Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Great Outdoors; First two multipitch climbs near Grenoble.

The Rhone Alps are the perfect place to be if you're into outdoor sports. (not to mention we are 2 hrs drive from the world renowned outdoor mecca Chamonix!!).The list includes and is not limited to climbing, via ferratas, caving, ice climbing, cross country skiing, backcountry skiing, mountaneering, paragliding, hiking, and more... (not so much extreme whitewater here - not nearly as good as BC apparently).  As far as climbing goes, one can explore all possibilities of alpine, crag, multipitch and boulder climbing.  Most of the rock here is limestone but it's possible to find some granite about an hour away from Grenoble.  The closest limestone crags are 15 mins hike uphill from our house, essentially located in our "backyard" ranging from a 5.6 up to most likely 5.13+ difficulty, not that I would know the high end anyway.  There's also a smallish boulder garden in the forest about a 15 min car drive from our place.  All around Grenoble and its vicinity, one can find more crags and some superb multipitch climbing which I've been itching to do ever since I got here.

Rochers d'Armentier

We finally had the opportunity to get out on a day trip with Jakub to do our first multipitch at Rochers d'Armentier near the village Bourg d'Oisans (1 hr drive from home).  This was mid October, the weather was stellar and we had some great views of the vibrant display of fall colors.  The climbing was easy and enjoyable (5.7/5.8), so a good choice for a first multipitch.

For rest of the photos click here.

Les Trois Pucelles 

Grenoble is surrounded by three mountain ranges; the Chartreuse in the north, the Belledonne in the east, and the Vercors in the south and west.  We live at the base of the Vercors mountain range on the way to the commune and tiny ski resort of Saint-Nizier du Moucherotte where part of the 1968 olympic games took place.  This is where a 90 meter ski jump was built and apparently gave competitors the impression that they were jumping towards Grenoble and eventually landing in the town centre.  When looking towards Saint-Nizier du Moucherotte from Grenoble, one can see a distinct rocky feature called les Trois Pucelles (Three Virgins), and this was our goal for the next multipitch climb. The drive is approx. 30 mins, and we decided to start after lunch as we wanted to ensure the rock was dry enough from the previous day's rain (mistake #1).  We hiked/scrambled up through a steep gravel corridor to the base of the "Petitdidier" route.  At the very end, the corridor is blocked off by a pile of huge boulders that only leave a crevice for entry.  It took us a while to climb/squeeze through the crevice and finally find the beginning of our route.  This is rated a 5b/A0 or 5b,6b/c which on a US scale is something like a 5.8 with an easy aid climbing move or a 10d+ move for the more skilled and well built :).  Overall this is a straight forward and relatively short multipitch aside from that one difficult move.

Les Trois Pucelles
We finally got ourselves organised and Jakub walked along the cliff edge to start the first pitch.  As I was changing into my climbing shoes, one of my sneakers rolled on the ground, but it kept going, and as it built momentum, it finally fell off the cliff edge and went into the corridor that we just laboriously hiked up through.  So the shoe was now 200m below us (mistake #2).  Option one was to keep going and hike back down in my climbing shoes and I didn't like the idea of that at all.  Option two was to recover the shoe and either go back home or start all over again.  We tried the latter.  Jakub came back, rappelled down over the boulders and recovered the shoe.  By now we were delayed even more and it was about 3 PM.  We probably should have gone back home, but the idea of hiking down a steep gravel corridor was worse than trying to climb late.  It seemed like we should be able to finish the 4 pitches fast (mistake #3).

The first two pitches were OK.  They were easy enough, but the exposure and the freezing wind, made the experience more exciting for sure.  Pitch three was the aid climb move - basically pulling yourself up on a sling.  It took a while, but Jakub managed it pretty good.  Our bigger issue was that some of our rope got stuck on a small pine tree a few metres below me, so Jakub had to first lower me off route, I untangled it, then climbed back up on route and finally finished pitch 3 with some huffing and puffing.  OK, we thought, the worst was over, with one more easy pitch left.  Wrong!  Dusk came after pitch 4 and we had yet a ways to go to find the descent path in the forest.  We were still in the midst of the rock pillars and there was some scrambling/rappelling left to do.  It got dark very fast and we were trying to find our way back (not easy at all).  Our rope got stuck one more time (a knife would have been handy at this point).  At least we had headlamps/flashlight - that saved us. 

The wind was picking up and I could see Grenoble light up.  I was watching all those people in the warmth and comfort of their cars driving down the streets and then there was us - on top of the three Virgins in the howling wind, trying to find our way to the path.  I don't know how Jakub did it, but he lead us through all the way back - he was my hero!  We got to the car 8PM.  This was a bit of a gong show, but we learnt many lessons :)  Kinda neat that you can have such an adventure within such a short distance from home.  That evening the fireplace seemed more enjoyable and the wine tasted exceptionally well :)))