La Meije: West Ridge + Traverse – July 2012

The traverse of the Meije has been one of those things on my wish list for ages. I’ve always wanted to do it but I’ve never actually done it. But finally, a little over a week ago we finally got it ticked. During the same week on the Alps we also ticked the traverse of the Grandes Jorasses.

The traverse of the Meije is one of those routes which are called “grandes courses” and for a good reason. The easiest route up to Grand Pic of the Meije (3982m) is graded AD which makes it one of the most difficult mountains on the Alps. About grades it should be noted that there are “AD routes” and AD routes. Climbing the Meije is quite a bit different adventure compared to climbing the Arete Cosmiques, for example. They both get the same grade but the first one takes 2 days and the other one 2 hours.

Teppo had never been to Ecrins and I had driven by only once so we didn’t know what to wait really. We’d seen a set of pictures on the internet posted by two blokes who combined the west ridge to the traverse and that looked like good fun. They bivied comfortably on the mountain and we wished to do the same. Neither of us have never been among the biggest fans of the huts and we prefer sleeping outdoors. To our experience the huts can be quite loud and the pace of the day is very different to what we’re used to. We like staying awake late and waking up late.

Enfetchores spur (PD, 950m) and the West Ridge (AD+, 600m) – July 29th, 2012

Climbing the Traverse of the Meije has a probem with parking since the way up is different to the way down. The most logical way is starting from La Grave and taking the ski lift to the mid station to 2400m. With the ski lift also possible to go all the way up to 3200m for acclimatizing for one night.

The day of our ascent started at the top station and we rode the morning first ski lift back down to our car. At the car we packed our climbing gear and boarded the ski lift again. At the midstation the approach begun.

The climbing was mostly easy on the Enfetchores ridge but with a couple of steps of grade III free climbing. The west ridge was slightly harder and more sustained at III or IV.  From the mid station (2400m) to the Breche de la Meije (3357m) it took us 5 hours. From there to the bivy below the Carre Glacier (3700m) it was 5 hours more.

Traverse of the Aretes (D-, ridge) – July 30th, 2012 

The second day we woke up at out bivy. We’ve never been too good with alpine starts so we hung out in our tent untill 10 am. Teppo had some head ache so we had no hurry either. We were woken up by a couple of guys from Liverpool who climbed the classic route up.

The Carre glacier was very straight forward. There was a good path up it. After the glacier it was sustained climbing at III or so. Never hard but never totally easy either. The protection was at times poor but sufficient since the climbing was easy.

We reached the top of the Grand Pic (3983m) about 2 hours after leaving the bivy. There are plenty of good bivy sites on the top and after our climb one local said the top is the better bivy. The one below the Carre can be quite smelly later in the season.

The abseils from the Grand Pic were very straight forward with the exception of the last 70 meters before the breche. Since we had short ropes we had to do the second last abseil of a rock horn and on the last abseil we had to down climb a bit but it was easy. I’d say the traverse is very much doable with one 50m rope but backing off could be hard. The abseils on the regular Promontoire route had anchors maybe once every 50 meters.

After the abseils there was a little bit of traversing and then there was the via ferrata cable below the Dent Zigmondy. The via ferrata made the climbing easier but in my opinion such thing shouldn’t exist on this mountain. The angle of ice was very moderate by modern standards at 60 degrees. If people could do this traverse without the cable in 1891 why do we need such in 2012? The via ferrata was in good shape since it was refurbished in 2007 but a couple of meters of it was inside the ice. I placed one ice screw for protection on that move.

From the col after the via ferrata it was more or less easy scrambling along the crest untill the last breche between the 4th Dent and Doigt de Dieu (3973m). There the slabs were really smooth and we made two abseils of 25m to the col. The mid achor was a block of rock on the egde of the big drop. Sometimes this anchor may be below the snow but then the snow may be down climbable.  We reached the Doigt de Dieu 5 hours after topping out the Pic Central.

The descent was fairly long. From the summit you’ll have to walk or scrable down all the way to La Grave. That’s about 2500 meters of altitude difference and will surely knacker your legs.

It took us 2 hours from the summit to the Aigle hut. We stopped at the hut for some soup and cola. It was 6 euros for the soup and 3 euros for the cola. Cash only. From the hut it was 1,5 hours to our bivy site on the moraines and from there 1,5 hours more to the road at Le Pont des Brebis. From the road it’s a little over hour to La Grave if you’re unlucky with hitch hiking.

All in all the climb took us about 48 hours divided on three days. For rack we took four cams, a set of nuts, two ice screws, abalahook, eight draws and one twin rope of 50m. For bivy gear we had insulated jackets, fleece layers,  summer weight sleeping bags and the Firstlight tent. One ski touring ice axe and crampons for each climber.

Prior leaving home we asked on forum about the rope lenght and everyone gave us advice about taking two ropes but we chose only one. During the climb we abseiled once off a rock horn during the Grand Pic rappels and on the final bergshrund we made one abalakov thread which was nice but not mandatory. The other abseils near the shrund were all doable with our rope. We climbed everything the rope doubled (ie. 25m for simulclimbing). Besides the two mentioned cases all other abseils were off chains or cords with maillons. Before the climb we reasoned the abalahook weights a lot less than the second rope which was just about right.

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