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Massifs by Masherbrum | Episode 4 - The Vercors

The Vercors is a region of contrasts, with its gentle plateaus and vertical cliffs, Mediterranean groves and cold forests, its proximity to large towns and its feeling of being at the end of the world. In this fourth episode of our series, we invite you to discover the Vercors and its contrasts.

Present on several models of our collection, the Vercors is one of those massifs for which we have a particular attachment. For its landscapes, for its history, for its geology, for its culture.

Of course, it is "only" a medium mountain range, culminating at "only" 2341m at Grand Veymont. There are no peaks comparable to those of the great interior massifs of the Alpine arc. However, the topographical diversity of this territory allows almost all mountain sports to be practised here: mountaineering, long-distance climbing, trail running, mountain biking, canyoning, ski touring and of course Nordic skiing, for which the Vercors has built its reputation.

The Vercors, a theatre of geological curiosities - ©Boris Pivaudran

The very special topography of the Vercors is largely explained by its entirely limestone origin: the high karstic plateaus are cut by deep gorges carved by rivers, and bordered by high vertical walls. Here, there are almost no lakes: rainwater seeps into the immense underground networks, sometimes resurfacing a thousand metres below, as in the famous Sassenage reservoirs.

Situated at the extreme west of the Alps, the Vercors suffers from the Mediterranean influence on the Diois and Drôme Provençale sides, while the north (the Quatre-Montagnes region) has a resolutely continental climate which brings it closer to the Jura plateaus. These plateaus receive abundant snowfalls, and become a very popular playground for cross-country skiers: in the Vercors, the Nordic domains are nine times larger than the Alpine ski domains! It is no coincidence that several champions, such as Martin Fourcade, have come here to train.

In essence, the Vercors is the land of long itinerant journeys, taking advantage of the many huts on the high plateaus. In Nordic skiing with pulka, in trail, or in hiking: the Vercors Regional Natural Park is home to no less than 4600km of marked trails! Some of them are grouped together under the label "Grandes Traversées du Vercors": these are the GR 9 (west side), GR 91 (north-south crossing), GR 93 (east-west crossing) and the GR 95 (west-south-east crossing). The massif is also a privileged playground for mountain bikers, who have plenty to keep them busy with 1200km of dedicated routes.

Mont Aiguille, the emblematic summit of the Vercors - ©Boris Pivaudran

In historical terms, we have to go back a long way to discover the first steps of man in the massif. Although Neanderthals were present in the region as early as 48,000 BC, it was between 15,000 and 14,000 BC that the first modern humans settled permanently in the Vercors, taking advantage of the immense number of natural caves. Numerous caves bear the remains of this occupation today. The high plateaus, with their rough climate, were only definitively populated from the Middle Ages onwards with the development of land clearing and pastoralism, and the establishment of several communities of monks. Then, it was the wood and water power industries that enabled the economic development of the region, with the mountain streams supplying numerous sawmills.

The massif became famous during the Second World War for having been a strategic bastion of the Resistance against the Nazi occupation. Throughout the Occupation, the towns located in this maquis were central to the Resistance, becoming one of the most important platforms for airborne elements. The town of Vassieux-en-Vercors is now a companion of the Liberation.

Three activities to enjoy in the Vercors :

Long route climbing

One cannot think of the Vercors without having in mind the image of the Mont Aiguille, a formidable rocky tooth standing above the Trièves. The first recorded act of mountaineering in history took place on this summit in 1492, an ascent ordered by King Charles VIII, and carried out with the help of ladders and pitons. Today, the summit is extremely popular for its normal route (PD, 3b), but also has many equipped routes or adventure routes, between 200 and 300m high. The Tour des Gémeaux (D, 5b) is the easiest, the others are mostly in the 6s.

