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.


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