Barre des Écrins

Last updated
Barre des Écrins
Barre des Ecrins & Glacier Blanc.JPG
The Barre des Écrins (4,102 m) in Hautes Alpes, France and the Glacier Blanc
Highest point
Elevation 4,102 m (13,458 ft) [1]
Prominence 2,045 m (6,709 ft) [1]
Isolation 107.3 km (66.7 mi)  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Listing Ultra
Coordinates 44°55′21″N06°21′36″E / 44.92250°N 6.36000°E / 44.92250; 6.36000 Coordinates: 44°55′21″N06°21′36″E / 44.92250°N 6.36000°E / 44.92250; 6.36000 [1]
France relief location map.jpg
Red triangle with thick white border.svg
Barre des Écrins
Location Hautes-Alpes, France
Parent range Dauphiné Alps
First ascent 25 June 1864 by A. W. Moore, Horace Walker and Edward Whymper with guides Michel Croz, Christian Almer Senior and Christian Almer Junior
Easiest route snow/rock climb

The Barre des Écrins is a mountain in the French Alps with a peak elevation of 4,102 metres (13,458 ft). It is the highest peak of the Massif des Écrins and the Dauphiné Alps and the most southerly alpine peak in Europe that is higher than 4,000 metres. It is the only 4,000-metre mountain in France that lies outside the Mont Blanc Massif. Before the annexation of Savoy in 1860 it was the highest mountain in France.



The south face of Barre des Ecrins Barre des Ecrins - South face.jpg
The south face of Barre des Écrins


The Barre des Écrins is the highest peak in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region including all of Occitania and the Southern Alps. It is located in the commune of Pelvoux and is situated near the Drainage divide between the Durance and the Vénéon. This divide passes 250 metres west of the summit, along the ridge that leads to the summit of the sub-peak Dôme des Écrins (4088 metres). The south face of the mountain is rocky while the north face is ice as it is the starting point of the Glacier Blanc.

The mountain is surrounded by four glaciers: to the north-west is the Bonne Pierre glacier, to the north-east the Glacier Blanc, to the south-west the Glacier du Vallon de la Pilatte, and finally in the south-east the Glacier Noir. It is separated from the Snow Dome of Écrins (4015 m) by the Lory Gap (3974 m) to the west, the Barre Noir (3751 m) by the Écrins Gap (3661 m) to the north-east and by Fifre (3699 m) via the Col des Avalanches (3499 m) to the south.


The mountain consists of migmatized gneiss, an acidic rock composed of quartz-feldspar. On the upper slopes there is an amphibolic face over the top of the migmatized gneiss forming the top. These formations overlap a large granite Pluton that forms the summit of Pelvoux. [2] [3] [4]


The Écrins were discovered by geographers belatedly in the 19th century when they were the highest point in France (Savoy being part of the Kingdom of Sardinia at that time). The mountains are actually located on the borders of the Oisans and Briançonnais with the highest point completely in Briançonnais. They were sometimes called "point of Arsines" by locals.

The Englishmen A. W Moore, Horace Walker, and Edward Whymper, guided by Michel Croz from Chamonix and Christian Almer from Switzerland, made the first ascent of the Barre des Écrins on 25 June 1864. They cut steps on the north face of the Barre until they reached the top of the eastern edge via the Whymper corridor. They then reached the top of this high ridge which was composed of very unstable rocks. Edward Whymper described the ascension in his book Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860-69. [5] [6]

William Auguste Coolidge made the first direct climb up the north face of the Barre des Ecrins in July 1870 by cutting 500 steps. [7]

The first ascent without a guide is credited to Frederick Gardiner in 1878 accompanied by Charles and Lawrence Pilkington.

The southern face was climbed for the first time in 1880 by Pierre Gaspard together with Henri Duhamel. The south pillar, a part of the Black glacier ending at the top, was climbed for the first time in 1944 by the famous couple of climbers Jeanne and Jean Franco. [5]


South face of the Barre (on the right). Below is Coolidge Peak and Le Fifre. Glacier Noir.jpg
South face of the Barre (on the right). Below is Coolidge Peak and Le Fifre.

