Day 1: conquering a high-altitude lake

lac-du-pontet-la-meije ©Alpes Photographies
©Alpes Photographies
It's time to get into the swing of things and get some altitude, as the view will be all the better for it.

Without much difficulty, we head towards Lac du Pontet and the Aiguillon ridge from Villar d'Arène. The Aiguillon loop (8 km, 500 m ascent) offers a 360° view of all the mountainous terrain around La Meije. The sparkling waters of Lac du Pontet will refresh summer afternoons. Despite its easy access, this almost overflowing lake is home to many wild animals. Indeed, high-pitched cries will spring from the tufts of grass, and griffon vultures will cast shadows as they take to the skies. By the way, can you find the groundhog?

Day 2: Small or large animals

After a brief glimpse of the mid-range mountains with yesterday's hike, we're keen to learn more about the world around us, and in particular to observe the inhabitants of the heights.

We look for marmots in the morning, chamois in the evening, ibex in the midday sun and owls at dusk. To do this, we leave with a mountain guide, who knows the area like the back of his hand and will be able to answer any questions. A great day exploring new paths, keeping our eyes and ears wide open, on the lookout in case a marmot crosses our path. Chamois, marmots, birds of prey, insects and small animals will have no more secrets at the end of the day.

Back from a day of frolicking in the mountain pastures, we stop off at the Molières farm at the summit of La Grave. We meet up with Céline and Martin's goats to watch them being milked and pick up some cheese for our evening meal.

Marmots - Crevasse trail © T. Blais T.Blais

Day 3: Above and below the glacier

We take advantage of the limpid morning light to take a discovery walk on the Girose glacier.

 To reach the glacier at an altitude of 3,200m, board the Glaciers de la Meije cable cars for a journey through the air. Forty-five minutes to contemplate the plains and plateaus of the south-facing slope, and the rugged, rocky north-facing slope. With our guide, we approach the glacier. It's time to put on our crampons to grip the snow and ice and hike with agility. We rope up, and it's finally time to feel the crampons sink into the snow and hear it crunch under the weight of each step. Despite rope and crampons, you feel very small as you pass the gaping hole and sharp ice of an open crevasse.

After this walk on the glacier, we explore its interior in the ice cave. Next to the 3200m station, you can stop for a coffee or a pizza, a chance to enjoy the view for longer while watching the ducks circling in the sky from the high-altitude restaurant.

We take the cable car back down and stop at the intermediate station to explore the area a little further. From here, a balcony path leads to the Puy Vachier lake and the Chancel refuge. Either return to the cable car or walk down to the village of La Grave.

Shelters - Refuge Chancel T. BRUAS
Thomas BRUAS

Day 4: Via corda to the mines

Via Ferrata MartinCocher
Because anything out of the ordinary is easier to remember, today we're off to discover the old Grand Clot mines, set deep in the cliffs at the foot of the Emparis plateau.

We're off to explore the small or large course for a real moment of happiness shared with the whole family, a day under the sign of verticality, heritage and the history of the miners. Put on your harness, sneakers and helmet to prepare for the morning's adventure. The tricky route takes us up a series of switchbacks to the entrance to the mines. Between galleries, minerals and mining equipment, the history of yesteryear is revealed as we progress vertically. Here, everything has remained intact, retracing over 500 years of silver mining history. Throughout the visit, we learn more about what it was like to work in the mines, with a presentation of the tools and different extraction techniques used by the miners to recover the ore. It's up to us to observe and recognize, with a magnifying glass, the different rocks such as granite and galena.

After an exhilarating day climbing the foothills of the Emparis plateau, we prepare a tasty snack to enjoy on the banks of the Romanche. The Arboretum park has picnic tables shaded by larch trees, barbecues and games for children.

Day 5 & 6: A night on the Alps

The crevasse & arsine trail for the whole family
©T. BLAIS
Today, the bags are a little heavier because we're leaving for a two-day hike with a night in a refuge.

We remembered to take water, warm clothes for the evening, a first-aid kit and something to picnic on the trail. From the Arsine parking lot, it's a short walk to the green haven that is the alpe de Villar d'Arène. It's a gentle start, but there's a short climb before we reach the plateau and enter the Ecrins National Park. It won't be long before we see the refuges. Indeed, two refuges offer a choice of places to spend the night. But before it gets dark, there's still time to walk around a bit more, maybe even to see the glacial lakes and moraines of the Col d'Arsine. Sleeping in a refuge is the ideal way to immerse yourself in nature and live to the rhythm of the sun. Dinner is served around 6:30 p.m., and that's just as well, because everyone is starving after a long day on the trails.

After a refreshing night's sleep, we're up early to perhaps see some marmots still asleep.

Once we've packed our bags, we're off to discover the tumultuous waters of the Romanche as far as the Valfourche bridge. Along the way, we come across a small lake with crystal-clear water. The water here is not far from the glaciers, and its temperature will deter many from dipping a toe in. Surrounded by giants such as Pic de Chamoissière (3207 m) and Roche Méane (3712 m), we find a rock for a picnic and soak up the view. Soon, it's time to return to the valley, following the course of the Romanche, and the authentic mountain villages.

les-hameaux-la-grave
©Alpes Photographies
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