I’ve just spent several days in the Ecrins National Park in the Hautes-Alpes in France.? We drove down from Savoie through the Maurienne valley and then over the Col de Telegraph and then the Col de Galibier before dropping down to the Col du Lauteret.? Here there are stunning views of the imposing Meije’s North Face towering above.
Driving down now towards Briancon before heading to Vallouise and Ailfroide.?? The mountains tower above the campsite at Ailfroide with rock climbing all around.
The first afternoon we took a short walk towards the Refuge du Sele and Refuge Pelvoux.? One of the striking features of the area is the huge amount of larch trees (meleze in French).? As we started to come out of the forest we soon came across chamois which didn’t seem too disturbed by our presence.
The following day we left Vallouise towards the plateau de Chambran.? The “Tour of the Oisans and Ecrins” (or GR54) passes over the Col de l’Eychauda after leaving the Guisane valley and Monetiers-les-Bains.? Parking the car we set off initially on the route of the GR54 but then headed towards the lac de Eychauda and the col des Grangettes.? The path climbs steadily with a series of zig-zags so well chosen that you don’t feel the gain in height.? Soon we came over the lip of the corrie and the turquoise waters of the lac de Eychauda reflected snow and mountains.? A short climb, and for the final few feet a rocky one, we reached the col des Grangettes at 2721m.? A vista of mountains across the Guisane valley showed themselves and a great view down to the valley below.
The Col de l’Aup Martin, 2761m, is considered to be one of the hardest passages of the Tour of the Ecrins and Oisans.? From Vallouise we took the narrow road that follows the river Onde to the end of the route at Entre-les-Aigues.? Two paths leave from here, one to the Refuge des Bans and the other for the Col de l’Aup Martin and the Refuge du Pre de la Chaumette.? Crossing a footbridge over the river that’s width bears testimony to the heavy flood conditions when the snows melt at the end of the winter, we climbed through larch trees into the entrance to the narrow valley.? Large avalanche tips still bridged the stream with debris of rocks and trees demonstrating the size and power of this spring’s avalanches.? The valley started to open out and soon we reached the shepherd’s hut and walker’s shelter at La Cabe de Jas-Lacroix.? A chamois’ skull, complete with horns, and spine adorned the sheep enclosure.
The landscape is wild here and crossing another wooden plank bridge we climbed up amongst boggy ground reminiscent of Scotland.? Arriving on a small plateau we were greeted by a large flock of sheep; almost 800 according to the shepherd with his two Border-Collie dogs.? We chatted for a while about the need for guard dogs, “Patou”, to protect the flocks from the wolves.? He said there weren’t many here as they hadn’t yet really crossed the “barrier” of the Ghisane – Briancon – Durance valley.
Soon we were climbing on rock ground before crossing a stream we were on “schist” and the start of the final ascent to the col.? The “path” in the loose rock was crumbly but happily relatively dry.? The slope, measured with my poles, was c. 40 degrees.? A few changes of direction to get above a small rock outcrop, allowed a final steep diagonal to the col de l’Aup Martin.? From here it was a short distance to the “Pas de la Cavale”, another col and then the descent to the next refuge.
For our last full day in the Ecrins we decided to head for the Refuge du Glacier Blanc.? We left the Pre de Madame Carle and took the zig-zaggy route that headed up the right bank of the stream leading from the glacier’s snout.? On route we met a very friendly marmotte; so friendly that it came up and touched my hand!? It’s the closest encounter I’ve had with a marmotte to date.? Crossing a bridge over the outfall from the glacier sections of hand rail led to a small lake that gave wonderful views to the North Face of the Pelvoux.? A final steep short climb took us to the hut and a drink.? We picnic’ed by the lake before starting our descent.