Our first 4000m peak
The Barre des Ecrins is the first 4000m peak for Sigi and myself. We could have chosen an easier route to the summit than a Pause climbing route in extreme alpine rock. But the conditions are perfect and with Bernhard and Richard there is a second experienced rope team on board.

Preparation for the upcoming climb

16.08.2020-18.08.2020 - Our friend Bernhard has read about a route which he is eager to tackle: The Pilier Sud (engl. south pillar, 5c, 1100 m) on the Barre des Ecrins (4102 m), the highest peak of the Dauphine. The route offers everything from a long approach over scree and a snow field followed by over 1000 meters of climbing in brittle rock with the possibly of difficult route finding to a long descent over a glacier. This requires more equipment which means you have to carry some extra weight for about 20 hours. Furthermore, there is no possibility to place an emergency call using a mobile phone. Therefore, we first assume that Bernhard, Richard and Sigi will team up as a rope team of three. Since we need a good internet connection and have to refill our supplies, we head to Briancon for planning.

Meanwhile, Bernhard, Richard and Sigi enjoy some sport climbing in the climbing area Les Traverses et la Vignette. The day before the big climb is reserved for the last preparations. Since I am well in shape at the moment and the others assure me that I will not slow them down and that they would like to take me with them, I decide to go along after all.

Overnight stay: N 44.840732, E 6.576994

Our first 4000m peak

19.08.2020-20.08.2020 - A little later than planned we set off from the parking area at 03:30 in the morning in complete darkness. Despite the stiff mountaineering boots, it is a pleasant walk. Without any trouble we descend the moraine and cross the Glacier Noir to the snowfield below the Barre des Ecrins. Using crampons and ice tools we can easily ascent the snowfield at the first light of the day. Bernhard and Richard quickly discover a suitable spot to cross the bergschrund and reach the base of the wall. While the others start climbing using their mountaineering boots, I put on my comfortable climbing shoes.

There is a moment of shock for all of us when a large hold breaks loose and Sigi starts rolling down the steep terrain. Luckily, he is able to catches himself after a several meters on a slightly larger ledge and remains unharmed except for a few abrasions (Thank goodness). The easier sections of the climb are brittle, but that was to be expected. Careful climbing is the order of the day. Much more dangerous are the stones which are being set off by the rope teams ahead of us.

In the more demanding pitches we catch up with the other rope teams. While waiting we get to know Julia and Tobias. The two slower rope teams ahead of us are struggling with the more difficult sections and start placing a lot of protection. This takes a lot of time. Moreover, they have planned to bivouac on the summit or the glacier. Unfortunately, they do not offer the faster rope teams, who all have not planned a bivouac, to pass them at a comfortable belay and thus endanger their safety. In the late afternoon we reach the summit with relief. We only stay for a short time in order to climb over the ridge, rappel and descend as many of the steep passages on the glacier as possible before sunset.

While Bernhard and Richard continue to ascend the Dome de Neige (4015 m), Sigi and I start descending over the Glacier Blanc in a rope team with Julia and Tobias. The sun sets much too fast. But due to the beaten track we progress quickly. Nevertheless, the path is long. First we walk for hours over the glacier and then for hours on the hiking trail to the parking area. The joints hurt and we are happy when we finally arrive at our van, Elmo.

Overnight stay: N 44.9171, E 6.4154

Lessons Learned

  • Rockfall is a danger which should not be underestimated, especially if several rope teams climb the same route.
  • Some routes are particularly interesting because of the total package of climbing combined with approach and descent.
Written by Barbara