Sitting in the middle of a European summer heatwave thinking all is lost. Me and my partner Ash were starting to lose hope of a successful climbing trip due to the 40+ degrees. We had spent most of the summer in Magic Wood, which is usually a cool summer destination but even this was getting too hot to climb in. In despair, we messaged friends hoping that someone had a suggestion to avoid the extreme European heat. One of our friends mentioned Briancon, a relatively unknown area until the recent publication of the “Briancon Climbs” guide book by the Rolland family who bolted most of the routes in the area.
Briancon is based in the Haut-Alps on the border of the Ecrins national park. With lots of North facing crags and sitting at 2000m makes it a perfect summer destination. With grades ranging from 3+ to 9a there is climbing for everyone. Furthermore, it avoids most of the rain compared to other areas of the Alps making it less of a gamble than other areas of Europe (we had two days of rain on a 30 day trip!).
When we arrived we were both amazed with the amount and massive range of rock types to choose from: Granite, Gneiss, Conglomerate, Gabro and Limestone which meant you could definitely find a crag to suit your style of climbing. I loved climbing on all the Conglomerate rock, it was unlike anything I had done before. The style was powerful moves between large pebbles which didn’t suit me at all but nevertheless, it was so much fun! In the end, I searched out projects on limestone – a rock type I am much more familiar with. However, the limestone was nothing like anything I’ve climbed before where crimps and undercuts dominate. Here, all of the best holds were sidepulls; the crimps were pointless and misleading. This led to some pretty interesting technical climbing although, it definitely took a while to get used to!
Rest days were great fun, I love visiting touristy historical spots and Briancon had many. But if that isn’t your cup of tea there is lots of other stuff to do such as hiking, via ferreta, cannoing and mountain biking. The campsite (Le Lac) in Roche de Rame was central to the climbing areas and situated next to a large swimming lake making it pretty good for relaxing.
The best time to climb in Briancon is between April and November. All of the sport routes that I climbed were very well bolted. We climbed in four main areas: Rue des Masques, Le Rif d’Orieal, Entragnus and Aliefroide.
Rue des Masques
Expect pebble pulling and pockets here. The routes are powerful and not all that technical. There are four main sectors, one of which experiences a temperature inversion so is nice and cool to belay. It is also a popular tourist path to get to the stunning waterfall at Mount Doulphin, especially on weekends.
Le Rif D’Orieal
This is a thin canyon just outside of L’Argentiere. If you like sidepulls this is definitely the place to be! Due to the rock formation crimps are pointless but you can use sidepulls for days. Because of this it gives way for very technical and movement based climbing. The canyon acts as a wind tunnel which can be great on hot summer days although when the wind really picks up you’ll feel the wind-chill and beware of loose rocks falling from the top.
A small, short and powerful crag which stays in the shade throughout the day. Situated at the end of the Valloise valley it has stunning scenery all around. This crag generally attracts strong climbers with grades up to 9a.
Aliefroide lends itself to big multipitch routes in a stunning gorge. At 1600m altitude and a steady breeze you can even get away with climbing in the sun. Recently bouldering has been developed in the area but we didn’t have time or skin to check this out!
I will definitely be visiting Briancon again sometime soon but perhaps later in the season to check out all of the south facing crags and the Via Ferreta. For me it is definitely in my top 5 climbing areas!