The Tete

Winter Alfoide, the Tete can be seen on the right © Oli Grounsell

Winter Alfoide, the Tete can be seen on the right © Oli Grounsell

Driving through the sleepy villages of Vallouise and Les Vigneaux for a bit of apres ski sport climbing this spring, I’d frequently gawp up at the towering limestone of the Tete D’aval which sits above and wonder what climbing, if any, there was up there. It looked steep, and long and really quite good.

Fast forward a few months, at a bit of a loose end, and with just our little legs to get around, myself and Liam find ourselves in the Ailefroide valley and I was back below the Tete. Arriving in Argentierre, we’d spotted a peak to our North. Looking like a pile of choss I’d assured Liam this wasn’t what I’d dragged him here to climb, and we’d headed further up the valley, waiting for our perfect limestone face to emerge.

An hour later, now at the camping in Les Vigneaux where the Tete is described as ‘the dominant view from anywhere in the villiage’ it transpired that this mountain of choss was most definitely the Tete, and that the perfect limestone face I’d remembered wasn’t going to emerge from anywhere.

The Tete, Ailefroide, East Ecrins © Liam Postlethwaite

The Tete, Ailefroide, East Ecrins © Liam Postlethwaite

Not to be deterred, we headed up to climb what looked to be a classic of the wall; Le Don de l’aigle. But instead in the following 24 hours a guidebook was lost (Liam- sorry Murray), a ravine fallen down (me), 6 piches of E4 choss climbed and a shoe abandoned from pitch 5 (me again). It was fair to say that walking down in the mid day sun, merely 12 hours since walking up to our little bivi, we felt a bit dejected by this cliff, and missed Ceuse already.

We new there must be some good rock up there though, and a few days later we set on up again. After a night tormented by wild boars and very scary mice we woke to glorious clag and low cloud. It looked to be another great day out on the Tete…

It’ll burn off. We walk in. It hasn’t burn’t off. We sit down for 2 hours in the rain. It hasn’t burnt off. We sit down for another hour. It hasn’t burnt off, but it has stopped raining. We start climbing.

Climbing out of the clag © Liam Postlethwaite

Climbing out of the clag © Liam Postlethwaite

A few hours later it has burnt off and we are in warm sunshine, and a cool breeze. Everything completely transformed. Over the next few days ravines and falling shoes were soon forgotten as we began to get to know this face, and the Tete began to do it’s self justice. We finished off the Don, and then climbed Ranxerox and Balade D’enfer. In general the first band of rock to the first ledge system at about 100m seemed to consist of the worse rock, and could quite easily put you off, but above this, as we soon found out, it was a completely different story.

Hundreds of metres of solid velcro like limestone in fact makes up most of the Tete. After climbing the crux pitch of Balade D’enfer, we concluded that at 7b it wouldn’t of been out of place alongside other mid grade 7’s at L’infini, in fact it might even have been one of the best. Shallow water worn pockets, edges and runnels led the way into a small groove and made for an absorbing technical pitch. Equally as memorable however were the final 20m of Ranxerox; rough unworn juggy runnels led you on to the top, past the gliders and with a view back up the valley, there can’t be many better 5+ pitches around.

I think it’s great that there is so much good climbing out there, and you don’t even know about half of it. I can’t imagine the Tete is on the hitlist for many, it wasn’t really on ours, but a few twists of fate had led us to some of the best limestone we’d climbed on. The locals are massively proud of the mountain and the area in general, and so they should be.

The amazing top pitches of Ranxerox © Liam Postlethwaite

The amazing top pitches of Ranxerox © Liam Postlethwaite

Perfect limestone on Balade D'enfer © Liam Postlethwaite

Perfect limestone on Balade D’enfer © Liam Postlethwaite

Heading for the roofs on the Don © Liam Postlethwaite

Heading for the roofs on the Don © Liam Postlethwaite

Liam coming through the roof © Oli Grounsell

Liam coming through the roof © Oli Grounsell

Liam on Espoir Karsherise, a steep and bouldery 8a in an idyllic setting at Rocher Des Brumes © Oli Grounsell

Liam on Espoir Karsherise, a steep and bouldery 8a in an idyllic setting at Rocher Des Brumes © Oli Grounsell

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