Another rewarding day in the Haut AlpesYou never quite know what you're going to get when you order a climbing guidebook over the internet. It could be an absolute gem, a total load of rubbish or, most likely, something in between.
When we were planning this year's trip to France (primarily another of Di's pilgrimages to pay homage to the concept of the Grand Randonnée), I put my foot down and said that if we were going to Europe again I wanted to do some climbing. Of course that put the ball in my court as to where we would climb and how we'd find what we wanted to do. Loving climbing guidebooks as I do, I ordered a bunch of them - all for the Alps. We were tempted by the iconic area around Chamonix but for various reasons decided that climbing in the southern Alps around Briançon would be the best option for this trip, especially after I found a book called Escalade en Briançonnais, Haut Val Durance and Queras. It covers 11 distinct areas, with cliffs comprised of 6 different types of rock: limestone, conglomerate, gabbro, quartzite, granite and gneiss - a real smorgasbord for the rock-climbing gourmand and towards the better end of the scale when it comes to climbing guidebooks.
Yesterday we went to an area called Ponteil. The guidebook describes the climbing thusly: " The rock is amazing: pocketed slabs, cracks and dihedrals on a yellow rock that offers good grip ... On top the view of the Durance valley and on West Queyras amazing". It sounded like a place we had to visit.
For our first outing in the area I decided on a cliff named Nid d'aigle, meaning Eagle's Nest or Eyrie. The crag takes its name from the first route done on it, which the guide says is "La grande classique du Ponteil, la première voie ouverte dans la falaise". Here's the view you get when you are on your way up to the climbing on this sector (right click on photo for a more detailed view):
|Nid d'Aigle: our climb takes the prominent dihedral towards the right-hand end|
... and here she is on the belay at the end of the pitch, which traverses around the first big overhang in the dihedral ...
|Pitch one finishes with an airy traverse|
|Di on pitch 3|
|Looking down to the houses, road and Durance River below|
|Looking across the valley|
|Looking down pitch four|
|Di on the first rappel|
|Climbers on pitch 3 of Nid d'aigle|
|Gliders near Saint-Crépin|
|Alfresco dining in the Haut Alpes|
|The charmingly-named "Le Gaulois"|
Di's tongue-in-cheek comment as we were polishing off our lunch was, "Well .... it isn't Arapiles, but ...". For those of you who are non-climbers, or those of you who are but haven't climbed at Arapiles, it's one of the most user-friendly traditional climbing areas in the world, with the emphasis on traditional. Situated far away from Les Haut Alpes in even farther western Victoria, the climbing is fantastic: wonderful, solid rock encompassing a huge range of grades. But there is little in-situ gear: apart from the occasional bolt or old piton to save one from a catastrophic ground fall, you pretty much have to place all your own protection. It's just the opposite hereabouts. But then it's pretty hard to find a charming little bar-café like "Le Gaulois" when you've finished climbing for the day!