Vuarnet Fellow Alpinist Charles Dubouloz (@charles_dubouloz) completed a 13-day tour of Massif des Écrins with about 10 ascents on Tuesday, July 26.
We asked him about the planning, preparation and execution of the journey.
How do you prepare for a project such as this one? Did you have any apprehensions?
My intention for this project was to discover the most I could in the Massif des Écrins range. I had a little bit of local knowledge already, and I spent a lot of time researching guidebooks and maps. Through the National School of Ski and Alpinism (ENSA) library I was able to read Les Lebandes, which helped a lot. I also spoke with a local guide well versed in the area. After many hours of preparation, I got a clear idea of my project.
During this research phase, I was able to understand some details I didn’t know before, such as links between some of the faces. Apprehensions arrived the days before, like any goal.
Physically, I focused more on endurance conditioning and a little less on climbing to be ready for this type of long journey.
What is a typical day like?
I usually wake up in very in the middle of the night for a nighttime approach. I usually start my climbing as the sun rises. Then, a descent and connect to the next refuge. And a few hours of sleeping before doing it again.
What can we find in your bag for a 13-day expedition?
The minimum amount… which is already too much! My bag is big, around 10 kg. A rope, cams, harness, crampons, ice-axe, climbing shoes, a blanket, a few snacks, 1L water. For this type of project every gram counts, everything is weighed before going in the bag. Nothing is taken at random.
What was the most beautiful moment during the expedition? What was the scariest?
The best moment may have been the Olan summit on the tenth day… I could see all the mountains I had just climbed. It was a beautiful moment of happiness to share with Joseph, my climbing partner.
I didn’t have a scary moment, but rather an uncomfortable moment. There were a few glaciers that were heavily crevassed where you had to make detours to avoid holes. There was also a rock fall on the Olan north face. These encounters remind you to respect the sacred atmosphere.
You accomplished the first part of this journey solo, what was your state of mind during those days? What was your state of mind when your partners joined?
I like to move alone in the mountains. Everything increases tenfold, from the decision-making to the doubt or happiness. Being completely present in this type of place (crevasses and difficult rock) is very important. To succeed you must be flexible, things are sometimes out of your hands and you’re relying on different elements to come together. There is an element of luck as well. I’m aware, therefore, I try to not abuse this.
I was very happy when Joseph joined me. The pressure is a little less as I can count on a strong partner for the ascents… it makes a big difference! Antoine joined for the last two stages, he was fresh and in great shape. We could continue to push “the machine” to complete the lap fast as possible.
How are you able to keep such a high pace for 13 days?
No doubt by practicing... not only during the last few months, but also all the hours outdoors spent racing, climbing, bivouacking, etc... since childhood. Also, the desire to discover all these wonderful mountains.
After such an amazing feat, what are you preparing for next?
Now, a little rest. And then preparation for a Nepal expedition in September, it will be here before I know it.