Monday, 11 July 2016

Petite Autane

Petite Autane from Chabottes
Sunday, 10 July 2016
Ascent:    1300 metres
Distance: 10 kilometres
Tim          4 hours 5 minutes

Petite Autane    2516m     2hrs 15mins

From our chambres d'hôtes nestled above the Champsaur valley in the Parc des Ecrins we had a magnificent view of Petite Autane, a 2500 metre peak above the ski resort of St-Leger. I immediately logged it as an objective and thought that it could be climbed in 4 hours or so. The was before I realised that it is a 1300 metre climb including a scramble up a steep rocky ridge to the summit. After the first three days of superb walking and climbing in the Alps at the head of the Drac valley, our last day in the Champsaur provided a chance to climb Petite Autane in the early part of the day before the threatened thunder storms moved in.

Jean, the owner of La Grange, had been a hill runner but seemed to me to be spending too much time running his new business and I asked if he would like to join me. He declined, it was Sunday and he had to clean the rooms, but suggested that one of his sons might want to make the climb. Adrian was 17, multi lingual, tres sportive and had quite a lot of experience walking in the Alps. We made the 15 minute drive to St-Leger and began the walk from a meadow at the foot of the ski area, ascending by a series of tracks and then using the pistes through the forested lower slopes. There were herds of cattle grazing and a group teenagers roared past us on their motor scrambling bikes just before we reached the start of the limestone ridge.

Adrian had climbed the mountain a couple of months earlier but had been unable to make the second and higher peak which was still covered in ice and snow and he had not taken crampons. I estimated that we should make the summit by noon, we had started walking at 9:45am. Adrian was less optimistic. Initially the ridge was gentle with a narrow path wriggling its way along the narrow ridge festooned with alpine flowers. At 2100 metres the steep climb began, it was a loose rock with sections of scrambling, exposed but nothing too difficult. We paused once to watch 6 eagles as they skimmed along the ridge and then circled above us in the thermals. We had a discussion about what type of eagles and Adrian thought that they were 'aigles' or golden eagles in english but I was less sure, their wings were lightly coloured compared to those in Scotland, but Adrian was right when we checked later. A mountain runner passed us on his descent and another couple were resting near the summit. Despite the heat, the lack of humidity meant that walking was easy in just trainers, shorts and a T shirt and there was no need for more than a wind shirt, water and bit of fruit in the rucksack.

We made it by noon and gave ourselves 10 minutes to take in the views. The higher peaks to the north and east were already covered in cloud and there was a distant crack of thunder. A parapenter glided above the ridge and waved before looping round and being sucked upwards by the thermals. We descended by the same route, making reasonable time down the loose rock along the ridge and then descending down the pistes and summer meadows to the car.

By 2:30pm I was sitting with a 75cl bottle of local beer after a swim in the pool. I could easily get used to summers in the Alps. Climbing 1300 metres in perfect visibility and low humidity and getting back to base by 2pm is an awful lot easier on the eye and the body than an 8 or 9 hour slog round a couple of Scottish hills with a high likelihood of rain, wind, poor visibility before a 2 hour drive home. But I did miss the midges.

Path up the ridge
Alpine flowers, a fine substitute for boggy ground
At the summit
Company at the summit
Show off
Alpine garden of flowers
Petite Autane from Ancelle
Ready to go with Adrian

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