Every year the guides at the Bureau de Guides de la Berarde organise a weekend of ice-climbing. It’s the perfect chance to try out some lines in good company and a stunning setting. Because the guides have prepared the icefalls in advance it means that there is a smaller risk of falling blocks and you can therefore concentrate on the climb, and of course sandwiches, tea and mulled wine when you come down. The climbing is followed sometimes by a conference and the next day is open to longer multi-pitch routes. The event is often published a few weeks beforehand, but remains relatively low key and amongst friends.
Having participated in the event over the course of multiple editions it has always been a fun experience and I’ve discovered the different climbing spots around the little village of St Christophe, from where the day’s activities are always started. Going straight down the valley to the Vénéon river, is the Clot, an enchanting place, closed in on all sides by steep slopes and a dense forest. Multiple icefalls come down to meet the small stream that flows between the rocky faces. Being closed in on all sides means that the only sound is the water dripping off the ice and into the river, and the muffled shouts of the climbers as they inch their way up. The alternative to this secluded spot is the huge Vallon du Diable, which branches off the main Berarde valley to the north-east. The hike to the climb is a bit further, just under an hour following a small path that crosses the river multiple times. As the valley starts to turn slightly, there are two possible sectors: one north facing, with the ice coming down from the Aiguille du Plat de la Selle, the other south facing with its source of frozen water coming from the huge Glacier de la Girose. The former section is good during dry, warmer winters, as it remains protected from the sun.
This year, with its exceptional precipitation, has been the opposite: the snow had hidden all the ice on the north face, changing the face of the mountain. It was therefore the south facing side that was chosen. This was not without risks though! After some fresh snow during the night, the first sun rays caressed the upper reaches, sending large spindrifts crashing down. As the powdery snow cascaded onto the slopes around us it was very impressive indeed. It was also the opportunity to get an eye in the sky, using my drone to capture some different angles. With calm weather the only difficulty was to get airbone during the spindrift episode when snow covered all our gear. After it calmed down I was able to launch and get some shots. And of course some lines too!
The start and end of any of these trips (or indeed most climbing, hiking or skiing forays in the Berard-Vénéon valley) is La Cordée. A quaint little café, it is filled with mountain paraphernalia. Sipping a beer or hot chocolate (depending on the days efforts and the weather) you have to push past piles of books, a jumble of postcards, climbing gear and even a very fluffy ginger cat. When he is not getting in your way he likes to sit atop the coffee machine to keep warm. It definitely has a very special atmosphere and is a great place to start or finish any adventure.