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What is mountaineering exactly…
As it involves being at high altitude, reaching summits and crossing glaciers, mountaineering brings together a variety of techniques, including hiking on ice, rock climbing and ice climbing.
Mountaineering was born on a fine summer’s evening in August 1766, when Mr. Balmat and Mr. Paccard reached the top of Mont Blanc. Since then, men and women have been defying the summits. Oisans is part of the history of Mountaineering, with a capital M as the conquest of the Meije by Pierre Gaspard (subsequently known as « Gaspard de la Meije ») was a turning point in European mountaineering. There are no new peaks to be conquered today, but just the joy and childlike delight of being in the mountains.
With the village of La Bérade, the « Mountaineering Mecca », Oisans remains an untamed paradise for mountaineers.
Is Oisans a huge pile of stones? Of course it is, and mountain climbers were quick to spot the enormous potential of these mountains, of the sharp granite Dibona with its airy arêtes. This is an untamed place that miraculously seems to have escaped the ravages of progress.
Wild, secret and mysterious, Oisans, with its powerful rocky structure, houses one-third of all the French Alpine glaciers. It remains one of the last untamed massifs, one of the least explored and before 1850, was only home to chamois hunters, peasants and crystal hunters. From 1870 onwards, the situation changed rapidly as visionaries such as Whymper and Coolidge became interested in the Meije. Yet their attempts, just like those of their predecessors, remained unsuccessful. The goddess of Oisans is a wily goddess, admired from below.
“An unspoilt paradise”, wrote the French alpinist Gaston Rebuffat, “created for the joy of man, flowers and animals. We become mountaineers as we climb up to the peaks; we become a brother to the rock, the snow and the wind. Our hearts gradually begin to beat to the rhythm of the earth and of its life around the sun.”
Mountaineering in Oisans
La Barre des Ecrins, Le Rateau, Les Bans, La Muzelle, but also (and above all) La Meije, are iconic names in the world of mountaineering.
The aim of this guide is not to list everything that can be done in Oisans – an impossible task considering the endless possibilities – but rather to arouse the curiosity of visitors tempted by the world of vertical adventure. Even if this sport is not necessarily within the range of all hikers, the atmosphere, scenery and required effort can be experienced if you choose the right route.
The high-altitude mountain huts, generally run by the Club Alpin Français, such as le Promontoire or le Pavé, are just a long day’s walk away, with a few technical sections that can be overcome with the help of a guide.
The climb to the top of the Etendard, the highest peak of the Grandes Rousses, is accessible after a lovely, long traverse of the glacier in crampons, providing an expert eye is there to help you avoid the crevasses. Even the famous Dibona is accessible to beginners (accompanied by a mountain guide, of course)!
Dare to try it out, to live the dream of all mountaineers; to reach your target in an outstanding, sometimes inhospitable, but always spectacular environment!
So follow the guide…