Pigeon loft loop in the cirque de Gioberney
« The French Himalayas ». It is in these words that the great mountaineer Gaston Rébuffat described the Valgaudemar. valley What more can one say ? Here, the verticality of the slopes can be oppressive. The summits touch the sky and can give you virtigo. Towards them, you gaze upwards slowly in order to see where they end. Oppressive, vertical, austere... but so strong, wild and fragile at the same time. Simply beautiful !
Régis Jordana, park ranger at Valgaudemar
The different environments
From an altitude of between 1600 m to 2450 m, this itinerary invites you to cross different kinds of environment. Blueberry bushes and rhododendrons on the minerals of the scree slope, the green larch pastures, and this trip will be punctuated by different environments with their specific flora and fauna.
Sometimes in the water, sometimes out of it, this is the amphibian of the summits. With the Alpine Newt, it occupies the smallest puddle of water up to the most impressive altitudes. (2800 m). In a state of lethargy during more than 8 months of the year due to the bitter winter it is a symbol of adaptability to altitude. In the winter it burrows into the mud or slides out of the water under leaves, a tree stump or a rock to shelter from the frost.. It lays up to 4000 eggs on average, since it is confronted with climatic conditions and predators (newts, fish...), only a few individuals will reach adulthood in order to ensure the sustainability of the population. A real example of adaptability at altitude !
Gioberney glacial cirque offers a 180° panorama of the magnificent Rouies glaciers, the Condamine at the foot of the Bans... Today, in retreat, (the polished glaciers remain as slabs smoothed by the erosive action of these ‘ice monsters’) a witness to their past.
At the bottom of Valgaudemar, this loop enables you to fully appreciate « Himalayas of the Alps ». This cirque du Gioberney is topped with superb summits easily more than 3000 m altitude. From the west to the east, The Rouies and their 3589 m, the Pic du Says (3420 m), the Mont Gioberney (3352 m),the Pointe Richardson (3312 m), the famous Bans (3505 m) and the Aupillous at 3458 m. With three glacial cirques which blend in to one and its high summits, one really touches the domain of mountaineering here.
Pigeon Loft Refuge
Perched at 2423 m, at the foot of the Rouies, this real eagle’s nest was restored at the beginning of the year 2000. It uses solar energy and offers dry toilets which are signs of the edifice’s environmental integration. Situated almost at the highest point of this hike, it is often the place for a short, beneficial rest, beside the nearby pond.
The Common Hawker or Sedge Darner
Beside the small pond at the Pigeon Loft refuge, you could have the surprise of seeing this big dragon fly, the Common Hawker, hunting. One of the only kind that lives at these altitudes. Most of its existence is spent as a sub-aquatic larva. Several years under the water are necessary for this great predator to finish its growth and to reach its sexual maturity. From then on, it needs to leave the aquatic environment in order to transform itself into a flying imago (adult). This adult stage only lasts for a few weeks with only one purpose which is reproduction. Mating in flight and the laying of eggs on the surface of the water are carried out in order to finish the life cycle ….with death.
The Alpine Ibex
The Alpine Ibex almost disappeared in the 19th century. It owes it survival to the protection put in place in Italy and in La Vanoise National Park which sheltered the last population. Since the beginning of the reintroduction programme of the species initiated successfully in 1989, the ’lord of the summits’ has recovered his place in the Massif des Ecrins. The cirque du Gioberney is a favourite location for the birth of young, at the beginning of the summer, and it provides the calm atmosphere required by this species. Maybe you will be suprised by the massive and majestic silhouette of a male or a very young kid demonstrating its innate mountaineering qualities.
Live at the rhythm of the sheep
Despite the austere terrain, Valgaudemar valley has been the home, for centuries to intense pastoral activity which gives a rhythm to the lives of the inhabitants from spring to the first snows. Here and there, you will discover a shephard’s hut always under the astonished gaze of the sheep belonging to the sheep farms in the valley. The flocks contain different races including « Métisses », « Thônes et Marthod », « Lacaune » and « Mérinos », which are particularly well adapted to the demands of this terrain.
From Gioberney carpark, this loop enables you to reach the Pigeon Loft refuge by going up in the cirque de la Muande de Bellone. The descent is made via the cirque du Vaccivier. With your back to the chalet-refuge, take the path facing you. After 200 m, leave the path which leads to the Lac du Lauzon and continue ahead (the variant lac du Lauzon extension of 45 mn). From then on, the ascent up to the Pigeon loft refuge is intense but take the time to lift your head up to discover, with each step, the high summits and their surrounding glaciers. Follow the sign « Refuge du Pigeonnier ». After 2h30 of a climb twisting steeply, the refuge stands up at 2423 m like an eagle’s nest. From here, the view of The Rouies is striking. After a possible well deserved pause, follow the path which switches towards Vaccivier. Follow this for 20 mn during which time the path evolves overhanging the Gioberney valley. After this short aerial passage, the descent is without difficulty by following the sign « Refuge du Gioberney ». The bends of the glacial cross cliff at Vaccivier enable you to reach Gioberney valley and to discover there, the beginning of a surprising larch forest, the Gioberney cabin known as the « Crotte ». Arrival is imminent.
The ascent to the refuge du Pigeon loft refuge is intense. Note that there is a short aerial passage, 20 minutes after the refuge.
In mountain pastures, protection dogs are there to protect the herds from predators (wolves, etc.).
When I hike I adapt my behavior by going around the herd and pausing for the dog to identify me.
Find out more about the actions to adopt with the article "Protection dogs: a context and actions to adopt".
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Valgaudemar Park house
Ancien Asile Saint-Paul, 05800 La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar
04 92 55 25 19
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.
Shuttle from Saint-Firmin in the summer and a link with bus which comes from Gap and Grenoble.
Access and parking
At 26 km from Saint Firmin, on the D58, the D958a until La Chapelle en Valgaudemar then the D480t until the terminus, Gioberney carpark.
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