Benjamin Vedrines Opens Treacherous Gully Up the Barre des Écrins

Benjamin Vedrines has completed another remarkable feat just hours away from his home in the Alps. This time, he took on one of the classic alpine big walls: the south face of the Barre des Écrins.

“It’s one of the craziest climbs I have experienced in the Alps,” Vedrines posted after climbing La Gorge, an intimidating gully up that south face.

Picture looking down, past the climber's boot and the ropes, to another climber in a mixed, vertical gully.

Vedrines and partners work their way up La Gorge. Photo: Benjamin Vedrines


Vedrines and partners Nicolas Jean and Julien Cruvellier completed the first ascent of the Gorge this past weekend. The trio took advantage of the more difficult but safer winter conditions on a feature too prone to rock slides to be climbed in summer. The line was logical, wrote Vedrines, but they had to wait until it was in the right condition.

The resulting 1,000m line’s difficulties: M7, A1, V/VI, and ED+ ice.

The climbers spoke of the “Himalayan conditions and dimensions” on their new route up the Barre des Écrins. Photo/route map: Benjamin Vedrines


Memories from the climb

In his initial report, Vedrines emphasized the long approach from Champhorent, the difficulties crossing the infamous Col des Avalanches, and the many crux pitches during the climb.

“The first [crux]  was on the first day, with an overhanging rock climb typical of the Écrins, plus crazy sections, unexpected ice, and an unforgettable bivouac in a big snow hole pitched on the face with a view of the Oisans region [Hautes Alps].”

An overhanging section. Photo: Benjamin Vedrines


Vedrines notes that Nicolas Jean sent the most difficult pitch of the entire route, when the team was about to concede retreat. “Committed but magnificent climbing,” Vedrines put it. The climbers summited at 7 pm on the second day.

On the summit last Sunday. Photo: Benjamin Vedrines


The happy climbers named their new route De L’Or en Barre, a play of words on the mountain’s name and meaning “gold bar.”

Only 4,000’er outside Mont Blanc massif

La Barre des Écrins the possibly the most popular summit in the Écrins massif (Dauphine Alps) in southeastern France. Not only is it the highest peak in the area, but it is also the only French 4,000’er outside the Mont Blanc massif.

Second, its normal north side route is a straightforward glacial trek until the Dôme de Neige, a secondary summit and yet just above the coveted 4,000m mark. Many simply stop here.

The higher Barre des Écrins involves a final ridge to the 4,102m summit. However, it is the 1,400m south face that has fed the climbers’ dreams in this part of the Alps for decades. There are many routes up this massive rock wall, ranging from AD (medium difficulty) to ED (extremely difficult).

The main problem is the poor quality of rock. Climate change has not helped. Rock slides are frequent, particularly on the route that Vedrines and his partners have just climbed.

At sunset. Photo: Benjamin Vedrines

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.