Grande Casse: Couloir des Italiens

  • Activities:
  • Min / max altitude:
    2531m / 3855m
  • Elevation gain / loss:
    +1340m
  • Difficulties height:
    800m
  • Configuration:
    face, couloir
  • Main facing:
    NE
  • Duration:
    1 day
  • Slope:
    60°
  • Global rating:
    D
  • Commitment grade:
    III
  • Quality of in-place protection:
    P4
  • Ice climbing grade:
    2
  • Toponeige technical grade:
    5.4
  • Ski exposure grade:
    E3
  • Labande descent grade:
    S6
  • Labande global grade:
    ED-
  • Suitable to snowboarding:
    yes
Summits, passes, lakes and cliffs:
Grande Casse  3855m r
Huts, usual bivis and valley accomodation:
Access points:
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Ascent:
First ascent: L.Binaghi and A.Bonacossa, on 6 August 1933.

Splendid corridor, generally in springtime conditions, on the highest point of the Savoie. Certainly one of the most beautiful snow and ice corridor climbs in the Vanoise massif at this difficulty level.

Day 1: Climb to the Félix Faure refuge (2530m): After Fontanettes (or Pralognan if the road is not open) head to the top of the Fontanettes ski lifts and the Refuge-Buvette des Barmettes (2010m). Cross the Glière torrent and climb the slight slope of the dale to the foot of the slope which bars the access to Lac des Vaches with steep bends. Cross Lac des Vaches (2318m) and continuing either by the moraine if it is cleared or by the snow covered basin to the foot of the Aiguille de la Vanoise. Skirt the base of the moraine until you are in the sight of Lac Long (2450m). Skirt the lake along its left bank (on the right) and cross a small butt to reach the refuge. From Fontanettes to the refuge takes 2h00 to 2h30. From Pralognan to the refuge takes 3h00 to 3h30.

Day 2: Return to the 2450m point, to the mouth of the Lac Long via its left bank. Climb the moraine and follow its edge before returning on glacier slope of Grande Casse (rather crevassed at the beginning). Going back up is easy to the foot of the Grande Casse pass. Via the steeper slopes (maximum 30°) head to the pass. From the pass there are two solutions: -Return on Champagny valley slope from 300 to 400m until in vertical alignment with the pass and climb a steep gully in snow and ice between two threatening seracs (55/60°). Continue directly in line with this gully, then from there it is possible to shift to the left to avoid  the serac falls (35/40°). This variation is the most elegant but also the most dangerous, the time spent under the threat of the seracs is longer! - After the pass, horizontally cross a first slow covered slope (35°). Then as quickly as possible, cross the slope exposed under the enormous seracs (30°) and go back to the left part of the face, to the shelter (40°). Stay well to the left of the line of the serac coulee and continue via a slope which becomes progressively steeper. The slope narrows to pass on the left of the highest serac (55°) then widens again to the right. Continue ascending diagonally on the right via an area often in ice (50/55°) then vertically climb the very steep gully which guards the top out. You come out of the gully (60°), based on snow cover and the presence or not of a cornice, either by the right-hand side, along the rocks, or completely by the left-hand side, along a snowy rounded top (3800m). From this point you quickly reach the summit of Grande Casse (3852m) via an exposed snowy ridge. From the refuge to the pass takes 2h00. From the pass to the summit takes 2h30 to 6h00.

Bibliography: - Les 100 plus belles Vanoise by C.Maly. - Alpinisme Vanoise Hte Maurienne by P.Col.

Descent:
From the summit of Grande Casse you reach the pass between the summit and Pointe Mathews. Start to descend by keeping constantly slightly to the right as far as the summit of a broad and high (300m) slope at 45°. At the bottom of this slope cross a double bergschrund to the left and reach a scoop on the right then a broad flat area. After the flat area go completely to the left and directly descend the vertical corridors (short slopes to 40°). You will quickly arrive at Lac Long, that is avoided by going left to reach the Félix Faure refuge. If you do not want to pass the refuge go around the lake to the right to reach its mouth. The end of the descent is carried out via the uphill route of the day before. From the summit to the refuge takes 2h30. From the refuge to the Fontanettes takes 2h00.

Remarks:

This route comes out on the highest summit of Savoie, good acclimatisation is therefore desirable. The orientation of the face (NE) makes it possible to have  the sun in the middle of the morning; the descent route is southern, so you need to leave the refuge early in order not to come down through the large corridors too late.

The two main difficulties of this route are to stay concentrated and physically protect yourself in the long corridor route.

A beautiful corridor though a little exposed to the serac falls during the beginning of the climb.

Access:
From Moutiers go towards Bozel , then to Pralognan and finally the Fontanettes.



Accommodation:
Col de la Vanoise refuge (Telephone : 04 79 08 25 23). In spring it is pleasant to make the climb via the Couloir des Italiens with the descent of the large corridors on skis, with 45° on a broad slope.

Gear:

2 technical ice axes, rope, ice screws, snow fluke. Arva, shovel and probe.

External resources:
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Version #10, date 7 May 2011