Friday 31 July 2020

Ecrins 2020: Friday-Saturday: Ref Gl Blanc; Montagne des Agneaux

[Notes : Arrival : Ref des Bans : Lac d'Eychauda / Pic du Rif : Rest]

Friday: quiet morning, then prepare ourselves for three nights up: pack kit and food and sieve gear. Pack s'bags cos the huts say they don't provide blankets but they are lying :-). Bags manageable, D's heaviest. To Pre, de-car into cafe but service is slow so after a few rounds of Big-2 we head up, wanting to arrive well before dinner. Walk up in 1:45 quite pleasantly with the usual great views and a bit of cloud. Here - from the little plateau 100 m below the hut - is Miranda getting her fix of staring at the Pelvoux.


And the tradiational view of the ever-retreating snout of the Gl Blanc.


Ref Glacier Blanc has a few token Covid precautions - a nominal and impossible one-way system, no more than 10 in the boot room, "masque obligatoire", and the like. Settle in, bite o' food, dinner, cards, reading, bed. I like the boxes.

Saturday: Agneaux. Up at 3 for E and I for breakfast; D, who won't be eating, gets another half hour in bed. Off at 4, a little behind some others, and as usual we wibble around on the path somewhat before all becomes clear. It is so much easier to see the track from other viewpoints. But we do see some torchlight ahead. After about an hour we pause, and D says he feels unwell, and just doesn't think he will enjoy climbing, and after a bit of discussion he turns back, with regret on my part and probably his, too.

Up into the Gl J. Gauthier cirque until the snow becomes visible, up that until it runs out and we're on the horrible scree, which isn't too horrible on ascent but was pretty horrible on descent. To the Col de Monetier around dawn, rest, then down and across glacier to Col Tuckett.

The horrible scree slope, E on the "skyline".


View back from nearly the col.


Another party from just before we get to the Col de Monetier.


It's gorgeous over the far side.


Getting down the far side is a bit icky but doesn't really need a rope. From the glacier, we can see back to Pic du Rif from a few days ago.


Looking ahead to the Agneaux is a little intimidating and the route isn't quite clear, but don't worry all will be well.


At the Col Tuckett other parties are climbing, so we get a bit of time to rest, de-crampon, stash gear. The couloir itself isn't very snowy so we (and everyone else) climbs the rock to the R. There are some bolts, which aren't desperately necessary - at least on ascent - but reassure that one is on the right route. We're uncertain of how hard anything is, and so cautiously follow others, but I think if I were to do it again I'd be less line-following. The book gives it 2c, but (my diary says) I'd give it 3-4, esp in big boots. E follows me with little trouble; and possibly solo-able with care (but you'd want a rope for the ab off).

There are two pitches to the col, and one above, and then it's moving-together ground. You don't get to see the summit until close which is awkward, so we keep moving and hoping and then suddenly...


Lie back, rest, enjoy the views. Below, center: Glacier Blanc, and high point slightly L is the Barre des Ecrins. Sadly, bits of serac had fallen off not long ago and so it was strongly deconseillee. Instead we will do the Pic du Glacier D'Arsine - on the spine to the R of the Gl Blanc - and Point Louise - again on the spine but further back. The Dome du Monetier / Pic du Rif is above the snowy glacier to the L. Peaking out off R are just visible two milky blue lakes at the Col d'Arsine, where we will walk up to camp for our last night up. Looming darkly mid-L are the dents of the Pelvoux, which we once again won't get to attempt.


But it is a long way down so we don't dawdle too long. Wx looks fine. Summit selfie. Me by E.


Descent from summit fine (pic of a bit), and we get to the tat above the abseil just as two others (the last but us left...) start down, so there's no problem finding it and we get a little rest. Our ab practice during our rest days pays off and we go down fine, except if I recall correctly a minor amount of stuffing it up by getting the rope snagged, since we didn't throw it off carefully and the rock isn't that vertical. Oh, and I forgot to tie knots in the end. E first.


Another view; she's down at the belay; then there's some movement before we go onto the second abseil, before the last down to the glacier.


Miranda made friends with a rock.


