Ecrins trekking

Tour du Vieux Chaillol in 5 days

5 days
Multi-days trek
Multi-days trek
96.7 km
Total Length
5854 m
  • By walk
  • Fauna
  • History and architecture
  • Hut

Departure : Hameau des Paris, Saint-Jacques-en-Valgaudemar

The Tour du Vieux Chaillol is an off-road GR (hiking trail) linking the high-altitude mountain valley of Valgaudemar with the hedged landscapes of the Champsaur.

Here it is presented in five legs. This long hiking trail skirts the massif, straddles the Champsaur and the Valgaudemar and has its highest point in Vieux Chaillol at an altitude of 3163 m. It links up to the GR54 and has characteristics that are more physical in two spots: Villar-Loubière in the Valgaudemar, and the Pre de la Chaumette refuge.

From the hamlet of Paris, continue along the irrigation canal and enter the long narrow Valgaudemar valley. From Villar-Loubière to the Pré de la Chaumettre hut via the Vallonpierre, Gouiran and La Vallette passes, the itinerary gains height as does the landscape with the magnificent Gioberney glacial cirque. This section is in common with the GR54 trail. Greater effort is necessary but the reward is in the setting and the high mountain atmosphere. This leg is situated almost entirely in the Ecrins National Park. Then the Champsaur will be then be walked on a ledge.  From the Pré de la Chaumette hut, in the Champoleon valley, go along the impetuous Drac Blanc stream that leads into a bleak valley. From an east-west orientation, it bends to widen out and become north-south oriented, giving way to green pastures and hamlets. It is a wide valley that is influenced by the Mediterranean, and enchanting due to its more rural and mountainous landscape, its hamlets and villages with their tiled roofs and its light larch forests.


On the Grenoble-Gap bus route, stop at Saint-Firmin (2 km from Paris)


From the N85, take the D16 towards Lallée where you will follow the D16a and the D316. Take the first road on the right after Entrepierre.

Information desks

House of Champsaur

Information and documentation, temporary exhibitions. Sale of products and works of the Park. In the same space, home office Tourist High Champsaur. Free admission. All animations of the Park are free unless otherwise stated.

05260 Pont-du-Fossé

Website - Email - 04 92 55 95 44

Lat: 44.6672, Lng: 6.22795

Tourisme Office of Champsaur & Valgaudemar

Open all year: Monday to Friday from 9am to 12pm and 14pm to 18pm.

Les Barraques
05500 La Fare en Champsaur

Website - 04 92 49 09 35

Lat: 44.67429, Lng: 6.06485

Valgaudemar Park house

Information, documentation and a reception area with permanent and temporary exhibitions. La Maison du Parc is labeled "Tourism and Disability". Free admission. All animations of the Park are free unless otherwise stated.

Ancien Asile Saint-Paul
05800 La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar

Website - Email - 04 92 55 25 19

Lat: 44.81836, Lng: 6.19371

This trek is within park center, please read access rules.

Clic for map interaction

On the way...
Vernacular heritage
Herbeys canal

Inhabitants of Valgaudemar have long tried to control water to compensate for dry summers. The Herbeys canal still functions and is well used. With more than 600 litres per second, it waters 289 ha in the districts of Chauffayer and St-Jacques. It is 28km long and was started and finished on the initiative of François Dupont de Poncharra des Herbeys'. It is maintained every year by the members of the users' union who spend several days cleaning out the canal as well as consolidating the vaults.

Saint Maurice parish churc

This church that was built by Cluniac monks, is the oldest in the Champsaur and Valgaudemar valleys. There is proof of its existence at the end of the 11th century. Its square bell tower is of typical Lombard tradition. The simple interior is composed of three naves with ridged vaults and a flat apse. Spared by the religious wars of the 16th century, its first restoration dates back to 1668.

The Olan 'summits'

The Olan is one of the main summits of the Ecrins massif. It culminates at 3564 m and is made up of three summits the highest of which is the north summit. The central summit of the Olan was climbed for the first time on 8th July 1875, and the northern one on the 29th June 1877 by the renowned W.B.A. Coolidge and his guide Almer.  With a guide, or good climbing abilities, this would be a good choice for climbing a summit in the Valgaudemar starting from the Olan hut.

