TOPO Via ferrata

La Balme, via ferrata de Vigneaux

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mur final ferrata Vigneaux
South of the Écrins, just below Briançon, La Balme is the via ferrata of the village of Vigneaux. In a very mountain setting, beneath the southern faces of the Tête d'Aval, adjacent to the Pic de Montbrison, the route climbs the sculpted walls overlooking Vigneaux. A very accessible route on the 1st part, the Colombier, progress becomes steeper and more complicated on the sporty option of the Balme. The gassy atmosphere, the need to use rock in many places and the panoramic views of the surrounding peaks make this a spectacular and very interesting route. A little extra with today's conditions: full southern sun and a snowy backdrop, winter when will you be back?

Technical summary

Departure point: Les Vigneaux, Écrins massif, Hautes-Alpes (05)
Type of route: via ferrata in two sections
■ Direction: south
Length: 500 m
Vertical rise: +200 m
Estimated total time: 3h to 3h30
■ Min and max altitude: m / 1500 m
Equipment in place: excellent, small nails, steps and rungs
Equipment required: standard equipment

Difficulties: le Colombier AD or K3, la Balme D or K4+, remote equipment, you have to use the rock. Slightly slippery footing, foot and hand holds not always straightforward (flats or rulers).

Access to the place

At l'Argentière-la-Bessée or on the road from Briançon to l'Argentière, turn off to reach Les Vigneaux. The parking area for the ferrata approach is indicated. It's just before Les Vigneaux if you're coming from Prelles on the D4, or after the village if you're coming from Argentière. Park on the part of the road that turns into a track. There's a signpost with information about the ferrata. The approach starts right here, to the right of the sign, on a narrow path.

Map & topo

Itinerary description

Hiking to the start 30'

Follow the forest path up the steep, winding ascent to the foot of the ferrata. 30′ sustained, guaranteed warm-up!

Course 1h45 à 2h15

Part 1: Le Colombier (K2/K3, 30′ to La Balme junction)

This first section is really accessible but very airy from the start. Climb diagonally westwards over a ridge on small steps and a mini-bridge over the void. Then walk along a path to reach the 2nd section.

Here, the route climbs a high slab, forming a wide bend to become vertical. There is a long series of rungs to negotiate this impressive but not so difficult section. At the top, the route continues in a less vertical direction to return a little to the west, cross another ridge and enter a protected cliff face where we find the fork to La Balme.

At this point, either continue diagonally along the Le Colombier route (not done), or climb to the right for the sports route.
Part 2: La Balme (K4/K4+, 45′)

The first wall is very vertical, with some tricky steps. Right after that, there's a nice aerial section on a bumpy slab without too many holds. We're right on top of the roofs of Vigneaux. Then we continue slightly diagonally this time to pass a final wall which is fairly vertical and less difficult, even if the rungs are spaced out, forcing us to use rock holds. Finally, by crossing and then walking a little, we reach the chimney section.

The chimney is the most athletic and physical section of the ferrata, though not necessarily the most difficult, as there are plenty of rungs to help you along. An overhanging start, followed by a traversing step, then a 2nd section that's still vertical, and finally a nice dihedral to negotiate in opposition. Phew, we're out on a little flat, but it's been a bit hard on the arms!

The route then descends a little to reach the base of the big final wall. We attack diagonally to the right to continue vertically on a beautiful sequence of rungs. It's not long before there's emptiness and a spectacular panorama. At the top, it crosses a little before finishing on a small inclined section. A few dozen meters of easy walking remain before you reach the ridges. The end of the route.

Back

Exit uphill to the north, where a narrow path joins a wide track on a hairpin bend. From here, either go left to cross the ridges to the west and find the track that winds down to Vigneaux (30′). Or go straight up and join the GR 50 and make a larger loop that passes almost under the southern walls of the Tête d'Aval before also descending by the track to Vigneaux (which we did, 45′).

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