Back to the Col de Monetier, which is thankfully only 50 m up. We're quite tired now so stop for a rest, seeking a little patch of shade. I skirt lightly over the terrible vast scree slope, unlike E who somewhat struggles, but eventually we're down to the snow, then the easier ground, It is pretty clear that we're not going to be back early, and E raises the question of our plan, which was to go up to the Ecrins today: is that really plausible? We conclude, probably not.

Just at the end of the snow we find the other-last-two, and I return their crampon bag and gear that they'd dropped in the snow a way back; he buys be a cafe in the refuge as a nice gesture of thanks.

And so down the moraines, and back to the hut by 3:30. Hello D. In theory we could make Ecrins by dinner, but we consult with D who agrees, so we arrange with M. le Guardian for another night, and he cancels one night of Ecrins for us.

rest, relax, read, cards, hunt for but fail to find signal. Plan for tomorrow: Col du Gl Blanc - where I've not been. We're up at 7, so we're in the long dortoir on the 2nd floor. Hut box pic. E obsesses over the Pelvoux. Before bed.


Wednesday 29 July 2020

Ecrins 2020: Wednesday and Thursday: Rest

[Notes : Arrival : Ref des Bans : Lac d'Eychauda / Pic du Rif

A lovely quiet day just sitting on the patio, enjoying the general ambience, reading (Popper for me, Plato for E,  Bessel van der Kolk  for D) and of course on our phones. Practice Prusiking (although technically we're not using Prusik knots, rather an autoblock or Marchand knot), since we'll be doing some abseiling in the upcoming days, and I feel guilty that the infants are not properly trained. Fortunately Victor, being a guide, has put bolts into the ceiling.


At 5, up to Ailefroide to the familiar Secteur 8 Orage d'Etoiles. I climb the 4b. D has a go top-roping the next door 5c since we can use my lead as a convenient toprope but it is rather thin and he bounces off. I have a quick go for form's sake and bounce of even quicker.

Then E and D try setting up abseils off the second bolt off the ground; high enough to be scary and take it seriously, low enough to be survivable, and commentable. We're slightly abusing our sling. It's a useful shakedown exercise.


After try to eat at the "Poulet Roti" type place but it is post-8 and their cuisine est ferme. So down to Pelvoux and the Glacier Blanc, where E and I went two years ago, and in whose garden-with-fountain I sat two years before that.



Thursday: another rest day. Don't worry, we'll get up and do something tomorrow. Hot and torpid in the morning and midday. Towards late pm we roused ourselves to go look at Secteur 7A up at Ailefroide. Sadly by the time we got up there it was raining. We sat (inside, beckoned by waiter) in the Engilberge for a few hands, before the rain stopped and we headed out again.


Where we were aiming for was not quite as obvious as it could have been. This GPS track (from later) will show you the way, complete with pix. Start from the "sauf riverains" track just by the bridge. Then when you get to the field with the apiary...

IMG_20200730_180156 want the left hand corner. For our evening meal we walked down to the pizza place over the river, which despite looking somewhat el cheapo was decent. Their 40" pizzas were quite large; E was sane and had a 33".


Monday 27 July 2020

Ecrins 2020: Monday-Tuesday: Lac d'Eychauda and Pic du Rif

[Notes : Arrival : Ref des Bans] [GPS: up; climbdown]

Monday was a rest morning: I wake first, tip-toe into the living room because D's bed is the sofa, raise the shutters just enough to squeeze out, and sit on the patio with my muesli, on my phone, waiting for the sunrise over the local mountain a little after 8; then make myself a coffee. This was our invariable pattern when "at home". We're all reading misc; sometimes, we're startled by the shadows of parapentists like rabbits by hawks.

Late-ish in the afternoon, we headed off to Chambran, about half an hour's drive, to go up to the Lac. Since it was hot-n-sunny we left the walk in till mid-afternoon, and prefixed it with a stop at the buvette. Being quite a long way up the valley, it has no electricity and so no proper coffee and no proper refrigeration; so I had a beer. This trip was a sort of acclimitisation and shake-down, and also the first time D or E have wild-camped other than in an organised school group. Also, I've wanted to go up to the lake, and the Dome du Monetier, for ages. The classic traverse starts from the Glacier Blanc hut, but that's something of a pain if you haven't got someone to move your car (not impossible with public transport though), and anyway we'll be doing the Col du Monetier on the way to the Agneaux, and it isn't the kind of thing you want to do twice in a row.

