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TouringTip | La Voute

Abseiling in the cathedral of La Grave

by Adrian Sauter 01/20/2020
La Voute is one of the most legendary and longest freeride runs in la Grave. With the ski resorts's lift support, you can embark on a varied adventure in a magnificent setting. The descent leads over the wide Girose glacier deeper and deeper in untouched and wild landscape over 2200 meters of altitude into the valley. Despite its fame, the alpine character of the tour should not be underestimated.

Only after 40 m of abseiling do skiers discover the deeply incised and extremely steep couloir in the upper part, which can be a dream in good conditions and a nightmare in bad ones.

Tour description

We take the colorful gondolas from la Grave to the edge of the glacier and from there take the Téléski de la Girose to 3550 m to the highest point of the ski resort. From here, we swing in large arcs in the direction of the fall over the wide Girose glacier; we always have a constriction of towering boulders on the right, which stand in the middle of the glacier field just before the glacier breaks off.

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From here, the route continues downhill in several small basins and steeply undulating terrain. If you don't have a GPS, you should have a good sense of direction and study the map carefully, because the inconspicuous abseiling point, often hidden under snow, is on the left at around 2400 m. A big secret is kept about this abseiling point in la Grave. To find out the current conditions, you should be well equipped and it is best to ask the Frenchman in the group to enquire at the guide's office. Experience has shown that, in this case, locals and guides are open-minded and willing to provide information.

As strange as this seemed to me at first, I now understand the background to this protectionism better after several trips. The Voute is not a normal off-piste descent and is significantly more challenging than the La Grave classics such as the Vallons or the Couloirs du Lac. This is wild, secluded ski terrain which, with its 40 m abseil point, requires experience in abseiling. Finding the way is complicated, especially if there are no tracks, and the steepness poses a serious challenge even for good skiers in less than ideal conditions.

In addition, the entire gully is prone to avalanches from above and should only be skied in safe avalanche conditions. It is best to be well informed about the weather conditions the day before. If it was a little warmer the day before and the north-facing gully got an ice crust overnight, you should wait for better days. A fall here would have a quick and most likely fatal end. Extreme skiing legend Doug Coombs lost his life in one of the parallel gullies a few hundred meters further on, and there are always serious accidents in La Voute too.

Once you have made it past the hidden abseiling point, the real crux of the descent awaits. The steepest part is right at the point where you strap on your skis. Here it is very helpful to have a rope that extends slightly beyond the abseil section so that you can strap in safely in difficult conditions. If there is a lot of snow, you can also abseil with your skis on. There is also a second stand to the right of the rock on the way down, which allows you to make a small platform with your skis to make it easier for latecomers.

Once you have mastered the first critical meters, there is nothing standing in the way of 2400 m of downhill fun against a breathtaking backdrop. La Voute means vault and the gully lives up to its name. As if through a cathedral with towering steep walls, you ski down perfect and consistently very steep terrain. The gorge is deep and gloomy and leads for half an eternity through the stone vault until it opens up into a lighter, wooded area. From here, keep slightly to the right to reach the Romanche river, which can be crossed via a small bridge. Then follow the path to the road and you can hitch a ride back to la Grave, or you can park your car here. The best thing to do, however, is to linger for a while at the bottom of the descent and look back at the mystical cliffs from which you have just been spit out.

La Voute is not an everyday freeride descent. A sense of direction, mastery of abseiling and a safe skiing technique are basic requirements here. If you feel up to it and find good conditions, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable descent through one of the most beautiful gullies in the Western Alps.


Difficulty: ****

Special hazards: Glacier crevasses, risk of falling on hard snow or ice in the gully, orientation, glacier equipment, avalanche transceiver set and 2x 50 m rope

Exposure: N

Altitude difference Start and finish: 3.550 m, 1.320m

Altitude difference downhill: 2230m

Duration: 2-4h

Best time of year: January to May

How to get there: From Grenoble to la Grave to the valley station

Topographic maps: Carte IGN Meije Pelvoux Parc Nation des Ecrins 3436 ET, Freeride Map la Grave la Meije

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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