The true story of a life long pilgrimage

Mountaineering week-end in Parc de la Vanoise.

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When my niece proposed me a mountaineering initiation in Parc de la Vanoise I instantly said yes.

The events depicted in this trip report happened during the week-end beginning on friday, the 3rd of july, ending on monday, the 6th of july 2015.

I decided to go to Pralognan (alt. 1450m) from Annecy (alt. 485m) by bike. I left early that friday morning of probably one the hottest days of the summer... Yeah, fine, let's ride 100km and climb 1000m by 37C°!

Oh yes, Albertville is at 350m so that's actually 1100m of elevation gain...

The ride from Annecy to Moûtiers was 75 km of easy and flat road, but then the fun started. After your legs are sore it starts climbing for the last 25 km, the last 15 being the worse.

It took me 7 hours, 11 liters of water, 5 cereal bars, 4 apricots, 3 espressi, 2 coca-cola to reach Pralognan.
The 11 liters of water did not make their way to my bladder.

Every time I found a fountain I almost dived into it.

Finally, I settled in a camping with an amazing view all around: Camping de l'Isertan, a 3 star camping with very good facilities, comfortable and with an outstanding scenery.

I did not take any pictures before the first night, so here we go:

I went to sleep in my tent at 8:30pm, woke up at midnight and took some night shots.

I thought somebody was shooting pictures with a flash at the camp site but soon realized that the flashes were in my eyes / brain... mmm ok maybe I pushed my body a little too far today.

Night shot 2

Night shot 3 - these pictures were taken with a 15 seconds exposition @ 400 ISO

The view from my tent the next morning - Dent du Villard on the left, bottom of Pointe de la Vuzelle on the right

View 2

View 3

Roc d'onze heure on the left, Petit Mont-Blanc on the right

Panoramic view from the same spot

I spent the morning preparing the hiking trip, trying to make my backpack the lightest possible and chilling, waiting for my niece and her boyfriend, my brother and his family to come.

They arrived around 1:00 PM and we went to the parking des Prioux (alt. 1710m) by car

We are heading towards Refuge de la Valette (alt. 2590m) where we will spend the night - that's 900m of elevation gain. Here we can see a slice of Glacier des Somailles.

The heat is incredible - it was announced 23C° at 2300m that day with no wind whatsoever - fresh torrents are like an oasis in the desert

The 7 of us

Just below Glacier des Somailles

Almost arrived at the refuge

Mont Peclet and Polset, some of the highest peaks in Parc de la Vanoise

Just arrived at Refuge de la Valette, in the background is the Grande Casse, the highest peak of Vanoise (3855m)

Now let's cool down at the nearest lake ; we heard some people say it was possible to actually swim there, alt. 2600m

Oh yes...

The old refuge, built in 1899 that got its roof destroyed for its first winter

Looking North, the Grand Bec on the left


Haha some young lads found a boat in the old refuge, let's sail!

This is so anachronic

Going back to the refuge

Grand Bec and Grande Casse

Refuge once again

Getting ready for dinner

Cleaning the dishes

9:30pm, now is the time to go to bed

A last look at Peclet & Polset before going to sleep in the same bed with 39 other people

A night in a refuge is always quite an experience, especially when it is full. You hear all sorts of noises, voices, mumblings, see glimpses of shadows passing by and when you think you are not sleeping you probably are already...

2:55 AM, time to get up under a bright moon

Just taking some quick night shots before taking a dense breakfast

Peclet, Polset, stars


The refuge is living again

People are checking their gear: helmets, ropes, picks, harnesses, headlight...

A last look up North

Then the hike up starts. Around 20 people are heading towards Glaciers de la Vanoise. It's quite something to start walking around 4:00 AM in silence, almost like monks hazing through fuzzy dreams.

Our group of 5 takes the lead and we rapidly find ourselves 500m higher than the refuge. You don't realize that much that you take altitude at night.

A bit unsure about the path to follow in spite of numerous kerns, my niece decides to take an alternative way up which appears to be more safe and less steepy. Good choice! At this point we still have not put our crampons but we continue up in a snow that just demands that your feet are confident.

Here we are at the top of Dôme des Somailles, around 3100m high, ready for the sunrise

Most crappy panopic but well...

Now is the time to gear up for the hike on the glacier

Sun is almost ready

10, 9, 8, 7...


This one is for "L"


My niece and her bf are preparing our belaying

And here we go, our final destination, Dôme de Chasseforêt is that peak straight ahead and 300m higher than our current altitude - it seems to be quite close but distance are really deceptive in that environment

Are we walking on the moon? If that's so, what is this white dot in the sky?



After 15 min on the glacier, Dôme de Chasseforêt still apears at the same distance...


It is so HUGE! You can't even start to seize the size of it!

5 elongated shadows, drifting through ice and wind


This is so surreal

B&W test 1

B&W test 2

Just before the peak

We stayed at Dôme de Chasseforêt around 20 minutes in a very cold wind, eating, drinking and resting a bit, observing surrounding mountains. The other groups were around 1 hour behind us.

Going down

Glacier des Somailles, the same as in the first pictures but seen from the side

Now let's go down by the regular path, where more kerns are visible. With my niece's bf, we took the direction of a slightly more difficult area, which was really interesting because we had to climb in rocks with a nice steep below us.

Then came the time to go down in the snow and that's were we had quite an sensational moment ; at some point I did not anchor properly my crampons in the snow and fell in a pretty big steep with hungry rocks at the bottom... this made my companion climber fall too, and rapidly slide below me but fortunately he managed to stick his ice pick in the snow and stabilize us.
This was pretty epic for a newbie like me. It took me a minute to cool down and be confident enough to continue going down.

The rest of the way down was pretty regular but demanding on the knees, the perspective of going back to the lake and have a swim, of eating reblochon and Savoie ham was more than enough to avoid thinking about the pain.

After a swim in the lake and a picnic, we got back to the refuge, just took some water and continued our way down.
2000m of negative elevation gain the same day. Ouch my knees.

Finally got back to Pralognan, my family went back to the valley, I had one more night in Pralognan before coming back to Annecy the next day.

That same week-end was occuring the TGV, Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise, 73 km of trail competition with 3800m of positive elevation gain... and the winner was Baptiste Locatelli, 22 years old, that finished the trail in 8 hours and 12 minutes.

This is science fiction to me.

Source: www.trail-running-savoie.fr

I keep wondering how they do it. All the participants were passing 3 meters behind my tent at the camp site, 750 m before the finish and I saw guys passing by until 9:00 PM... The race started at 3:00 AM.


Sky before falling asleep

The next day, I rode back to Annecy. It took me 4 hours to reach Annecy in a very heavy heat, happy to chill all the afternoon at the lake and just enjoy a little more this very calm and relaxing week-end.