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Waterfall ice climbing in the Alps

Maritime Alps

Three different sites in the Maritime Alps, which, in spite of its meridional location, has good ice (see
guidebook 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 by climbing through an ice-tunnel, an experience of rare beauty. Tuan soloes at Pont de la Serre falls (photo: Christophe Etienne).


My friend Paul 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 Arene. right: anonymous climber).


Too early...

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 by Gerard Chantriaux (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 upper valley. 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