Saturday, 29 September 2012

Perrons de Vallorcine traverse

With snow down to around 1600m and only one good day forecast, John Vincent and I were scratching our heads for an objective on Friday and eventually decided to go for a look at the Perrons de Vallorcine traverse. The Perrons are the peaks immediately left of the Emosson Dam (as you look at it from Vallorcine), just over the Swiss border, and the traverse of them is pretty steady but (according to Matt and Gary) absolutely amazing, with easy scrambling in a fantastic position. We weren't sure that the route would be dry, but with no other ideas of what to do with the day, we took a chance and went for a look. 

From the Emosson dam we were pleased to see that the route was dry, although it did look an awful long way away! The walk in is indeed pretty long but it didn't help that we completely missed the key path and ended up scrambling for 2 hours up a combination of heather, steep grass and broken rock. You can't win them all.

Looking up at the Pointe du Van from the Emosson Dam

Eventually we found ourselves on the ridge below the Pointe du Van, and were soon on top and looking at the Perrons traverse. (The guidebook describes an approach which takes you around the Pointe du Van but if you go over it you theoretically get more scrambling and less walking. It does rather depend on finding the path though...) As Matt had mentioned, the traverse looks pretty long and difficult from the start, and when John asked whether I'd brought a headtorch, I wasn't sure if he was joking. I'd been assured though that looks are deceiving, and that every section looks like it's going to be death defying and then turns out to be easy.

Reaching the top of the Grand Perron is pretty steady, and a few abseils then lead down to the foot of the Pointe Vouilloz. Matt and Gary had apparently soloed every inch of the route (save for the abseils), but unfortunately the initial section on the Vouilloz is on the N face, and was covered in snow when we got there, so we had to use some time roping up and then climbing some low angled but slippery slabs, before rejoining the ridge and following more easy terrain to the summit.

Me on the easy scrambling on the Grand Perron

John heading for the Grand Perron

Me enjoying some warm rock climbing on the N face of the Pointe Vouilloz. Photo John Vincent.

COLD HANDS!!! Photo John Vincent.

John emerging back into the sun, with the Grand Perron behind. 

Back on steady terrain, but still on the chilly N face.

From the top of the Grand Perron, there are a couple of very exposed abseils, and the key is to go from the first bolted belay down to the next bolted belay, and skip out the crappy tat around a block which is about 10m down the first abseil. The supposed "crux" of the route is climbing up to the Ifala, the final peak on the ridge. Once again the N side was snowy and so we had to rope up briefly to regain the ridge, but I think that slightly steeper nature of the rock made it easier than the earlier slabs on the Grand Perron. Once back on the ridge of the Ifala there is some easy but exposed scrambling to the summit, et voila!

Me on the final summit ridge. Photo John Vincent.

On top of the Ifala, looking back at the traverse.

Despite getting hopelessly lost on the approach, we were on the summit less than 5.5 hours after leaving the car, which seemed ridiculous when we got to the Pointe du Van as the route just looks so unlikely. It makes a nice change for things to look much harder than they turn out to be, and even after finishing the route it seems amazing that you could have covered the ground so fast.

Unfortunately the descent is a bit of a grind, and it took us nearly 2 hours despite going constantly and not making any route finding errors, but with the amazing views and with a great route in the bag it doesn't seem too much of a chore.

The route has amazing views from start to finish.

Looking up at the traverse from the walk out.

Overall this is a fantastic route, particularly in autumn when the trees are brown, the high mountains often out of condition, and the cable cars shutting down. It looks impossible from below, and even when you're on the route, but it is always pretty easy and takes in some great scrambling in an unbelievably exposed position, with great views in all directions. I leave for Nepal on Tuesday, and if this is last thing I do this summer then I'll be happy. Thanks John for a great day and thanks to Matt and Gary for the beta. A good topo can be found here -  - so there are no excuses left for anyone not to do this route!

The Emosson Lake late in the day.

Unfortunately this is going to be another post with a sad finish, as more bad news has come out of Nepal in the last couple of days. I didn't know anyone in the plane crash, but a couple of the people killed were raising money for Bolton Lads and Girls Club, a great cause and one I've had a slight involvement with as I went to school in Bolton and earlier this year led a trip to Morocco where everyone was raising money for the club. I know a few people who are heavily involved in fundraising for the club, and I'm thinking of them today.