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Klaus on the summit - Mont Blanc stands out on the horizon

Views from the summit

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Down the vallée des Étancons
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The Cavales ridge runs S to La Grande Ruine: on the horizon. Mont Pelvoux, the Barre des Ecrins, The Pic Coolidge and Les Bans
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Looking down the NW face to the Glacier de la Meije: La Grave is just out of the upper RH of the photo

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Along the ridge: The Dent Zsigmondy is in the foreground and beyond it the several smaller teeth that lead to the Pic Centrale - the appropriately named Doigt du Dieu: in the distance is the East Pic

The Eastern side of the Grand Pic is steep face of mostly rock, but there are fixed abseil points and three 45m abseils took us down to the Brêche Zsigmondy. The route used to continue over the Dent Zsigmondy. but a big rock fall in 1964 rendered this impossible and you now descend a short couloir, traverse on snow under the Dent and climb another couloir (ca. Scottish grade 3) to the next brêche. the traverse is incrediby exposed - or would be but for the presence of a continuous "wire" that you can clip to :)
I am not generally in favour of these sort of aids, but this is perhaps an exception: You have already climbed the mountain (without aid); unconnected anchors for protection might get buried in snow; and La Meije has already claimed a very large number of victims. If you wander around the little cemetry in La Grave, the words "Tué sur La Meije" seem to adorn a depressingly large percentage of the headstones :(
From this point there follows a spectacular but not difficult mixed snow and rock traverse to the Pic Centrale :D :D
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Two views looking towards the Pic Centrale
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Looking back - the snow-covered Dent Zsigmondy merges into the Grand Pic
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A zoomed view
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It's mid-afternnon and clouds start to gather over the peaks to the South
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The ridge continues to the 3891m East peak, but most people leave the it here
At this point we caught up with another party of three who were preparing to abseil down the North side of the ridge to the glacier below. They had a150m 6mm rope and by tying this on to our two 50m ropes we were able to condense the normal two abseils into a single one :)
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Preparing the abseil rope at the point where we leave the ridge
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A final look back to La Meije
Once on the snow it was an easy walk down to the 3450m Aigle hut where we arrived I think around 5.00pm :)
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A recent photograph of the Aigle hut which was rebuilt in 2014. As I remember it then, the level of the glacier was only a few metres below the hut. There was no balustrade round the door, and if you visited the toilet - which was round the back, a slight miscalculation would have sent you straight over a spectacular drop of several hundred metres :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Looking back from the Aigle in the evening; the point where we descended is just L of centre

DAY 3
The descent from the Aigle hut takes about 4 hours and there is little memorable about it. It is loose in parts, the steep sections are protected by "wires" and there are a lot of zig-zags - particularly at the bottom
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This is the only photo I took on the descent
When we reached the road, it was decided that I would hitch-hike back to La Grave to fetch the car, leaving all the gear with Klaus. However, Klaus's idea of hitch-hiking is slight different from mine. He stepped into the middle of the road, flagged down a car that was travelling very slowly round some uphill bends, and effectively told the driver that he was taking me to La Grave :lol: :lol: . The poor fellow had little choice. He didn't in fact go the whole way, but I walked the final km on a path,returned with the car and we set off back to Switzerland
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A final view - the descent from the Aigle is on the far R
The Alpine Club guide describes the traverse of La Meije as one of the great expeditions of the Alps
I can only agree :D - Of the routes I've done, only the traverse of the Weisshorn comes close :D
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby dav2930 » Thu Dec 28, 2017 8:39 pm

Looks a fabulous part of the Alps. I've heard of La Meije but knew nothing about it so your report is very instructive. Looks very spectacular and a major undertaking. Quite an achievement :clap:
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby LeithySuburbs » Fri Dec 29, 2017 8:42 am

Very enjoyable read, thanks.
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby ancancha » Fri Dec 29, 2017 11:44 pm

This and some other alpine reports put my ambles into perspective :!:
I've a few more years before getting to 60, so here's hoping I will manage a small epic sometime.
Well done :clap:
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Dec 31, 2017 8:24 pm

Absolutely mind-blowing! Superb pix. :clap: :clap: :clap: Boy have you had some great weather in the Alps.
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby Riverman » Mon Jan 01, 2018 3:16 pm

Awesome report and stunning photos. The traverse looks like an intimidating and exhausting proposition! Looks like you've had some incredible alpine experiences. I'm hoping in 2018 to tackle my first routes at AD grade.
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby past my sell by date » Wed Jan 03, 2018 6:24 pm

Riverman wrote:Awesome report and stunning photos. The traverse looks like an intimidating and exhausting proposition! Looks like you've had some incredible alpine experiences. I'm hoping in 2018 to tackle my first routes at AD grade.

Thanks Riverman - in my experience up to AD+ at least, the conditions are much more important than the grade. Brits by and large are quite good on rock, but relatively inexperienced on snow and ice. Continentals tend to be the opposite and some struggle even on the sort of rocks II to II+ that I would (then) happily solo. Grading of climbs therefore ( IMO) is much more on the rock grade.

AK
In the Alps you can get long periods of settled good weather - which seldom occur in scotland. :(
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby Mal Grey » Wed Jan 03, 2018 7:20 pm

Loved this report. What an amazing place to be. Way beyond me, or my ambition, these days, though I am still younger than the 60 you admit to then! In theory a Severe in the mountains would have been well within my limits 25 years ago, but I'd have pooped my pants on that terrain, even with a guide.

What I like about these reports is that they are just like the normal Walk Highland reports, great photos, interesting text, and lots of info. Many climbing descriptions would have concentrated only on the climb, not the surroundings.

Keep them coming!
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Re: Traverse of La Meije

Postby past my sell by date » Tue Jan 16, 2018 3:48 pm

Mal Grey wrote:Loved this report. What an amazing place to be. Way beyond me, or my ambition, these days, though I am still younger than the 60 you admit to then! In theory a Severe in the mountains would have been well within my limits 25 years ago, but I'd have pooped my pants on that terrain, even with a guide.

What I like about these reports is that they are just like the normal Walk Highland reports, great photos, interesting text, and lots of info. Many climbing descriptions would have concentrated only on the climb, not the surroundings.

Keep them coming!

Thanks Mal - glad you enjoyed it. I do always try to include info that would be useful to anyone wanting to repeat the route - just as when I'm looking to do a new Scottish hill, I tend to read some at least of the WH posts about it
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