Aravis Climbing Guide

26 March 2021, La Mamule North Face, Les Aravis

The impressive series of North West Facing combs above Les Confins, La Clusaz, on the South side of Pointe Percée are at the heart of the massif des Aravis and whilst they are an established & brilliant crucible for ski touring, there is less on offer for the mixed climber, with a few notable exceptions…

Aravis Climbing Guide
Dawn arrives above Les Confins on the approach to La Mamule

In the Combe de Paccaly, close to Les Confins there is the brilliant Aravicimes on the Paré de Joux, see our other March 2021 news post for details of an ascent of that route.  Further north and with a longer ski approach from Les Confins, there is a another, tougher, mixed route on the austere and shady North Face of La Mamule in the Combe du Mont Charvet.

Aravis Ski Touring
The varied and beautiful ski touring approach to the Combe du Mont Charvet and La Mamule

Once visible, the lower icy line of ‘Rolling and Scratching’ IV 5+, M5+, 450m, jumps out as an eye catching white streak against the sombre & shady limestone grey of this North Face.  But despite the line being obvious, and there was ice there, it’s not clear what the quality of ice would be like…or the big snow slopes and gully above…it’s necessary to get the axes out…and go and find out!

The end of the ski approach to the inspiring north face of La Mamule, now the climbing journey begins…

The lower slabs right at the start of the route are not steep and had an enjoyable combination of styrofoam snow, thin ice and the odd crampon on limestone.  Higher up on this pitch, things got steeper, and thinner…

Setting off up the Mamule North Face on the first thin ice pitch on Rolling and scratching

The steep ice column at the top of the first pitch was well formed but now slightly detached from the rock beneath.  There is a bolt at about 30m on the pitch but this is well below once you set off up this inspiring but committing ice lead…

Callum setting off on the crux ice pillar above the bolt on the first pitch of the north face of La Mamule

Callum did well not only to hang on and find a place fat enough for a, still sticking out, stubby screw but also to place a small cam in the rock on the left of the pillar.  The ice was thin to the sides and sounded very hollow, but in the middle the hooks were good and a bold approach was rapidly rewarded with fantastic sinker placements in the spindrift scoured solid névé above.

Superb icy limestone chimney pitch 4 of Rolling and scratching

There are a number of fixed anchors on the route but the bolt belays are limited to a single bolt, sometimes backed up by a peg and, on this day, the route had not been climbed since the storms last weekend and there was some impressive accumulations of deep soft snow pasted to the rock at the sides of the gully.  Happily the central section was spindrift scoured and gave a couple of pitches of enjoyable moving together up brilliant sticky snow and easy ice.

Aravis Ski Touring
Great views from the belay in the heart of the Aravis

From a very good sheltered belay on the R wall of the gully below pitch 4, a superb short narrow chimney rears up in to this crux central rocky mixed section of the face.  This chimney was ice filled at the back and have really excellent enjoyable icy groove climbing with some back and foot action and felt very like an icy mixed route on Ben Nevis.

An M4/5 alternative pitch to the left of the classic line

Above this narrowing the face opened out with a multitude of possible lines, too much choice!  The easier climbing looked to be on the left with the harder climbing on the actual route, to the Right.   This looked very fat with deep soft fresh snow and very thin with nice usable ice and steep limestone rock!  We took an alternative central line which gave some good mixed climbing leading to an awkward traverse with lots of deep soft snow, much of which came off whilst Calum hoovered across it!

The ‘Traverse Of The Gods’ on the North Face of La Mamule. A good effort from Callum to excavate sufficient runners to inspire onwards momentum.

Again the anchors, runners, ice, we’ll take anything….seemed to be well buried in the deep wind deposited snow and Calum did well to find a buried peg anchor which provided the gateway from the top of this steep mixed section to the easier snow and ice slopes above.

Some nice turns…and plenty of less nice ones…on the descent of the Combe du Mont Charvet under the North Face of La Mamule and back to Les Confins

We ran out the rope on easy snow for 60m above this but were heading in to the snowy abyss without runners or anchors to come back down on so the summit of La Mamule will have to wait for another return trip and it would certainly be a pleasure to come back to this inspiring part of the Aravis en skis et avec piolets!

For those in Chamonix who think the Aravis are just wombling grassy 20 degree meadows…There is that, but there are also some spectacular limestone crags and peaks, smaller in stature but with elements reminiscent of the Dolomites and Eiger country.

Conditions for middle and high mountain ski touring and climbing are currently pretty good so please get in touch via the contact form below if you would like to do some guided ice, mixed or rock climbing or ski touring over the rest of the spring 2021 season…