In this regular feature from the British mountain guides, leading alpinist and professional guide Jon Bracey of Vertigo Guides takes us through the classic icefall of Les Larmes du Chaos in the Vallon du Diable, France.
Les Larmes du Chaos is a superb four pitch ice climb in one of the 'must visit' valleys for all ice-climbers. This valley is one of the true gems of the Oisans region and full of amazing icefalls. Long and picturesque lines with a full range of grades, and all in a stunning high mountain environment. Most of the routes are above 2000 metres altitude giving reliable conditions.
UKC LOGBOOK ENTRY: Les Larmes du Chaos
Approach: Take the D530 to St-Christophe-en-Oisans and 100 metres after the village, turn left and park at the end of the road (snow-tyres or chains often required). Follow the trail up the valley bottom, which gently gains height to a point where all the routes are visible. A short slog up the snow slopes takes you to the base of the climb. Normally it takes about 45 minutes from the car. If you're lucky you might even see a Bouquetin on the way.
Route Summary: The climb starts with a steady warm up pitch that's often best climbed on the right as it enables you to belay on a nice ledge in a sheltered spot below the magnificent second pitch. Pitch 2 with 40 metres of sustained 80-85 degree featured ice is one to be relished, but save a bit of energy as there are short sections of vertical ice on both the pitches above!
A fast team might even consider enchaining this route and 'Les Homos a Godo' during the longer days of March.
Best tactics for an ascent: Stable snow conditions are essential for climbing in this valley as the climbs are threatened by avalanche risk from above. Call in or telephone the Bureau des Guides in La Grave if in doubt. There is normally a good trail up the valley bottom, but consider taking approach skis or snowshoes early in the season.
It's worth getting an early start to make sure you're first on the routes. Kit wise you'll need a pair of 60 metre half ropes as all the routes here have abseil descents, plus all the usual ice climbing paraphernalia.
I always carry a couple of pegs, tatt, and abalokov threader to back up/make abseil anchors.
Descent: With good double bolt anchors, 3 abseils see you back at your rucksacks (the top two pitches can be abseiled in one 50 metre rap).
Some of the neighboring routes have peg belays so always check the condition of the in-situ anchors. Give any pegs a hammer and thoroughly check the tatt.
What makes it so special: Conditions on the north side of the Vallon du Diable are as reliable as they come for ice climbing. Amazingly during the winter of 1990/91 people climbed here from the 4th November right through until the 21st May! The late Godefroy Perroux was responsible for the development of a vast number of routes in this region and beyond, so remember to toast him over a beer in the bar in St-Christophe on the way home.
He lives in Les Houches at the foot of Mont Blanc with his wife Karoline, son Joshua, and Jack-Russel Jess. Jon is an extremely passionate alpinist and expedition climber, but adores all aspects of climbing. When not out on the hill guiding or away on an expedition, Jon is also a very dedicated ski-alpinist, and has competed for GB at the World and European Championships, the Patrouille des Glaciers, and Pierra Menta.
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