Ailefroide seems to receive an increasing attention. Although it is home of thousands of climbing routes and provides excellent resources both for summer and winter mountaineering, it might become a bouldering destination, i.e. bouldering being the sole purpose of the trip.
It has been 4 or 5 years since I was last in the Alps and although I used to visit the Oisans¹ valley on a regular basis, I had forgotten the amount of rock that mountains tend to feature. Like a dog looking around through the windscreen of the car, I was making a mental list of all the potential stuff that I would have to visit during this long family holiday week. At least that is what was in my mind when we drove to Briançon three weeks ago. But then I remembered why I was never a huge fan of those boulders: the rock is rarely nice to your skin and the conditions in the summer are not really suitable for pushing yourself.
I did manage to get a few sessions though, mostly on my own, but once or twice with my siblings. We did not visit any other area than Philémon, partly because it has enough problems and stays cool in the shade of the pine trees. But even this way, bouldering in the middle of the day was out of question given the height of the temperature, well above 25˚C.
Grades there are very inconsistent. In the lower part of the scale, like in many new bouldering venues, the climbing seems to start at 5. Either the guys who developed the area were too strong to make the difference between a 3 and a 4, or they’re just too elitist. Either way, it can be very frustrating for the true 5+ climber. At least it was motivating for my sister Annabelle who started to climb this year.
In the 7 range, it does not get any better. My brother and I both flashed Probar, a wannabe 7a prow, featuring very nice but very easy moves for that grade. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake... that is until I got sucked into Metamorphine, a wonderful line that attracted most of my attention for the rest of the holiday.
This excellent problem included a tricky sit-start below a mini-roof. When you managed to get to the crimps above the lip, you had to perform a hard rock over on a nearly vertical face to reach a fingernail sharp rail. I must have done this a hundred times. From that rail you could manage to establish yourself on the lip and technically move up the wall using small and sharp crystals. I must have done this twenty times. If you managed to get high enough you could throw yourself at the top, where two good and soft slopers were waiting for you. I got this on my first try, but never quite manage to link it with the rest of the climb. So altogether I must have done it about zero times. Approximately.
I had nearly lost all motivation the last day, so I decided to leave the bloody problem altogether and do a bit of mileage instead. I managed to on-sight 2 other 7as and also send a 7b on my third attempt, which I think, proves that there always has to be a sandbag.
I did not meet any locals who could have confirmed this. There was a good few Italians, who after all were not that far from home. There was also some Spaniards, a few Britons and some other English speaking visitors but it was not the season for frogs, probably because the main event was just over and my compatriots had returned to the real climbing activity. They did a nice video of the Ailefroide bouldering though and when I saw it, I was quite frustrated to have missed it by a few days. At least I enjoyed a bit of team family bonding building –delete whichever does not apply – through a bit of bouldering, walking, swimming... And before I get any sarcastic comments about my bolt-clipping skills, here is a picture showing that, yes indeed, I also did a bit of that climbing stuff that some people dare to call the real stuff.
¹ I have checked and can confirm that Oisín never visited that valley and it is nowhere close the Tír na nÓg.