Six of the best grade 6 single pitch rock climbs

A personal selection of grade 6 single pitch rock climbs near Briançon/Serre Chevalier, to give you a flavour of what the area has to offer mid-grade climbers.

rock climbing hautes alpes
‘Trango Tower’ (6a) – just a 5 minute walk above the road that traverses the hillside from Prelles to Vallouise. It follows the edge of a free-standing 35 metre block of limestone to its summit (c) Greg Murrow

The Briançon/Serre Chevalier area is well served by the guidebook ‘Briançon Climbs’ by the Rolland family, which can be bought locally in most sports and book shops. It is in both English and French with photos of the climbing areas and diagrams of how to find them. The 2015 version costs 30€ and the climbs that follow are page referenced to this.

There are, of course multi pitch, mountaineering, and much harder routes in this area, but I have selected six climbs from six different, easy access, single pitch crags that reflect the variety and quality of the rock in this area. I hope that anyone searching out any one of these six would also enjoy the other climbs located at each crag. All of these climbs are equipped with bolts for protection and can be done with a rope and quick draws. Some climbs in the area only require a 50m rope and eight quick draws, but this would be evident from the information in the guidebook.

The newer climbs tend to be fashionably longer and require an 80m rope and more quick draws. I am making the assumption that anyone reading this article and going on to climb, will be already competent to make their own decisions or will seek the services of a professional guide or instructor. I apologise for not including Ailefroide, the Clarée Valley, Pontet, Fressinières, etc. The area just has sooooooooooo much!

1) Mont-Dauphin Fort, secteur Raph number 1 (p 294),’6b’.

This is a long route on conglomerate, on the walls below the fort that overlook the River Guil. You need a long rope, plenty of quick draws and some strong fingers for pulling on pockets. The cliffs face several directions giving sun or shade as required and in summer a visit to swim at the lakes nearby at Eygliers or Roche de Rame is highly recommended.

2) Les Traverses, secteur Jonathan number 25 (p 114), ‘Trango Tower’, 6a.

A spectacular but relatively easy route up the cragside edge of the tower, on smooth limestone. It is better to lower off down the gully side rather than the face before pulling the rope as there is a broken ledge that can trap the rope on this side. Nearby are harder climbs but five minutes higher up the path is an area of shorter, very well protected easier climbing on positive holds. This is a popular winter venue sun trap.

3) Les Ayes, sect 3 Grands Corps Malade, number 2 (p 87)‘Le Bonheur est dans le dièdre’, 6a.

The direct track to the crag is a steep dusty one while the windy longer alternative might begin as a tarmac road but still ends up as a dusty track through the woodland. Don’t be put off and you will arrive at a high meadow setting with ample parking and a short approach over a rickety wooden footbridge. This climb has a bit of everything, with even a crack to jam, some bridging and a steep pull to finish. Up to the right are some easy graded slabs while down left the ascents of the 6a and 6b routes will be more of an effort. Wonderful picnic spot, but even better further on up the road towards Lac Orceyrette.

4) Casse de Prelles, secteur 5 Clos des Noisetiers, number 9 (p 104) ‘Allez zou’, 6b+.

By locating this part of the crag at Prelles, you will have to pass by many fantastic climbs on quartzite in the 5c/6a range, so you may not even get this far on a single visit, but this little area tends to be quiet and offers positive holds and a good day on its own. Explore the top part too which has sometimes broken rock, but unusual routes in and around some rock towers.

5) Rocher Baron, secteur 1 Face Ouest, number 2 (p 92) ‘Colombus’, 6a.

You can drive to a field adjacent to the climbing on the other side of Rocher Baron and it is usually busy, but still very good. The West Face has a more difficult approach with a short section of cables to overcome a rock step, so it is much quieter. This climb feels more like a juggy 5b and reflects the ‘soft’ grading here. A 50m rope will suffice and this balcony above the Durance valley is especially rewarding in the spring or autumn.

6) Rocher Maubert, secteur 6 Basilic Instinct, number 9 (p 51), ‘Mam’s Blues’ 6b.

Just up the road from Le Monêtier les Bains towards the Col du Lautaret. Don’t be put off by the nearby road and the fencing. This left hand part of the crag provides a wonderful setting looking across to the glaciers of Les Agneaux and some surprisingly good climbs around 6a, just above where you park the car. The best of the other areas is the upper crag, which is newly developed and features generally much harder routes but there are some gems, especially at 6b+.