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routes for soloing in France
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By kenr
Jun 22, 2014

I've gotten into doing long-ish rock routes solo, and some of them are rather good, so I'm looking for more, especially in the Alps and Provence.

There's just been a thread on UKclimbing forums about solo-able routes around Chamonix -- got some new ideas from that.

But there's lots of interesting rock outside Chamonix, and other styles of soloing not available around Chamonix. I spent the last three days in other mountain groups soloing interesting routes using three different styles.

So I'm eager to hear more suggestions for routes -- and more ideas for approaches to soloing.

What I like about soloing is moving fast and light on non-short routes in dramatic rock situations (like narrow ridges + aretes) or great surroundings (like big snowfields and pointy peaks - or the blue sea - or waterfalls).

I like to keep the danger factor real low, and I'm willing to "cheat" to get that, as long as I don't have to carry too much extra weight -- like normal rope-solo gear (which I own) and full-length rope is too heavy for me to be willing to carry very far up from a trailhead (and it's slow).

I have a definite preference for routes that do not require any rappels (because of the weight of the rope), or not more than 15 meters / 50 feet. I enjoy and practice down-climbing lots.

Difficulty grade level I'm being vague about, because it depends on how I can "cheat" rig the crux sequence for security (and the soundness of the rock) -- but a lot of what I like seems to be low class 5.

Thanks for more ideas,

Ken


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By kenr
Jun 22, 2014

I guess since I'm asking for "more" ideas, I ought to say what I've tried so far ...

Chamonix area

  • Aiguilles Crochues traverse (with extension beyond Col Dards toward Aig Belvedere)
  • Aiguille du Tour, E summit by its W ridge
. . . (also various non-difficult snow routes)

Vanoise National Park:
  • Aiguille de la Vanoise traverse: amazing long knife-edge ridge, and a variety of other interesting classic alpine-rock situations. With wonderful views of big glaciers and dramatic peaks. Stop by at the hut for refreshment afterward (or to sleep the night before).

Grenoble area
  • traverse of Aretes du Gerbier ? (well I actually led it twice, because each time I wanted to do it solo, some old friend want to come along, so I bring a short rope and some slings)
  • via ferrata Grand Bec, at Alpe du Grand Serre. VF allows two modes of "cheating": (1) using the fixed gear to rig protection; and in this case for a few sequences I indulged in (2) using the fixed gear for Aid. Higher hiking-to-climbing ratio than I wished. But it contained some of the most interesting 5.7-5.9 situations I've found.
  • via ferrata Les Perrons, at Venosc and Les Deux Alpes. Lots of interesting moves in the 5.7-10a range. I used my non-standard Skylotec VF kit for extra security, and pretty much did all the moves free except that I rested on the fixed gear sometimes (usually when the VF kit got tangled up with the fixed gear, but a couple of times just to rest). Then ride the lift back down.

. . . (Also other via ferrata routes, but those did not allow many moves with hands + feet touching rock)
. . . (Dolomites have much higher proportion of VF routes which allow lots of contact with rock)

the Sea (Calanques)
  • traversee Ecureuils (lead once + solo once)

the Sea (Cap Canaille)
  • Bec de l'Aigle, W ridge: a fin of fun-climbing puddingstone overhanging the deep blue sea.
  • traversee Parpeles: long traverse right beside the sea, underneath the overhanging fin. One delicate move with two bolts - (It's very close to one end, which invites ingenious "cheating" methods to protect with minimal or retrievable gear).
  • Vire des Immortelles: crux sections well-protected by bolts, which invites the question of how little extra gear to carry to "bridge" between each pair of bolts. More approaches to "cheating" on protection of soloing.


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By Rui Ferreira
From Longmont, CO
Jun 24, 2014

not exactly in the Alps or in Provence, but in the Grenoble area you can do some routes in the Belledonne range, such as the North Ridge of the Grand Pic de Belledone (9,767 ft) . It has two or three spots of 5.5 and 5.6 and a bunch of loose rock but is manageable and fun without ropes or gear, just approach shoes. There is still plenty of snow on the approach to Col de Balmette.

The Grand Pic is the highest summit in the range and if you are inclined you can do the summit link with Pic Central and the Croix de Belledonne as a solo, however you will need a rope to rappel off some of the points in the traverse.
Link here for more details

www.camptocamp.org/routes/53930/fr/grand-pic-de-belledonne-a>>>


Across the valley from Belledonne in Crolles (Chartreuse Range), there are several via ferratas that require self-belay gear (one goes behind a waterfall) and more via ferratas right in downtown Grenoble on the Bastille.

South of Grenoble there is the famous Mont Aiguille, (6,843ft) in the Vercors range. The Voie Normale goes at 5.4 and you will need a rope to rappel off. Other routes offer better rock but higher difficulties, such as the Tour des Gemeaux (5.9), even though it appears that some of the cruxes can be avoided via easier variations. This summit is apparently the birthplace of rock climbing in France with a first ascent done in the 15th century.

www.camptocamp.org/routes/53925/fr/mont-aiguille-voie-normal>>>


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By kenr
Jun 24, 2014

Rui Ferreira wrote:
... Belledonne range, such as the North Ridge of the Grand Pic de Belledone (9,767 ft) . It has two or three spots of 5.5 and 5.6 and a bunch of loose rock but is manageable and fun without ropes or gear, just approach shoes. There is still plenty of snow on the approach to Col de Balmette. The Grand Pic is the highest summit in the range and if you are inclined you can do the summit link with Pic Central and the Croix de Belledonne as a solo, however you will need a rope to rappel off some of the points in the traverse.