Omelette des Andrieux

The Andrieux (Villar-Loubière), hamlet does not see any sun for ... roughly 110 days. It is said that on the 10th February, the inhabitants would go to the bridge to celebrate the reappearance of the sun after months of absence. Each person would place an omelette on the bridge parapet and headed to the nearby prairie where a farandole would take place whilst waiting for the sun to appear. Then, the inhabitants would return to take their omelette, which they presented to the Sun, before returning home to eat it.

Yellow Figwort

There are plants that are like no others. That is the case of the Yellow Figwort. Its tall size (30 à 80 cm), its hairyness, its square stalk with large indented leaves and its yellow-green colour form a combination that catches the eye. A very rare plant in the Hautes-Alpes, its distribution area covers all of central and Southern Europe, the Pyrenees and Russia. It flowers between April and July. It probably escaped from Medieval medicinal gardens  cultivated by monks. Its habitat is particular: in ruins and old walls. Please do not pick it since it is interesting simply to observe it.

Boreal Owl

The Boreal Owl is a typical species from the conifer forests.  It is present throughout the year in the mountainous areas of France. In this forest, there live several individuals who are hard to spot.. Easily recognizable, the Boreal Owl has golden-yellow coloured eyes, circled with black topped with clear coloured eyebrows. It most often nests in holes bored by the Black Woodpecker or in natural cavities in old trees.It feeds on small mammals : field mice or voles that it hunts at night.


The blueberry shrub is a bushy shrub whose angular twigs have small tender, oval leaves that are finely serrated. It has single wine-coloured, bell-type flowers. As of August, they will give way to edible purple-fleshed berries that are also known as "black mouth".  At high altitude, it accompanies bilberries. When autumn sets in, entire mountainsides are covered in bright red that is highly visible in the landscape. Blueberries are an additional food source for fauna that is baccivore (berry eating), frugivore or herbivore, hence its scientific name vaccinium, from the Latin vacca (cow).

Oules du diable

The word "oule" is from the Latin olla, which means CAULDRON The Devil's Oules are made up of a series of waterfalls in a narrow gorge. Over time, the water and the pebbles of the Séveraisse river have eroded the hard rock. Spectacularly shaped, polished cavities have been created by the swirling movement. Barriers have been put up following mortal accidents.


Hayfields surround the village of La Chapelle. Unfortunately, such natural hayfields, and their flowers and insects, are more and more frequently replaced by temporary hayfields, in other words, certain years they are sowed. These prairies are still watered by the irrigation canals that are well maintained by the users with the help of the National Park. You will see the floodway of the Grande Levée canal not far from the stream as it nears the Sèveraisse. The canals are of great importance for preserving wetland flora, such as alternate-leaved golden saxifrage or yellow star-of-Bethlehem, both of which are protected species.

Waterfalls and view points over the valley

Along the itinerary, you will see the Combefroide and Casset waterfalls that are situated on the south facing slopes of the valley. The route also gives a good view to the east and the west of the Sèveraisse valley from the hamlet of Casset. Downstream, from the hamlet of Rif du Sap, a good example of a U-shaped valley is proof of shaping by the quaternary glaciers.

An itinerary packed with history

The Casset bridge is the oldest remaining bridge over the Sèveraisse that has not been washed away by floods. On the right bank of this magnificent "Roman" structure, the hamlet of Casset gets its name from the "casse" (large steep scree deposits at the foot of slopes) that surround it. This village, like that of Le Bourg, was partly covered by a landslide. As for Le Rif du Sap, an avalanche swept away the houses from the top of the hamlet in 1944. The hamlet of Le Clot, was flooded in 1928, and was totally abandoned in 1934 when a fire destroyed most of the dwellings.

