Friday, 31 December 2010

It's climbing time.

When we first arrived here in the Oisans valley, we were a bit concerned about the ice - or rather, the water. But the temperature obligingly dropped on Christmas Day, meaning we had some fantastic days out climbing.

On Boxing Day, we headed up to Vallon de la Selle (or, Vallon du Diable - depending on who you ask!) for very cold temperatures, clear blue skies and - after a stunning but long walk in - a short and mildly disappointing pitch of ice. This was merely a reconnaissance mission though!
Looking back down the valley ...

... and up the other way.

We were also joined by a mate from Amsterdam, Dan, who was keen to get out there on ice for the first time. So we headed with him back to La Grave, for more of the falls up the north side of the valley ...
Jen starting off on Croupe de la Poufiasse, in La Grave
... and then up to falls near the small villages of Notre-Dame and Reymond, too. The drives to these places were adventures in themselves, consisting of steep, narrow roads that cling to the sides of the mountain and sometimes tunnel through, with large chandeliers of ice dangling above (and sometimes smashed onto the tarmac).
Villard Notre-Dame

Each village, perched so high above the valley, has its stone church tower and a small cluster of oddly-shaped old buildings, and of course spectacular views to the mountains. Not bad, eh?!

A great way to round off the year - and lead into 2011: The Year of the Holiday.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A White Christmas

Merry Christmas!

We hope you had a wonderful day with friends and family, celebrating, giving, eating and drinking. 

Christmas morning in the Ecrins

We elebrated on Christmas Eve with some steaks, a bottle of pinot noir and phone calls home. And then woke up late on Christmas morning, here in Venosc in the Ecrins. There had been snow overnight, making it a classic image of a white Christmas morning. Jen may have been brought up with the hot Australian summer Christmas, but for her snow somehow feels appropriate at this time of year.

Being cool and crisp, we headed out for a walk towards a nearby ice fall that afternoon... with our gear, just in case. But sadly, the icefall is still a waterfall (although a rather pretty one).

We saw animal tracks on the fresh snow - deer, wild pig, and maybe a fox or feral cat? - and came across a ramshackle hiking hut, with an incredible purple woodstove, an eclectic but vast array of cooking equipment and a few candles in old wine bottles. Although it had recently been fitted out with new windows, even with the stove going it would be chilly overnight to stay there ... but we can't say it wasn't a little tempting.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Le Pylon

Le Pylon - a stunning line, of a low grade, within view of La Grave. No wonder it gets three stars!

And it looks pretty great from afar ...

... but sadly it was more water than ice up close, when we popped by on the 23rd December. It would probably have been okay on the steeper right hand side, but the left had quite a few fountains running out of it, and we weren't in the mood to get soaked. So, we left it for another day, and instead drank tea and ate stinky French cheese. Yum.

(Edit to add: the temperature has since dropped. We'll be back!)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Snow time ...

Oh the weather outside's delightful,
But the icefalls look quite frightful,
Oh don't be such a tease,

Although it's hard to imagine, having just arrived in the Alps from the sunny Costa Blanca, we are slightly distressed by the warm temperatures. Today was almost 10degrees! And overnight, we don't think it really froze at all.

This is not good news if you want to climb ice. Not good news at all.

However ... we did manage to climb a beautiful line today. Perhaps a little damp in patches, but nevertheless three pitches of easy axe-swinging fun in a great location. Jen tried out her much improved axes, now with extra horn, thanks to Mark's early Christmas gift (which included installation, too).

Ooooh! Check out the horn!
AND more snow is on its way, and then winds from the north to follow. Many of the icefalls have formed, others are getting there, and hopefully the refreezing cycle will kick in. A little bit of melt that then refreezes can make the ice more solid (as long as the melt doesn't destroy it completely, of course...)

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Millau Viaduct

We saw a program about this engineering marvel once ... it didn't quite prepare us for the stunning drive across it.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Arrrr me hearties ...

A day spent here.

On the walk in.

Mark on belay.

On the climb out, at the end of the day.
And if you're lucky, maybe even videos to come.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


We'd printed out the online topo to this area a while back, knowing we'd pass back through the area. And sure enough, on our way back north we decided to drop in on Ferrari wall.

OK, so we got a bit lost trying to find the place (I wouldn't recommend taking the online map too literally) but we got there in the end and camped up overnight under the marked pine tree. And woke the next day to blue cloudless skies and a strong, extremely cold wind. Breakfast was slow as we lingered in the warmth of the van.

The rock has an incredible texture, huh? And check out the line under the roof!
When we did venture out, it was a short walk to the cliff edge - and once over the edge, we were out of the wind and in the direct sun. The rock was warm to touch, so the layers of clothing were stripped off and it was climbing time.

We both had fun on the overhanging, jug-filled rock - deceptively tricky in parts - and so much so, we decided to spend another night there and climb there again in the morning. Jen worked a steep 6a, and Mark a 7a ... as well as trying that line under the roof, too.

... and Mark attempting the incredible rooftop 7c.
Jen working the steep 6a ...

The online topo we used, again, is not something to be taken too literally, showing many more climbing lines than currently exist - it must have been quite crowded intially, and now the routes have been re-drawn, re-bolted and clarified. Whilst this means the routes are better spaced, it does sometimes mean you end up climbing something harder (they're never easier!) than expected.

It's also very much a local's crag; I think we were quite unusual, not being from that province let alone anywhere in Spain. It won't be an internationally famous climbing destination any time soon, but it was definitely worth the visit!

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Rest Day in Ronda

If you can't climb due to torrential rain and strong wind at the crag, then it's likely that your touristing will also be rather ... damp. We started very well, with tapas and a glass of red wine, but then decided to venture out and see some of the pictureque (read: tourist trap) old town. We raced around between shelters, and still got soaked through. Hot chocolate works wonders ...

Friday, 3 December 2010

El Caminito del Rey

First view - the old walkway, with via ferrata below - and the bridge.
Starting out across the cliff ...
... scrambling up to the pathway.

The pathway, being old, is missing some bits ...
... some of those bits are bigger than others ...

... so you want to be good on your feet ...

... or willing to think laterally.
But this is all worth it, for the soaring cliffs above ...
... the stunning construction ...

... and the terrific exposure.
And what a view, looking back!