Even since I’d lived on the heights of Biviers near Grenoble the Freydane glacier has fascinated me. The locals talked of how they used to climb there in the summer, camp at its base by the lac Blanc and ski on its slopes… in August!!!
15 years ago I asked a colleague, Milord Francois Barbou des Places - barboudep to his friends, about the glacier. “It is no more than a snowfield, the glacier is gone, there are no signficant glaciers left in the Belledonne.” And there I’d left it.
Until last autumn. I’d just come out of hospital after an ankle op and was keen to do a big tour after severel small trips. One fine day I drove the car to Freydanne. What would over a decade of superheated temperatures have done to the glacier? I packed my crampons anyway.
I was on good form. I climbed up to the Crozet in hour. Stopping only to look at the Kairn built to remember Bruno killed by a mud slide a couple of years back. His kairn was in a peaceful spot looking out over the mountains. I lost track of the path above the col de Pra and had to scramble up a scree slope then traversed around the lac de Domenon. The power of these lakes had been captured by Victorian pioneers such as Aristide Berges to run the paper industry in the valley below. A potent combination of lumber and cheap energy made the Gresivaudan a world leader in paper but the industry is now in decline.
I crossed under the path to the Croix de Belledonne. Here there used to be a permenant snowfield called Le Grand Neve, it was completely gone, a victim of the ebbs and flows of climate change. The col de Freydane was visible ahead. The path is less well travelled and marked now it is no longer designated as a Grand Randonnee walking route. Two and a half hours to reach the col was good going but it was now 1.30pm and the sun was beginning its rapid descent to the horizon. A strangely cold south wind was blowing as I passed into shadow on the north side.
I realize straight away that the vast rock slope I was scrambling down was sitting on top of ice. Further down the glacier was obvious and a surprise, crevasses! Not huge but you wouldn’t want to fall into one. The glacier also tumble over a vertical slope. Without crampons crossing to the far side, and the summer path, would be perilous. I’d heard of accidents.
The walk down to la Gorge was extremly long. The lac Blanc had burst its banks in 2005 and washed down the gorge flooding villages. This had left the summer path in a poor state with lots of loose rocks. I was also tiring and my ankle was painful. At the village of la Gorge I met with a friend of Anny and Guy, two ski touring buddies and he gave me a lift down to the valley and home.