Le Grand Bornand in the Summertime

Le Grand Bornand in the Haute Savoie, France, is a summer playground not to be ignored. It is a traditional French Alpine village and a popular winter and summer resort. The region is proud of its farming heritage and human population is still outnumbered by the livestock in this valley! Long may that continue…

Access Plan Le Grand Bornand

Access Plan Grand Bornand

There is something for everyone, from those who want to experience a variety of extreme sports to those who just want to chill out:

  • mountain biking
  • mountain walking
  • mountain climbing
  • canoe/kayaking
  • forest high ropes course
  • canyoning
  • horse riding
  • paragliding
  • white river rafting
  • river kayaking
  • downhill scooters

… to name but a few. All the normal things too of course: golf, tennis, swimming, etc.

It is a surprisingly low resort considering it’s probably best known as a ski resort – just 1,000 m, but blessed with a micro-climate which ensures good snow in the winter – and perfect weather in the summer. The region is protected by the majestic Aravis mountain range.

During the summer months this region pulsates with national and international sports and activities and the Chinaillon and Bouchet Valleys form a magnificent playground for walkers  – whether in the alpine pastures or along the Bargy-Jalouvre ridges.

There’s some good rock-climbing here too.

In fact there’s pretty well everything you could possibly want to do…

There’s too much to talk about in just one article, it would be serious information overload, so today I’ll stick to climbing and hiking…

There are an abundance of mountain trails and rock-climbing possibilities in the 35 km long Aravis range. Some of the 90 ski lifts in the region remain open in summer to provide quick access.

90km of marked hiking tracks and trails can be found throughout the Aravis region, with scenery varying between cool fresh forests, lush green fields, or a climb to overlook rock formations, each one  as beautiful as the next. The trails are well-maintained and clearly sign- posted  for the intrepid hiker. Many of the mountain restaurants and refuges remain open throughout the summer.

Mont Charvet, 2,538 m, Pointe de Tardevant,2,501,m and Pointe de Mandallaz,  2,277 m are great areas for hiking. The routes are well marked.

Climbers have an equally good bargain. The Savoie and Haute Savoie offer an extremely wide range of rock types and climbing styles, from the world famous Chamonix granite of the Mont-Blanc Range to the limestones and dolomites of the Pre-Alps and the Vanoise. Other less common rock types include compact quartzite, shiny schist, rough gneiss and the beautiful conglomerate of the Beaufortain.

The Aravis range boasts a large number of rock climbing areas, whether for bouldering, single-pitch cragging, multi-pitch routes, big walls or ridge climbs and all on limestone.

The routes are manageable and numerous.

Rocher des Aravis is a climbing cliff located deep in the heart of the Aravis range. It is made up of limestone and is compact and solid. The cliff provides up to 3 pitches. It is a good base for practicing and offers a great opportunity to work on your rope manipulation. There are some more technical routes at level 7. The area is generally quiet and peaceful, and its a good place to go warm up before taking on more challenging climbs. If you’re into that sort of thing you will be interested to know that there is a Via Ferrata nearby:

Les Pointes Longues, 2,451 m is great for climbing. It is a 4b – 6b climb with 7 routes and up to 7 pitches.

Pointe Percée is 2,750 m high and is near La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand. It is considered by some to be the best climbing spot in the Aravis range. There are 30 routes, up to 12 pitches and the degree of difficulty ranges between 4b to 7b+.  On the east side of Pointe Percée there is a magnificent wall called “Paroi de Gramusset”. The name comes from the hut found at its base. the wall is beautiful limestone, but beware as some bits can be loose. You can park at le Col des Annes near Le Grand Bornand and then hike 400m to the Gramusset hut. Another 30 minutes will get you to the bottom of the cliff.

Col des Aravis is 1,486 m high. There are 97 routes, up to 3 pitches and grades from 3a to 8a.

And then there’s the Pointe de Merdassier at 2,313 m.

Pointe de la Blonnière, accessed from Col des Aravis, has 1 nice route to climb called “L’Arête à Marion”. It is 300 m, 13 pitches and up to 5b in difficulty.

Paroi de Borderan, also accessed from Col des Aravis, has 18 routes, up to 8 pitches and ranges from 3c to 7b.

The Pointe de Chombas, which is accessed from Le Grand Bornand, has 5 routes, up to 6 pitches and ranges from 5b to 6b+.

There is another type of climbing available in this region. Called Via Ferrata, this type of climbing was invented by the Italian army in the First World War when they needed to get across the mountains undetected and in a hurry. It means ‘Way of Iron’ and is popular in the Aravis range. There are 3 routes: Le Grand Bornand, La Clusaz and Thones. Basically, they are mountain routes fitted out with cables, hand rails, rungs and foot bridges. With vertical ascents of over 750 metres you can experience exposed climbs even if you’re new to the sport. And if you are new to this sport, the good news is that you’re fastened on to a safety cable at all times with a special shock-absorbing device on your harness!

Just after the rope bridge

Embarking on a Via Ferrata without alpine equipment and experience of any kind could be a bit dangerous. You will need a sit-harness, or full harness, with screw-gate karabiner, a helmet,
two 9 mm rope sections with shock-absorber and 2 wide-aperture autolock-gate karabiners. With this sort of equipment, you do need to know how to work it. And you must never use a tape sling or a rope loop. The small print assures you that in the event of a fall the use of this equipment will kill you!

A good place to try out this activity for the first time would be the Via Ferrata at Col des Aravis. It is a beautiful route and  will take  about 3 hours  to complete. The bonus is it offers magnificent views over the Col des Aravis.

The Via Ferrata of Jalouvre is longer, taking about 5 hours to do, and is above the Col de la Colombiere.

The Via Ferrata at Thones is  technically the most difficult of the three. You will need some mountaineering knowledge to do this one, and a good physical level of fitness.

Via Ferrata   Jalouvre

And, if nothing yet has been extreme enough, you could end your visit with the challenging Aguille Vert. At 4,122 m high, it  provides magnificent views across to Mont Blanc. It is one of the most prominent mountains of the Mont Blanc range and, with its huge ridges, is definitely one of the most beautiful. However, when I said challenging – I meant it,  it is the most difficult peak in the 4,000 m range to climb in the Alps. Besides the famous couloirs (NE and NW), the most beautiful route is probably the traverse Sans Nom – Jardin Ridge, but even the Moine Ridge (SW ridge) is not easy. The Aguille Vert was first climbed by E. Whymper with C. Almer and F. Biner on 29th June 1865.
And if, after all this, you want a day off, there is, of course, the beautiful town of Annecy only half an hour away, with its historical streets, wonderful shops and lakeside activities to lose yourself in. Alternatively, Chamonix, the Mont Blanc, the Mer de Glace glacier, the Aiguille du Midi are only an hour away.

What more could you possibly want on a holiday? The sea perhaps? Well, obviously not, if you’ve chosen to head to the mountains!!!

postscript: I am indebted to www.summitpost.org for a lot of the climbing information. I was able to find plenty of information on everything else, there is a wealth of information about what you can do in the Grand Bornand area, but very little detailed information on actual climbs, so thank you.

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