Yesterday I decided to complete the set of 2k meter peaks in the Chartreuse and hiked up Dent de Crolles (tooth of Crolles, a town at the base of the mountain) in splendid conditions. I set off around 11 and picked up a high school aged guy named Quentin who was hitchhiking. Fortunately he wanted to go exactly as far along the road we were on as I was going, and I turned north into the mountains when I dropped him off.
I recognized where I was from my first trip into the Chartreuse with Pascal but took a different turn in the direction of the Col du Coq. Due to the presence of snow and ice on the road I parked a couple switchbacks below the trailhead and set off just after noon. I was quickly wishing I had remembered to apply, or at least to bring, sunblock. It’s been so long since I’ve needed it (once in the last two months) that it completely slipped my mind. Fortunately nothing came of it.
Of the four high peaks in the Chartreuse I believe the Dent de Crolles requires the least amount of elevation gain, about 600 meters, plus a little extra for parking lower. I had parked almost at the treeline, so there wasn’t much waiting before the entire peak was visible. I noticed a prominent notch in the stepped layers of the cliff and decided I would just go straight up and see if I couldn’t climb through the notch. If it turned out to be harder than I was willing to climb alone, I would back down and go with the trail.
I set off straight up the snowy hillside, occasionally wishing I had thought to wear gaitors, trying to stick to the areas of bare rock and grass. Surprisingly I saw signs that someone had recently skied up and down, impressive given the relatively thin snowcover. That’s what rock skis are for I guess.
About 40 minutes later the angle steepened and I saw recent boot tracks going in my direction that had come from the left side of the slope, so I started following them. Soon I encountered what is clearly the trail, and realized that the way I was going must actually be one of the two normal ways up the mountain indicated on the map. So much the better. My assumption was confirmed shortly when I saw the yellow paint marks indicating the trail on a rock.
I started cutting back and forth through the various rock bands, sometimes scrambling very short sections, others stomping through the deepening snow. Soon I caught up to two people ahead of me, the ones who had made the tracks. Although we were on the route of the trail, there was by now no sign of it, buried in the drifting snow.
The two fellows had what seemed like inordinately large packs for a simple day hike, so I volunteered to take over the trail breaking. Although I never felt insecure, there were times I wouldn’t have minded having an ice axe along, as the slope was pretty steep in places and plunged off a sheer cliff to land hundreds of feet below.
Not long after meeting though, we worked our way through the final small cliffband and arrived at the summit plateau to a stiff wind. The views were amazing. In contrast to the mer de nuage I had encountered on Le Lance de Malissard, there was a thin, hazy sea of clouds to the south over Grenoble, but it was clear to the north.
While we sat and ate in the sun, I learned the reason for the large packs: the two guys were planning on paragliding back to their car. They said, and I had no difficulty seeing why, that this was a very popular spot for this and for wingsuit flying. From the summit, it was maybe a 1km drop straight down to a plateau, with but a short distance to the next sheer drop all the way to the valley floor some 5000+ feet below. They told me that in September they had summited the four highest peaks in the Chartreuse in one day by paragliding from the summit of eat to the highest point they could reach on the next. Very cool.
I decided to wait around to see them take off, but unfortunately the wind was too strong and they were resolved to wait, perhaps for a long time. Not wanting to wait too long for the snow to get soft, I eventually decided to descend around 3. I was glad for my decision soon after starting, as the snow was already becoming annoyingly soft. I quickly made my way down the way I had come up, passing 10 or 12 people who, for the most part, seemed even more poorly prepared for a day in the steep snow than I was. At least I have the advantage of experience, which many of these folks seemed sorely lacking (it’s hard to have confidence in someone walking on steep snow while wearing jeans). Hopefully they all made it down fine.
Although this was the smallest amount of elevation gain I’ve done on any of the hikes in the Chartreuse, I think it took longer than any of the others, and certainly felt the most like a real mountain climb, rather than a hike, if only marginally. Whatever it was, it was a ton of fun and I was again blown away by the amazing views.