At some later point I realised that "going straight on" over the col gets you to Monetier, which by driving you need to go around Briancon; and turning L sort-of gets you to La Grave, an even longer drive; what I mean is it would be fun to walk all this one leisured day. Another view, with D and E.


And so we head up the valley, initially on a fairly flat and even driveable road...


...which turns into a rough track...


...and then gets rougher and narrower, though there was evidence 4x4's had been up, at least as far as the sheep.


But eventually the lacets kick in and we're on pure path.


The lacets are long, but at last we're there:


We miss book time (2:30) by 10 mins. The most comfy camping ground, as well as the last of the light, is up at the head-of-valley end; but there's no outflow stream, so I walk ~5 mins around the lake on the lakeside "path" - don't confuse it with the ascending path to the Col des Grangettes - to the inflowing streams. And also wander up tomorrow's path a little, just to check it is there (always do this if you'll be in darkness with head torches). And get a fine view of the lake, and tomorrow's route.


We go up the moraine ridge - starting from about where the last finger of sun points, on the R, trending up L, above the rock face. The sun is setting over the Dome du Monetier, which we aren't going to climb. All is calm and peaceful. By the time I've got back, D and E have erected the tent, inside one of the little stone walls that define convenient bivvy spots. It being such a beautiful night, I plan to sleep out. There's one other party around sleeping out; they ask us about the route and we tell them the little we know.


After that: cooking: porridge: D and E. We should have brought up more plastic mugs. And a third spoon. After that, and some cards, it is a matter of admiring the sunset before bed.


Tuesday. Alarm at 5:30 as pre-agreed; E and I get up to cook porridge, D prefers to sleep as late as possible and as-now-usual won't have any breakfast. Pack up, mostly into the big blue bag; and leave everything we don't need in the stone circle; off at 6:15. There's light.


We'll start off following the obvious crest of the obvious moraine. After that it isn't clear from here but we'll trust in the track. A little higher up and we can now see the snow, but it still isn't quite clear how we'll traverse onto it.


A moody view looking back:


The answer to getting onto the snow turns out to be that we cross some unconsolidated scree with gullies, and then there's a delicate passage over smooth (and easy-angled, but with a poor run-out) slabs. So it's time to put on crampons, but we spare ourselves the rope to start with. The Other Party goes past us - they're fitter than us - but we pass them again as they put on their rope; we criss and cross for a while as we go up the (easy) snow; eventually their fitness wins out.

At last we get up to the col. It is quite dramatic; easy from our side, steep to vertical on the far side.


E and I push on up to the Pic du Rif, leaving the slightly unwell D to rest at the col. Here's a pano from the top. Center in the valley is the Pre du Madame Carle with the Glacier Noir; R is the Glacier Blanc; high point distant right is Agneaux; the valley L leads down to Ailefroide; and E is on the Pic du Rif.


Looking the other way, it's pretty rubbly on the Pic. The center peak is the "Dome" du Monetier, we spend some time wondering why it was ever called a dome - perhaps it used to be snowier. We came up from the low-snow point mid-right. Mid-left would be the way to the traverse.


After that it's time to go down (when planning this I'd dreamed we might bag a few other peaks while up here, but as usual now we're here, weariness says go down). Here we are back at the lakeside, refilling water bottles and resting our feet; and pondering the route. The forecast is for rain/storm pm, so we don't want to delay too long.


After that it's down the lacets and back to the car. I'm about 5 mins behind D and get rained on the last of the way.

I (now) see that by cunning choice of pix on the way up, and at the top, that I've made it look vert dry - moraine, summit rock. But that's rather deceptive; we spent most of our time slogging up glacier.

Sunday 26 July 2020

Ecrins 2020: Sunday: Refuge des Bans

 [Notes : Arrival] [Ref des Bans: GPS: up; down]

A quiet morning. I go down to town for bread while it is still cool, and we all relax enjoying the sun and the view.

