Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Ecrins: arrival and Refuge du Glacier Blanc

Ecrins part 1: arrival. I get off the overnight train from Austerlitz to a sense of Southern light and space. The railway station is perhaps grander than it's current status warrants; the night train is on the "socially necessary" list. And indeed many of the people looked to be "just folks" not tourists.


Anyway, Briancon itself is "behind" the station in this pic; I'm standing on the (unused) car-train platform; the real platform is on the left. Around me are mountains - but not, I know, the high ones, I can't see those yet - and stretching away behind me is the valley.

I have a cup of coffee in the station cafe, enjoying the harsh light, and after a short comedy (there is no actual car hire office at the station it transpires; there's just a bloke who cunningly carries no identifying marks; and since the train was late and I sat around drinking coffee, I'm about an hour later than he expected. Also, I have no credit card only a debit card) I have a car which I drive cautiously away. Have I ever driven alone abroad before? Yes: in New Zealand. But the roads in the South Island were near empty.

Away down the lane aways is very lovely, and I get my first view of the heights.


It is hard to tell what is what from the valley even with a map. Happily there's a plaque: yes that is the Barre. This is just by the giant iron statue of Whymper. Off the main valley, the start of the side valley to the Barre, Argentiere-la-Bessee pleased me; I stopped for a coffee and bought a fougasse.

Driving up the valley towards Ailefroide I was struck again and again by how gorgeous everything was; happily I was alone so could stop whenever I liked.


The slight lateness of the train, and the coffee in the station, and the car comedy, and the other coffee, and the stopping, had all put paid to any plans to get to the start of the walk-in early and push on up. And I didn't really have any such plans. So I stopped for a bier in Ailefroide. It was quiet; my first hint that the season was ending(errm, apart from it being September, of course). I'd brought some food from England - four Mars, four Bounty, oat cakes, breakfast-biscuits, dried soup, peppermint tea (and stove). But I'd kinda wanted some porridge, which I'd bought but forgotten. Sadly porridge isn't very French and was entirely beyond Ailefroide's store.


Looking at the bus timetable I realised that, transport-wise, I could probably have done without the car. But, meh, it was handy and cheap, and a useful place to store stuff. Moving up valley, you can see the Glacier Blanc peeking out, if you look closely. Unsurprisingly, it has retreated a lot over the last few decades.


I had the E20 formule at the Pre du Madame Carle. Very nice, perhaps too much even. Since Norway I've been doing my best to eat less.


The restaurant / chalet / dortoir has fine views. I sat out the heat of the noonday sun lingering over my meal and the included dessert of tarte aux myrtilles; packed and repacked my gear; and selected what would be coming up with me.


It is two hours up to the hut, and I did have the obligatory reservation. There are views up into the Glacier Noir valley; the morraine ridge looks appealling; and the views back too:


The route up passes easily: I have a carefully constructed light sac, and I'm fit. The long painful slog I remember from many many years ago with full bivvy gear with Miriam is but a memory. After the bridge you can see up to the hut if you look closely. I have a separate page about the Refuge du Glacier Blanc.


Next waymark is the plateau where the old hut is. Miriam and I bivvied here in the old days. There's a stream and a little lake, very quiet and peaceful. Up above is the new hut, the highly crevassed snout / ice fall of the Glacier Blanc, and the obvious smoothed rock it has retreated over. Link to pic: the little plateau from above.


Once up the last little bit to the hut, there are fine view across to the Pelvoux. I got there at 4; about 1:30 up fulfilling my desire to beat the book time. Below: a parapentist, briefly. I fill the space between then and dinner at 6:30 in saying hello (awkwardly, obviously) and sitting in the sun, reading and resting and revelling in the view. My OAV card is accepted as a proper "reciprocal rights" card.


It was still lovely even after sunset.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016


I haven't finished writing up Norway, but I did do Devon. And of course I've shuffled this into time order, but it wasn't written first. I've put a brief post onto Stoat, and used the pix too. But this is the "overall" post.

* Tuesday 09/06: Cambridge -> London -> Paris GdN -> Austerlitz night train
* Wednesday 09/07: Briancon -> Ailefroid -> Pre du Madame Carle -> Refuge du Glacier Blanc
* Thursday 09/08: -> Roche Faurio (epaule) -> Refuge des Ecrins
* Friday 09/09: Dome du Neige des Ecrins
* Saturday 09/10: -> Ref Glacier Blanc -> Col du Monetier / Tuckett -> down; Chalet Pre du Mme C
* Sunday 09/11: -> Ref des Bans -> Vallouise
* Monday 09/12: -> Refuge du Sele -> Briancon
* Tuesday 09/13: Briancon rest day
* Wednesday 09/14: -> le Casset -> Col d'Arsine and up -> Briancon night train
* Thursday 09/15: Austerlitz -> GdN -> London -> Cambridge.

Page about the Refuge du Glacier Blanc.

This is currently my favourite picture from the trip.