Hiking in the middle of October is a great way to welcome the colder months of the year. It’s a way to remind ourselves that there’s still fun to be had in in the “brrrr” months (if you know what I mean) and that it’s actually better to face the chilly season with open arms as it turns your winter outlook into an optimistic and happy one.
And that’s why on October 14 until 16, I found myself in hiking gear and pack and with a set of new faces for the La Berarde to Refuge de la Pilatte and Châtelleret WeHike. The proposed route, as described on the website, involved about 5 hours of hiking and sightings of high peaks and glacier. It promised to be an easy hike, albeit at a high elevation. Can you expect any less than 1,000 meters from alpine mountain treks? That, however, reassures everyone that there will be gorgeous views all around.
The route is embedded right in the heart of the Écrins National Park, which is already within French territory. Our starting point was La Bérarde, which is a hamlet in Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans at the bottom of the Vénéon Valley. This information may sound misleading, as the “bottom of the valley” we’re talking about is actually about 1,700 meters above sea level. It’s accurate to say, then, that we started at a high point. Our hike is to end at Glacier de la Pilatte, with the total hiking distance reaching about 20 kilometers.
A rural hostel in the region was our host for the hike and helped us start on a high note. We were fortunate for this hostel as it was the only accommodation open during that weekend. It was run by 2 ladies from the village and had a very welcoming atmosphere, not to mention a wide array of drinks from the region. There also were all kinds of food available to us, plus a Hammam that we can use at the end of our outdoor adventure. It was like paradise on earth!
Before the hike began, I and my WeHike companions spent some time getting to know each other during a one-course dinner at the hostel on Friday night. It’s typical of WeHike groups to begin as a group of strangers who gradually turn into friends during the course of the trek. That being said, I am amazed how this WeHike deeply connects people to each other and eventually turn us into buddies despite being in the middle of nowhere.
First Day Hike
On the first day, Saturday, our starting point was actually 10 kilometers away from the village, so we rode a car to get there. It was an extraordinary, sunny autumn day, which created amazing views colored in red, brown, and yellow. As we trudged on to our destination, I noticed one of these mountains routes were full of curves, and those between mountains were the closest I have ever seen.
There was a little bit of snow (up to 2,500 meters) during the week, which is understandable given it’s the middle of October. However, we didn’t have problems with the snow as it was close to the day’s destination, which is La Pilatte, one of the French Alpine Club huts. Instead, it helped enhance what to me is the highlight of the hike – views of the national park with the peaks covered in snow. What a wonderful scene!
We eventually returned to our homebase, which is the fantastic hostel I mentioned earlier, and had a Hammam session. Dinner was share with the rest of the guests and the WeHike group, including the guides of the park as it was such a quiet evening. Everyone felt very much at home.
Second Day Hike
This time, we went to Châtelleret, another French Alpine Club hut, starting from the same point as yesterday’s hike. The second day, Sunday, was a little bit greyer, but we still enjoyed incredible weather conditions. Also, the snow line stayed higher than our trail. So, after we reached our hiking destination in the morning, we headed home directly.
I’ve already done several of these weekend WeHikes, but I am still amazed by the bonds that can be created with the people you share this experience with while chatting during dinner and walking in the middle of nowhere with only nature as the witness of your conversations. These lead to deep conversations and the discovery of the most amazing friends you can ever meet.
We all arrived as strangers in the middle of an unknown place full of curved roads and goats, but we returned as lifetime friends that have not talked for a while until this amazing weekend hike. You bet there will be more of these experiences in the near future!