On the Devils' Way at Mont Aiguille - ©Boris Pivaudran

The other major long route sector is the Presles cliff, located in the Royans. With no less than 250 routes up to 300m high, on a very beautiful limestone, a climber's life is not too much to exhaust the sector's potential! If a few routes in the 5th grade allow you to get in touch with the sector (voie des Buis, voie d'Eliane), the others are relatively demanding, especially as the climbing is generally technical. The numerous large homogeneous routes in the 7th degree will delight strong climbers. There are also some artificial routes.

The PROCLIMB baselayer for half-season climbing - ©Boris Pivaudran

Finally, the Archiane cirque completes this podium: dozens of great routes on some of the highest cliffs in the Vercors (up to 400m). Here too, you must approach the grades with humility, especially in the historic routes, and have a good set of belayers to complete them. Artificial climbing enthusiasts will also find something to their liking at Archiane with several large-scale routes.

Cross-country skiing

900km. This is what the Vercors massif offers in terms of cross-country skiing trails. The most important Nordic domains are those of Autrans-Méaudre and Hauts-Plateaux with 360km of tracks between them. In the first one, the Foulée Blanche, a historic cross-country ski race, is organised every year. Created in 1979, this competition allows you to challenge yourself over several possible distances, 5, 10, 20 and 42km, and attracts several thousand competitors each year. Along with the Transjurassienne, it is one of the most popular cross-country skiing competitions in France.

Sunset over the Vercors plateau - ©Boris Pivaudran


If the beauty of the Vercors is no longer to be demonstrated on the surface, it is easily found a few dozen metres below the surface in the numerous caves and underground rivers of the massif. With more than 3000 caves, the region is a destination of choice for cavers, and explorations of the immense underground networks continue to this day. Some of the best known are the Berger chasm, the Sassenage vats and the Choranche cave. Discovered in 1953, the Berger chasm was for 12 years the deepest chasm in the world with a low point at -1271m. As for the Gournier cave, it offers a magnificent aquatic escapade, with in particular the crossing of a 40m lake in an inflatable canoe, giving access to one of the most beautiful underground rivers in the Alps. Among the most frequented caves: the cave of Eymards, in Lans-en-Vercors, a small concentrate of vertical speleology. And as a symbol, the diversity present on the surface is reflected in the depths of the massif.

Beautiful concretion in the Bournillon cave - ©Boris Pivaudran

Three must-do hikes in the Vercors :

Tour du Mont-Aiguille

One of the most impressive summits of the massif is inaccessible without any mountaineering experience. But it is possible to walk around it to admire it from all angles. During this fifteen kilometre hike, you will also be able to contemplate the Grand Veymont, as well as the peaks of the Dévoluy facing you. From Trézanne, you will meander along a forest track towards the Pellas pass before descending on the north side. Then comes the steep ascent to the Col de l'Aupet, which will take you as close as possible to this "rocky liner". The descent is via the village of La Richardière, from where you can return to Trézanne via a country path.

At the Aupet pass on the Mont Aiguille tour - ©Boris Pivaudran

GR91: crossing the Vercors

Cross the massif in its greatest length, from its extreme north (Saint-Nizier du Moucherotte) to its extreme south (Châtillon-en-Diois). This 78km and 3400d+ hike can of course be split into several stages, with a night in the village of Corrençon, and a night in a hut or bivouac on the Hauts-Plateaux.

The Balmes tour

("Balme", in Francoprovençal: cave). This short hike in the heart of the Bourne gorges will help you discover some of the geological wonders of the Vercors. From the Choranche cave (which can be visited), a path leads you to the entrance of the Gournier cave and its magnificent 40-metre long azure blue underground lake. Nearby is a superb waterfall of tuffs (calcified mosses), which you can cross. A third cave will be on your route, that of Balme Rousse and its large porch. It is possible, by passing a ladder, to venture into the cave to admire its concretions. The return journey is by the same route.

The Vercors by Masherbrum

Find the Vercors massif in our Ultrasoft collection on eco-designed t-shirts made of certified organic cotton and beech wood fibre. Carry with you the summits of your heart!

On the Mont Aiguille, with the Mont Aiguille t-shirt! - Antoine Rolle