Refuge de Glacier Blanc and Glacier Noir - Our first walk in the Ecrins National Park

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Refuge de Glacier Blanc and Glacier Noir - Our first walk in the Ecrins National Park


Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, AlpsDescribed in our walking guide as “some of the finest highest mountain views in the eastern Ecrins”, our hike last Wednesday certainly lived up to our expectations. Starting out with a steep drive, taking our motorhome higher than it had ever been before, to the car park at Pre Madame Carle (1874m) was a little nerve wracking for us to say the least.


Motorhome in Ecrins National Park, France, AlpsHowever, the location of the car park and the several hours of extra hiking the drive had saved were well worth it. Stepping out into the morning sun and looking vertically up at cascading waterfalls tumbling off the sheer cliff faces  around us was awesome and our new camera was immediately in action. Being able to see a glacier from our 'living room' window was a particularly special experience.

Ecrins National Park, France, Alps
Starting with a short trek through the flattish glacial bowl where the rivers running off from the Glacier Blanc and Glacier Noir (which is mostly covered in rubble, hence the name) meet in a raging stream, the climb began soon after. Gentle switchbacks took us to the point where the path divides, with options to proceed either towards the Glacier Noir, overlooked by the Mont Pelvoux, or the Glacier Blanc and a refuge at 2550m. We chose the refuge and began working our way up the now strenuous climb, passing dozens of other hikers and families all heading the same way at very different speeds to reach the hut.

Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps
After climbing just a short time, the view opened to give a picture postcard perspective across the hanging valley below and out to the distant mountains of the Ecrins and further into Italy as well. Rounding a bend in the path we came across our first close up view of the Glacier Blanc tumbling over a cliff edge towards us, incredible. We pushed on, over a stream and up more steep switchbacks taking us closer to the glacier surface each time, reaching the refuge after only an hour and half of steady climbing. From here it was easy to see why the path was so busy. I can't think of a more amazing view that you can reach in around just 700m of climbing. With the blue tinted glacier to one side, the open mountain panorama on another and all around high mountains reaching up more than 1000m above us it was breathtaking.

Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps
As it was only 11am, we opted to push on higher towards the Refuge des Ecrins right on the lip of the glacier at 3012m. The path was particularly steep in places and much quieter as most of the families stopped at the refuge below. Hiking within 50m or so of the glacier surface, full of gaping crevasses , we emerged after around 300m of climbing onto a flattened section that revealed the full extend of the glacier sweeping around and up into the peaks. The view from the refuge had only been a tiny fraction of the enormous ice flow. After this point the path was covered in snow, heading over the glacier surface, and we didn't have the gear to go further, but we were happy just to sit for half an hour or so (wrapping up against the chill of gathering clouds) to try and take it all in.

Glacier Noir Ecrins National Park, France, AlpsSadly descending and saying farewell to the view, we passed the refuge again and powered our way down the switchbacks to find ourselves, by early afternoon, back at the paths dividing point. Invigorated by the views and feeling energetic, we decided to ascend again this time towards Glacier Noir. A much quieter and very different path led the way across the top of a precipitous moraine deposited by the ice flows of the past. With a 150m drop on one side and 50m on the other we carefully treaded our way up alongside the dark, rubble strewn surface with deep fissures revealing what was really beneath.

En route to Glacier Noir Ecrins National Park, France, Alps
At one point we were joined on our hike by an especially inquisitive marmot who tracked us from about 50m away, plodding alongside as we continued up. The further we trekked up the glacier the better the view ahead became, opening up a perspective of deeper valleys and glaciers we couldn't see before. Eventually we reached a point where the path got especially narrow, at around 50cm wide, and we decided to turn back soon afterwards.

Drizzling rain set in during our descent and we realised that we had timed our day just right, marching swiftly down to the car park feeling exhilarated. The only sad part of the day (other than leaving) was that evidence of the glaciers retreat is so clear to see on the mountainsides. A brief stop in the visitor centre showed us how, in the last 10 years alone the glaciers had retreated hundreds of metres up the mountain and predicted they might be gone completely by 2025! A sad thought after such an awesome day, but it can't take away our fantastic memories of such a memorable hike.

Click here for 7 reasons to visit the Ecrins National Park

Click here for details of 6 amazing hikes in the Ecrins National Park

Click here to see our other walks in the French Alps

Walk Information:
Motorhome Base: Pelvoux
Start/ End Point: Car Park at Pre de Madame Carle
Distance Guide: 4km to Refuge de Glacier Blanc from car park (one way)
Time Taken:  6-7 hours
Level: Hard
Map: IGN Map 3436ET: Meije-Pelvoux / Parc National Des Ecrins 1:25,000
OR: Rando Editions Carte de Randonnees 'Ecrins' 1:50,000



En route to Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps

Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps

Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps

En route to Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps

Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps

En route to Glacier Blanc Ecrins National Park, France, Alps


Ecrins National Park, France, Alps



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