Le Clot_01_1.jpg
Toponymy in the Valgaudemar area

Valgaudemar! The sound of this name resonates in our ears. Some claim that it is in reference to the valley of Mary "Gaude Marie" or "Rejoice Mary!" It is more reasonable to think that it is in reference to Gaudemar, the last king of the Burgundians (524) a Germanic tribe that invaded this area in 406...Vallis Gaudemarii can be read in texts as early as 1284. Poetic licence, legends and imagination are often red herrings when it comes to researching the origins of names.

Traditional dwellings

A few typical, old Valgaudemar houses can be seen in the hamlets of Casse, Le Bourg and Le Rif du Sap. A few thatched roofs, vaulted entrances to dwellings ("tounes"), and stone paving, are some fine examples of architecture that are worth saving. Cheaper and requiring less maintenance, sheet metal gradually replaced the thatch on the rooftops.

Golden eagle

Between La Chapelle and Le Clot, it is not rare to see the golden eagle flying over the sunlit slopes. In the summer, this majestic bird of prey with its dark plumage (some have lovely white rosettes on the underside of their wings) mingles with the short-toed eagle, which is smaller and lighter-coloured, and the griffon vulture, which is larger, with a short tail and often flies in groups. There is nothing surprising about this as the south facing slopes provides thermal lift that enables them to fly high and far.


This is an architectural feature of the Champsaur-Valgaudemar area and is the barrel-vaulted porch on the main facade of the house. It sheltered the entrance to the dwelling and stable and was sometimes used to stock items, such as wood, to keep it dry. The "toune" was often painted white to reflect the sunlight. They inhabitants would sit in them to do embroidery or darning, etc.

Vernacular heritage
Walled paths

On certain stretches of the route, you will walk between two stone walls. Such "via clause" were built to stop the domestic animals, on their way up to the pastures, from walking on or eating the grass in the prairies that was intended for them in the winter. The most remarkable "via clause" is on the way out of the hamlet of Le Clot. It has been restored by the Ecrins National Park.

Clot Xavier Blanc mountain refuge

What a strange idea to build this mountain refuge below the road leading to Gioberney, at an altitude of "only" 1397 m. In fact, it was already there more than a century ago, long before the road was built. This simple, sturdy building belonged to the Valgodemar Mining Company that operated in the area extracting copper and lead. When the business closed, the Club Alpin Français bought the building and named it after Xavier Blanc, in recognition of one of the founder members of the CAF, senator of the Hautes Alpes.

2008-08-12_Casset,Xavier-Blanc,Le Clot_013_VID_1.JPG
High altitude birds

Autumn is migration season. The mountains, which are too harsh in winter, loses their inhabitants. Some opt for a change in altitude and go lower down the valley or to the coast. This is the case for the alpine accentor, the redstart, the redpoll, or the Eurasian linette. Others head off on a long journey to warmer countries. The Sahara offers a milder winter to the common rock thrush, whinchat and wheatear. The lesser whitethroat will head to the east. In the summer, this fine bunch will meet up again in the mountains. It finds a sanctuary where the diversity of plants and invertebrates is preserved. The alpine pastures seem to be favourable for the reproduction of all of these species that are diminishing and need to be protected.

Linotte mélodieuse, pinson des arbres, moineau friquet
Impressive geology

From chabournéite, the native mineral of Valgaudemar, to the crystalline rock from the Sirac's gneiss, from the hollow of Vallonpierre made in sedimentary rock to the show that is given by the shale and tuffs on the Chevrettes pass, this circuit will take you back in time. The folds and the colours appear before you like an impressionist’s work of art.

Vallon Plat, Col de Vallonpierre
The Vallonpierre refuge

A small lake, pretty meadows and the benevolent Sirac... This magical setting would lead to the construction of a refuge at an altitude of 2270 m in 1942. However, it was a victim of its own success and in 2000 the decision was made to build a second, bigger one. It can accommodate 37 instead of 22. This new building was the first modern mountain refuge to be built using stones on site rather than imported materials. It copies the simplicity and the crow-stepped gable from the "small refuge" which has been kept as lodgings for a warden's helper.

