EUrunner - Écrins 2016
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Écrins: May 2016
Posted in July 2017

Once again in May, my colleague and I had to participate in a business event, this time in Lyon, France. There are a multitude of interesting locations close to Lyon, but eventually I decided to visit the Écrins National Park, which forms part of the larger Alpine region called the Dauphiné Alps. I had never been there before, but my friends had raved about this place, so naturally I was eager to explore the area. My colleague decided to come with me in order to do some hiking in the region. While planning my run, I read about a very interesting trail called The Tour du Vieux Chaillol. This route covers approximately 100 kilometers with almost six thousand meters of elevation gain. The profile looked very interesting indeed – of course I could not resist the temptation.

Valgaudemar Valley

We arrived at Lyon airport on Friday afternoon, picked up our rented car and headed off towards La Trinité, a small locality composed of several rural buildings situated close to the trailhead of my planned run. We reached our accommodation with the dusk, after an approximately three-hour ride from Lyon. We agreed to end the traveling day with a pizza dinner and then went to bed. On Saturday, after a substantial breakfast, we rode through the Valgaudemar Valley to the Refuge du Gioberney hotel, where the road ended. I planned to hike around a little in order to check the conditions along the trail. We left the car in a parking lot close to the hotel and started to climb to a chalet called Refuge du Pigeonnier.

Refuge du Gioberney

Almost immediately, after a mere five minutes of hiking, I lost my companion. I really cannot explain how it happened – I was just a few steps behind him, stopped to tie a shoelace, and then all of sudden he disappeared. I speeded up to catch up with him, but I could not see him anywhere, despite the perfect visibility and open spaces. I even shouted out to get his attention, but it was all in vain. However, unlike my experience just a few weeks previously with Zdenek in Arizona, I did not worry. I knew my colleague had to be somewhere around, so I continued climbing. At an altitude of two thousand meters I started to encounter snow. At first there were just grubby patches in shadows, but with increasing altitude there was more and more of it and finally the snow created an unbroken layer. The climb became more difficult and from time to time I was even sinking up to my bare knees in the snow. Nevertheless, I was set on making it to the chalet, so I continued ascending.

By that time I was already sure that my colleague had chosen a different path, because there were no footprints in the snow. Reaching the cabin located at almost 2500 meters of altitude, I fully realized that my plan for the next day’s run was simply not doable. It was impossible to run 100k with a substantial part of the trail covered in snow. At least not in just one day as I initially planned and furthermore without appropriate gear. All the way down to the Refuge du Gioberney hotel I was thinking about an alternative route. Then before reaching the hotel all of a sudden I decided to take a detour and hike to the other side of the valley, hoping that the snow conditions would be better there. Unfortunately they weren’t.

That day I hiked for almost six hours. I met my colleague when approaching the parking lot. He explained to me that in the morning I somehow had appeared ahead of him and that he had tried to catch up with me, but allegedly I was too fast. He explained that he also had shouted to me without any response.

view of the mountains from the valley

The next day's run was not as good as I expected, even though the weather was rather pleasant. I decided to go through the Valgaudemar Valley, following paths on one side of the valley on my way there, then cross the river La Severaisse halfway through the trail, and to run back through the other side of the valley. Maybe I was still disappointed by the fact that I could not run the entire trail as planned, so this could have been the reason why I was not overly excited about this alternative trail. Instead of the initially planned route, I covered only 60 kilometers in approximately 10 hours with most of the time spent running on leveled paths through the valley.

The only highlight was a climb to the Lacs de Petarel lakes located at an altitude of 2100 meters. There were interesting rock formations to see, and the mountainous terrain simply made me feel invigorated. Of course, the views of the mountains from both sides of the valley were impressive, though they hardly changed at all, due to running in the same valley. During the run I promised myself that I would visit the area again to finish the 100k run as I had initially planned.

There was one thing I really appreciated at this place: compared to other alpine regions there were very few tourists in the Valgaudemar Valley. The entire area almost completely lacked the touristic infrastructure so common in other alpine regions, and therefore during both days I met just a handful of people, most of them locals. What a refreshing change! I could well imagine spending a summer vacation there with my family, so hopefully I will be back one day.

start - finish distance climb / descent duration difficulty route.gpx rating
day #2 La Trinité - loop 59.72 km 2475m / 2475m 10:20 50% download ★★★★
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