Many years ago, I was climbing in North Wales and me and my partner decided to pop into Plas Y Brenin as there is a bar there and an adventure presentation/talk on the Alps. Whilst enjoying a pint of local ale I watched and listened as the presenter (an instructor at the centre) talked through a slideshow of mountain scenery and climbing action shots. Eventually my attention was spiked, when he showed a picture of the perfect mountain, tall, triangular, and sheer; Dibona, it looked epic. He started to talk through the route he had climbed on the south face, and I listened intently, already planning in my minds eye that one day I would climb that face and that mountain.
As we were leaving Chamonix I was researching where we would go next, and the south coast of France seemed a worthwhile location, with both lovely weather and beaches, linked with climbing scattered everywhere. As well as this, I had also recently read a blog post on the Verdon Gorge, which again looked amazing! After a quick look at the guidebook I realized that the gorge was en-route and Google mapped it, and when I was doing this I noticed we passed the Ecrins National Park, and a short search later I found that Dibona was only an hour or so detour. This was easily justifiable, and so Dibona became the next location on the trip.
We drove off the main roads away from tolls and motorways, and weaved our way through some of the grandest scenery, roads that are reminiscent of the transfagarasen highway in Romania. Twists and hairpin turns led us up mountain sides and through cols, with descents that would test the brakes almost permanently. It required almost full on concentration throughout. Much of the terrain seemed to be on the Tour de France as all the roads were painted with names etc., it was fantastic and although I’m 100% sure it took longer than the toll roads the entire drive kept your attention throughout and was fantastic and I’d recommend it to anyone doing a similar route/drive.
By the time we arrived we spent the night in a small village called Etages, and in the morning we booked the hut with the worst attempt at speaking French ever. Following this we just chilled for the best part of the day as we planned to walk up in the afternoon. I had read that the walk was an uphill slog, and this was the truth. From the off, the path leads up and up, although again it passes through some amazing mountain scenery and water features. Unfortunately Jess was feeling a little under the weather and although I was enjoying myself, it was obvious when I turned around and looked at the body posture of a stroppy teenager behind me, Jess was having a pretty crap time! The closer we got to the hut, the peak started to show itself inch by inch over the horizon, with each inch the intimidating face was revealed. I’m not ashamed to say that I was feeling pretty intimidated by this face, and although it was beautiful to see it, inside I was feeling a little apprehensive about climbing it.
It took bloody ages to get there, but once at the hut I know that we were both pretty tired. We were only staying for the night without food, so we set about cooking to replenish our energy levels. We cooked some noodles that have graced our kitchen cupboard at home for the best part of a few years and were two years out of date, however, mixed with some chorizo and veg it all came together and tasted fine (with no after effects either…). Soon after it was late enough to justify preparing for bed, and although an early night was not overly needed as we were getting up at seven, it would still help to be rested. The usual routine of a night in a hut began, with the noisy rustling of others mixed with some of the brightest head torches ever designed, added to this, ‘the battle for air’, as the window was repeatedly opened and closed, by those too cold or those who had enough of chewing on other peoples farts!
We got up and made our delicious breakfast of pre wrapped pain au chocolate and cereal bars washed down with a shared mocha. Once this and all other morning routines were completed we set off for 200-300 metres to the foot of the climb. Once there we were behind a couple of pairs and we set up our gear, whilst chatting to those around to find what routes each group were doing. Once we had the chance we set off I led up a 3+ pitch that was a little stiff in the grade, but nothing too serious as you might imagine, it just caught me off guard a little, and it also made me fear a little that if this was a 3+ what the hell would a 5+/6a be like. Although, as I said it was easy enough, and I was soon at the belay at the foot of the wide crack that made its way up the face and started bringing Jess up. I then took the SLR out and the lens cap was not attached and flew down the face, bugger!
Jess led the nest pitch that was a 4-5 and had a couple of bolts and pegs to assist with protection. When she completed her pitch, she shouted ‘belay’; I enquired whether I was on belay? Only to find that she had took her belay off her harness and it too had decided that it had had enough and jumped down the face to meet up with my lens cap. For the rest of the climb Jess belayed me and abseiled on an Italian hitch, luckily for us, we had been in this position before and were well prepared if this was to happen.