The Barre des Écrins attracts many climbers and has many routes to the top. [8]

The mountain is traditionally scaled from the Pré de Madame Carle in the valley of Ailefroide. The normal route climbs the entire length of the Glacier Blanc. This is a much-used route, because it is the usual way to the Dôme des Écrins, one of the most easily climbed 4,000 m alpine peaks. It starts from the Refuge des Écrins and climbs the north face almost up to the Lory saddle (3,974 m), where the routes to the Dôme and the Barre divide. The ascent of the Barre continues by a rocky arête all the way to the summit. The guides from La Bérarde have equipped the Col des Écrins with cables allowing them to bring their clients to the summit.

Other more challenging routes to the summit exist, such as the South Face rated AD (Fairly Difficult). The quality of the rock on the mountain ranges from poor to average and especially on the South Face of the mountain the risk of rockfall is significant.

It is possible to climb the Direct Coolidge in late spring directly to the summit with crampons and an ice axe. Depending on snow conditions, this route can also be done on skis.

The south-north traverse of the Barre des Écrins bar is also one of the classic routes of the massif.

In summer it is possible to climb a steep path on the south face with the Pilier Sud being the most traveled route.

The record for an ascent on foot is 1 hour 55 minutes by Mathéo Jacquemoud in June 2012, starting from Pré de Madame Carle (1874 m) by the normal route of the Dôme and the Whymper corridor. He beat the old record by Hubert Fievet (2 hours 3 minutes in 1998). [9]

The record for round-trip ski mountaineering is 2 hours 51 minutes by Nicolas Bonnet in 2009 from the Pré de Madame Carle. [10]

The Ecrins and the Glacier Blanc Wikiecrins.jpg
The Écrins and the Glacier Blanc

Longest line of sight

The Barre des Écrins is the subject of the longest photographed and recognised line of sight on Earth. In July 2016, Marc Bret took a photograph of the mountain from the Pic de Finestrelles in the Pyrenees, some 443 km distant.

See also

Related Research Articles

Mont Blanc Highest mountain in the Alps (4,810 m)

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe, rising 4,808 m (15,774 ft) above sea level. It is the second-highest and second-most prominent mountain in Europe, after Mount Elbrus, and it is the eleventh most prominent mountain summit in the world. The mountain stands between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Savoie and Haute-Savoie, France. It gives its name to the Mont Blanc massif, which itself forms part of a larger range referred to as the Graian Alps. The location of the summit of Mont Blanc is on the watershed line between the valleys of Ferret and Veny in Italy and the valleys of Montjoie, and Arve in France, on the border between the two countries. Ownership of the summit area has long been a subject of historical dispute between the two countries.

Matterhorn Mountain in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy

The Matterhorn is a mountain of the Alps, straddling the main watershed and border between Switzerland and Italy. It is a large, near-symmetric pyramidal peak in the extended Monte Rosa area of the Pennine Alps, whose summit is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points and are split by the Hörnli, Furggen, Leone/Lion, and Zmutt ridges. The mountain overlooks the Swiss town of Zermatt, in the canton of Valais, to the north-east and the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. Just east of the Matterhorn is Theodul Pass, the main passage between the two valleys on its north and south sides, and a trade route since the Roman Era.

Edward Whymper 19th/20th-century English mountaineer

Edward Whymper FRSE was an English mountaineer, explorer, illustrator, and author best known for the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. Four members of his climbing party were killed during the descent. Whymper also made important first ascents on the Mont Blanc massif and in the Pennine Alps, Chimborazo in South America, and the Canadian Rockies. His exploration of Greenland contributed an important advance to Arctic exploration. Whymper wrote several books on mountaineering, including Scrambles Amongst the Alps.

Écrins National Park French national park in Isère and Hautes-Alpes

Écrins National Park is a French national park located in the south-eastern part of France in the Dauphiné Alps south of Grenoble and north of Gap, shared between the departments of Isère and Hautes-Alpes.

Aiguille de Bionnassay

The Aiguille de Bionnassay is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps in France and Italy. It has been described as "one of the most attractive satellite peaks of Mont Blanc", and is located on its western side. The mountain's south and east ridges form the frontier between the two countries, and its summit is a knife-edge crest of snow and ice. Reaching it via any route provides a "splendid and serious snow and ice climb".

Grandes Jorasses

The Grandes Jorasses is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif, on the boundary between Haute-Savoie in France and Aosta Valley in Italy.

