Tour of Oisans and Ecrins from L'Argentière-la-Bessée
The GR 54 footpath is one of the three great hiking trails in the French Alps (with Mont Blanc and the Vanoise).
But it is without doubt the most unspoilt of all, and the hardest too: 184 kilometres, 14 mountain passes and over 12 800 metres of inclines.
A trek through mountain villages, deep valleys and high Alpine passes, watched by emblematic wildlife, discreet but present.
Pastoral activity in the Selle valley, dale
The ibex, a survivor
The alpine ibex
The pastoral hut and the walkers' shelter
White throated dipper
Above the Jas Lacroix hut, the Chanteloube valley opens up to the right in the form of a cirque. The highest peak in the cirque is the Verdonne point, which rises to 3328m. Sometimes a glittering object can be seen at its summit. This a Grand Réseau Radio des Alpes (GRA) radio relay station, serving the mountain rescue network. It is used to make radio contact with police and emergency services in Briançon.
Yellow (mountain) saxifrage
Above the Saume ravine, the footpath’s tight loops are supported by stone walls, the remains of the mule-driver’s path that the army once kept maintained, just in case, between Vallouise and Champoléon...
Champoléon farmers once took their livestock along the path to the Vallouise sheep fair on 4 October.
The Col de l'Aup Martin is a surprising desert of dark grey, shiny schist forming fine parallel sheets. The rock was formed under techtonic influence that laid down the minerals making up the rock in parallel layers. Highly friable, the rock makes access to the col slippery or even dangerous, according to the weather conditions, and has given the col its poor reputation: a monstrous col according to Simon. Exactly like the Mordor region described by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, says François!
During a worldwide count organised in October each year, an observation post is set up in Le Pré de la Chaumette. The bearded vulture has already been spotted, but alas not each time! Falsely accused of carrying off lambs and children, this large bird with a wingspan of 2.80 m has been persecuted by man. Shooting, capture, poison, together with the scarcity of its food sources led to the bird’s extinction in the Alps in 1930. A European programme to reintroduce it was launched in 1986. Since then, the bearded vulture has been regaining ground.
The refuge is situated in a vast meadow formed by alpine grasslands that benefit from deep soil, on gentle slopes that are covered with snow on an average of eight months a year.
The Vallonpierre refuge
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
Clot Xavier Blanc mountain refuge
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.
Toponymy in the Valgaudemar area
An itinerary packed with history
Waterfalls and view points over the valley
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.
Sundial by Rémy Potey
A real open-air museum piece in the rural landscape, the pictorial art of the sundial aims to foster silence and to be accessible to all. For walkers today and for travellers yesterday. A sundial is a call to reflection and meditation, visible in all its magnificence on religious buildings or carefully hidden, in the little streets of a mountain village. The the Hautes-Alpes department, with its sun-rich climate, has the highest concentration of this example of the people’s art. Today, through the work of the sundial maker Rémy Potey, chamois and golden eagles can be beside the imaginary birds of the mysterious and famous Zarbula, the 19th century Piedmont artist.
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
Leaving from L'Argentière-les-Ecrins, the Tour des Ecrins and of L’Oisans begins gently, following the Onde mountain stream as far as Col de La Pousterle, the panoramic route on the following day's stage. To reach the wild Champsaur valley via the Pas de la Cavale, a footpath runs through the Fournel valley. You have to take care crossing no less than three mountain passes carved out in the schist before reaching Lake Vallonpierre and the Valgaudemar valley from Pré de la Chaumette. Along the Séveraisse, the footpath reaches La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar and then rises in Villar Loubière as far as the Souffles refuge and the impressive Col de la Vaurze. Equally impressive is the descent towards the unspoilt Valjouffrey. The rich green Col de Côte Belle contrasts with the schist landscapes we have seen until now. Valsenestre, in the Béranger valley, comes as a well-earned rest before we set off for the last few twists and turns. We arrive at the vertical Col de la Muzelle, the final point of this grand tour. After Lake Muzelle comes Lake Lauvitel, the biggest lake in L’Oisans, at the end of the mountain pass of the valley. A long, gentle descent along the Vénéon mountain stream leads to Le Bourg d'Oisans. We continue our grand tour along the GR footpath with the help of handrails to reach the small villages perched on the mountainside. The path then goes down to the Sarenne mountain stream before rising again as far as the mountain pass, with a panorama over the Monts de Lans. Then comes a descent towards Clavans and the Ferrand valley, followed by a fine climb as far as Besse at the edge of the vast Emparis plateau. Above, Col de Souchet offers a five-star view over the Meije. After some 1000 metres of descent, La Grave awaits us. We then walk along the River Romanche as far as its source on the mountain pastures of Villar d'Arène. When you arrive at Col d'Arsine, the spectacle is astounding. This mountain setting is an invitation to visit the Arsine glacier lake before beginning the long descent along the Petit Tabuc mountain stream as far as the Guisane valley and Monêtier-les-Bains. Our destination is La Vallouise, via Col de l'Eychauda and the peaceful chalets of Chambran. The final stage is gentle, and we arrive, after Col de La Pousterle, which we left behind us two weeks earlier, in L'Argentière-les-Ecrins. We have come full circle!
The best time to do the tour is between late June and mid-September.
Find out about weather conditions and snow levels on the mountain passes in early summer.
Some passages, near high mountain areas, cross difficult terrain.
It is possible to sleep in the open air all along the GR trail (see National Park regulations) and in campsites, hotels, gîtes or refuges.
On some stages you will need to take your own food with you.
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.
Vallouise Park house
, 05290 Vallouise
04 92 23 58 08
Information, documentation, models, exhibitions, screenings, product sales and works of the Park. Guided tours for school, reservation required. The new Park House opened in Vallouise since June 1, and offers visitors an interactive permanent exhibition inviting to explore the area and its heritage. A temporary exhibition space will allow a renewed offer. Finally, the device is completed by an audiovisual room to organize screenings and conferences Free admission. All animations of the Park are free unless otherwise stated.
Train: L'Argentière SNCF station www.ter-sncf.com/paca
Access from Paris, Marseille and Grenoble
Regular services to Pays des Ecrins and Briançon from Nice, Marseille or Gap:
- SCAL coaches: http://www.scal-amv-voyages.com - Tel: + 33 (0)4 92 51 06 05
- LER bus: http://www.info-ler.fr
- 05voyageurs: https://www.05voyageurs.com/
- Transisère: http://www.transisere.fr/
Access and parking
L’Argentière-les-Ecrins is on the N94 between Briançon and Embrun. It can be reached with the motoway A51 from Marseille and the South. From the North and Briançon, the motorway A48 and the Frejus tunnel must be taken.
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