Ah, La Meije!
La Meije was one of the last great peaks of the Alps to be climbed and the first to be climbed only by French people. Prior to that, English men would hire guides to take them up peaks like the Matterhorn, the Aiguille Verte, etc. So it was with great pride that 19 year old Emmanuel Boileau de Castelnau summitted with Pierre Gaspard and son on August 16, 1877. Before then, many had tried and believed it would centuaries before the peak would be climbed. Each section of the climb has a name, often related to how far the previous climber had climbed. The Pyramide Duhamel was a kairn built by Mr. Duhamel himself, to show how far he had gone. During the first ascent, the crux sections were climbing in….. SOCKS! It was many years before the peak saw a second ascent. The Meije – which in local slang means “the south” because the sun goes over it at noon” – is still to day one of the most beautiful ascents in the Alps!
The weather wasn’t looking good in Chamonix or in Switzerland, so I suggested to my friend/client Floriane to drive south where the sun is (almost) always shining. I had done the climb in 2002, but hadn’t been back to this area since, and I was as excited to guide it as I had been when I first did it. We left from the ski mecca La Grave and climbed the Enfetchores to the Breche de la Meije and down to the Promontoire Hut. The climb follows a 900m long spur/arete to the top of the Grand Pic (3983m… the highest of the Meije traverse peaks), followed by 3x50m rappels into the Breche Zigmondy. It then contours the Dent Zigmondy by traversing into the north face and climbing up cables to a notch, and continues up and down the 2, 3, 4th tooth all the way to the Doigt de Dieu – aka God’s finger. How I love the names in the Oisans – Southern Alps region! Three rappels takes you down on the glacier. From there, the tiny, tiny, tiny but ever so welcoming Aigle Hut is only 30mins away. Day three, we climbed the last summit of the Meije – The Meije Orientale – and then hiked down (loooooong ways down) to Villard d’Arene, and hitched hiked down to La Grave. It snowed overnight and we climbed the Rateau the last day in full on wintery conditions. Here is a photo album to illustrate Flo and I’s four days in the Ecrins Range.
I am taking Floriane into another amazing place this coming WE. Check back for more adventures to come!