Hiking from Chambran to Lac de l'Eychauda (2514m) in the Ecrins National Park

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Wednesday 7 October 2015

Hiking from Chambran to Lac de l'Eychauda (2514m) in the Ecrins National Park

Waking up in l'Argentiere-la-Bessee the day after our wonderful hike to Les Tetes, we decided to get our hiking boots on again and try out this hike after a personal recommendation from our beekeeper friend a few days beforehand. Starting out from the car park at Chambran (1719m), accessed from the mountain village of Pelvoux along a 'challenging' road, this route starts out just outside the border of the Ecrins National Park, but soon crosses into the park proper before climbing up the beautiful Vallon de Chambran to a stunning hanging valley that houses the impressive Lac de l'Eychauda that is fed by even higher glaciers.

As we drove back up towards Pelvoux, a village we had spent a couple of nights in the previous year when we had hiked to Glacier Blanc and Glacier Noir from the nearby Pre Madame Carle, we were reminded just how special this approach into the Ecrins is. We had visited in summer last year and so were especially happy to see the beginnings of a stunning autumn on the trees, showing large amounts of red and gold beneath the sunny sky. The road from Pelvoux to Chambran was a bit of a challenge for Homer as it became progressively narrower with a number of blind overhangs that saw us stopping at one point as our wing mirror tapped a tiny car racing downhill as we rounded the bend. There was no damage of course to either car but the elderly lady driving decided to give us a telling off in French for some time about how it was 'all our fault' until another local driver arrived to reassure us that it was just the way of mountain driving.

Anyway, we arrived a short while later unscathed and after a brief pause to get our gear on we set off along the initially flat path northwards that also happens to be the GR54 Tour de Ecrins and the Via Alpina as well! However, after around a kilometre our way forked left and began a steady, progressively steepening climb up the Vallon de Chambran and crossing into the Ecrins National Park proper. Unlike some hikes where the route ahead is unclear, today our destination was in no doubt as the valley head was big and obvious all the way up as the rocky cliffs  directly ahead.

Looking back as we climbed the view back down past Chambran and away from the Ecrins Park was far reaching and beautiful, as were the rocky cliffs above and all around us. Also, visiting so late in the season, the path that must be quite busy in summer was relatively quiet as we only passed perhaps a dozen or so other visitors all day. As we climbed we were also treated to a sight of some Chamois dashing across the mountainside and marmots chirruping away from rocks and stones a little off the path. It was a really very peaceful and idyllic setting for such a lovely walk.

All in all it took around 2 hours to reach the lake itself, invisible until right at the last moment as we emerged into the hanging valley. The zig-zagging path was easy to follow and for the most part not too technical apart from a few rocky sections right near the top, but it was never too steep or precipitous at any point. Clouds had rolled in by now giving the water a dark, brooding look and the glacier fields beyond of the Glacier de Seguret Forant were small compared to their map outlines, sadly showing the retreat of the ice in recent years. (In fact we later saw an image from 1850 in an exhibition of the same view with the glacier piling massively into the same lake that it now sits a huge distance away from). However, these were really very minor detractions from what was an awesome, rounded glacial bowl in this remote and magical place.

As an out and back walk the descent was relatively straightforward, with Esther running most of the way down in no time at all while I came a little slower behind and arriving back into the afternoon sun that remained over Chambran until we braved once again the road back to Pelvoux and an overnight base in the village of Vallouise. Driving back down the road the afternoon light was soft and really accentuated the autumn hues of the trees that seemed even more golden and red than earlier in the day and we paused a few times just to look out on the peaks of valleys that surrounded us and reaffirm just why we had fallen in love with Ecrins so much on our previous visits.

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