Le refuge et le lac de Vallonpierre
Le Sirac

Au sud du massif des Écrins, le Sirac est le dernier grand sommet avec ses 3441 m. Il se dresse fièrement tout au fond de la vallée de la Séveraisse. Régulièrement au cours de cette randonnée, vos yeux se lèveront enchantés pour saluer ce Seigneur et sa couronne. Vous passerez à ses pieds et serez surplombés par ses glaciers suspendus. Magique !

Crave à bec rouge

Le crave à bec rouge est un oiseau surprenant à bien des égards. Il vit près des falaises et joue avec les nuages, brisant le silence d’un cri bref, strident, presque métallique. Sollicités par l’écho venu des parois, ses comparses lui répondent. La démarche assurée et le pas cadencé, le crave à bec rouge arpente méticuleusement l’alpage en petit groupe pour y trouver vermisseaux et criquets du pâturage. Excepté quelques courtes incartades saisonnières liées à la nourriture disponible, le crave est sédentaire.

Refuge at Chaumette Meadow

The pastoral cabin at Champoléon was built by stockbreeders in 1921. It was in 1972 that the cabin was restored for the first time... Two years later, the French Alpine Club (CAF) took over its management in order to insure shelter for the increasing number of hikers of the GR54. Having become too cramped, the refuge was rebuilt in 1979 on the ruins of the hamlet and became the Chaumette Meadow. The decorative stones were cut on site at  Champoléon. The imposing Lauzes stones used to cover the roof underline the effort made to integrate with the landscape. Today flocks of sheep are brought up to the mountains at the end of June and are visited once a week.

White Throated Dipper

The White Throated Dipper is easy to observe as long as you are discreet. It lives beside mountain rivers and torrents. A little red and white bird with a short tail, it has a fine beak, and a white mark on the chin and the chest. . This astonishing sparrow has the particular skill of being able to walk on the bottom of the water against the current in search of food. It flattens itself down and clings on to the bottom with its claws, opens its eyes, which are protected from the flow by a fine membrane and spots: worms, larvae, little crustaceans and fish. 


An emblematic animal in the Alps, the chamois or « rock goat » has short curled horns. Like the Ibex, it is easy to observe through binoculars.  The goats and esterlons (young males aged one year) like to live in big herds ; in contrast, the billy goats stay quite isolated only rejoining the females during the mating season.. In the winter, the chamois need a lot of tranquility in order to conserve their reserve of fat which they need in order to survive...

Eurasian Crag Martin

The Eurasian Crag Martin is dressed in beige tones. It is capable of real flying prowess, an indispensable quality for capturing the multitude of insects that it feeds on. In Spring, as soon as it has found a safe rocky ridge, the Eurasian Crag Martin tirelessly transports, mud and pieces of plants with its beak. With the help of this unique tool, it solidly fixes each element on to the rock thanks to a clever mixture of saliva and water.

The old landscape

While roaming the Champoléon valley, you will have noticed the size of the Drac riverbed. At the time that the valley had 600 habitants (in 1789 compared to 110 nowadays), it is said that people threw the scythe hammer from one bank to the other over this impetuous stream...An abundant workforce built and maintained the walls and dikes that retained the earth and was carried on the backs of men or donkeys. After the devastating floods of 1914, the Drac washed away land and pasture. Several hamlets, such as Gondouins, were abandoned.


"Tardons" are lambs that are raised on mother's milk in the pastures of the Ecrins massifs. These lambs are celebrated every autumn at the Champoléon agricultural fair. This event spotlights pastoralism and assembles breeders, shepherds and the general public. On the agenda: the sale of sheep, produce market, lamb-based meals and entertainment.

Les Borels

This is most important village in the Chamoléon district (no hamlet bears this name). Until towards the first world war in 1914, the valley lived in a closed circuit for all everyday items. At the Borels there was a weaver (wool and hemp), a miller-baker, an ironmonger, a mason, a breeches-maker and in the other hamlets, a cobbler, two millers, a joiner and two shoemakers. The latter worked from home.


