the GR 54 - tour of the Osians  

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The GR 54 - Tour of the Osians

September 4-13 2016

Trip members - David and Peter

The Tour of the Oisans or Massif des Ecrins is known as the GR54. It is a region in the French Alps of dramatic peaks separated by deep valleys with very steep slopes. The distance the Tour covers is 180km with 14 passes and about 13000m of ascents. The Kev Reynolds Cicerone Press guide book was followed for the route, roughly following the 10 day itinerary set out in the guide. Since the guide was produced in 2008 there has been considerable work carried out in protecting and improving the trail and as a result it was found that a lot of the caution warnings given in the book for rocky and exposed sections of the walk were not really necessary now. The Tour circumnavigates some of the highest and most dramatic massifs in the Alps. The start and finish of the Tour is the town of Bourg d’Oisans, situated about 50km southeast of Grenoble and the circular route was tackled as the book describes in a clock-wise direction.

Getting there : We took the train - Eurostar direct to Lyon then TGV to Grenoble and then bus to Bourg d’Oisans. Highly recommended and not too expensive (140 pounds before Brexit!) either.

Day 1 Bourg d”Oisan to communal campsite 15minutes beyond Besse-en-Oisans

After a peaceful night spend at Camping la Cascade campsite, we headed off to find the start of the GR54. This turned out to be situated next to the campsite but was marked by signs do not enter and do not urinate. We had been warned by the lady running the campsite to ignore these signs so this is what we did and set off up the rocky path looking for our first red and white flashes. These we soon found and we were assured we were on the right track. Making sure we did not urinate, we started the climb up the mountain side skirting the Cascade de la Sarenne on rocky slabs. There are cable safeguards on this section but it is hardly necessary. La Ville was the first hamlet of the trip and then it was onwards and upwards on tracks through the forest. After a number of other hamlets leading to very pleasant wooded slopes and then onto meadows and the road to the Col de Sarrene. The col was a little disappointing with the road and the cyclists trying to emulate their Tour du France heroes. On the descent from the col we made our only navigational error but this was soon spotted and only added about 20 minutes to the day to get back on track. After the village of Clavans-le-Bas we then had to tackle the climb up to Besse-en-Oisans which turned out to be a bit of sting-in-the-tail at the end of the day. The communal campsite some 15 minutes beyond Besse-en-Oisans was very comfortable and make a good spot to end the first day.

Day 2 Besse-en-Oisans campsite to campsite at Le Pied Du Col

The day started with the steep climb up to the Col Nazie and then the grass slopes to the Col Bichet. As the guide book points out the view across the open pastureland to the  Le Meije and Le Rateau peaks was breathtaking. The weather on this day was moody with some dark clouds but this heightened the drama of the view with wonderful cloud formations over the peaks. After the highpoint of the Col du Souchet it was a descent to the village of Le Chazelet where we hoped to get some lunch.  No such luck with every shop and restaurant shut at the end of the season. So it was onwards to the villages of Les Terraces and La Grave. Getting to Grave in good time we decided to carry on down the La Ramanche valley until we came to the campsite at Le Pied du Col.

Day 3 Le Pied Du Col campsite to Vallon de Chambran

The La Ramanche valley was followed for a few more miles and then the climb to the the Col d’Arsine started. After the Col there was a very picturesque descent through streams and meadows and the very popular spot of the Lac de la Douche. The village of Le Cassett was reached and passed through again with no opportunity to get any provisions. However, better luck was had in Monetier-Les-Bains where a very welcoming restaurant was open for business and doing a roaring trade. After a good meal we set off climbing through woods towards the Col de l’Eychauda. This is a very steep section of the Tour so we greatly appreciated the shade of the trees at a very hot time of the day. The Serre-Chevalier ski development cableways, pistes and the enclosed resevoir near the Col come in for some heavy criticism from Kev in his guide but you are soon through this section and heading down through pleasant upland pastures. The descent towards the Vallon de Chambran is long but with good ziz-zags and we decided to camp at a point where the path joined the stream feeding the Vallon. The pitch was on a little bit of an angle but this did not stop us having a good nights sleep.

Day 4 Vallon de Chambran to near Cabane Pastorale du Jas Lacroix

The descent into the Vallon de Chambran continued the next morning and the Chambran buvette was soon passed. The Vallon de Chambran was followed pretty much all the way into the village of Le Sarret and the road then taken down into Vallouise. The restaurant just before the main square was the venue for a great plat du jour meal  We then were not successful in securing the services of at taxi to take us up the road to Entre-ley-Aygues so we headed off up the road on foot. We had been warned by the very helpful assistant in the tourist office that the path from village was in a bad state of repair so we took his advice and did not follow the instructions in the guide and just stayed on the road. The weather was really hot as we made our way up the tarmac to eventually arrive at the Entre-ley-Aygues car park thirsty and sweaty in about 2 hours. Here the climb towards the Col de l’Aup Martin started in earnest. The way was well marked and made its way up through very pleasant wooded scenery. Just after passing the Parc National d’Ecrin entry signs we found a great campsite next to the stream and spent a very pleasant night camped at this spot.

