Written by Tori Collins, BASI ISTD
The Grande Motte glacier lies in the Massif de la Vanoise. It is a fantastic ski training facility, with excellent views of the immense Mont Blanc.
I have spent four summer and autumn seasons on the glacier training to pass my European Speed Test and my son Ossie race trains on the glacier during his school holidays with Snoworks.
When we are on the glacier training or working, I often wonder what it would be like to climb it… what it would be like to stand on top of it… and what the view would be like…?
I had to find out.
The Sassière climb involved scrambling, rock climbing, high altitude and was extremely tiring. However they were without the need for specialist equipment and not very technical climbs.
I wanted Ossie to experience a more technical climb, a climb where every step must be in exactly the correct place and for him to become more familiar climbing with the use of crampons, ice axes and ropes.
So we made a plan to climb La Grande Motte Glacier, which has an altitude of 3656m!
Climbing the Grande Motte is very technical for the fact that it is glacial terrain. Glaciers have many crevasses open on them (long, deep cracks in the ice).
Although I hold the European Mountain Security qualification, my qualifications do not cover traveling on glacial terrain or crevasse rescue. (however I hope to become trained in the near future)
So for this climb I knew it was sensible to ask Ossie’s rock climbing instructor who is also a mountain guide, Stephane, to accompany us to the summit.
Stephane said that the youngest person he has taken to the summit was 12 years old and normally he wouldn’t take a 9 year old. But because he knows Ossie and knows he is fit, healthy, climbs well and moderately well behaved (haha!) he agreed to take him.
Our first challenge was to pack our bags as small and as light as possible with all the equipment we needed.
- Ice axes
- Hats / Gloves / Scarves
- Food / Water
- Sun Glasses / Sun Cream
The next morning, we set off at 7am. The first thing we did was we roped ourselves together for safety incase one of us fell. It was only then that I realised that I needed a pee! …Awkward!
We traversed in a line over the first part of the glacier, keeping our ice axes up hill and our ropes down hill, until we got to the rock ridge line, on the left of the glacier. We then spent 45 minutes rock climbing to the top of the ridge.
Once at the top and back on the snow, we put our crampons on and used our ice axes to make steps in the ice all the way over to the last ridge, that led to the summit of the mountain.
Walking along the last ridge to the summit was beautiful. We were up so high and exposed walking scarily close to a overhanging cornice on our left.
Every time I looked behind me I saw the breathtaking view of Mont Blanc with lenticular clouds resting on her peak, like a hat.
Ossie did really well climbing with spikes on his feet, but found it difficult to walk exactly where he was told. I think he is very used to being free to move as he wishes.
Stephane and I had to constantly remind him why he had to climb where we told him to climb.
Ossie, you could fall in a crevasse or pull down loose rocks, you must climb exactly where you are shown!
The summit was bigger and longer than I expected. When we had reached our maximum altitude we stopped and congratulated each other.
I love that we have now seen La Grande Motte from the top of La Grande Sassiere and La Grande Sassiere from the top of La Grande Motte
As always when climbing a mountain the work is not over when you reach the summit, we still needed to descent.
We had planned to descent a different way to the way we had climbed, so we continued walking over the summit ridge to the other side of the glacier.
The decent involved abseiling over the snow and crossing deep crevasses.
I asked Stephane if he could lead us into a crevasse so we could experience being INSIDE the glacier!
It was like being inside an ice palace! Hundreds of icicles where hanging from the cold walls and dripping. I felt like Queen Elsa, with my little Olaf the snowman.
Ossie enjoyed playing with his ice axe in the ice cave crevasse and did what he called ‘an icicle wipeout’ with his axe where he hit 10 icicles in a row in one hit.
If you would like to summit La Grande Motte glacier too, you can hire a guide from Le Bureau de Guides de Tignes and you can also hire all your equipment there.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone else climbing the Grande Motte would be to go to the toilet before you rope together!