Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hiking in les Écrins National Park

Just a very small sampling of all the flora in the park.  The rhododendrons (left) were just about everywhere.

I am completely behind my blog schedule as usual.  We're in full-on summer mode right now, the kids are in Czech Republic with grandparents, so it's finally time to get out and do some more intense sports.  Unfortunately I've had shoulder tendinitis for several months now, and therefore, won't be able to post any interesting climbing trips for now, as I'm out of climbing at the moment.  At least my legs are still working (knock on wood) so we decided to go hiking with Jakub to the Écrins National Park this weekend.


On Friday evening when we finally made it through the usual traffic jam out of Grenoble (the well known "buchon"!!), we finally arrived at the Champhorent parking (1584 m).  We descended to and crossed the beautiful Vénéon river valley (1417 m) and then after hiking up a bit, set up our first "bivouac" under the stars.  We did spend about 20 minutes trying to break into our only bottle of red wine, as we decided at home, that carrying a wine opener would be just extra weight.  We tried the shoe technique and the pushing the cork inside with a spoon technique, but it seemed the bottle was filled too much to let us get to the treasure inside.  At the end, Jakub managed to get it opened though by pushing the cork inside.  What a perfect night!  Stars, mountains and a bottle of wine. :)

Sunset in the mountains.


The night was a bit chilly under the tarp and I always forget how cold it can get at night in the mountains.   But waking up to blue skies made up for it.  After a small breakfast, we were ready to hit the road again.

Breakfast Time!!

Our first bivouac; hiking poles and a tarp.

Sunrise, promising a perfect sunny day.
The first goal was to reach the Refuge de la Lavey (1797 m) which we found to be a very strategically located beer stop in the sweltering heat that we experienced this weekend (even in the mountains!!).  So every time we passed here, we had a refreshing pint on tap of a local "Alphand" alpine blond ale.  It was as perfect as it sounds.

The great thing about hiking in this valley was the amount of water everywhere.  Rivers, streams, waterfalls and glaciers, ensured that we could always get refreshed in the heat.


What are these cool fluffy flowers?

Flowers, waterfalls, mountains. :)

As we were not the earliest risers, we managed to set out to start hiking up to Lac des Bèches (2401 m) close to noon, which cost us a slight sunburn, despite all the cream we thought we had slathered on our bodies.  I found out that I am rather out of shape when I tried to hike up these 600m of elevation.  But considering this was the first hike of the season and I had my 60L pack, perhaps I should have had lower expectations :)

Hiking in the heat, sweating like a pig :)

Lac des Bèches, the colors are a bit surreal.

Lunch break and siesta.

After resting a bit, we descended back to the refuge to have our beer stop of course!

The final part of the hike for the day was to continue up the valley along the river to the base of the next hike, which would be completed the next day.  Here we once again set up a little "camp" and chilled out for the evening.

This is our bedroom.

Our bedroom from far away.
We had a bit of a mosquito problem in our bedroom and since Jakub forgot his hat, he improvised with his detachable pant leg.

The animals we saw on this trip included tadpoles, frogs, marmots and .... sheep!  They seemed to be very independent (no shepherd or herding dog) and were quite well adapted to mountain climbing and snow walking.

I finally had a moment to start reading my camera manual and use my new camera to do a few shots of the stream.  I got very enthusiastic and managed to kneel in mud and water just to capture that perfect moment :)

Turquoise waters, red rocks.

Bed time.


The next morning it was very fresh.  We had an early start this time and managed to start hiking up before the heat hit us. We also gained considerable elevation before the sun was too hot, so it worked out perfectly.  The route seemed to be very popular as we met many groups on the way.  Surprisingly most of these people were seniors and they were incredibly fit running up the mountain as if it was some easy peasy promenade.  We were actually trying very hard to keep a pace so they would not catch up with us.  Seriously, they were kicking our asses!  Not to mention that the hike was slightly challenging and involved a bit of scrambling on very wet and slippery surfaces.  When we finally reached the glacier melt lake "le lac des Rouies" (2722 m), we were a bit surprised.  We saw snow and in the middle of it a hill covered completely in sheep!  Sort-of reminded me of Noah's ark.

Let's get moving before the sun gets us.

The "sheep" island.

I'm getting a little sheepish ;)

Le lac de Rouies.
A brave man.

Yes, he is crazy.

After lunch and a dip in the glacier waters, we headed back to the refuge of course to get a refreshment, and then hiked all the way back to the parking lot.  Overall we estimated that we hiked 36km with some 1100m difference of elevation within our hiking trips.  Not bad for a start.  It was absolutely beautiful, peaceful and well worth it!!