Day 5 Cabane Pastorale du Jas Lacroix to Refuge du Pre de la Chaumette

The next morning the Cabane Pastorale du Jas Lacroix was passed. The climb towards the col got more and more rocky as we went higher and we spent our time playing spot the col until it became very clear which col we were aiming for. The scenery became bleaker and rougher with the route to the Col de l’Aup Martin marked by a very black scree slope over which we needed to cross. The weather had been very dry over the Summer so the path across the scree was well compacted and had not been littered with fallen boulders from the scree slope above. Kev’s guide issues a caution warning for this section but in the condition we found the path there was no need for real concern as we reached the col. A relativley short horizontal traverse then took us across to the second col of the day, the Pas de la Cavale where we had a break for some nibbles. Over the col the path steepened considerably and zig zags down for what seems an eternity towards the Refuge du Pre de la Chaumette. We arrived at the Refuge quite early in the afternoon but decided not to press on but to have a shorter day ready for the next two big days of the Tour. The campsite is a bit of walk from the refuge but we went back to the refuge for the evening meal served there.  

Day 6 Refuge du Pre de la Chaumette to the campsite in La Chapelle-en Valgaudemar

Knowing this was going to be big day, we got up early and made a quick pack-up of the camp before heading off towards the first col of the day, the Col de la Vallette. After the col there was a very steep descent down the black scree we had seen previously on Col de L’Aup Martin to the grassland before the climb up to the next col, the Col de Gouiran. The scenery meeting us when we gained the col was the bleakest we had seen on the Tour with great sheets of grit and shale. The descent was not as steep as the Col de Vallette and so we made our way across the shale towards the final col of the day, the Col de Vallonpierre. Again the dry weather of the summer made progress up to the col relatively easy. The col was a great place to stop and take in the scenery, particularly the view of the very complex and difficult looking peak, Le Sirac. The descent to the Refuge de Vallonperre was rocky but we were soon by the lake next to the refuge, enjoying the view and taking pictures. The trail below the refuge was a series of long switchbacks then the gradient eased and the path wandered through stone wall and old houses before levelling out into the valley. The walk along the valley past the Refuge du Clot seemed long and it was getting towards evening before we finally reached La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar. The village has a very good communal campsite so we set up camp there and cooked our well earned evening meal.  

Day 7 La Chapelle-en Valgaudemar to Le Desert-en-Valjouffrey

The first section of this days walk is actually down hill according to the gradient in the guide but it a very pleasant section through woods with the river running below us. Once at the Villar-Loubiere village the ascent starts towards the Refuge des Souffles. The ziz-zag ascent was quite steep through woodland. Once at the refuge, we tried to get some weather forecast information from the warden since we had been told that there was the potential for a thunder storm later in the day. We did not manage to get much more information but we decided the weather looked settled enough to get over the col of the day so after a short break for a coke we set off for the next col, the Col de la Vaurze. The first section of the route traverses across towards the col without any height gain before reaching a pleasant grass basin. The climbing started again here but the gradient was eased considerably by the way the path had been engineered through a series of gently swithbacks. Once at the col we decided we should get down as soon as possible since the weather looked like it was closing in and true enough a thunder storm hit when we had about an hour to go before the end of the day. The descent was steep and went on for a long time with rain, thunder and lightening towards the end. We had booked ourselves into the Auberge in Le Deset-en-Valjouffrey so it was with great relief we had somewhere dry to go to away from the rain. We were made very welcome at the Auberge and the food produced for us was excellent.

Day 8 Le Desert-en-Valjouffrey to Valsenestre

Day 8 was definitely the shortest day of the Tour with less than 10k of distance and about 1000m of ascent across the Col de Cote Belle. The environment for this day was very different from the previous 3 days with very grassy slopes. We enjoyed the views from the col including across to our next days walk up to the Col de la Muzzelle. A rocky descent lead to woods and then finally to the village of Valsenestre. This is a very pretty village and we had booked accommodation in the gite. Good food and great company followed that evening. Highly recommended!!

Day 9 Valsenestre to campsite north of Coll du Vallon

We had to retrace our footsteps from the previous day for the first part of the stage then the climbing started towards the Col de la Muzzelle. Again, the guide has a caution warning for the upper section below the col but the re-engineered path is very clear and easy to navigate up safely without any undue bother. The black shale crossed the col offered another great viewpoint. The rock continued on the descent from the col but the gradient was not too challenging and the Lac de Muzzelle was reached. After some lunch at the refuge we climbed our last col of the Tour, the Coll du Vallon. This was not as rocky as a lot of the other cols and the climb was helped as usual by the ziz-zags in the path. The saddle was a great place for a stop to admire the view of the mountains and then we descended towards Lac Lauvitel. We however stopped part of the way down when we found a spot where the gradient levelled out enough for us to pitch our tent.

Day 10 Coll du Vallon to Bourg d’Oisan

The final day of the Tour broke with the usual fine and sunny weather to look forward to. We had been very blessed with good weather only having the one thunder storm on the descent to le Desert. We could see our first objective of the day, Lac Lauvitel via a steep zig-zag descent. The shadow from the hillside was slowly being pushed across the lake and this gave photographs great contrast between the light and shadowy areas of the lake. The shore of the lake looked like it would be a great campsite spot and there did not appear to be any restrictions to camping on the outlet side of the lake at least. The path to the village of La Danchere was then taken with the gentle descent to the valley floor through wooded slopes. The village was not on route so we continued down to finally meet the Le Veneon river. Water supplies were topped up in the sleepy village of Les Gauchoirs with its narrow dark streets. Meadows and woodlands then continued our final walk towards Bourg d’Oisans but the Gite at Le Vert was well and truly closed so we did not get the refreshing coke drinks we had been hoping for. The final road then lead us gracefully into Bourg d’Oisans to complete the circuit of the GR54.

A great trek marked by inspiring scenery, quiet and peace as well some great walking. Highly recommended.

Useful Information

Kit List

Links to accommodation used on day 7 and day 8

Auberg l’Eterlou - Desert-en-Valjoufrey tel 04 76 30 25 12

Gite d’etape Le Beranger tel 04 76 30 20 88