It’s been a long time since I curled up in my sleeping bag, I have no idea what time it is when I hear the sound of ice pellets starting to fall.
Just before the arrival of the night we had the chance to see the magnificent spectacle of an active cumulonimbus over the Mont Blanc massif.
This noise of precipitations makes me think that other clouds have developed and that this bivouac at Grand Pic de la Meije may be much less comfortable than expected.
I dare look up at the sky, and this one is all starry. I am at the top of the Meije at 3983 m altitude.
The noise came from my imagination, or rather from my sleep, proof that I was sleeping.
This sleep, I had not been aware because for several hours I shudder and I hear incessantly the sound of my sleeping bag shaken by a south wind and steady wind.
At this altitude and at this hour of the night, despite a summer temperature in the valley, the cold will keep me company until morning, when the sun will come, and I would not have the impression of sleeping for a minute.
This crossing of La Meije, we prepared it for a long time with my client Michel.
During the last ascents we did together, the bivouac was more and more used and we realized that this state of mind suited us both.
Naturally I imagined making the crossing of La Meije with him in this way, cutting it in two, at the exact level of the summit.
The Crossing of La Meije
The crossing of the Meije is a great ascent, it takes 8 to 12 hours to make the trip from the refuge of the Promontory Aigle refuge, through 3983m Grand Pic.
The first ascent was made on August 16, 1877 by Emmanuel Boileau de Castelnau and Pierre Gaspard. The route then taken at the time is the normal route to the Grand Pic de la Meije.
In 1891, J.-H. Gibson, Ulrich Aller and F. Boss made the first crossing of the ridges from the Great Peak to the Finger of God, which became the classic route, and considered one of the most beautiful of the Alps.
On the first of July 2018, at 8.30 am we take the glacier cable car from La Meije to the intermediate station at 2400 m altitude.
Pillar of Enfetchores and Brêche de La Meije
The first part of the race is to climb the pillar of Enfecthores.
This route is very classic, used by the hunters of La Grave, it is now used by mountaineers to access the refuge of the Promontoire, crossing the Breche de la Meije 3357 m.
The ascent of the pillar is very beautiful, not difficult, and wild.
At the top we walk on the Glacier of La Meije that we must cross to the bottomfoot of the Breche.
The glacier here is well cracked, it is necessary to rope together accordingly, for us it is thirty meters, we are two.
I make on this type of glacier knots on the rope, the first 3 m behind me, then two others at 1 m interval.
The Brèche de la Meije crosses from north to south, the beginning of the passage on the north face is located on the left of the Brèche.
After crossing the rimay, I shorten the rope and then keep 10 m between me and Michel, which I keep rings in hand.
The rocks are loose, but through the passage, one place is less worse than the others and we quickly reached the Brèche.
The southern slope of the Brèche is more direct, for a decade a new route located slightly to the left of the original route downhill, equipped with climbing bolts, allows not to use the passage against the right wall made dangerous by the lack of snow.
Here I rope at 20 m at the beginning. It must be ensured that the people who are behind do not engage in the original itinerary.
The falls of stones are numerous, spontaneous and sometimes natural, not worth adding more.
At the exit of the first part, I use the relays right hand, lengthen the rope to the foot of the southern corridor then crosses the glacier of Etançons until the refuge.
This glacier is in the process of disappearing, but I remain roped at least 20 m to cross it.
Ascent of Grand Pic, original route
We arrive at the refuge at 13:30, the time for us to recover, hydrate and eat before the ascent of the Grand Pic.
The refuge is very quiet at this time, I find two colleagues with their customers, came to cross the next day.
At the time when they go to the dormitories for a deserved siesta, we start the ascent of the historic route to the Grand Pic de La Meije.
The departure is just a few meters from the refuge, exactly between the refuge and the toilets.
I’m going to get 10-12 meters closer to Michel, most of the time going to climb the rings in my hand. This roping I will keep until the entrance to the corridor Duhamel.
We start with easy steps to arrive very quickly at the foot of the first difficulty, the passage of the “crapeau”.
The recent landslide is easy to cross and will quickly be cleaned naturally.
I am making here a first short length of climbing to assure Michel correctly in this passage a little athletic. (A relay is in place above the step).
The continuation takes place on the wire of the ridge of the Promontory in not very steep ground and in good rock, until abutting against a very steep pillar of this ridge.
Here we find a big kairn, it is the “campement des demoiselles.
Take the first left.
We then cross a sloping incline little difficult, until we reach a series of steeper chimneys in very good rock. There are some pitons of passage and relays to the outputs.
We climb with our bivouac on the back, the atmosphere and the rock have already accumulated a lot of heat.
We are climbing very slowly, to the economy. The ascent to the summit is long and demanding.
We have to arrive before night, which is quite feasible at this time of the year, but we have to get there by managing our effort at best.
Michel is 67 years old, very well trained and has a sure footing.
I trust him, I want him to succeed the race with the feeling of being level, and to be able to enjoy the landscape, the historic passages of the way, the night at the summit and the magnificent crossing of edges that awaits us tomorrow.
These chimneys succeed and resemble each other. They take us to the left and lead us near the Duhamel corridor.
A relay on pitons is at the top of the last one, then you have to cross horizontally to the left.
We are at the level of a characteristic finger and it is the right place to enter the corridor.
I stay on the highest crossing, a little slaby at the beginning, which turns into good steps quickly.
A step of 1 meter down then makes me enter the bottom of the corridor Duhamel.