On the next pitch we reached a patch of black smearing down the face, which was our indication to turn right, leave the crack and follow another crack to a belay. I was inclined to continue up and traverse at this point, but was unsure on the route, and so brought Jess up. A quick check of the guide confirmed that it would have been better for me to continue, but better to play it safe and stay on the route! Up to this point all the belays had been fixed and bolted, which gives a nice sense of safety.
The next section was more on the east face, just off the arête and followed a bunch of broken slabs that were of an easy grade, and so we simul climbed until I was at the foot of some reddish rock just the other side of the arête. There were two pegs in the rock in front and I backed these up with some protection, as they did not seem to secure. In front was a variety of options as there was two cracks that worked their way to the south face again, and another easier but longer looking crack system going right. Our topography shown a more rightwards angled climb so we chose the latter, as well as this another topography we had showed that we retained the south face higher up, above two spikes that I reckoned I could see just above my belay. This route finding and decision making process took time and even after jess had led off, we were discussing the left, rights and so on, eventually I suggested that she follow her nose and she worked her way up right diagonally until she came to a vertical crack and followed this up to a self protected belay. All this time there was a Scottish pair behind us, who were discussing which route to take and they chose to go up the cracks that retained the south face earlier and some doubt was creeping in whether we had chosen the correct route.
I seconded this pitch and it was awkward, banging my head a few times on the rock above me, as the angle became steeper and forced me to lean back in a series of off balance moves. Eventually I made it to Jess in a few moves where I seemed to struggle to find holds as I removed protection, only to then pop my hand on an amazing jug as soon as I was finished. From Jess’s belay I could see the chimney moving upwards through the arête and back to the south face, this ground was easy and led to the first bolted belay we had seen for a while. I was glad to see it, and even gladder to see a lady who had started at the same time on another route. I thought we had lost a lot of time route finding, however it seemed we were climbing at the same speed as those around us, even with the occasional difficulties.
We then decided to follow the Obliguitare for a couple of pitches, these were two 6a pitches, that had about 5-6 bolts, due to the increase in grade these two pitches were not in keeping with the rest of the climb, but were a welcome opportunity to push the grade on a big route, and also nice to use bolts for a couple of pitches. Jess led a tough overhang move, that once she explained to me was easier, and I led up a steep slab that relied on a lot of friction instead of actual holds. I was out of my comfort zone and it took a lot of mental overcoming to move through each part of the pitch, although it felt good once I had finished.
The next couple of pitches and final part of the climb consisted of some easier ground that led up to the summit itself via some broken ground on the right. It felt great to sit there at the top of this fantastic peak, as I was belaying jess up I had the place to myself, which I’ve read is rare as all the routes from all the faces converge onto this small point. We took some obligatory summit photos and Jess moved to the abseil and took a couple of pictures of me on the summit. I was extremely happy to be there as this climb had been on the cards for a few years and finally I was here with it done. All the intimidation of yesterday was replaced with the familiar feelings of wanting to get down safely, and so we started the decent.
This was interrupted slightly by one group coming up and another group going down. Although it was all good when the abseil was done and the rope came down clean. We traversed the west face of some of the satellite peaks until we came to some broken ground where we sat and had some lunch whilst admiring the peak from a different angle, watching other teams descend the route.
The walk back to the hut was about an hour and a half, following broken ground and scree, guided by the worn path and Cairns that marked the way. Once back at the hut, we immediately set off for the foot again in the faint hope of searching for lost items. We did not find the camera lens but I did find the belay device, which is a small miracle in the boulder field below the climb.
From then we prepped our kit and made the long walk back to the van, which only took a couple of hours but felt longer! It was like the never ending path, although I was consistently pushed on by the promise of pizza and a can of coke waiting at the van.
I have wanted to see and climb this mountain for many years and now I have done so I feel that one big tick has been completed! It is a fantastic mountain and a fantastic selection of routes to make your way to the summit. I’m surprised that there is not a comprehensive guide in English out there, or not one that I could find. All our information came from various places online, summit post, camp-to-camp etc. So one big climb down, who know how many to go? The next destination is the Verdon Gorge, which has some cracking multipitches, although only a few that are within our ability, however this will be a whistle stop tour on the way to the beach!