Ice Climbing La Grave


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Ice Climbing in La Grave

La Grave is a quiet, little village in France with a lot of appeal for ice climbers and ski mountaineers. La Meije provides a fantastic ski descent of over 2,000 metres and the narrow valley below has many waterfalls which freeze in the winter months giving some incredible ice climbs.

The north facing slopes see no sun and are very cold so ideal for climbing. This is where probably the most popular route, Le Pylon, is found. Unfortunately it can also be the busiest and it is not uncommon to see the light of head torches on the route at six in the morning  and late on into the evening too. There are many other routes including La Nuit Sera Fraiche, La Croupe de la Poufiasse and Colere du Ciel to name just a few.

In January 2006, there were icefalls in condition that I have not seen in a climbable state since my first trip there five years ago. This emphasized to me that it really is a case of just getting there and seeing what are the best routes to do. Over a two week period, we managed to find routes that we either had to ourselves or share with one or two considerate parties. I have to admit we avoided Le Pylon, good route though it is! By comparison, January 2007 was very mild and very few routes in the La Grave valley were in condition. We climbed instead at Alpes d'Huez and at the Col du Lauteret which are higher and were therefore in better condition.

Some of the climbs on the south facing slopes are only a few minutes from the road - Caturgeas and Les Moulins being two of the most obvious. Given the growing popularity of the area it is well worth getting hold of a copy of the guidebook (details below) to allow other climbing routes to be explored. There is also a Bureau des Guides in the village and this is where daily weather forecasts are posted.

La Grave - rarely touched by the sun in winter means great icefall climbing

La Meije, 3,982 m high giving a ski descent of 2,150 metres

Fi on Le Pylon, 2002, one of the most popular routes, 70m, grade 1,3 (left) and 1,4 (right)

Many climbers on both routes on Le Pylon

La Gorge or Cascade de la Meije, 2003, 150 metres, grade 1,3

Short pitches, icy bulges - La Gorge is a great place to practice.

Ian tentatively crossing a semi-frozen pool on La Gorge

Ron on steep ice on Les Moulins, 2003, 600 metres if climbed in full and grade III,6

More steep ice on Les Moulins, 2003

Mini Moulins is just minutes from the road, 200 metres, grade II, 4+, great ice climbing!

Ron on Mini Moulin's first pitch, 2003

The upper pitches of Mini Moulins, 2003

La Nuit Sera Fraiche, 100 metres, II,3+

La Colere du Ciel, 300m, grade II,3 - Fi on the first pitch, 2004

Ron climbing the third pitch on La Colere du Ciel, 2004

Fi on the top pitch of La Colere du Ciel - it was steeper than it looked!

and abseiling back down

La Croupe de la Poufiasse, 220m, II,4+, 2004

Ron thinking about the next pitch on La Croupe !

The final pitch is very steep and often not complete - we were lucky!


Guide book:

Cascades Oisans aux 6 Vallees, Tome 2 by Francois Damilano  Godefray Perroux

General Information:

In the past we have travelled by Easyjet's cheap flights to Geneva then hired a car to drive first to Grenoble then to La Grave. The drive takes about four hours allowing for some time getting lost in Grenoble whilst trying to find the road to La Grave! Easyjet now fly direct to Grenoble but be warned, the car hire there provides cars without snowtyres and snow chains cost extra. Snow chains are essential and snow tyres make life an awful lot easier.

Accommodation costs have increased over the past few years but there are a few hotels and Les Enfetchores rent out self-catering apartments which are very comfortable.

As well as the La Grave ice climbing there is skiing on La Meije (off piste) nearby at Les Deux Alpes (pisted) and Alpe d'Huez (pisted) and many of the nearby villages have their own tows which cost very little and are a good escape from the hustle and bustle of the main ski resorts and great for getting back into skiing at no horrendous cost!

Notes from my first trip to La Grave can be found here.


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Copyright Fiona Chappell 2003-2012 (updated Wednesday, 10. October 2012)