Around 12 we head off along the rod to Entre-les-Aigues, find a place in the large but nearly full car park, and head up along the path toward the Refuge des Bans. This is nominally a rest day, but this is just a day walk, so that's OK. Off to the left is the river, and the enticing bridge, and the soft path up that the GR54 takes. Wx: cool; somewhat o'cast.

After some levelish bits, then some climbing, we end up levelish again with a view of the refuge on it's spur of rock. Dead center on this pic, just visible if you click and expand.


A little further on we're told not to walk on the snow bridge so of course we do.


After that it is just a little more up, around and back; and we're there inside our nominal hour-and-a-half. There are chickens. And a cat. My best pic of the general ambience is probably this panorama, despite the terrible "alien" effect it has had on E:


It is a smallish hut, most used to offering people dinner on its small but lovely terrace. D and E have crepes, and then E had a something sucre. I had the cheese and saucisson I carried up. While eating, it was cool enough to put on a fleece. Behind the hut is a fairly steep cirque leading up into places I've never been. We walked up a little way but not far, mindful that this was but a day walk to get our legs.


And so back down, with the sky clearing somewhat. Half way down there's a sedgy little lake with orchids.


Back home, we went town to Les Vallois for dinner, after calling into the regular Sunday Zoom call; I had the saucisse aux choux.


Next: Monday-Tuesday: Lac d'Eychauda and Pic du Rif.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Book review: Consider Phlebas

IMG_20200722_101821There's also: Look to Windward.

Consider Phlebas was the first Banks I read I think, many years ago; my copy looks to have been second hand. It features a mirror-spaceship on a beach being approached by a probably-naked humanoid, with a threatening storm in the background. It's a good cover, far better than the rather trashy one that wiki features. I may have read The Wasp Factory before this. The book was generally very well received as a fast-paced space opera with a morally ambiguous hero and much grand scenery and devices is about right. In some ways it is a series of glorious set-pieces linked by narrative, but that isn't too obvious as you read it, and the narrative is good, so it all works. My favourite is the fight under the hovercraft. This is either the second or third time (in rather a long time) that I've read it. If you look at the pic you can guess I've just re-read Lord of the Rings (again). LOTR is definitely the better book, and one I've read more often.

Banks does get some things right, in contrast to many more thoughtless scifi authors. The Wiki prose says The Culture and the Idiran Empire are at war in a galaxy-spanning conflict but this isn't true: as the "epilogue" says, at most the war covered 0.02% of the galaxy by volume and 0.01% by population. Some rather less plausible things - like Horza being picked up by the CAT - are sort of necessary to the story but just happen quickly and Banks at least doesn't attempt to make them plausible.

The overall motivation for the war, and the various characters in supporting their sides, isn't terribly important - the way the story plays out (despite nominal motivations) it turns into humanoids vs monstrous aliens. But this doesn't matter... perhaps that's part of the reason LOTR is better; people's motivations there always matter, and no-one is morally ambiguous. Horza's support of the Idirans is somewhat weakly justified but not entirely implausible, and serves to throw some light on the Culture. But there's no agonising over the Culture's purpose; that comes in later books.

Most of the book is wham-bamm type stuff; the one rather more disturbing scene is the "eaters" and I find that, errrm, well a little disturbing. Unlike the opening scene of Horza nearly drowning in excrement, which doesn't affect in nearly the same way. Or the bald assertion that 895 billion people die.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Ecrins 2020: notes

Incomplete notes towards a holiday, and links to what we actually did. See-also: Coronavirus days: France.

Calais to Vallouise is 10:15, call it 10:30. If I break that into 3:30 (Fri) and 7 (Sat) then:
* Sat becomes 2h, 30 mins rest; 2h, 1h rest; 2h, 30 mins; 1h. For a total of 9 h; so if we leave at 10 we arrive at 7.
* Fri becomes: arrive 9; calais 5:30; folkstone 4-aka 4; leave cambridge at 2.

