Hiking to Mont Prorel (2566m) from Briancon

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Tuesday 22 September 2015

Hiking to Mont Prorel (2566m) from Briancon

After 4 tough days in the saddle, today we took to the hills on foot to try a fast hike / fell run from Briancon to the nearby summit of Le Mont Prorel (2566m), via the Sentier des Oratoires and past the impressive, high altitude chapel Notre-Dame des Neiges (2292m). Although we didn't know much about this route in advance we could see from the contours of the map that Le Prorel should offer impressive panoramic views of the surrounding area, including the Ecrins National Park, and that is exactly what we discovered when we reached the top. However, the route to the summit was equally impressive, making this a fantastic hike that starts right from the centre of Briancon.

We found the route fairly easily out of the town centre, heading uphill very steeply on a tarmac road before picking up a switchback dirt track that quickly reached the village of Puy St Pierre we picked up the signs for the Sentiers des Oratoires, a route to the Notre-Dame des Neiges passing a series of oratpries to different saints. With the surface varying from rocky tracks to thawed out ski runs the going was fairly easy, although very steep as we power marched upwards beneath the warm sun that was being offset by the chilly breeze.

In what seemed like no time at all we were passing 2000m and the Notre-Dame des Neiges was clearly visible, standing close to the edge of the cliff face that lay ahead of us, with the series of switchbacks in the path to reach it also visible. The view by this point along the Durance valley back towards Guillestre, Briancon below and also onto the hills and valleys in Italy to the east was wonderful. The blue sky dotted with white and dark clouds cast moody shadows over the huge scenery on display and we felt very peaceful high above the city below.

Reaching the Notre-Dame des Neiges we were taken aback by the beauty of the site, dating back to 1758 and with a 180 degree panoramic view it looks out onto high mountains all around. Stepping inside the simple chapel was quite moving, with plaque to lost mountain rescue team members and offerings by visitors to family as well. It was a very quite and reflective site for pilgrims willing to make the trip.

Back outside the chilly wind didn't put us off carrying on the addition 300m of ascent to the summit of Le Prorel, now visible on the skyline. Initially shallow paths past the ski stations also dotted around the mountainside gave way to a steep and rocky ascent to the top that had us both feeling a little vertigo, but stepping onto the plateau of rock at the top was just dazzling. With all of the majestic views already enjoyed on the way up including the Durance, Vallee de la Claree, Col d'Izoard and Italy beyond, suddenly the Ecrins National Park was also on display plus the Col du Granon and mountains to the north. It really was an unrivalled viewpoint that took our breath away. Glaciers, valleys, cliffs and rugged peaks surrounded us on all sides.

It was particularly special to us since we could now pick out so many of the places we had visited ourselves in recent days and piece together our busy week in Briancon, all of it seemingly within touching distance through the clear mountain air. Even the gathering clouds added to the feeling of wilderness and tranquillity far away from hustle and bustle below.

We stayed as long as we could, snapping many photos, before we decided it was time to head down. Jogging and fast walking the descent flew by and in under 90 minutes we were back in Briancon, just a short distance but a world away from the remote wilderness we had just enjoyed.

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