Thanks for that suggestion. I have the guidebook for the Belledonne, but I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities. The approaches to the Grand Pic are kind of long, so I was hesitant to go in there and explore without a good idea of what would be fun. Maybe I'll get my chance in September (with less snow).

Thanks for the point about need to rappel if do the ridge traverse. It's often an interesting question whether a specific rappel is actually required. There are at least two CampToCamp route descriptions which used to say that a rappel was required, until I explored it and then edited C2C to explain how the rappel could be avoided.

One deterrent for me trying ridge traverses in the Aiguilles d'Argentiere also in the Belledonne -- but with (I was hoping) an easier approach than the Grand Pic, and with some S-facing options to avoid the big snow this year -- is the need(?) for rappels.

Ken


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By kenr
Jun 24, 2014

Rui Ferreira wrote:
... Mont Aiguille, (6,843ft) ... The Voie Normale goes at 5.4 and you will need a rope to rappel off. Other routes offer better rock but higher difficulties, such as the Tour des Gemeaux (5.9), even though it appears that some of the cruxes can be avoided via easier variations.

Thanks for suggesting that, since I've been wondering how good the V.N. (= normal route) would be. I've done the Tour des Gemeaux with French partners [ photos ] -- seemed clearly beyond my soloing range. And we used double ropes for at least one of the rappels. So for the Voie Normale, my plan would be to do it on a weekday off-season uncrowded, and down-climb the route.

Which reminds me that I heard the Normal Route on Mont Aiguille used to be equipped as a via ferrata, but it got so crowded (and presumably conflicts between ascenders and descenders avoiding the long rappels), that they removed the VF equipment (perhaps some remnants can still be found?)

The Via Ferrata routes by Grenoble and Crolles are typical "French style" -- unlike many routes in the Dolomites, they make it difficult to have much contact with the rock (as opposed to the steel fixtures). But still I find them kind of fun. I think the VF Grand Diedre route at Crolles would be rated at least 5b if it were in a climbing gym. I've done the VF Vire des Lavandieres (with the waterfall) twice, first with a local Crolles resident, again with Sharon (she likes that you don't have to walk down afterward).

VF Les Perrons (at Venosc in the northwest Ecrins / Oisans) is special among via ferratas in France because it allows more contact of hands and feet with the rock. I feel that it goes "free" (not using the VF fixtures for aid) at about 6b.

But of course with using a normal VF kit, falling in one of the 5c / 6a / 6b sections of Les Perrons would be pretty bad: You'd likely hit one of the protruding steel VF fixtures. So when I tried it last Sunday I used a special Skylotec VF kit. I bet I'll do that route again using that equipment again.

Ken


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By kenr
Jun 24, 2014

More ideas from UKClimbing forum:
www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?t=556649
routes around Pralognan and Champagny in the Vanoise -- though no discussion of soloing. I note that they take for granted that the traverse of the Aiguille de la Vanoise is worthwhile.
I thought it was the best ridge traverse I've found so far in Europe. Similar quality (but not difficulty) as the North ridge of the Matthes Crest.

Some other ideas I'm considering are some stuff around Refuge Soreiller in the northwest Ecrins / Oisans: the Voie du Nain on the Dibona, and a nearby ridge on the Aig Soreiller. I'm thinking I might even haul a full rope-solo kit up to the Refuge to check out Nain my first time, with the idea that if it went well I would repeat it several times going lighter. While at the Refuge, I might check out the descent (icy?) from Pic Geny (since the ascent of its East ridge looks inviting).

Someone mentioned an obvious ridge traverse NW from La Berarde that could be done as a daytrip from parking at La Berarde.

Ken


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By Rui Ferreira
From Longmont, CO
Jun 25, 2014

There are two approaches to get to the Grand Pic, from la Gorge (906m) and from La Souille (1358m) above Col de Pre Long. Definetely go from the higher parking lot as you will save about an hour of hiking. I remember that it took me about 2.5 hrs to do the hike in June from the higher parking lot.

My idea of fun might not be the same for everyone, but this is the highest summit in the range, I stared at it everyday from my kitchen table and the route has good exposure. Despite the exposure it is always within safe climbing difficulty, so if anything looks hard then you are off-route. The actual crux is a bit of slab climbing on the right side of a v-shaped gully. I was able to downclimb this as well without issues, even on wet rock. Other spots actually have a bit of metal cable, because this route is done very frequently as a solo traverse of the full range starting from Croix de Chamrousse. There are sections of very loose rock, but these are mostly in class 3 terrain (nothing like some of the Canadian Rockies routes where they are the crux).

