A Week on the Ice

A Week on the Ice (Argentière-la-Bessée 19/02 - 26/02)
We arrived in a BIG snow storm! The plane behind us at Geneva ran off the runway in the snow!

After a trying drive we arrived at 10pm at the Moulin Papillon gîte in Argentière-la-Bessée in the Écrins to a fantastic 3 course meal that Bénédicte had kept hot for us!

The team

Four of us representing a very wide age group (40 - 69¾) met up with another group of 4 mates (equally widely aged!) next morning and decided over breakfast to dodge the high avalanche potential by attacking the Torrent de Queyrières II/WI2 – a long stream that ran up into the hills just to the north of Argentière-la-Bessée. It turned out to be the perfect starter for our week ice-cragging as it gave us a good variety of short pitches with a lot of flogging through knee/thigh deep snow in a great snow laden setting.

Deep snow on the Torrent de Queyrières II/WI2

The next 5 days followed a similar pattern. Up at 7.30am, a hearty French breakfast and off to one of the many valley ice crags running off the main Briançon valley. The biggest and best venues of Freissinières and Fournel were not only closed by snow but also needed several days to let the high upland avalanche slopes settle so we concentrated on Ceillac and Les Orres, two venues in the high valleys 50 minutes to the south.

Holiday on Ice II/WI3

At Ceillac we did Y gully (Holiday on Ice left and right, both II/WI3) , Easy Rider II/WI3, Sombre Heros II/WI5, Les Formes du Chaos III/WI4 – all in good enough condition although there was plenty of running water to unsettle the nerves and a heavy spindrift avalanche knocked Chris off the ice – luckily he was seconding. Les Formes du Chaos (300m) is the best and most interesting climb there with fantastic ‘chaotic’ formations ranging from thin waterfall surrounded sheets to tunnels, tubes and elegant 75° ice walls.

Les Formes du Chaos III/WI4

Les Orres gave us 3 great but tough routes, Nadia III/WI4, Clara III/WI4+ and Dancing Fall III/WI5+. Nadia is elegant ice but Clara has a mean rock step that requires a bit of ‘scratching’ to get into the main ice pitches above. Pete Holden and I initially failed on the wet and dangerously ‘loose’ pitch of Dancing Fall but nailed it on our second visit when temperatures had dropped and the ice had firmed up. The top 50ft pillar was steep with some helpful (and quite a lot of unhelpful) features. A great route and third time lucky for Pete.

Dancing Fall III/WI5+

In Fournel the only accessible route in nick was the three pitch classic, Hiroshima III/WI5. The 60m first pitch is on delightful classic 75° ice leading to a bolted cave stance behind the 30ft free standing pillar that leads into the upper amphitheatre and the final twisting ice pitch to the abseil trees. The pillar was very brittle as it had had very few recent ascents but apparently it eased considerably after several big boots had smashed it into shape!

Hiroshima III/WI5

A very good week considering the inauspicious snowy and warm start. We climbed good routes every day, avoided most of the avalanches and managed to survive the splendid 3 course evening meals without bursting. (36€ a night including wine!) Great company, wonderful accommodation and good climbing. Worth every penny.

Dick is the owner of Outside

By Dick Turnbull
Owner of Outside

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Dick Turnbull
Team Photo


The Ballad of Clogwyn Du

O' didn't we have a wondrous time that day at Clogwyn Du?
The crag was white,
The turf like wood,
The sky an azure blue

Young James and I, we climbed a route,
El Mancho was its name,
The moves involved, though daft indeed,
Proved worthy of their fame

We left the van at early light
Just as the dawn was gleaming
And as the crag hove into view,
Our faces started beaming

For she was white, all caked in rime,
A wintry mad confection,
All in all if truth be told,
It gave me an erection

A turfy tiptoe o'er the face,
The belay was in sight,
'Just watch me here, and don't fall off
that warthog's really s***e!'

A torque, a hook, a bomber stick
James manhandled his tool,
I wished we hadn't dressed alike
I felt like such a fool

On and up young Turnbull climbed
'Til he came to a stop,
Then laughter rang around the crag,
He'd done the belly flop!

Heave o'er the bulge,
Heave ho away, and on to summit glory,
And as we basked in sunshine bright
I nearly end my story

If you should climb at Clogwyn Du
Beware my tale of woe
Those ravens that were circling round
They'd nicked my Haribo

Dave Evans on Blenderhead (VII, 8) ©James Turnbull

Jon on THE move on El Mancho (VI, 7) ©Nick Bullock

Jon on the turf ramp on El Mancho ©James Turnbull

Topping out ©James Turnbull

Idwal on the walk out ©James Turnbull

Jon (and James) work in the Rock Room at Outside Hathersage

By Jon Winter
Climbing Gear Sales

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Jon Winter
Team Photo
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