Andy Latham in the Ecrins Massif • August 11-18, 2007

As he has every summer for over ten years now (Not possible! Time goes by so fast), Andy Latham came out from Kalamazoo to climb with Kathy in the Alps. They had a "tick list" of options to consider, but as usual, the weather and conditions called the shots. As it turned out, this got them to some places they might never have discovered otherwise.

Other Recent Trips


Andy arrived just after one of this summer's several very heavy storms that dropped an enormous amount of snow to a low elevation. The high mountains of the Mont Blanc massif were off-limits for a few days, so we started out rock climbing, then headed south to the Ecrins massif. As is often the case, the storms had largely spared this part of the Alps.


Andy got some instruction and practice on the "sharp end" this year. Here, he tops out on a two-pitch climb at Les Gaillands, before beginning our drive south.


Moving on to the Ecrins, we climbed Mont Pelvoux, having learned from the local guides' office that a dangerous sérac barrier on the Barre des Ecrins was even more unstable and threatening than usual this year.


Near the summit of Mont Pelvoux, we warm up at last in the sunshine. The climb of the Coolidge Couloir was steep and icy, but essentially non-technical. The descent by the Violettes Glacier was far more complex, as it turned out!


Looking down toward the north (the direction of our descent), one gets the sense of the enormous vertical relief of this area. These wild, deep valleys, largely un-developed and absent the grazing livestock, cheery chalets and alpine meadows found elsewhere in the Alps, reminded me of the Cascades (on steroids). In the distance, Mont Blanc peeks over the horizon.


Looking Southeast into Italy and toward Monte Viso.


Dropping into the fog, we approach the first of several sections requiring rappels.


Andy descending one of the longer rappels.


A couple of thousand feet of steep, rough track through meadows, and we thought it was all in the bag. Alas, another hour or two remained, down-climbing a narrow and sinuous series of ledges above massive cliffs, before we returned to our welcoming hotel in Ailefroide.


A couple more flower photos, this time featuring even more interesting bugs. Any entomologists out there willing and able to supply me with their names?


This little fellah seems to be extremely common throughout the Alps.


After our enormous day on Mont Pelvoux, we were ready for a bit more rock climbing to stretch our stiff legs and give the backs a rest. Andy furthers his progress as a leader on rock.


Eventually the sun even came back out. We finished the day by driving north over the Lautaret pass for the night, heading toward La Bérarde and the Soreiller hut the following day.


The drive up the deep valley to Les Etages is exciting, especially in rainy weather! But once there, the walk up to the hut was beautiful.


Our first view of our goal: the incredible-looking Aiguille Dibona. We are told there is a "moderate" route up this thing, but this begins to look unlikely....!?


Our proposed route is actually a linking of parts of several routes; starting with the Madier route and ending on the Boell route, more or less! In any case our route followed the red line here.


The valley clouds shifted but never cleared out the evening of our arrival at the Soreiller hut.


In fact it was still quite misty and cold as we started our climb the next morning. Andy belays pitch one above the hut (a 10 minute approach! Gotta love it).


One of the more unusual features of this route is the "tunnel pitch". A couple of body-lengths of squirming, et voila! Back out to the sunlight.


Andy exits the "tunnel".


The sun begins to make its appearance at last, as we exit the Madier route and take up the Berthet route for a few pitches.


At the end of the Boell Ledge, we traverse into the large couloir near the West Face.


A lot of fun, challenging and sun-drenched climbing later, we are at last on the summit.


Scrambling over toward the easy rappel descent, we start to hurry; it's almost dinner time at the hut!


Two straight-forward 25 meter rappels, and it's basically a walk down to the hut.


The next morning, our quiet route, which we had had more or less to ourselves, was crawling with climbers. Must be the good weather!


Back down to the valley, and home to Chamonix, where our respective spouses awaited us, we looked back on a satisfying and un-expected adventure. Definitely worth another visit!

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