The route runs below such legendary summits as the Olan, Les Rouies, Les Bancs and the Sirac. The stone and glacier atmosphere is replaced by bucolic Alpine pastures with breathtaking views. Wild fauna and Alpine flora can be seen all along the way. And encounters are not rare between mountain-climbers, enthusiastic hikers and lovers of wide-open spaces, who travel along the trails as soon as the fine weather returns.
Tommy Bulle, Valgaudemar park keeper
As you begin the steep climb towards the Col de la Vaurze, don’t miss the unusual Villar windmill, covered in vegetation. Built in 1838, this legacy from past times has been perfectly preserved with its curious horizontal wheel. It was still in use 50 years ago, milling wheat, but also nuts and rapeseed. It was restored in 1979 and is the last working windmill in the Valgaudemar valley.
Sheep on the mountain pasture
Variety of the natural environment
Variety of plant life
Souffles mountain refuge
Alpine newt and ponds
Flora at altitude
With a large altitudinal range, the variety of environments and the strong Southern exposure, floral diversity is extremely rich and varied. Most notably you can see the Tiger Lily, which stands out in its environment by the striking originality of its colour and the yellow gentian whose roots are used to make a bitter “eau de vie” with many virtues.
The Olan « summits »
L'Olan is a major summit in the Écrins massif. Il culminates at 3564 m and is composed of three summits of which the highest is the Northern summit. The Olan was climbed for the first time right to the central summit on the 8th July 1875, then the Northern summit on the 29th June 1877 by the famous W.B.A Coolidge and his guide Almer. A normal route setting out from the Olan refuge can, with a guide or the right mountaineering knowledge, be the goal of an ascent in the Valgaudemar.
Ancient refuge at Pas de l'Olan
When you arrive at Pas de l'Olan, there are a few traces of the first refuge which was under the rocky mountain wall. Looking more like a large log cabin, it was unfortunately squashed by a rock. Due to its remoteness from the valley, the men chose to rebuild it on the current site.
Chamois, Ibex, ...
All along the path, fauna is present. Watch out for the eagle and the vultures that glide on the ascending winds, as well as the chamois who spy on the world below. A few Ibex can sometimes be observed by mountaineers on the slopes of the Olan, without forgetting the marmot who punctuates the ascent with its strident cry.
View of La Chapelle and the surrounding mountains
The roof of Olan refuge makes a remarkable belvedere over La Chapelle village and the surrounding mountains which are the imposing Olan, the Cime du Vallon and the Rouye. A little higher up, the Pas de l'Olan provides a point of view of the entrance to the Valgaudemar valley and of the other face of the Olan.
Situated at an altitude of 2350 m, this large building constructed in 1957 was carried away by an avalanche two years later. A witness to this is a concrete slab below the refuge. Rebuilt in 1966, it was definitively extended in 1978 with a capacity of 54 places. A stage of the Tour de l'Oisans (GR 54), it welcomes hikers in the summer season and provides a shelter in the winter; it belongs to the Club Alpin Français.
Jas crossing of the Bourelle
Just above the signpost, there are the ruins of a pasture shelter commonly called the, « jas ». Often built using dry stones, this kind of shelter was used to protect the flocks during the summer season.
Since the end of the ice age, water has carved the rock and the passage of materials has created a small gorge polishing the base rock (gneiss, micaschists). The National Park has taken on the challenge of building a wooden walkway for walkers to cross this gorge.
Over a change in altitude of a hundred metres there is a covering of heather which provides pollen for the bees and purple colour in Autumn, A small persistent shrub with tiny leaves and little pink flowers, it is called Common Heather or False Heather.
At the beginning of the path, is a big waterfall that you can approach on a narrow footpath just before climbing the coast. Situated on Combefroide torrent at a rocky escarpment, this waterfall has several projections and presents a total drop of several dozen metres.
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
An itinerary packed with history
Toponymy in the Valgaudemar area
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.
Clot Xavier Blanc mountain refuge
The Minister's footpath
Châlet-hôtel in Gioberney
The construction of the chalet-hôtel at Gioberney started during the Second World War as part of a youth project. It enabled some young people the possibility of escaping obligatory work service in Germany (STO). The stones for the building were taken on the spot, cut and put together using cement mortar. At that time the road to Gioberney did not yet exist, and would only be built in 1963. You had to go up on foot, for « tired intellectuals », it was possible to be helped by a mule in order to reach the refuge. There was not much frequentation until the construction of the road...
The Northern Bat is a boreal bat, a glacial relict in the Alpine arc. Adapted to the cold, it resists temperatures close to -7°C for short periods of time. The Northern Bat is a discreet species that lives in boreal forests scattered with humid areas. It sometimes hunts near to public lighting, one of the only places where it is easy to observe it. The capture of females at this site has enabled us to believe in the presence of a colony at Gioberney. It would be the first known reproducing colonies in France.
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.
The Chauvetane mine
Landscapes and summits
High altitude birds
Alpine grey willow
The species had almost completely disappeared from the French Alpine regions, and they survived thanks to our Italian neighbours, the kings of Savoy. Until the mid-15th century, they were still to be seen, but they were not wary of mankind and were hunted for their meat. Superstitious medical practice at the period also hastened their decline: their horns were ground into powder and used as a remedy for impotence, while the cross-shaped bone over their hearts was thought to ward off sudden death.
Successfully reintroduced into the Vanoise area in 1960, they were also brought back into the Champoléon valley over 20 years ago.
A high-pitched whistle sounds in the mountain pastures it is the cry of the marmot on guard, warning its companions of the arrival of imminent danger from the sky. Any inattentive creature failing to take note should beware a golden eagle will carry them away in its talons to feed its young.
Native to the Alpine grassland, colonies of marmots live with their young until their third year. Gnawing and digging are their favourite pastimes, along with rolling down the slopes. And not forgetting an afternoon nap on a nice, warm rock and their long hibernation between October and March.
High altitude birds
Variety of the natural environment
This major hiking trail is divided into seven stages and makes its way mainly at high altitude along paths with a wild character.
After the first two nights in refuges, the return to the valley marks the mid-way point of the trip. The second part of the trail again immerses hikers in the world of the high mountains.
Among the jewels along the way, Lake Lautier, the mythical face of the Olan, Lake Vallonpierre, a unique panorama over the Gioberney and much else besides. During the sections at the upper limit of the subalpine zone, the environment bears witness to the harsh climate in the mountains.
Overall, there are some steep ascents and descents, but what a trip!
Before setting out on this long trail, it is recommended that hikers should have already had experience on other GR trails or to be in good physical shape.
In summer, you are advised to set off early in the morning to make the most of the cool temperatures before it heats up. This trail is also very pleasant in early spring (provided that the refuges are open).
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".
Tell us about your meeting by answering this survey.
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.
Access and parking
From the N85 road, take the departmental D 985 A road at Saint Firmin, and stop at the car park just before Villar Loubière.
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