Elevation: 8,195 ft
GPS: 45.9, 6.928 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
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Shared By: BradLipovsky on Sep 7, 2015 with updates from kenr
Admins: Euan Cameron, Luc-514
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Beautiful granite multipitch climbing above the Mer de Glace. The name translates to "the otherside of the Needles." Most people stay at the Refuge de l'Envers des Aiguilles, but camping is permitted if sufficiently far away from the hut.

Serious mountain boots (like waterproof with stiff sole for kicking steps and attaching serious crampons) are needed to access most routes in most conditions. Not many routes here can be accessed without crossing steep snow.

Crampons and ice axe often required to make the transition from snow to rock at the base of the route. Might need to make a couple of moves with crampon points on rock. Might need a _technical_ ice axe for "engineering" across the gap between hard snow and rock.
Crampons often required (or at least useful) for hiking access from the hut to the base of the route.

Reservations for sleeping places in the hut can be made through the website or Facebook page of the hut. Or any problem with that, or if it's the same or next day, just phone the guardian at the hut - (the guardian as of 2017 speaks good English). Do not just show up without advance notice.

Getting There

From the Montenvers train station at the Mer de Glace, descend the ladders and hike up the Mer de Glace until the big bend in the glacier. Then ascend ladders and follow the trail to the Refuge de l'Envers des Aiguilles. Most of the climbing is reachable from this hut.

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Classic Climbing Routes at Envers des Aiguilles

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
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Getting There:
Some useful waypoints:
  • Montenvers railroad bottom station (in the town of Chamonix): GPS latitude longitude approx (N45.9227 E6.8754)
  • Parking in Chamonix for railroad bottom station: (N45.9231 E6.8768)
  • Montenvers railroad top station (with hotel): (N45.9318 E6.9175)
  • first set of ladders and fixed ropes (for going downward to the Mer de Glace glacier ? roughly around (N45.9252 E6.9186) ?

Note that finding the (second) set of ladders and steel hand-rails (for going upward from the glacier) might not be easy if you haven't been there before. Perhaps the bottom of the second set of ladders is around GPS latitude longitude approx (N45.9137 E6.9324).

Beyond those ascent ladders (and already in the midst of the ladders), the way to the hut is well-marked with bright yellow paint -- except in early season the marking (and the route) might be covered with snow. Then the route becomes more of a trail, and a ways further at last you sight the Refuge de l'Envers magically perched on a rock outcrop. The yellow-marked trail later passes East under the hut, then up steep slope with switchbacks around its south side, finally aims for a notch just west of the Refuge, and a final little scramble east-ward (with steel hand-rails then a ladder) up then down to the platform of the hut.

Note that although the vertical difference between Montenvers and the Refuge is around 2200 vertical feet, there's lots of ups and downs, so better to plan for more like 3000 vertical feet of uphill to reach the hut.
. (and for planning the return to Montenvers, allow extra time for the substantial uphill on the way back. It's something like another 2000 vertical feet of downhill back to Chamonix town if miss the last train of the day).

A substantial percentage of that vertical is not hiking, but scrambling and climbing ladders, so need either strong legs or cut down pack weight.

It's a substantial investment of time and effort to get in and out -- and it's very special place -- so really it makes sense for climbers to stay for at least two nights.

. . . It's surely more relaxing to make the approach in late afternoon (with the route soon going into shade) and be well-rested for starting early (and cool) on a big route the next day. But strong very fit climbers do catch the first morning train up to Montenvers, get up to the hut, and start a serious multi-pitch route after lunch (because the sun sets late in France in summer).

. . . Athletic hikers with scrambling experience (who are not interested in technical rock climbing) might consider just getting up to the hut and back (and perhaps spending a night) as a spectacular and exciting "via ferrata" experience. Jun 21, 2017
the hut Refuge de l'Envers typically opens with guardian for full sleeping and food service mid-June or perhaps earlier (might depend on snow conditions on the access route), and the full service and guardian typically ends sometime in September.

The guardian at the hut (as of 2017) speaks good English. If you have any questions after reading the website and facebook of the Refuge, phone the guardian.

There is no excuse for just showing up without advance notice. Do make a reservation for your party either through the website or by phone. The Refuge de l'Envers is often full during peak climbing season.

Payment: The hut does not take credit cards (as of 2017). Bring sufficient cash in Euros.

Phone(?): Sometimes there is mobile phone / text service at the hut, but sometimes it doesn't work. Might need to be clever and scramble around to find a spot nearby with better coverage (? or might need to have the right "roaming" service enabled ?)

Things to do: There's not much worthwhile multi-pitch rock routes to try in the Envers unless you've got someone in your party who's really solid leading 5.10b on granular granite -- with many of the cruxes as slab sequences (with the difficulty quotations "tough" because the guidebook authors spent days and days out on those slabs). Jun 21, 2017
access to base of climbing routes:

Unless you come with serious mountaineering boots (and crampons and ice axe), you're not going to be able to access the bottoms of most of the climbs.

Be prepared for some alpine ice / bergschrund- / moat-crossing "engineering" to transition from the snow approach onto the rock.

And for leaving boots + gear + clothing at the base of the route, be prepared for some cleverness in attaching and enclosing it securely so it will not be accidentally dislodged by other parties and slide away, or lose its connection as the snow softens as the day progresses.

Also consider that if your descent route reaches the bottom at a different place from where you stashed your mountaineering boots, could be difficult or dangerous to try to connect using soft-sole rounded-edge rock-climbing shoes on slushy (or later re-frozen) snow. Jun 21, 2017
climbing + descending:

The rock is mostly granular-surface granite. The themes of the routes are cracks+flakes and slabs.

Some of the routes have short hand- or finger-jam sequences, but mainly "crack" means laybacks. Make sure your layback endurance and outdoor technique is well-trained.

Toe-jams are often important, so bring rock shoes good for that, and be well-practiced in fine points of the placement of the foot in a crack. And well-conditioned for the pain of many repetitions, and for pressing up with full body weight on a high toe-jam with no real holds or jams for fingers.

The crux of many routes is a slab sequence, often tricky to read and/or wandering. The difficulty quotations for slab sequences are often "tough", because the guidebook authors spent days and days out on the slabs.

Two ropes. Many of the rappels are up to 50 meters, so you're not getting back down from the top of your route with a single 70-meter rope.
The routes wander from side-to-side significantly, so most parties use double-rope technique and bring two half-ropes (not twin-ropes).

If you want to try using a single rope for leading, together with a lighter line for rappels, I've seen one very experienced local climber use a skinny dynamic half-rope (for ice-climbing) as their second line (and then rappel in the "normal" way on with two unequal ropes running through the rappel device). Thinner than that makes it easy to get it blown around in the wind and stuck someplace difficult to reach. Non-dynamic tag line makes it dangerous if you need to "lead back up" to deal with a stuck rope above.

Anchors: On the popular routes, the belay and rappel anchors are normally two bolts diagonally offset, connected by cord loop. The rappel rope normally runs through a single (not very wide) plated-steel quick-link.

Intermediate protection: If there's a good placement available for Trad protection gear, the leader is expected to hang in and place the gear.
Standard rack for Envers includes up to blue #3 Camalot.
Otherwise ...
The popular modern routes have bolts near below the most difficult moves. Some of the clipping stances might be rather "reachy". Of course don't expect close bolts on sequences a bit less than the most difficult. (Keep in mind that the route developers spent days and days out on the slabs, so they did not necessarily feel much need for protection). Jun 21, 2017