La Meije Climb: Facts & Information. Routes, Climate, Difficulty, Equipment, Preparation, Cost

Daniel DawsonNovember 12, 2018

Towering above the famed ski village of La Grave and sitting on the northern edge of the Massif des Écrins is La Meije. At 3.984 meters, it is the second tallest peak on the massif, which also contains Le Grand Doigt, Pic du Glacier Carré, Doigt de Dieu and Barre des Écrins.

La Meije is composed of an eastern summit and a western summit. The western summit, or Grand Pic, is the proper summit and is well-known in mountaineering circles for having no easy route to the top, though there is a main one that requires less rock climbing.

It is also known to be the last major mountain in France to have been summited. This occurred in August 1877 when Pierre Gaspard junior and senior along with their client Emmanuel Boileau de Castelnau reached the top, climbing from the south face.

Since then the mountain has been a popular destination for intermediate and advanced mountaineers, looking for a challenge as well as exquisite views of the surroundings.

Before you book your next trip to La Meije, here is everything you need to know about climbing the mountain.

Starting point, distance & duration of the ascent

 

Be sure to dress in layers for this climb as temperatures can vary greatly between the start and the summit. Photo courtesy of Robin Revest.

The starting point for just about every mountaineering expedition up La Meije begins in the renowned ski village of La Grave, which is about 3.5 hours southeast of Grenoble by car and a similar distance from Chamonix.

From here, you will take the cable car at La Grave all the way to its terminus and spend the rest of the day hiking up to either of the mountain huts at which you choose to stay.

Over the course of the climb, you will gain roughly 1.750 meters of elevation on the first day and 500 meters of elevation on the second. The hiking from the cable car terminus to the mountain hut is also quite long and takes between five and eight hours depending on which hut you choose to stay in.

Most guides offer trips that last for two days. The first day is spent getting from La Grave to the mountain hut and the second day to the summit and back down. Some guides offer this same trip in three days, splitting the last day into two.

Guides also offer three-day trips that involve climbing at least one of the other peaks on the massif, such as Le Doigt de Dieu.  

Climbing routes

 

Both routes to the summit require quite a bit of rock climbing. Photo courtesy of Quentin DeLavignette.

There are two main routes for climbing La Meije: from the north face, which is the more common route to take, and from the south face.

However, both of these routes start at the cable car terminus and diverge depending on which route you will take to the summit. The routes to get to either mountain hut are similar, involving some tough hiking over rock and glacier as well as a fair bit of scrambling at the end.

The route to the Refuge du Promontoire (south face) takes about five hours from the cable car, while the route to the Refuge de l’Aigle (north face) takes about six to eight hours.  

The Refuge de l’Aigle sits at 3.450 meters. On the second day of the trip you will exit this mountain hut and cross the Tabuchet glacier before reaching a large, 40 degree snow slope. From here you will climb with a snow axe and crampons.

After this ascent there is a mix of glacial and rock climbing to the summit, none of which is very technical but requires quite a bit of physical exertion.

On the other side of the mountain, the Refuge du Promontoire sits at 3.082 meters and at the base of a steep south buttress, which provides the access for climbing.

From the mountain hut, it is a long day of climbing up along the west end of the buttress wedge in order to reach the summit with a quick and exhilarating rappel back down afterwards. Due to its southern orientation, there is usually no snow on this route during the summer.

Mountain huts

 

Either of the refuges at which you choose to stay on this trip are very much your typical alpine mountain huts. They have friendly atmospheres and are generally filled with other climbers, either doing the same trip you are or another one on the massif.

Both the Refuge du Promontoire and Refuge de l’Aigle offer stunning views of the surroundings as well and offer everything you will need to properly rest and prepare before the next day’s climb.

The Refuge du Promontoire costs €27,50 per adult and does negotiate group rates of €22,00. The Refuge de l’Aigle costs between €16,60 and €30,20 depending on when you book and availability. Both also offer half-board meals for an additional cost.

Physical requirements & technical difficulties

 

The second day requires an early start in order to reach the summit with enough time to descend again. Photo courtesy of Julia Virat.

La Meije is rated as a PD (peu difficile), which means slightly difficult, in terms of technical skills necessary. The mountain is completely appropriate for intermediate climbers and has been ranked one of the five easiest alpine mountains for beginners.

However, you should be in quite good physical condition before beginning your ascent and prepared to spend long consecutive hours climbing with few opportunities to rest.

Many guides recommend some light endurance, core and calf training before climbing La Meije. The climb also takes place at altitude, so arriving a few days before the climb is also recommended in order to adjust to the elevation.

Climate conditions

 

The best time to climb La Meije is from July through September. Temperatures during this time of year usually range from 15ºC to 20ºC, with cooler temperatures at the top of the mountain.

The peak is also generally pretty dry this time of year, receiving less than 75 mm of rain each of the three months that are best suited for climbing. Summer storms are not common, but do occasionally occur here.

Equipment

 

There are two routes by which to climb La Meije, one from the north and the other from the south. Photo courtesy of Jean Benoit Hugeux.

There is not a large amount of equipment required to climb La Meije, but it is always best to come prepared.

The following is equipment that is commonly (but not always) provided by the guide or available to be rented nearby:

  • Carabiners
  • Crampons
  • Harness
  • Helmet
  • Ice axe
  • Rope

The following is usually not included in the trip and should be brought by yourself:

  • Backpack, about 30 to 50 liters
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • Cash and credit card
  • Gloves, both an outer and inner pair
  • Head torch or flashlight
  • High-energy snack
  • Hiking or mountaineering boots
  • Light jacket
  • Mobile phone
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Rain gear: both pants and jacket
  • Sunblock, sunglasses and sun hat
  • Warm and windproof hat
  • Water bottles, at least enough for two days of strenuous activity
  • Winter jacket
  • Wool socks, at least two pairs

Estimated price

 

Prices for climbing La Meije vary from guide to guide and depend on a few factors, such as what is included in the fee, how many days your climb will be and how many people will be participating with you. Generally, the larger your group of climbers, the less you will pay per person.

That being said, for the classic two-day ascent of La Meije generally costs between €300 to €1.000 and includes the guide fee as well as the group equipment. These prices usually do not include the guide’s expenses or the cost of staying in the mountain hut.

Longer itineraries may cost about €500 to €1.100 and include the same thing as the classic trips.

Other activities in the area

 

Since La Meije is located near Écrins National Park, there are plenty of other outdoor activities nearby for you to take advantage of before or after your climbing expedition.

Hiking or mountain biking in Écrins National Park are both great ways to see much more of this beautiful region. If you finish this climb and you’re itching to do a bit more, there is plenty of that as well with ample mountaineering and via ferrata opportunities nearby.

From the summit of La Meije, you receive breathtaking views of the rest of the massif as well as other prominent peaks in the Alps. Photo courtesy of Robin Revest.

 

So what are you waiting for? Book your next mountaineering adventure to La Meije today!

 

 

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