Aiguille de Goléon

Posted by Sam Harrison on October 7, 2013 at 09:30.

 Mountaineering and climbing

alpine mountaineering alps cloud inversion scrambling

During my time in Grenoble (see this post), I trying to make the most of every opportunity I got to get out into the surrounding mountains. One of my objectives was to get at least one Alpine route done, and after some extensive research, a guy on the UKC forums suggested that the Aiguille de Goléon's voie normalle from La Grave would be suitable as a solo ascent. As I was out on my own, the prerequisites for any route I did were that it was technically easy enough to climb without a rope, and also that any glaciers crossed were (relatively) uncrevassed and considered "safe". Aiguille de Goléon fitted this description perfectly, having only a small uncrevassed glacier and a long, exposed but technically easy (maybe UK scrambling grade II, UIAA I) ridge to the summit.

Conveniently, there is a coach service that runs from Grenoble to Briancon, via La Grave. I picked up a ticket from Grenoble's Gare Routiere on the Saturday morning (at the rather steep price of €17.35 for a single) and jumped on board the 11:45am coach, which got me to La Grave for 1:15pm. There is a road that takes you right up the valley to Valfroide, but I unfortunately had to walk this section. I didn't really mind though, as it was a pleasant walk with plenty of lovely scenery and quaint hamlets along the way. Clouds started rolling in on the zig-zagging ascent to the Refuge de Goléon, and for a moment I thought that it might rain. I didn't stop at the refuge, but instead carried on for a few more kilometres up to the end of the valley, past the Lac du Goléon and unique marsh-lands that lie beyond it.

Lovely bivvy spot for the evening
Lovely bivvy spot for the evening


The clouds started to clear somewhat as I set up my bivvy. I went for a quick walk up the first part of the route to make my life easier in the darkness of the next morning, before retiring to my sleeping bag for a cold night's sleep.

I awoke to a thin layer of ice over my belongings, and was very glad I'd packed my down jacket, which stayed on for a good proportion of the ascent. The route didn't really require quite as early an "Alpine start" as the 4.30am that I chose, but I wanted to be at least nearly on the ridge for the sunrise. This paid off, because after initially getting lost on the morraines (I'm seriously getting worried about my cairn-following abilities, after the Pointe de la Réchasse incident as well), I was treated to the most spectacular sunrise just as I reached the ridge. The route to the ridge was mainly on rocky glacial morraine, with a small uncrevassed glacier to reach the ridge.

Sun rising as I reached the ridge
Sun rising as I reached the ridge


Fantastic gradient of colours in the sky
Gradient of colours in the sky


I've seen some good cloud inversions in my time, but the one that I was treated to whilst scrambling my way up to the summit was undoubtedly the most spectacular I've ever witnessed. At first, the clouds were bathed in a rich yellow light and everything around was painted golden. As the sun rose, the yellows were replaced by a vividly blue sky with crystal-clear white clouds beneath. The odd cloud forming interesting shapes on the horizon just added to the picture-perfect views. The position of the ridge certainly helped: On the left-hand side the views extended for out to the Mont Blanc range, whilst on the right the much-closer Écrins National Parc showed off it's highest peaks. To top it all off, the scrambling was good fun and the rock quality surprisingly sound. There were plenty of exposed sections which made the views seem even more stunning.

Barre des Écrins and la Meije on the other side of the ridge
Barre des Écrins and la Meije on the other side of the ridge


Looking back down the ridge
Looking back down the ridge


Even though it was bitterly cold on the summit, I made a point of hanging around and taking in the views. Descending the ridge included a few small sections of easy down climbing, but nothing too difficult at all. As I was crossing the glacier, the groups that had set out at a later time (perhaps 6am) from the Refuge de Goléon were just making their way up; I was smug in the knowledge that they'd missed out on one of the best sunrises I've ever seen. In fact, the cloud inversion had began to dissipate, making me doubly glad of the early start.

Views from the summit (spot Mont Blanc!)
Views from the summit (spot Mont Blanc!)


Unfortunately it did mean that I had a 5 hour wait in La Grave for the bus, but that didn't really bother me as I was still high off what a fantastic morning I'd had.

Lac du Goléon (left), La Meije (centre) and Refuge du Goléon (right)
Lac du Goléon (left), La Meije (centre) and Refuge du Goléon (right)
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