Printed from: on 21 May 2024
Copyright: © 1998 - 2024 John Gardner

A Walking Guide to Chartreuse

Mont Granier from Bellecombe

Starting point: Bellecombe Difficulty: 2 Ascent: 1250 m Time: 7 hrs Quality: ***

Photograph of a waterfall on the Cernon, above Bellecombe

Waterfall on the Cernon

Although there are plenty of routes into the massif from the eastern side, there are few that lend themselves to circular walks, and hence they tend to be rather unsatisfactory. This, however, is an exception, being a superb walk that allows an aesthetically pleasing circuit to be made. There are no real difficulties, although the descent makes use of a somewhat de-emphasised (in 2004) path which can lead to a loss of confidence in one or two places. The route (map) ascends to the Porte de l'Alpette, surmounts the southern cliffs girdling Mont Granier through the Pas des Barres, and after visiting the summit, descends via the Pas de la Porte.

This walk starts from Bellecombe - a pretty village which is worth having a wander round. Entering the village from the north, follow the road through until you see a modern auberge on the right on the corner of a junction. There is room to park off the road here (690 m, grid ref. UTM 31T 73189 50382).

The road leading off from the auberge is the Chemin de l'Alpette, which is a good clue as to the way on. This tarmac road leads past a few houses, before becoming a stony track leading steeply up past a reservoir on the right. Shortly after a junction is reached - la Colonne (780 m) with the left being sign-posted Porte de 'Alpette and the right Pas de la Porte. We will be returning along the latter, but for the ascent we need to keep left.

Once past la Colonne, the track levels out and continues easily for the next half an hour, passing a number of junctions en route. We simply continue along the main path. Before long, a stream can be heard somewhere below, and some 40 minutes after leaving the car, an EDF hut is reached. The path goes off to the right just beyond this, but keeping straight on leads after a few metres to a pleasant waterfall cascading into an attractive pool created by a small dam.

Back at the hut we turn up towards the Porte de l'Alpette. We are now on a path which climbs steadily for half an hour to a junction of paths (Rochereau, 1210 m). The way is straight on, but there is a worthy detour to the left that visits the Source du Cernon. This follows a well-made path for ten minutes back to the stream bed with water emerging from beneath the boulders, and cliffs towering overhead. This is the resurgence for the 62 km long cave system known as the Reseau de l'Alpe, that underlies much of the area from the Habert de St. Vincent in the south to the Alpette valley in the north.

There is a cave associated with the resurgence which extends almost two kilometres into the mountain, the end of which is within just a couple of hundred metres of the main cave system, but this is the exclusive domain of the cave diver.

Returning to the junction, we turn left up the signposted path, and pass a further junction after a few minutes with our path signposted to the left. Soon the forest starts to open out, and good views are seen of a thrust tip fold in the cliff wall opposite. Once over a couple of rock barriers, the path contours round the head of the valley, through a fence, and emerges at the Porte de l'Alpette some two hours after leaving the car. This is a perfect spot for lunch. Ahead, the valley descends past the huge split boulder towards the Col de l'Alpette. To the half-left, the ground rises up towards l'Alpe and the Sommet du Pinet, and to the right, the southern cliffs of Mont Granier dominate.

We now need to find our way up the barrier of cliffs protecting the way on to Mont Granier. From the Porte de l'Alpette, find the path that traverses just below them. This leads to the Pas de Barres, a splendid path that follows an obscure route up the rocks. This is very steep in places, but some useful iron hand rails and footsteps help you to overcome the harder sections (Grade 2). The path continues up through some fields of St. Bruno Lily in a wonderland of rocky outcrops and dwarf pine, and then traverses round to enter the upper Granier basin. From here, the summit is still over a couple of kilometres away, across a wilderness of forest, cliffs, and lapiaz. The route is well marked, and traverses around the basin below the crest. The views over to the Belledonne range are outstanding.

Eventually, the path takes you up onto the crest. This is a splendid section with outstanding views in all directions. The summit, capped by a small cairn, is reached in under three hours. Although the views are stupendous, it is well worth continuing for a further 300 metres to the Cross of Granier. This is situated dramatically on the edge of a buttress right at the corner of the northern cliffs. Behind, you can see all the way down the Vallée d'Entremont to Chamechaude; ahead may be seen the town of Chambéry spread out, and the Lac du Bourget; and to the east the Alps disappear into the distance. On a clear day, the Mont Blanc range looks close enough to touch.

The descent starts by following the path that continues above the cliff, initially to the east. This soon drops in to a lovely area of lapiaz and dwarf pine, with fine views. After 20 minutes or so the path drops into the forest, passes a junction to the right, and soon starts to descend more steeply. About an hour after leaving the summit, the path crosses a forestry track several times in ten minutes, before reaching a junction with a well-made track, signposted to the right to Bellecombe.

Ten minutes later this track divides, and our way starts steeply up to the right. Almost immediately, however, a path leads off to the left again, marked by a fingerpost. This develops into one of the excellent contouring paths that are to be found on the eastern flank of the massif, although as with many, it is not well used and is in urgent of a prune. In a couple of place the path traverses above some steep drops, protected by cables.

A further junction is soon reached at la Barmette (1250 m), with Bellecombe signposted to the left. The next 30 minutes is a bit of a forest adventure, following a very overgrown path where the way on is not always obvious. The simple rules are to take care at what appear to be junctions, and follow the yellow waymarkings. This section is over when a source is reached. From here a track is followed back to Bellecombe where the car will be reached some 2½ hours after leaving the summit.