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Notes on Ice Climbing in La Grave

Here are some notes from my first experience of La Grave before I felt brave enough to try leading! The trip was great with guiding provided by Terry Taylor who used to be the only British Guide working regularly in La Grave.


Caturgeas                                      III 4                 600m ***

Goulotte Martinez                           II 4                  40m*

A busy place which felt like being at an icy climbing wall. A huge waterfall runs down the slopes on the south side of the valley only in winter it freezes. Low down the slopes are easy angled, if they were rock they would be slabby. The ice flows down over a bridge over the road so it is possible to park the car at the roadside, sit in the car to put on harnesses and crampons then step straight onto the ice!

We climb up the first two short pitches but the route is very busy with bits of ice being knocked down by the climbers above. To the right is a little concrete wall where we set up a belay then abseil down a narrow gully at the side of the Caturgeas ice. So back down at the  road again with plenty of time so we climb back up the route we had just abseiled down – Goulotte Martinez. It is tricky with a bulge which forces a move to the left and some bridging with my left foot onto the rock at the side to gain enough stretch to reach above the bulge. The ice is a bit rotten at this part making it feel harder.


La Croupe de la Poufiasse              II 4+                 220m***

We arranged to meet a bit earlier for this route as it had a longer walk in so after walking for 40 minutes, I was surprised to find it directly above us! This route was supposed to have some easy angled pitches at the start with two steeper pitches above. My chance to lead on the easy slopes but I was having problems with my axes and my crampons were not biting into the ice sufficiently to make me feel secure.

The next pitch was steeper and moved round to the right then steeper still to a belay round pillars of ice. There was a practically vertical pillar of ice above which formed the crux pitch and it looked scary. It was not for us though that day and we abseiled back down to the valley and to hot coffees.


Le Pylon                                             I 3 – I 4            70m***

Wow, excellent day. We bounced out of the hotel towards this inspiring route set deep amongst the trees on the north side of the valley. I had some evil-looking points on both hired crampons and axe picks and a big sense of determination that I had lacked the previous day.

Le Pylon is short and steep and I remember very little else of other than it was excellent climbing and that I was very chuffed to reach the top!


Le Saut de la Pucelle                                   II 3+                 120m*

This route rarely comes into condition and even when we climbed it, there was great danger from the amounts of ice falling down from above. The problem is that as the sun gets higher in the sky, it appears over Le Rateau fairly early in the day meaning that the top of the route is in sun’s glare for most of the afternoon. Whilst this is very pleasant for climbing, blue skies, sunshine, warmth even, it does not do the route any good and quickly turns it back to its natural waterfall state.

We donned helmets quickly and pulled on the rest of the gear and up we went. The first pitch was lumpy, bumpy delicate climbing with running water not far below the surface. The upper pitch was steeper and more sustained. My arms have never felt so tired. It was pleasant to reach the little cave at the top which was just in the sun and no more, to sit and watch the others pull up the steep pitch.

More information and  photographs from previous trips here



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