Plan / Reality

Leave 24th. Overnight Troyes. Arrive Vallouise 25th (Sat). Sun: rest day / walk / valley climb.
Mon 27th: go up to Lac d'Eychauda and camp. Tues: Domes de Monetier.
Weds 29th (rest), Thurs 30th: valley.
Fri 31st: to Ref Glacier Blanc. Sat 1st: Montagne des Agneaux; then to Ref des Ecrins. Sun 2nd: Pointe Louise (rock). Mon 3rd: Barre des Ecrins. Actual: to Ref via Pic du Gl d'Arsine. Then Pt Louise.
Tues 4th, Weds 5th: valley.
Thurs 6th: Ref du Pelvoux. Fri 7th: Pelvoux. Camp out, Col d'Arsine.
Sat 8th: depart. Overnight... Dijon. Sun 9th: home, ~ 6pm.


* Vid: normal route.


* Vid: traversee  (Sept 2016); 2012, including approach to hut.


* Troyes
* Refuge du Glacier Blanc: le vendredi 31/07/2020
* Refuge des Ecrins: le samedi 01/08/2020, le dimanche 02/08/2020

Face sud de la Pointe Louise.
Bois des punchs à la Pointe Louise.


A long distance multi-day mountain trek in the largest and highest National park in the French Alps. With its stunning snow capped mountains and tumbling glaciers the Parc National des Ecrins and GR54 footpath offer an unrivalled mountain journey.


* main bag: 60
* outer: 890
* pegs: 190
* poles: 710
* groundsheet: 270
* main: 1000
* all: 3080 (sum:  3130, close enough; 3190 officially)

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Ecrins 2020: travel there and arrival


Leave Friday after lunch; just miss one Eurotunnel (due to following E's Google directions to Folkstone, rather than the huge road signs to the tunnel itself) and catch the next, which turns out to be the 16:40 that we originally aimed for; so the exorbitant premium for Flexiplus was wasted (though we got the goody bag, that wasn't worth £100 plus. But, perhaps the peace of mind on arrival time was worth it).


Drive down to Troyes via several stops, and arrive about 10; find some convenient parking thanks to E/Google, and then find our lodging for the night - we knew the street, but the entrance to the place itself was tucked into a courtyard. Phone the owners who turn up and let us in and all is well. Only the brasserie in the square is open this late, but it is open, so eat there: fine. Although the entrance is in a courtyard, the place itself overlooks a narrow pedestrian lane lined by restaurants, so weirdly enough is quite noisy; fortunately, we're going to be quite late so the noise starts to die down.

Next morning E and I, separately, enjoy wandering around early morning Troyes. D stays abed.


And so off. Lunch is Macon. It is quite hot, fortunately the parking near the cathedral is near, and the lunchtime restaurant well shaded, and the cathedral interior is cool.


But we didn't stay for long, we have places to go... on the far side of Grenoble we stopped for fuel, and also Mfd+J's 60th anniversary Zoom call. And so into the mountains, over the top past La Grave with the sun declining, around Briancon, and finally up into Vallouise.

After that there was some slight comedy, in that we knew what road the appt was on, but not exactly where it was, but from Google maps had got the impression it was some way out of town... so we happily drove there... and found nothing. Eventually Victor-our-host called, and we did what he had first suggested: met by the Vallouise central fountain and followed him there, and were (pleasantly) surprised by how close it was. Say hello, settle in, and follow the little path down to the village, exclaiming over the bits we recognise, down to Les Vallois for dinner, at our customary table. The burrata salad was excellent, and became a theme for the holiday.

Here's our appt, and as you see they're building another just beyond. That wasn't annoying: they were pretty quiet, and watching the cement trucks reverse up the road oh-so-carefully was amusing. In the pic you can just see our car, third in the line; the parking spaces were jealously guarded, as we found out when we parked in the wrong one. On the sides of a hill, enough flat ground to park a car is a valuable commodity. Our appt is ground floor, nearest building, the half closest to us. It was quiet and peaceful and really very lovely, especially with the almost invariably sunny weather we had. The inside was cool and shaded; the balcony was sunny - so we used the sunshade - and if you wanted more sun there was a garden, which we didn't often go into. There was a tiny vegetable plot with peas and carrots that Victor was happy for us to harvest.


From where I've taken that pic, there's a little path down (or see the way up, from the bottom) after which there were a variety of ways to get to the village center. Here's a pano taken from just standing over the garage railing, which now I look at it should probably have been taken with the view centered, not the appt. Ah well.


And so ended the beginning. Now read on: Sunday: Refuge des Bans.