I have not done the traverse to Croix de Belledonne, but I would assume that all of the rappels can also be downclimbed, the same way I was able to downclimb off the Grand Pic.

You can see my Picasa album photos of the climb, by doing a web search.


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By kenr
Jun 25, 2014

Thanks so much for all these critical details -- just what I need to get started climbing in the wild Belledonne massif -- hopefully late Aug / early Sept. (Looks like I'm going to be making lots fewer trips to the Dolomites).

Rui Ferreira wrote:
My idea of fun might not be the same for everyone, but this is the highest summit in the range and the route has good exposure, but always within safe climbing difficulty, so if anything looks hard then you are off-route. The actual crux is a bit of slab climbing on the right side of a v-shaped gully. I was able to downclimb this as well without issues, even on wet rock. Other spots actually have a bit of metal cable, because this route is done very frequently as a solo traverse of the full range starting from Croix de Chamrousse.

Sounds a lot like my idea of fun.

> "metal cable"
Typical European idea of making outdoor things fun for more people, instead of "pure" for a small elite. Like on the wonderful traverse of the Aiguille de la Vanoise, there's one move which is much harder than everything else, so they've set up fixed Aid for that - (it's not even mentioned in any of the route descriptions).

And doing the longer traverse sounds like something I'd like to work up to -- thanks much for that idea. This winter I checked out the start from Croix de Chamrousse toward Grande Lauziere on skis (trickier than it looks from the topo map, I ran into a French party who were coming from Refuge de la Pra and had lost track, hoped I could tell them a better way).

Generally I've been intimidated from exploring the southern Belledonne because I'm usually thinking of it in winter on skis, when the roads are not plowed as high. So it's great to know that it might be as little as 2.5 hours hiking in the summer. (Maybe afterward I'll get inspired to go on there on skis in winter-spring, sleep at Refuge de la Pra).

> "this is the highest summit in the range"
The highest summit in the northern Belledonne is Pic du Frene 2807m. I've had that as a goal for several years with approach on skis to Col de la Vallette. I've done the skiing part with a non-climber, afterward regretted not having gone to the summit. Problem is the ski approach is SE-facing and just the right steepness for avalanches. And the approach road is more sheltered so you're not sure when it's free from snow (esp in a big snow year like 2014). Tricy to choose the right day. I've been thinking I might want to drive to the trailhead the night before.

I've already skied the Rocher Blanc 2928m (from Le Fond de France) which I guess is the highest peak in the mid-Belledonne - (nice view of it with its two high siblings E across from top of the Sept Laux ski lifts). The guidebook says there's some worthwhile climbing nearby on Le Toit and La Pyramide (but how long and how much vert on approach to get to it?)

Ken


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By Rui Ferreira
From Longmont, CO
Jun 25, 2014

Ken

I have done lots of ski touring in the Belledonne and only use skitour.fr anymore for all my logistics and planning. The site is great because you can check the latest trip reports, with trailhead, avalanche and road conditions (whether free of snow, blocked, etc.).

I have done several ski tours from Fond de France and agree that it would be a long way in to get to La Pyramide on foot for climbing. Better approach appears to be from the southwest above Le Rivier d'Allemont and following the trail to the lakes and on to the Col de Sept Laux. There is also a refuge in the area that can be used as a staging point for le Toit and La Pyramide.

I have also been considering doing the tour of the Belledonne on skis, but it will depend on the job situation and being able to get back to France in the next season or two (I'm in the process of resigining from my job as they want me to move permanently to France, but it is not the right situation for my family).


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By rickziegler
Jun 25, 2014

I'd stay away from loose Dolomite rock
I think you know what I'm say Ken ;)


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By kenr
Jun 25, 2014

rickziegler wrote:
I'd stay away from loose Dolomite rock

well France has plenty of loose rock too. Even the California Sierra Eastside has some.

I once fell soloing when a rock broke off (around Berchtesgaden, Germany). After surviving that with only a minor injury, the lesson I drew was that I'm not reliably capable of at the same time both testing holds and climbing anywhere close to my difficulty limit. Which I think fits with Rui Ferreira's point that there's loose rock on some of the Belledonne routes, but it's managable because the climbing is not difficult.

Other things I keep in mind when planning for soloing ...
-> Please correct and add more ideas <-
  • Loose rock is more likely in early season after the winter freeze-thaw cycles.
  • Loose rock is more likely on less-popular routes. (like the more "esthetic" route I chose on the Watzmannfrau, instead of what my local friends recommended)

Ken

P.S. California: I met another guy soloing on the (wonderful!) N ridge of the Matthes Crest, on delightful high Sierra granite. I said, "Gotta be careful that one of those nice nubs doesn't break off." He said, "I've been climbing granite here in California for lots of years and I've never seen one break." Ten minutes later, a nub I stepped on broke. I was thinking that perhaps his years of experience were mostly on well-traveled routes where somebody else had found the loosely-connected nubs first.
. . (I think the North ridge of the Matthes doesn't get climbed much, because most parties start from the easier South end and run out of time and energy before the North half. Also until the most recent Chris McNamara guidebook 2nd edition, there were no published detailed instructions for the North half) . .


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