This corridor is for me the crux of the route. It is relatively long compared to other passages, the rock is good, but it is difficult to ensure it properly.
I climb it at the beginning slightly to the left of the bottom. I find relays in place that allow me to assure Michel.
Today I climb it with pitches, we are not in a hurry and it allows us to recover the relays. It’s cool in the corridor.
After about forty meters I shift to the left of a few meters, I then move away from the end of the corridor, to climb to the exit which is recovering slightly. The rock is good there.
At the top of the corridor, I left the pyramid Duhamel on the right, in much less steep terrain I left a bivouac site and then climb a smooth slab little inclined to the foot of the wall Castelnau.
I then stumble against a vertical wall.
I’m 30 meters from Michel and I’m going to make a length here.
The route starts on the right, first horizontally then a descending step brings me above the Fauteuil of the Meije (at least gives me the impression).
I find pitons of passages.
A wall of 4 m then 4 m easier to climb, and I arrive on a good relay. From there I assure Michel in the first real difficult passage of the way.
I continue with a long wet and sandy crossing on the right. We are here under the right bank of the glacier carré.
I continue then frankly right on this vire.
I must climb right above me for a few meters, then naturally, a vire in this wall leads me, in rope stretched to the left, to the Dos d’Ane.
I cross the Dos d’Ane thanks to the piton of passage while Michel continues to cross, then I use the relay located above to ensure it.
The continuation takes place on the right, on an obvious ledge to the foot of two steep chimneys that I climb.
I come back to the left by a slab (the dalle des Autrichiens).
I will cross this passage by two lengths of about thirty meters.
I firmly assure Michel in this steep terrain, it will be for us the most technically difficult passage of the whole way.
I enjoy a relay on channels. It is one of the descent relays of the normal route. Above me there is the Pas du Chat.
The rock is gray white and angular, caught and steep.
I climb right over the relay for a few meters and then crosses left under a big rocky bulge.
The step is fine, I have to shift to the left on a meter to join a wide corridor fireplace and easy terrain.
I’m getting Michel up, we’re having a good break here, next to a possible bivouac.
We cross a ridge just above, then go down south on a ledge, the extension of the foot of the square glacier.
Here we put our crampons and take our ice axe.
I’m five to six meters from Michel, three of them in rings in one of my hands.
We go up this glacier carré one just behind the other to the breach. From summer to summer the snow moves away from this breach, proof of the marked melting of the glacier and the thinning of the ice thickness.
It is 7:30 pm when we arrive at the foot of the Grand Pic. So we have this last part of the climb to get to the top.
I know it is not difficult, staying very close to the north face, a path allows me to climb a few meters in front of Michel.
Higher climbing a little more outside and rock a bit more compact requires me to lengthen the line and place insurance points between us.
We progress together to the foot of the Cheval Rouge. One length to pass the red horse, another length to cross the Chapeau du Capuchin, then I climb rope stretched to the top.
We reach the summit of the Meije at 21:30. The day was long and busy. There are several bivouac sites at the top and we choose the ones closest to the summit.
Night falls when we slip into our sleeping bags.
To the north, a large cumulo nimbus discharges its eletricity above the Mont Blanc massif. The show is amazing because we see the cloud in its entirety, from base to top.
A light southerly wind blows regularly, the temperature drops, I only have to live one night at the top of the Meije and wait for the sun to rise tomorrow in front of us.
Crossing the Ridge and descent
The descent of the Grand Pic, east side, is done first by a short climb down, then 3 abseil. The longest is 40m, all relays are equipped on chains.
The descent is clean and is very easy. We arrive at the foot of the Dent Zsigmondy, at the top of the Gravelotte corridor.
We put our crampons back.
The Dent Zsigmondy is crossed by a north-facing cable. For us it is sometimes under the ice, sometimes outside.
We must go up the steep ice chute that follows the horizontal cable, then we arrive on the wire of the edges of La Meije.
This crossing is not difficult, and generally I chose a short rope to perform it. The rock is well cleaned, the snow is well frozen and in early July we will keep our crampons to the refuge de l’aigle.
We do not progress very fast today, nothing urges us down to the valley, and I feel that Michel appreciates the place and the points of view on the Alps.
The descent of Doigt de Dieu is very comfortable, we find the first relay of abseil after a short climb down north then east.
The first abseil brings us to the foot of the last section of the normal route of the Doigt de Dieu. We then cross to the east to join a line of two abseil, 20 and 50 m to cross the rimay.
In one hour we find the refuge de l’aigle.
After an omelette and a beer, we take the path to the valley, the glacier Tabuchet, the vire Amieux, the ridge of the Bec, snowfields, scree, meadows and finally the larch forest and we finally arrive at the Pont des Brebis.
The crossing of the Meije is a great adventure that requires a good experience in high mountains.
Considered as one of the most beautiful crossing of the Alps, it is the emblematic ascent of the massif des Ecrins, the one we all want to make one day.
Unfortunately this summer of 2018 was too hot summer, and the Meije, whose southern wall essentially rocky, showed a point of weakness: the Glacier Carré.
Passing through this crossing, it dominates part of the historic route to the Grand Pic.
It is also the slice of altitude where the rock goes from granite to gneiss. There would be, hidden under the ice, a “geological crack”.
The marked glacial retreat exhumed broken and unstable rocks.
A collapse at a place on August 18, 2018, photo pghm.
We can easily imagine that the historic route to the Grand Pic of Meije has been hit by many blocks.
We can ask many questions about the current feasibility of this crossing of the Meije.