Waterfall ice climbing in the Alps
Three different sites in the Maritime Alps, which,
of its meridional location, has good ice
in French). Philippe leads in the Bourdoux falls.
Paul and Vincent
are going to avoid the vertical free standing section
of the main falls of Gialorgues
climbing through an ice-tunnel, an experience of rare beauty.
Tuan soloes at Pont de la Serre falls (photo: Christophe Etienne).
on the final section of Symphonie d'Automne, a very
classic climb at Alpe d'Huez. Thanks to the efforts of Godefroi
Perroux, this site has seen an early development, and many climbers,
including myself, have learned to climb ice there.
The crux of the classic 600m high Moulins Falls is a 60 meter stalactite, that
can be climbed safely only until the end of January. After this date,
the south facing falls is bound to collapse because of the action of
the sun. A tunnel was constructed to protect the Grenoble-Briancon
highway from the debris.
(left picture: Paul
right: anonymous climber).
The Viollins Falls was one of France's first degree 6 climb, due to
the free-standing column which is the third pitch.
Its first ascent was done in the early 80s
(the inventor of the Pulsar) solo, filmed by
his wife ! I met him on the climb one decade later,
while he and his partner were rappeling down. Interestingly, before finishing the
climb, he had taken a short leader fall.
He took the two photos (of me) at the right.
Like often Paul is belaying.
The huge and extremely steep face of the Tete de Gramusat (summer/winter)
was one of the last problems of the area, although it had been known
for years. It was only in the early 90's that a line was eventually
climbed, through an irreal vertical world of staked free-standing
columns. Subsequent additions include some of the world's most
challenging climbs, 400 meter high with 6+/7 technical grades.
The picture at the right was taken during an attempt with
Dominique and Paul
to create a new
route, which we had to give up for a very hazardeous retreat
because of unusually fast warming up.
The Fournel is a high alpine valley which contains more than 200
climbs of all levels and lengths. To access the climbs at the rear of
the valley, you have to ski in two hours and half
(five hours when the road is not open to cars).
It is so remote that these climbs
were discovered only in the late 80's. Since then it has became a
popular site, in particular the venue of a lively international ice festival.
At the left, my friend Dominique Piolle leads a beginner through the
moderate "Nains des ravines", one of the first climbs done in the
At the right, Francois Damilano adds a new short grade 6
under the camera of a journalist during the festival. I
was not too pleased
that day because I had eyed the climb the week before,
but as we both
raced to be the first at the base of the serious pitch, he beat me
because I could not simulclimb with my partner.
"Geant des Tempetes", one of the most beautiful lines of the valley,
was first climbed by God Perroux using kitchen
rubber gloves, after that one of area's pionners, Ballestra, had to
to retreat, soaked to the bone ! Note that on the middle picture I
use directly my (gloved, thank you) hand to get past a delicate area.
(left and middle pictures by Fabrizio Calcabrini).
"Baiser de Lune" had a fearsome reputation which kept it unreapeted
until the year we tried,
because of a gripping account of its first ascent by Damilano. He
spent five hours to lead the crux pitch (shown here, clearly in fat
condition, compare with the picture in "Chemins de Gels"), and wrote
that it was his most difficult lead ever (after returning from the
Canadian Rockies). The
free-standing column collapsed a few days after his ascent.
(pictures by Dominique Piolle)
All photos and text Copyright © QT Luong