FOURNEL CREST

Posted on: December 1, 2004


When you look at a relief map of the Ecrins Massif, you see an obvious skyline loop, starting and finishing at L'Argentire la Besse, the village where I live. The skyline is divided into a southern and northern part at Villard Reymond. The idea was born to have an adventure close to home. From mid-April until the end of June, we accomplished the first skyline traverse of the Fournel Crest, with more than thirty bivies, 250 kilometers of ridges and difficulties up to 5.11b.

After caching food and fuel at several passes in the spring, on April 20 Fred Jullien, Tonio Lamiche, Philippe "Tronc" Pellet and I started by bicycle from my home. The bikes gave way to snowshoes, then crampons and much dry tooling. The ridges above the Fournel Valley (well-known to ice climbers) are surprisingly little-known to mountaineers: nobody had followed the entire crest before. With lots of snow, huge cornices and a great solitude, it felt as if we were in Alaska or the Andes instead of France. We thought this section would take two days, but we needed a week. The ridges here were great-technical, and it was hard to find good anchors in the loose rock. Tony even managed a first extreme ski descent: the north face of Pic Falix Neff.

As we lacked food, Tony quit the traverse. From now on, he would remain in the valley, bringing us extra food at different places.

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On Day 12, the weather grew worse and the forecast was pessimistic, so we descended home from the Col de Sirac to wait for better weather. A fortnight later, we continued the traverse only to have Frado hurt his knee badly. Tronc and I continued alone, experiencing thunderstorms and bad weather that forced us to flee several times to the huts. The hutkeepers welcomed us as princes, because the skyline reflects the Ecrins spirit: demanding, aesthetic, discreet. During the integral traverse of Pics du Vaccivier, we found the crux: a scary 5.11b with poor protection and loose rock that I led with crampons.

On Day 40 (Day 28 since the Col de Sirac) we reached Villard Reymond. The northern part of the skyline was completely different: better known and much shorter. We ate and slept in the huts. Biking, via ferrata, backpacking, then mountaineering again. Then bad weather again. Lacking time, we avoided a few summits. Sometimes Tronc was tired or less motivated, which gave me the opportunity to free solo. On June 25, after almost two months of our trip, we reached the last and highest peak of the skyline: la Barre des Ecrins (4102m). We went down to Pre de Madame Carle and biked to my home, the end of the loop.

— Lionel Daudet, L'Argentire la Besse, France

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