Ski Touring: Cime du Gélas, East Couloir; Mercantour; Alps; France - 3,142 m. (10,309 ft)

Sun, 23 May 2010


Minimum altitude: 1,850 meters

Distance: 10.1 km

Slope Aspect: East

Trip Reports

Vertical Climbed: 1,160 meters (3,806 feet)

Vertical Descended: 1,063 meters

Rating: 4.2

Avalanche Risk: 1

Snowline: 1,850



Park just below the milking sheds at the Madone de Fenestre. Follow the path to the NNE on the left bank of the stream. Do not take the path to the south-east which leads to the 5 Lacs. Turn N/E into the vallee de Cabret to reach the lac de Cabret by a series of steep sections and flats. You may need ski crampons to climb these. At the Terrasses du Gelas you can continue north to the balcon de Gelas (2.3/E1) otherwise climb the east facing couloir to reach the summit. The descent from the summit is steep and exposed, watch out for hidden rocks. Otherwise leave your skis at the top of the couloir (or bottom).

You can descend from the summit (steep and exposed, beware of rocks), or leave your skis at the top (or bottom) of the couloir.

Precautions: Crampons / ice axe for the couloir if hard snow. Ski crampons for ascents. Helmet for the couloir.

Access: Nice - RN202 - Vallee de la Vesubie - St Martin Vesubie - (D94) -> la Madone de Fenestre

Difficulties: Rock fall (and skiers) in the couloir. Couloir 4.2 but very short.

Trip Report

Last weekend I was down at the Cannes Film festival but managed to fit a pair of 130cm approach skis into my luggage with the aim of skiing something in the Mercantour. In the end I settled on the classic Cime de Gelas above Madonna di Fenestre. It is a little over 10 years since I last toured here… when I did the Valette de Prals. I’d thought about doing a loop by the couloir des Italiens and the col de Fenestre but it seems there had been a lot of derapage in the couloir since the last snowfall, which didn’t bode well. Maybe with longer skis.

Instead arriving at the balcon de Gelas I spotted people in this east facing couloir. In fact this is the normal way to the summit. A lot of people were climbing (with helmets and crampons) and a lot seemed frozen to the spot with their skis. One thing I noticed with the sudists I saw was a generally lower speed at climbing and poorer technique on the steeps than ooop north but that may be just that I missed the early bird skiers. I upclimbed from the base of the couloir, no crampons but they were not really necessary, even to reach the summit. However they would have been useful early in the day. A helmet is a good idea for this route though. At the summit I could see the Balcon de Gelas, the Italians is reached by climbing right and behind the balcon. Mont Clapier might be on the programme next year. Not many people ski, maybe the traverse around the Lac Longue is not easy? Looking down to Italy, the north-west face looked feasible but maybe there are cliffs lower down? I don’t like downclimbing much, especially without crampons, so skied off the summit right passed some skiers who were transfixed, waiting for me to blow a turn and hurtle to my death. It looks pretty flat in the photos but is around 50 degrees.

The couloir is a shortish 4.2. The snow was soggy but skiable but a lot of side slipping had left steps in places. The main difficulty are the number of folks in the couloir at any one time and the risk of someone falling and hitting you or dislodging one of the rocks on the surface. It is certainly a popular route.


Spring snow. Snowline at 1850


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