8. From Valsenestre to Lake Muzelle (stage of the GR 54)
The big day has dawned! The legendary Col de la Muzelle is beckoning. The climb towards the alpine pastures at the foot of the giants (Roche de la Muzelle, Pic du Clapier du Peyron) already sets the scene, this is a day for climbing! No less than 50 hairpin bends carved into the schist and regularly maintained, taking us up to the ultimate goal of this great adventure. A pure mountain experience, leading us to a haven of peace a little lower down: the banks of Lake Muzelle.
The dry stone (mortar) huts are an example of architecture without an architect they are the work, not of architects (unlike the religious, military and civilian buildings of the past), but of farmers and workers or masons whose names are now forgotten. These huts have many and varied names, which are mainly derived from regional languages, and which have been adapted into French. The Cantine (“Canteen” in English) huts were used as shelters for shepherds during the summer months, and probably owe their name to the meals eaten in the mountains.
Cipollino Marble quarry
From July to September, a flock of sheep occupy this steep valley. A shepherd watches over them and tends to them if necessary. Pastures are divided into sectors that are grazed upon according to a timeframe that takes the exposition and grass resources into consideration. For example, specific agro-environmental measures are in place to preserve the areas where black grouse nest. When the chicks are able to fly, usually after the 15th August, the sheep can head back to the area.
Glacier polished rocks
Maintenance of the footpath
As you get to the last leg before the pass, you may well hear high-pitched whistles. If you are lucky, you will catch sight of the composer of this melody: the wallcreeper, which is a beautiful red, black and white bird. Defying verticality, the wallcreeper uses its long-clawed feet to latch onto the rock faces in search of insects and spiders. Its long beak then enables it to draw them out of the cracks in the rock.
Near to the pass, you will admire small grey-green cushions scattered with white flowers: this is the androsace helvetica, a rare protected species. This altitude plant is perfectly acclimatised to the hostile environment. This is also the case for the mountain saixifrage. Both like limestone, which is not the case of moss campion, small green cushion with pink flowers, or the Arctic alpine forget me not, a small blue-flowered plant that prefer the crystalline rocks here and there across the pass.
During this walk, the path takes you past brittle, black sedimentary rocks. At the pass, they come into contact with light-coloured crystalline gneiss: the contrast is surprising! There is a geological fault here where monumental forces have been pushing against each other for millions of years.
Lac de la Muzelle
The Lac de la Muzelle is a glacier lake with cold waters, poor in life. The fish population is limited to salmonids (Arctic char, brook trout, etc.). Their active period is limited to summer. Since their food sources are low, they suffer from dwarfism. Each year, scientific monitoring is carried out by various universities and the National Park: samples of fish, phytoplankton, zooplankton and physical measurements.
The bottom of the valley comes up to the rock wall at Muzelle, the pic du Clapier du Peyron and the head of the Muraillette. The modern history of this place is marked by mountaineering. It was on the 2nd July 1875 that Coolidge guided by Almer father and son opened the normal way to Roche de la Muzelle by the East North East face and the North-East ridge.. At this time, even if a pastoral cabin was used by the mountaineers the bivouac was still often used in the Muzelle valley. In 1967, it was in the rocky cirque that the community built the refuge on the shore of Muzelle lake.
From the Valsenestre car park, take the forest track that rises gently to the east. You can cross the mountain stream over two bridges in the forest, which is mainly made up of conifers (fir, spruce, larch), surrounding a few small meadows that are still mown today.
- Higher up, at an altitude of 1 492 m, turn left to reach the edge of the forest where you can a vast area of partially overgrown scree. Once you arrive at the Cantines cabin, the footpath climbs sharply along a steep slope where ewes graze in warm weather. On the opposite slope, you will notice an old footpath that winds its way up to reach the ""forge"", a cabin that has been carved out of the marble and the entrance of which can be seen. Half way up, you can see the pretty Ramu pastoral cabin to the left. The path is very steep in the last part (about 2 350 m), and you need to make your way across the schist thanks to the path's many twists and turns. From a distance, you might imagine there is an impassable wall ahead, but in fact it is easy to reach the high mountain pass (2 613 m) along the footpath, which is very well maintained.
- A short descent, which is steep at first, leads down to Lake Muzelle (2 130 m).
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