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Caroline George Guides Summit at La Meije in the French Alps
Posted on August 24, 2010

By Caroline George

La Meije is nestled at the end of a very deep and narrow valley as you drive up the Col du Lautaret pass from Grenoble in France. The citizens of the nearby ski mecca, La Grave, named the peak “La Meije,”—“noon” in local slang—so that when the sun is lined up with the summit, they know what time it is.

At 3,983 meters, La Meije is the pride of the valley that I would regularly commute through to go ice climbing in the Southern Alps. Each time I drove through La Grave, I would catch a glimpse of the austere north face of La Meije. I finally reached its summit for the first time in 2002, a milestone in my climbing career.

When the weather was bad in Chamonix and Zermatt during a recent guiding expedition, I suggested to my client, Floriane, that we head south and try La Meije. Though she did not know a whole lot about La Meije, she was excited for the adventure. After four hours of driving, we reached La Grave. We took the La Grave-La Meijecable car to Le Peyrou D’Amont at 2,371 meters and hiked across moraine to the base of Enfetchores, a 600-meter-long rock spur.

After a 2 1/2-hour hike, we were standing on the glacier above, which led to the Breche de la Meije, a wide notch with prayer flags, at 3,375 meters. We dropped down the back side, climbing slabby and exposed terrain to the glacier beneath and were soon at the Refuge du Promontoire at 3,082 meters and found rest.

At 3:30 a.m. the next morning, a chorus of alarm clocks woke us. Le Crapaud (The Toad) was the first crux section and lifted us to attention from our sleepy state. We used our headlamps to navigate through the darkness. We climbed together on easier ground, pitched the steeper section and made our way up and past Le Campement des Demoiselles, La Pyramide Duhamel, La Muraille Castelnau, Le Dos D’Ane, and Le Pas du Chat.

We took a moment to bask in the much-welcome sun. The snow was firm, which made for quick progress to the base of the last section separating us from the summit: A 300-meter-long verglas-covered slab. This was a hard section for me as it was difficult to protect Floriane, who wasn’t used to climbing on such terrain with crampons.

The summit, Le Grand Pic, is just 17 meters short of the prestigious 4,000-meter mark. With blue skies all around, we were in no rush, yet the biting cold forced us to keep moving. I added my First Ascent Downlight Sweater under my soft shell Mountain Guide Jacket and started rapping down the 150 meters separating us from the Breche Zigmondy. We contoured the next pinnacle by climbing up cables in the north face. Alternating climbing up exposed knife-edge ridges and rappels, we made it to the last pinnacle, called the Doigt De Dieu.Three rappels took us down to the Glacier du Tabuchet. A half hour later, we celebrated our success and drank beer at the Refuge de l’Aigle, an alpine hut, at 3,450 meters.

Author: - Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

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