To the 24 questions asked by the attorney general of the Dauphiné in 1789, the Champoléon Council replied, "Champoléon is in the most atrocious place of the Haut-Dauphiné. The community has 16 villages, 80 families and 600 souls spread over the slopes of the mountain. All of the roofs are thatched [...] the rivers and streams cause serious damage." Indeed, on All Saints Day in 1790, the Champoléon church was destroyed by flooding. Part of the graveyard was washed away taking coffins and corpses away from Champoléon too.

Les Aiguilles de Famourou

Sculpted in the "Champsaur sandstone" by time and the elements, a beret-topped head, an animal or a huge blade catches the eye. As you get closer, some of them seem to be keeping guard like motionless sentries, in worrying balance despite their thousand years, over the Drac valley and the Bayard and Manse passes to the south-west.

Vernacular heritage
Mal Cros Canal

Although it became necessary to create an irrigation system for the Champsaur as early as 1819, following a particularly severe drought, work on construction of a canal did not start until 1871. Starting at the Mal Cros glacier at 2750 m in altitude, it was built of dry stone and larch wood from the Pisse pass. Water for watering crops was distributed from the basin by a system of floodgates. Completed in 1878 it would only remain in operation for 27 years, as maintenance work was too expensive.

The origin of the name "Champsaur"

A dozen origins explain the name "Champsaur". Obviously the prettiest one, and the least likely, is that it means "champ d'or" (Field of gold) as Napolean is said to have shouted out "what a beautiful field of gold" upon discovering the area. Other explanations are "field of lizards (sauros meaning lizard in greek) or "Sarrasins field" (campus sauracenorum) due to their numerous invasions. However, the most likely explanation is that it comes from "campus saurus" the field or the land of Saurus, the name of the owner at the time.

Champsaur architecture

Today's landscapes and the houses are no accident. They bear the trace of humans, who were less concerned with building attractive places, than with striving to find the best rigorously functional solutions for the area. In the northern part of the Drac valley, an area often faced with a cold wind, hedges were planted, buildings were close together and almost blind on the north-facing side. On the balconies to the east, as in St-Michel-de-Chaillol or St-Julien-en-Chapsaur, the aim was to find sunlight and the facade often had a large porch.

Petetes Chapel

This chapel is an oddity as well as a remarkable piece of popular art. Here the "pepetes" are dolls! The story says that in 1730, a shepherd named Pascal, who also happened to be a mason, started chipping rocks. All winter he chipped away at the rocks. When he had chiselled enough, he dug the ground and placed the stones on top of each other. When he finished, the hamlet of Aubérie had a pretty, little mountain chapel. The mysterious shepherd had created small alcoves in the chapel's facade. He started chiselling again, but this time with greater precision and love, as he was sculpting statues. In 1741, after working 11 years, he finished his work of art and placed a monumental cross in front of the chapel.


Hedged landscapes were quite common in France before the war, but here, above an altitude of 1000 m, a wonderful diversity has been maintained. A patchwork of hedgerows, prairies and woods are home to an array of birds. Amongst them are many common sparrows (red-backed shrikes, stonechats, sparrows, quails and wrynecks) whose numbers are in decline in France, sometimes alarmingly so. Richness is therefore not solely due to rarity.

Ornithologial diversity

Thirty years of careful inventories have identified 220 species of bird in the valley. This exceptional variety is not only due to the landscapes (hedges, wetlands, forests and high mountains) but also to the Champsaur's geographical position: not quite north-alpine, wide open to the south with the Manse and Bayard thresholds, ideal for exchange and for migratory birds such as herons, ducks, red-footed falcons or flycatchers.


When they have not been disturbed by modern fertilisation techniques and silage, around fifty species of plant can still be found in the hayfields. The most symbolic are the poet's daffodil, alpine salsify, meadow sage, sainfoin and globeflower that punctuate the landscape with their different colours.


Altitude profile

Altitude (m)

Min : 906 m - Max : 2664 m

Distance (m)



Refer to the specific guidelines for each leg.