Climbing in France or “the life of Riley” – Part 2

September 24, 2021 / Posted by Marmot Mountain Europe GmbH

After a really nice time in Ailefroide, with multi-pitch climbs in breathtaking surroundings and the best pizza right at the foot of Mont Pelvoux, we decided to move on after a few days, even if this wasn’t an easy decision.

Next Stop: Les Ayes

Since we are not a big fan of record sneaks we moved to the small but nice area of ​​Les Ayes. Located in a remote high valley above Briançon at 1600 meters above sea level, steep lines in the limestone dominate with athletic endurance climbing in the upper 6th and 7th French degrees. “L´eau vive” (6c +), after which the lowest sector is named, “Sido” (6c) or Chanson d´ automne “(7a +) inspire with a lot of gravity and powerful strokes. Further up, in the “Grand corps malade” sector, there are also simpler, attractive routes on gray, non-slip surfaces, in which good footwork scores rather than thick biceps. A small stream meanders idyllically past the entrances, shady spots under light pines invite you to rest. If you even take the trouble and drive a few kilometers further up the valley, you will find a fully equipped picnic and barbecue area with wooden tables and benches by a wonderful stream. Here you can not only climb well but also chill out perfectly. Alix puts the stuffed peppers on the grid, I put my steak next to it. “Delicious,” she says with relish while she tries to see if it’s done while I taste the salad dressing. “Where she is right, she is right,” I think to myself, and review the day.

The climbing area “Le Ponteil”

We are particularly impressed by the large climbing area of ​​Le Ponteil, which is hidden a little above the small village of Champcella. Once you have found the right approach, 7 sectors open up with baseclimbs from 5a to 7c. Flat or steep and overhanging, as you like it best. The oldest and, from our point of view, most rewarding sectors of the wall, “Grand Diédre” and “Nid d´aigle”, offer great multi-pitch routes of up to 9 pitches in wonderfully structured, varied rock. All of the routes, some of which date back to 1973, have been renovated and well equipped with bolts. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a few wedges or clamping devices with you. Whether the fantastic drip holes of “Nid d´aigle” (6a) or the airy mega-traverse of “La Martine” (6b), each route has its own characteristics and many are not that difficult with an auxiliary point at the key point to master as their free evaluation would lead you to believe. You can comfortably abseil down a separate slope on the right-hand side of the wall or even over many of the routes if no one follows. Juicy ripe mirabelle plums, which we pick from the trees in the overgrown terrace fields during the descent, give us a sweet dessert after a wonderful day of climbing.

Where everyone gets their money’s worth

If the degrees in Le Ponteil still seem too moderate for you, you shouldn’t shy away from the path and drive up further serpentines through the mountain forest via an increasingly rough, unpaved road until a small bridge and a hiking trail lead over the deeply cut gorge. On the other side, the “Paroi de Lys” awaits you after a half-hour ascent with multi-pitch tours of up to 8 pitches and exciting rock. The routes here are more difficult, more sustained and even more exposed than in Le Ponteil. However, if you can climb 6b – better still 6c / 7a – and still dare to do so with plenty of air around your very best, you will get your money’s worth here. “Le haut de le gaz” (6c + / 7a) or a bit simpler, “La 3e génération” (6b +) not only offer exciting climbing on compact, structured rock but also perfect, modern protection. There are also some easier routes (5c / 6a) in the right part of the wall, but not quite as beautiful as the lines in the steep left area.

Few other climbing areas have such a rich repertoire of multi-pitch tours to offer as the greater Briançon area, more of which can be found in the Freissiniéres Valley, at the Col de l´Izoard, Col de l´Echelle or Col de Lautaret. The same areas, on the other hand, often present a good selection of shorter or harder routes, so that everyone gets their money’s worth.

A temporary farewell

On our last afternoon before the journey home we go to the “Rocher Baron”. A rock bar that towers high above the Durance valley like a viewing terrace and offers an incomparable deep view. The crystalline-edged structure of the quartzite, which comes up with many positive ridges and edges, provides an unusual climbing experience. Bathed in the rays of the golden evening sun, which the deep black heap clouds of an approaching thunderstorm on the other side of the valley are unable to completely cover, we climb our last lines. Again and again our gaze wanders over the wide, green valley and over to the snow-capped, high mountains of the Pelvoux massif – that elementary connection that gives the ambience of the Haut Val Durance its peculiar charm. Seen in this way, saying goodbye is twice as difficult for us. There is only one solution: we have to come back!

Text & Photos:
Luis Stitzinger & Alix von Melle

Luis Stitzinger & Alix von Melle
September, 2021
The Send