Grande Tete de L'Obiou

  • Grande Tete de L'Obiou
  • 2790 m
  • Primary factor 1542 m
  • Location: South-east France, between Gap and La Mure.
  • Location: North 44:46.520, East 005:50.363 (GPS on the summit)
  • Difficulty: (YDS) Class 3
  • Climbed July 11. 2007


Go see the complete list of mountains climbed in July.

How to get there: The nearest big city is Grenoble. From there, locate Hwy. N85 going south-east to the city of Gap. After about 30 km you pass the city of La Mure, continue 27 more kilometer to the small village of Corps. Just before entering the village, turn right on Hwy. D537 and measure from this turn.
Drive downhill and stay right at km 1.3. Continue down towards the end of the lake and cross the bridge at km 3.7. Stay on Hwy. D537 as it climbs gently, stay left in the next intersection and continue straight across some fields until an intersection with several signs at km 6.5. Make a right turn here and drive towards the tiny village of Les Payas. Keep right at the small intersection at km 6.8, then make a sharp left at km 7.3. There is a sign here for L'Obiou. The road turns into a dirt road shortly before km 8.2, here you also should keep right. The road now zig-zags uphill, stay left at km 9.3 (a curve on the road), and continue the main road uphill as it gains elevation. You arrive at the Col de la Sambule at km 12.2. Continue driving as the road first descends slightly then climbs to a clear parking area at km 13.9. This place is named "Grottes" on the map. The elevation is 1566 meter and the location is N44:47.065, E005:52.514. This is the trailhead, park here.
Route description: From the parking, hike about 100 meter along the road to a point where the road is blocked by a simple cord (to keep animals in place). Pass this simple barrier on the right (a hikers passage), immediately the trail goes right, uphill in a few zig-zags to gain the more gentle ridge above.
Follow the well worn trail through some sparse trees and out in open grass on the ridge, then along the ridge on its right side. The trail then traverses right and descends slightly in order to gain a grassy basin area (Le Vallon) on the right. In this area, there is a trail fork, the main trail stays quite distinctly to the right, while another trail climbs the grassy slope more directly. Stay right on the main trail, this is the better alternative as you get higher up. The trail arcs around in a wide left path in order to start a somewhat more direct zig-zag climb up the ridge that comes down from above. Higher on this (moraine type) ridge, the trail now starts a long, gently ascending traverse (YDS class 2+ in a few spots) into the main valley formed between the Le Petit Obiou (2464m) (left) and the main peak (right). As you get into the end of this very wide gully, the trail traverses quite far to your left, ascends a narrow crack, then traverses further right before making another turn to the left followed by a final ascent to the col. This part of the route is (YDS) class 3, however, with step-like rocks and quite easy to climb.
From this ridge, climb easier terrain (zig-zag trail) as you gain elevation just below the formidable cliffs that block progress higher up. The trail traverses left and first crosses a pretty broad gully (YDS 2+), be aware that this gully may be subject to rock-fall (see comments below!). After the gully, the trail continues a short section, followed by the crux part of the climbing (still YDS class 3). First, climb a small ridge, turn right on the top and continue up with more step-like rocks, but somewhat steeper than the section described earlier. Still, with dry rock, this climbing is easy and safe both ascending and descending.
On top of this, follow the trail as it winds its way left, partly under a pretty large overhanging rock, then across a broad gully, followed by a short descent in order to further navigate around the mountain. Finally, you reach easier terrain and the route now ascends more uphill, somewhat right, before the trail zig-zags nicely with no more steep sections to the summit.
Comments: I did this climb with my son Pål Jørgen, age 18. We stayed at a very nice 13th. century castle about 12 km towards Gap as measured from Corps. Starting out around 0520, we were at the trailhead shortly after 0600. Eager to get going, Pål first lead the way downhill along a narrow road (that had seen little use). We soon decided that this would not get us on the ridge and backtracked to the parking lot where we made a fresh start at 0615.
Pål Jørgen carried our single backpack and started out with a good pace, we were soon in the grassy basin, Pål Jørgen ahead picking the direct trail that soon led us up into steep scree and unstable talus. I had seen the main trail traversing higher up and I was quite happy when Pål finally announced that he had reached it.
As we started the last section of the traverse, we noticed that a few small rocks came falling from higher up, possibly crossing the trail behind us. This message was clear enough to make us briefly stop and put on our climbing helmets that we carried. We continued along the proper trail, entered the small crack and discovered that there was more slippery snow than we really liked. Still, the ascent proceeded quite smoothly and soon we were topping out on the main ridge above. Quite content that the first section that the map indicated as "delicat" had been climbed without much difficulty, we proceeded up the slope, right next to a big rock, then traversed left.
The next section seemed to be a pretty easy crossing of a somewhat broad gully, steeper below us and ending in vertical cliffs shortly above us. As we were halfway across, the sharp sound of a beginning rock-fall hit our attention. BAD NEWS !, nowhere to hide, I quickly covered my face and bent down as far as possible. Pål Jørgen was a few meter higher than me. In less than 3 seconds the 5-6 rocks were all around. OUCHH!, a rock slammed into my back before bouncing further. The whole incident was over as quickly as it had started. We had to assess injury and dammage, "Are you OK?" I asked Pål Jørgen. "My glasses are broken" was the rather factual and modest reply. It turned out that a rock had hit Pål's face just below his eye, it most likley also hit the lower edge of his helmet and smashed the left glass in front of his eye. Fortunately, we both escaped this rather dangerous event with minor injuries. It was not obvious that a rock-fall would be likely here, that it should hit us was of course even more unlikely, a half minute before or after, the margins are rather narrow. In any event, the fact that we both used our climbing helmets at the time was certainly well advised. Any of these rocks making a clean hit on an unprotected head could have been deadly.
After this, rather disturbing incident we continued up what is clearly the crux part of the climb. Pål Jørgen's eye looked like he had just finished boxing with Mr. Tyson, also, Pål had lost his distance vision (being near-sighted), while I felt some mild pain in the back every time I moved my left leg. "Obiou does not like us", said Pål, "he throws rocks at us."
The rocks higher up had "verglas", a thin coating with ice, making even easy moves extremely slippery. With considerable caution, we climbed upwards, Pål leading and I following, using my hands to secure every step against possible sliding footholds. We came up to easier terrain, but lots of snow. Slight route finding problems as the red paint was covered by snow. Still, without any further complications, we reached the summit at 0910.
The descent went well without any further incidents. In fact, the brief sun while we were higher on the mountain had done wonders to the icy slabs of rock. Thus, the downclimb turned out to be much easier (and safer!) than anticipated. We were back down at the trailhead about 2:10 after leaving the summit. We went back to the nice castle in order to pick up Heidi, then moved on in preparation for the next climb, Mount Taillefer.