This mountaineering/walking holiday challenge takes in three alpine summits with a combined altitude of nearly 10,000 metres, and is especially tailored for novices.
If you are a passionate walker or climber and love the mountains, you’ll find it difficult to resist the lure of the big Alpine peaks and will love this introductory mountaineering week.
You’ll get away from the crowds and soak up the charm and ambiance of the high mountain environment in and around the dramatic Ecrins National Park, with the added bonus of the best sun record in the Alps.
Accommodation in the French Alps
Your base is a lovingly restored traditional Champsaurian farmhouse. The accommodation has a beautiful vaulted dining room and lounge with open fire, a kitchenette for residents use (so you can make up your own picnics and keep supplies fresh in the fridge) and beautiful views on the surrounding countryside.
Daily breakfast is served in your accommodation, and in the evening, you’ll have dinner prepared with fresh local ingredients and herbs and vegetables from the garden and the mountains. You’ll also stay in other mountain refuges for two nights. Here too, breakfast and dinner is prepared for you. Lunches will be picnic lunches or hot lunches. Only on the free day, lunch is not included.
It’s possible to upgrade this holiday, staying in a small family-run hotel situated in St Maurice in Valgaudemar in the heart of the Ecrins Massif with spectacular views all around. Attention to detail, good cuisine and a friendly welcome also make this an unforgettable place to stay. There is a heated swimming pool, a volleyball court and table-tennis in the garden. Inside there is also a steam room to relax after a day in the mountains. Please ask the holiday provider for more information about the possible upgrades.
Mountaineering and walking in the French Alps
This is a progressive week of mountaineering and alpinism taking in three spectacular peaks of the Southern French Alps including L’Obiou (2,789 metres), Les Rouies (3,589 metres) and either the Sirac (3,444 metres or L’Olan (3,564 metres).
Two of the summits involve glacier crossings and scrambling / climbing in high mountain conditions and all the peaks have exposed sections.
Over the course of the week, you’ll learn essential rope and safety techniques for moving together and climbing in the high mountains and across glaciers. You’ll learn how to walk and climb in crampons and use ice axes and how to climb in big boots. You’ll also learn how to pace yourself at altitude.
The area where the mountaineering trip takes place is away from the main tourist areas so you won’t be sharing your experiences with hundreds of other mountaineers. So you should get a real taste of the magic of mountaineering in the French Alps.
The area is rich in flora and fauna with golden eagles, chamois, ibex, marmots and even wolves in the vicinity.
No previous experience of mountaineering or alpinism is necessary. However, a good level of walking fitness and some scrambling or climbing experience is required.
All technical equipment is provided. You are led by guides who are fully qualified and experienced in their field.
Mountaineering holiday itinerary
Day 1 – Travel to the French Alps. Settle in to your accommodation, have a drink and wander around the area. In both the Val Des Sources and Le Casset Refuge, you are surrounded by 3,000 metre plus peaks, including the Olan, Les Rouies and the Sirac, some of which you’ll be climbing this week.
Once everyone has arrived, you’ll meet your guide, go through the holiday itinerary and receive your equipment for the week. Then you can settle down to a hearty evening meal before a good night’s sleep in preparation for the first day in the mountains.
Day 2 – Average walking time: 6 – 7 hours (4 – 5 hours up and 2 hours down).
At the start of the walk you get your first taste of the ‘airy’ ambiance of this mountain with a little exposed section. After that there are two choices of itineraries, which the guide will explain to you on the day and you can decide which way you want to go.
You can either follow the GR route which contours around to the right or you can go straight up through the rocks. The two options meet up at about 2,000 metres where the GR route continues to wind its way through an apparent wall of stone up to the Col de l’Obiou. Care is needed throughout this section as a slip could be very dangerous. You’ll have to scramble in certain places but otherwise the path follows a ‘staircase’ up.
The views from this section are incredible! At the col you follow the shoulder up to the top. This section is very exposed and captures the real high mountain ‘airy’ character. Enjoy spectacular views over the Ecrins National Park, the Champsaur, Valgaudemar and Devoluy valleys and see if you can spot your next objectives for the week.
Day 3 – This is a beautiful and easy walk up to the refuge where you’ll spend the night before attacking the summit of Les Rouies tomorrow.
You can walk up directly in about two-and-a-half hours or you can take in the Lac du Lauzon on your way which is a pretty alpine lake with a stunning mountain backdrop.
Once you get to the refuge you can either relax and enjoy the ambiance or go for a little scramble up in the rocks above the refuge. Your guide will be with you and will be up for a bit of rope work practice, wildlife spotting or anything else you fancy doing.
The area is a great spot for Ibex and other wild mountain animals so it is worth making the most of the local knowledge of your guide and getting some good wildlife shots to take home with you!
George, the guardian who runs the refuge is a real character and will definitely make you welcome, it is one of the best refuges in the area.
