Climbs 8 – Rocktype UNKNOWN – Altitude ? – Faces ?
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Unknown Climber on the first pitch of Les Formes Du Chaos WI4, Ceillac
Kevin Avery- Assistant Editor- UKC
© Kevin Avery-UKC
Ceillac is a small village tooked away in a high and sheltered valley in the rugged mountains of the South-West Alps. It actually more specifically belongs to the "parc régional du Queyras" and is also known as a small, but reliable ski resort. The icefalls lie on a densely tree-covered, north facing hillside with the base of the climbs lying at around 1650m the area enjoys a long and fairly reliable season. Furthermore, the attraction of being able to gear up in the car-park and stroll five minutes through the trees to the base of the routes means that those who are not accustomed to long yomps and Alpine starts, can actually enjoy something of a leisurely trip. Even the belays on the majority of the routes are bolted. (So that's what they mean by sport-ice!)
Ceillac offers a range of waterfall ice climbs and some M-style mixed routes (bolted dry tooling, usually involving ice at some point but maybe not!) The valley does not offer an enormous number of routes (approximately 10 or so) and as such is not a major destination on its own, in fact a competent party could probably clean up here in three or four days. But what it lacks in quantity of routes it more than makes up for in quality and beauty. All of the climbs are memorable but here are two of my personal favorites:
Les Formes Du Chaos
This is widely regarded as an area "mega-classic" and it fully lives up to the hype. It is the left-most ice-fall when viewing from the parking area and follows a narrow diagonal gash in the hillside via some superbly varied climbing up walls, ramps and bulges with an atmospheric situation to boot. Providing around 300 metres of climbing in total, it is most certainly not short but at least you haven't slogged for two hours to get to the base! Conditions can sometimes prove to be rather "interesting" on this one as the fall sometimes only freezes up on the sides leaving tons of water booming down the centre! A friend of mine has climbed this route three times (he likes it so much) and says that it has been different each time. When we climbed it there was water booming underneath the ice on some parts (a little disconcerting) but apparently this is quite normal. Beware of guided parties on this route even though it is wide enough to climb out of the way of others. On busy days it may be worth holding off and trying a different climb as there is no point in spoiling such a great experience. Five stars? I think so.
John Shepherd on the main pillar of Sombre Heros WI5 at Ceillac, France
Kevin Avery-Assistant Editor- UKC
© Kevin Avery-UKC
This is the obvious frozen curtain to the right of Les Formes Du Chaos. It was my first WI5 on our first trip to the Ecrins back in 2003 and also probably the first time that I had climbed any real waterfall ice. I was totally amazed to see all of these frozen free-standing sculptures, particularly the ones you could walk round the back of! At the time we'd done some Scottish 5's but I'd been told that WI5 was harder than that and more like Scottish 6. In reality the route wasn't too bad at all and offered much in the way of helpful hooking for the axes as well as features for the frontpoints. I have since heard many people say that it is a good introduction to the grade and in the late season condition that we climbed it in I would say this is true. It starts with a short easy pitch which leads to a bolted belay on the right of the main 'cigar.' From here attack the fifteen metre free-standing pillar which gives sustained 85/90 degree ice and then pull out left to a tree belay. The final pitch offers one more tricky step (particularly in lean conditions) to the sanctuary of a tree belay. Descend by abseil and bask in the glory or maybe even abseil back to the base of the main pillar and tackle one of the bolted M-style mixed routes up the rock on either side (both M6/7) if you are really keen!
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Kevin Avery-Assistant Editor- UKC: