Andrew McCluggage says the GR54 is the best Alpine trek you have never heard of. In fact, it is arguably the finest Alpine trek of all, making a circumnavigation of the unforgettable Écrins National Park – one of France’s ‘crown jewels’.
By Andrew McCluggage
Every one of the GR54’s 193 kilometres offers spectacular views of unspoilt and remote mountain terrain: snow-frosted summits, beautiful valleys and pastures, shimmering azure lakes and carpets of wild flowers. This trek should be on everyone’s hiking bucket list but most trekkers are too busy ticking off more conventional (and therefore more crowded) treks such as the Tour du Mont Blanc or the Walker’s Haute Route. For those who like their treks to be peaceful, this is the connoisseur’s choice. Here is my pick of the top 5 views on this epic journey (in reverse order).
5. The Fournel Valley
This incredible place is found on a GR54 variant route. Although not on the main route, it is so beautiful that I cannot omit it. Taking this variant requires 11 hours of trekking and a brutal 2000m of uphill, but it is worth every drop of sweat to see the remote upper reaches of this exquisite Alpine valley: think jagged snowy peaks and classic Alpine pastures. Its isolation makes it one of the finest wildflower sanctuaries in Europe and it is the most important site in the world for the rare and ephemeral Chardon Bleu, which flowers conveniently in trekking season.
4. Col de la Muzelle
Even experienced Alpine trekkers will be blown away by this col, tucked away in a remote part of the Écrins National Park. It does not get much better than this! The views, to the south, of the pastures around the incredibly well-preserved hamlet of Valsenestre are magnificent but it is the vista to the north which will take your breath away – no photograph can prepare you for the sight of the deep blue Lac de la Muzelle nestled in a wild mountain cirque far down in the valley below.
3. Col de la Vaurze
Another exceptional Alpine pass, hidden deep within the Écrins National Park and this one has an awesome 360° panorama. Honestly, you will not know where to look, such is the visual feast. It is one of the finest places to view the mighty l’Olan, one of the region’s most loved peaks. The climb to the col is long and gentle so you get time to savour the scenery.
2. Lac de l’Eychauda
This is one of the finest lakes in the Alps but it is so well concealed, at altitude, in a narrow hanging valley, that few ever get to lay eyes on it. In fact, most who walk the GR54 do not even know it is there. However, for my new book, I have designed a superior alternative route to pass right by it. It is marginally harder than the traditional route but it is even more beautiful. This is, without a doubt, a bucket list view.
1. Plateau d’Emparis
My number-one place on the GR54 is the Plateau d’Emparis, a high-altitude plateau directly facing the summit of la Meije and its beautiful glaciers. However, choosing the best ‘view’ from the plateau is problematic as there are just so many of them. Some would argue that the grazing pastures on the edge of the cliffs facing la Meije are the highlight, but we are going to opt for the reflections of the mountain in the staggeringly pretty Lac Noir. If you are camping on the trek then be sure to spend a night here – it is quite simply unforgettable.
Guidebook: The author of this feature, Andrew McCluggage, has written a brand new guidebook to the GR54, The Tour of the Écrins National Park (GR54). Published by Knife Edge Outdoor Guidebooks in February 2019, it is priced at £13.99 and includes real 1:25k IGN maps. For 20% off your copy, plus free UK postage, use the offer code ONLINE20 when purchasing from www.knifeedgeoutdoor.com.
Header image: Plateau d’Emparis