Day 4 – Average walking time: 8 – 9 hours (5 – 6 hours up and 3 – 4 hours down).
After an early start, and a rocky traverse in the dark you’ll arrive at the edge of the glacier – usually just as the sun comes up so you can see what you are doing to put your crampons on. After an explanation of how to use the equipment you’ll begin the climb up through the couloir to the top of the glacier, which is pretty spectacular in itself. Once you arrive on top you’ll be rewarded with amazing views and will start to feel the heat of the sun – truly beautiful! Here you’ll rope up to traverse the glacier which takes you up to the summit.
The last climb is pretty steep and mixed snow and rock but it’s worth the effort to get to the top, where you’ll really feel on top of the world. From the summit you get an excellent view of the interior of the Ecrins massif including the Barre des Ecrins and La Meije and of the summit of L’Olan just next door – possibly your next challenge!
You come down the way you came up – although it goes much quicker and the going down technique and views are very different from the going up ones so you don’t feel like you are retracing your steps. At the refuge George will greet you with a well deserved hot meal before you make your way down to the car park and back to your accommodation.
Day 5 – This day is a rest day to relax and refuel after your exertions in the mountains, before tackling your biggest challenge of L’Olan or Sirac tomorrow.
If you are based at Les Val des Sources you have the swimming pool, table tennis and some beautiful relaxing walks straight from your door.
From le Casset, you have a short walk to get into the village of La Chapelle, where there are a couple of shops and bars to mooch around and of course you have the river of the Severaisse if you fancy a cool dip – just be careful to find a spot without fast flowing rapids!
If you want to do something more sportive, just tell your hosts. They can arrange rafting or a high ropes adventure – both situated in the village of La Chapelle. Or they can arrange another day with your guide to try a multi pitch climbing route, a via ferrata or a day practicing rope work and alpinism skills somewhere pretty. Please note that any organised activity including the day with the guide arranged for this day are not included in the price.
Day 6 – There are two choices of summits for days 6 and 7; the Olan or Sirac, equally spectacular and dramatic. There are then several routes up either with varying grades of climbing. However, you are looking at the classic routes for this trip. They are both ‘peu difficile’ in grade which means there is some technical climbing and more complicated glaciers so slightly more difficult than Les Rouies. It is really a personal choice and the guide will be able to give you more information about the routes and current conditions to help you decide which peak to do.
Here the programme for climbing the Sirac is given. The walk in to the Sirac is up to the refuge Vallonpierre at 2,271 metres from the Gioberney at 1,642 metres. This is a newly refurbished Club Alpine Français refuge (French Alpine Mountaineering Club) situated in a little hanging valley with a small lake.
There are two main ways to walk in – one direct route which is about 3 – 4 hours walking and quite steep, or a traverse around under the glacier with the possibility to stop off for a drink at La Chabourneo refuge. This is slightly longer and you cut off half of the steep direct ascent so is slightly easier walking.
Both routes take you up a real classic Alpine valley with the summit of La Sirac dramatically outlined above you. Again your guide will be with you so if you want to do some rope work or scrambling on your way up or at the refuge, that’s no problem. The Vallonpierre refuge is a good place for Chamois so again make the most of your guide’s local knowledge and find out where they are hiding!
Day 7 – Average walking time: 7 – 8 hours (5 – 6 hours up and 3 – 4 hours down). Vallonpierre.
You’ll start with a walk over rough terrain ending in a wall of solid rock! This is where your climb really starts. The first part is a scramble up a pretty cliff – a pleasure to climb. The cliff then gives way to a section of large blocks separated by short scrambles and climbs.
You arrive at a reasonably steep but small glacier which you cross to gain access to the next part of the route. Sometimes the bergschrund between the glacier and the main face can be quite difficult to negotiate but your guide will give you good advice and protect you. Note: a bergschrund is a crevasse that forms where the moving glacier ice separates from the stagnant ice above.
The route is varied and interesting – a mix between scrambling and climbing over short sections. It’s particularly interesting in big boots but the rock is good and there are big foot and hand holds.
The last section is a dramatic, very exposed and airy ridge which you follow up to the summit. This gives you absolutely splendid views but you are better off concentrating on your scrambling before getting too carried away in that high mountain bliss. Wait until you get to the summit before you really relax and drink in the ambiance in relative safety.
Again the way down is the same but feels totally different coming down than it felt going up. A hot lunch will be waiting for you at the Vallonpierre before you finish your journey back down to the valley.
Day 8 – End of this French Alps Mountaineering intro holiday in France. Breakfast and departure.
Dates and Availability
This guided walking holiday has fixed dates, but any other dates between June and September are also possible. The price quoted is for groups of 6 to 8 people. The holiday can also run for smaller groups than 6 people at a higher price per person. Please contact the holiday provider, through the contact form below, for more information and the fixed dates.