An epic hike up Cugulet in hot sunshine

We rose at 7.00, excited for 2 days hiking in the Val d’Escreins, just half an hour away from the campsite. We stopped at the bakery for our favourite, Pain au Raisins, then drove up a series of hairpin bends and, on a single track road, around cliffs to the valley. Luckily we didn’t meet the bus coming the other way! We were a bit worried to see that the car park said no overnight camping, but thought we’d see whether there were any other campervans further down the road when we left.

After eating our breakfast and using the compost toilet, we grabbed our rucksacks and set off uphill through the forest. Luckily, the side of the valley we were climbing was in shade for much of the morning. We soon reached a series of ladders and cables where the track became steeper and rockier, which were fun. The views over the valley below were fantastic.

We took a right fork at a junction to loop up to the Agnes ridge, which Cugulet is on, and could see our path back around the hill in the distance, passing a mountain cabin. It was getting very hot already and when we came out of the trees into open pasture and plodded uphill, I had to keep stopping to get my breath and cool down. Finally, after a few hours we reached the col on the ridge, with magnificent 360 degree views over the Ecrins and Queyras mountain ranges.

I sat and had my sandwich (delicious chicken and mayonnaise!) and enjoyed the views and the sunshine, while John ran up the nearby Pic d’Escrein, which at 2734m high was about 100m above the col. It was rather grey and rocky and didn’t look worth the effort to me, but he enjoyed it. Oh, to be that fit!

After lunch, we continued along the ridge, down and then back up again to the top of Cugulet (2520m). We originally missed the top as the main path went round the side, and had to go back and find it! We watched a vulture circling for a while but it was too high to get any decent photos.

We then continued along the ridge to Combe Chauve (2483m), high above Guillestre, with great views over the town, Mont Dauphin, the campsite and beyond. There are two crosses and a pink marble statue on the top. We were pleased to have the peak to ourselves before a couple of other people arrived. We’ve been amazed how quiet the hikes are.

By now we must have been hiking for about 4 hours and the sun was really high in the sky. We still had a couple of hours to go to get back and I hoped I’d brought enough water. The trail went downhill towards Guillestre and I was worried we were going the wrong way. John checked the map… We were going the right way. I knew this meant we’d have to climb again to join our original trail and had a moment of panic, wondering if I was going to end up with sunstroke!

We finally tuned back uphill on a forest track. The meadows were full of flowers and very pretty, even though many species are past their best at this time of the summer. Finally we reached the shepherd’s cabin. We had hoped there might be a trough with some water there, but no such luck.

Before much longer, we were back on the forest trail that we’d come up on. It wasn’t too bad now we were in the shade and the track was predominantly downhill. I was still glad to get back to the valley though… 16k with 1400m of ascent is pretty tough in hot sunshine, but was completely worthwhile. We throughly enjoyed it.

We had a quick look at the ruined village, which about 90 people used to live in, but burnt down in the early 20th century. Only the church has been rebuilt. Then we sat and had a beer and an ice cream at the refuge, looking up at the Crête de Vars where we plan to walk tomorrow.

John decided he’d rather go back to the campsite than stay in the Val d’Escreins, and I agreed it would be nice to have the cool breeze by the lake, and to have a shower on the campsite. When we got back, we discovered it was Matthew’s last night and it was good to join him, Evie and Ollie, and the others for a meal. A lovely day!

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