Rambling, running & rock climbing in Écrins National Park (France)

After 13 hours of being glued to a sticky car seat, just about anything outdoors will seem amazing. But, that sentiment of awe first felt when stepping out into the cool, fresh air of Écrins National Park did not (at all) turn to dust after shaking off 1,039km in a a car – towing a caravan – with a four-year-old. While the park was intended as a convenient stop-over point before driving to Chamonix, it became the highlight of a two-week mountain adventure. We found a beautiful campsite under a glowing mountain at Camping Ailefroide and proceeded to sample as many walks, trail runs, and crags as we could in a few days. A few highlights below.

Hiking from Pré de Madame Carle to Glacier Blanc

Hiking up to the Glacier Blanc. Photo © Siena Anstis.

We managed to hike all the way to Glacier Blanc (2400m-ish) with said four-year-old (taking a short drive up to the parking lot at Pré de Madame Carle from Ailefroide, and continuing on from there on foot). There was much gentle encouragement along the way, and a fair number of other small humans trying the same (rather gruelling at their size) trip up. Even though it is considered one of the most popular destinations in the park, the trail was not particularly busy. The views were wonderful, and showed off a wilder, rougher version of the Alps than what I had seen further north the summer before. There is a wonderful river at the foot of the glacier, and a perfect place for a packed lunch. If you continue past the glacier base (although the trail becomes a bit tougher for a child, but not impossibly so, in this final section), you can make it all the way to Refuge du Glacier Blanc (2542m, bring cash).

Looking out over the very bottom of the Glacier Blanc. Photo © Siena Anstis.
On the way back down from the Glacier Blanc. Sometimes you just need a free ride. Photo © Siena Anstis.

Trail running from Camping Ailefroide towards Refuge du Pelvoux

Camping Ailefroide had the additional bonus of being the starting point for a great run towards Refuge du Pelvoux (2704m). I did not run the entire trail because my ‘short’ run days coincided with our time in the park, but the initial kilometres were beautiful. You start with a ‘gentle’ warm-up in the forest (leaving from Camping Ailefroide) with a moderate incline, which then gets increasingly steep. It was a wonderful reminder of the magic of sound in the mountains. One step and the world is silent; the next, you are surrounded by the incessant, rough sounds of a waterfall.

Looking up the path towards Refuge du Pelvoux. Photo © Siena Anstis.

Rock climbing in & around Ailefroide

Endless choice. There was only time to visit a handful of different crags (our trip coincided with route cleaning, which made access to a few popular ones difficult). But, the little we saw, we loved. The following two were very accessible to a four-year-old, with relatively secure footing at the bottom of the crag.

Les Collets and L’ Horloge, on the outskirts of Argentière-la-Bessée. We drove up the road marked Dessus de la Serre (zoom in on this map), parked at the “P” just below the crag, and walked over. There were good route choices in the 5s range, and a long bench for lunch. The views were not dramatic, but it was relaxing and we got enough wind to fly a kite in the open field below the crag.

Greenpeace, very near the centre of Ailefroide. Coming from Camping Ailefroide, we left the car at the parking lot across the bridge in Ailefroide (which you can locate on this map in satellite view) and back-tracked to follow the foot path on the left side of the river through some wonderful alpine meadows and over to the crag on the left side. The area was empty in the late afternoon, and we climbed with a beautiful view and breeze. Once again, easy-going routes in the 5’s and 6’s.

Walking to the Greenpeace crag. Photo © Siena Anstis.
Preparing for a climb at Greenpeace. Photo © Siena Anstis.