Remembering the Glaciers: Mont Pelvoux

Mont Pelvoux, Massif des Ecrins, French Alps


This was about two thirds through what turned out to be 14 hours on the move: out the mountain hut before 5 am, making our way up to the summit up a couloir from the south-west, continuing up the ice field, then continuing over the mountain and descending the other side. This was part of the descent, looking up at where we'd been: Glacier du Pelvoux.

Seracs are the waterfalls of glaciers; the ice may move a centimetre or two a day, but it doesn't do it smoothly: slowly the serac moves out past the rocks, building up weight until eventually its so heavy that the overhanging part —and usually a section behind— separates from the rest of glacier and starts to break off. Those cracks expand, and eventually the serac itself falls. I've never seen or even heard that, but it's something you fear. Hence you get up early and move fast.

This was the first time I'd had to descend seracs, downclimbing front pointing the crampons with you needing the clear the base as it opened up into a deeper crevasse. We used ice screws for protection, with body belays; we were already roped up for glacier work in general. The last person in the group had to make do with the in-situ protection, which was inevitably some iced up piece of wood. They were of course backed up by the people below, but even so: glad it wasn't me.

Google earth shows this peak in all its intensity.

I don't think I do this any more; not just the technical aspects, or the terrifying exposure on the way up, but 14 hours of continuous movement on the mountains is pretty brutal. My body just wouldn't cope, not given my knee hasn't recovered from its 2006 shredded tendon, and I doubt I have the endurance this or even for the 12 hour non-stop drive from the channel to the alps. I'm never going to get a chance to take this photo again.

[Participants: SteveL, Will W, ^Jim, Mark S]
[Photo: Ilford B&W with Canon Sureshot, manual D&P onto Ilford A4 paper, with manual dodge/burn for the sky]

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