This trip really started on June 24th at Bourg D’Oisans, where I rolled up in the camper van to meet Jeremy and Brian. They were cycling up huge alpine cols, and insisted that I do the L’Alpe d’Huez too, or be considered a hopeless wuss…… 22 hairpins in the afternoon heat was a bit like hard work, but the run back down was refreshing. On Friday I left them to it, and drove up to La Berarde, a tiny hamlet at 1700 metres in a stunning valley of the French Ecrins national park. The campsite was very pleasant, but we discovered that 2 of the 3 loo blocks were locked (despite a number of protests) until July, so you had a bracing walk/queue or nipped into the undergrowth!

Sue Paddon arrived with Sean that afternoon. We explored the village, which is well supplied with bars/restaurants (many cyclists puff up the long valley and have lunch), a new tourist office and a small shop (basic, only frozen bread).

On Saturday we set off to hike up to a local viewpoint, the Tete de la Maye (2518m). Poor Sue is feeling the altitude badly, so retreats for a valley walk. Sean & I are rewarded by great scenic views – the Meije and other near-4,000m peaks are spectacular! That evening Mark Holden joins us.

Sunday we go sport climbing on 2 small crags near the campsite – its granite and quite smooth so you mostly rely on friction to get up. Jeremy arrives pm. On Monday the fine weather continues, and we walk up the valleys to explore, stopping at snowfields. Mark and Sean get up to 2800m. After camp cooking, we dine out, except J who is feeling unwell – the poor chap returns home early (a journey featuring being picked up by ambulance from a French motorway lay-by and a night in hospital!!)

I should mention that we failed to get up the awesome Aiguille Dibona – some Brits on the campsite told us that the first 2 pitches of the ascent and the descent were banked up with steep snow, and you needed ice tools; this was rather unexpected, and a problem as we didn’t have this gear (except Mark, who didn’t fancy soloing it).

Tuesday saw Sean & Sue leaving, a short first alpine trip but they want to return…. So that left just Mark and yours truly. It was time for a multi-pitch, so we climbed a fine bolted 3-pitch IV+ called Voie des Pins, behind the village. You abseil off.

As that went ok, we planned a long route for Wednesday, and started quite early to avoid a hot walk-in. The choice was ‘Pain Grille’, an eight pitch sports route that went up the Tete de la Maye. Grade TD-, up to V+. It took ages to find the start of the route, but hereafter all went well, especially as Mark got the crux! Recommended.

On Thursday, I did some cycling down the valley for a change, and Mark did the Via Ferrata at St Christophe, and thought is very good. That evening it rained, but we were snug in a restaurant having beer and pizzas.

On Friday I had to leave, so Mark was alone (where were you all?). But he said he had a grand hike up to the high Refuge du Promentoire, with smashing views, and thereafter drove to Turin for the flight home.

I wonder if they have unlocked those 2 loo blocks yet…………..??

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