Dom (mountain) Mountain in the Pennine Alps, Switzerland

The Dom is a mountain of the Pennine Alps, located between Randa and Saas-Fee in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. With a height of 4,545 m (14,911 ft), it is the seventh highest summit in the Alps, overall. Based on prominence, it can be regarded as the third highest mountain in the Alps, and the second highest in Switzerland, after Monte Rosa. The Dom is the main summit of the Mischabel group, which is the highest massif lying entirely in Switzerland.


La Meije is a mountain in the Massif des Écrins range, located at the border of the Hautes-Alpes and Isère départements. It overlooks the nearby village of La Grave, a mountaineering centre and ski resort, well known for its off-piste and extreme skiing possibilities, and also dominates the view west of the Col du Lautaret. It is the second highest mountain of the Écrins after the Barre des Écrins.

Mont Pelvoux

Mont Pelvoux is a mountain in the Massif des Écrins in the French Alps. It stands 3,946 m (12,946 ft) in elevation.

Olan (mountain)

The Olan (3564 m) is a mountain in the Massif des Écrins in the French Alps. It dominates the valleys of Valgaudemar, Valjouffrey, and Vénéon in the heart of Écrins National Park. The mountain has two or three summits: the Epaulé Sud, which can be considered a shoulder, the Sommet Centrale and the Sommet Nord. Before the ascents it was unclear which of the main summits was the higher one.


The Ailefroide is a mountain in the Massif des Écrins in the French Alps, and is the third highest peak in the Dauphiné Alps after the Barre des Écrins and La Meije. It lies at the south-western end of the Mont Pelvoux–Pic Sans Nom–Ailefroide ridge.

Mont Dolent Mountain in the Mont Blanc massif

Mont Dolent is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif and lies on the border between Italy, Switzerland and France.

Michel Croz

Michel Auguste Croz was a French mountain guide and the first ascentionist of many mountains in the western Alps during the golden age of alpinism. He is chiefly remembered for his death on the first ascent of the Matterhorn and for his climbing partnership with Edward Whymper.

Horace Walker

Horace Walker (1838–1908) was an English mountaineer who made many notable first ascents, including Mount Elbrus and the Grandes Jorasses.

Francis Fox Tuckett

Francis Fox Tuckett FRGS was an English mountaineer. He was vice-president of the Alpine Club from 1866 to 1868, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Glacier Blanc

The Glacier Blanc is a glacier in the French département of Hautes-Alpes. Its name derives from the fact that – unlike the nearby Glacier Noir – its surface appears pristinely white due to an absence of morainic debris.

Glacier Noir

The Glacier Noir is a glacier in the Massif des Écrins in the French Alps. It is located in the département of Hautes-Alpes.

Pierre Gaspard (mountaineer)

Pierre Gaspard was a French mountain climber, one of the greatest mountain guides in the silver age of alpinism. He made the first ascent of La Meije on 16 August 1877 with his son and Emmanuel Boileau de Castelnau. Their ascent followed the south buttress Arête du Promontoire, which became the "normal route".

Roche Faurio

Roche Faurio (3,730m) is a mountain of the Massif des Écrins in the Dauphiné Alps in Isère, France. It lies in front of the mighty north face of the Barre des Écrins and towers over the Glacier Blanc. The mountain lies inside the Écrins National Park. It is a popular summit with hikers, taking about four hours to climb from the Écrins Hut, and ski mountaineers.

The history of the highest point in France consists of expeditions to survey the highest summits in France and changes in the highest point of France due to territorial transfers.


  1. 1 2 3 "Europe Ultra-Prominences". Retrieved 2014-05-24.
  2. Geological Map of France at 1:50000 consulted on InfoTerre (Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans page). (in French)
  3. J.-C. Barfêtry and A. Pécher, Notice on the Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans page, 1984, BRGM, p. 21–23, online 10 December 2006, consulted on 6 February 2013 (in French)
  4. Maurice Gidon, The Barre des Écrins and the right flank of the high Vénéon, 1 June 2010, online 10 July 2011, consulted on 6 February 2013 (in French)
  5. 1 2 Richard Goedeke, 4000 des Alpes, Libris, coll. Les Guides Libris, June 2007, 22 pages.
  6. Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860-69, Edward Whymper, Chapter IX p. 201-221
  7. Barre des Écrins,
  8. Topo Mountaineering, The Ways to the top. (in French)
  9. A record on the barre des Écrins. (in French)
  10. Record of Écrins alpine skiing 2009. (in French)