Today we took a rest from paddling and journeyed to the Ecrins National Park. Established in 1973, the park covers nearly 200 000 hectares and is home to 1800 plant, 75 mammals, 235 bird, 16 reptile, 10 amphibian and 21 fish species. It also encompasses more than 10 glaciers, and Glacier Blanc was to be our destintion today.
The park can only be explored on foot so we set off bright and early, at 6.45 to walk in the cool of the morning, stopping off at the boulengerie for croissants en route. We paid our 2 euros (for the whole bus) to enter the park to be greeted by a group of deer, and set off along the path. We followed the signs up to Glacier Blanc – although some of us made a small detour towards Glacier Noir!-steadily, enjoying the views. The path is well kept, with a combination of strategically placed rocks and hand ropes where the rock is steep (so the group of us who did the via ferrata yesterday were well prepared!). We met our first marmot, sat on an outcropped rock overlooking his territory, about 20 mins in and continued to meet the alpine mammals (a giant, but rather cute, chipmunk come guinea pig) throughout – Keith even charmed one into eating from his hand.
About halfway into our walk we crossed the fast flowing river of melt from the gacier and had a group photo on the bridge. We could feel he cold from the water in the air so this is definitely not a river to take a swim in! Our final destination was the ‘refuge Glacier Blanc’, a purpose built, very well equipped mountain hut with picnic benches overlooking the spectacular panoramic view down the valley and up to the Glacier. The snout of Glacier Blanc, the part that we could see, is receeding and is now more than half the size it was 100 years ago. We lunched (at half past 10!) and relaxed, enjoyng the scenery, before we heading back down, racing the rain. We had a look round the visitor centre and finished off our morning with ice creams in the cafe.
Our afternoon was spent back at the campsite, chatting, catching up with washing and BBQing! It was Chris Thompsons birthday.